Part 3 out of 8
This morning it rained heavily, but we left the encampment at six to
pursue the course of the Gwydir. The deep and extensive hollows formed by
the floods of this river compelled us to travel southward for several
A NATIVE VILLAGE OF BOWERS.
In crossing one hollow we passed among the huts of a native tribe. They
were tastefully distributed amongst drooping acacias and casuarinae; some
resembled bowers under yellow fragrant mimosae; some were isolated under
the deeper shades of casuarinae; while others were placed more socially,
three or four together, fronting to one and the same hearth. Each hut was
semicircular, or circular; the roof conical, and from one side a flat
roof stood forward like a portico, supported by two sticks. Most of them
were close to the trunk of a tree, and they were covered, not as in other
parts, by sheets of bark, but with a variety of materials, such as reeds,
grass, and boughs. The interior of each looked clean and to us, passing
in the rain, gave some idea not only of shelter, but even of comfort and
happiness. They afforded a favourable specimen of the taste of the gins,
whose business it usually is to construct the huts. This village of
bowers also occupied more space than the encampments of native tribes in
general; choice shady spots seemed to have been an object, and had been
selected with care.
EFFECT OF SUDDEN MOISTURE ON THE WHEELS.
We had at length been able to turn westward, keeping the river trees in
view when, the rain continuing, we began to experience the effects of
moisture on the felloes of the wheels. The heat and contraction had
lately obliged us to tighten and wedge them to such a degree that now,
when the ground had become wet, the expansion of the whole broke the
tirering of the wheel. Having no forge we could only attempt the
necessary repairs with a common fire, and for this purpose I left three
men with Mr. White; and I resumed the journey with the rest of the party.
The rain continuing, the soft ground so clogged the wheels that the
draught was very distressing to the bullocks. We pursued a westerly
direction for five miles over ground thinly wooded, with patches of open
plain. Changing our course to 60 degrees west of north, we traversed a
very extensive tract of clear ground until, after crossing four miles and
a half of it, we reached a bend of the river, and at three P.M. encamped
on an open spot a quarter of a mile from it. At five o'clock the other
cart came up, having been substantially repaired, by taking off the ring,
shortening the felloes, closing them on the spokes, and then replacing
the ring again by drilling two holes through it.
Pursuing a westerly course I found the river on my right at five miles.
At a mile further it crossed my intended line of route, and obliged me to
turn south-south-west, in which direction we intercepted the junction of
the dry river, named Kareen, which we crossed on the 8th instant. The bed
above the junction was narrow but deep, and the permanent character of
its banks gave to this channel the appearance of a considerable
tributary, which it probably may be at some seasons, although then dry.
In a section of the bank near the junction, I observed a bed of
calcareous tuff. The passage of this channel was easiest for the carts at
the spot where it joined that of the Gwydir. We travelled, after
crossing, along the north-western skirts of extensive open plains, and
thus reached, at five miles further, another line of trees, enclosing a
chain of ponds, on which we encamped, after a journey of twelve miles.
TORTUOUS COURSE OF THE GWYDIR.
I continued the westerly course through woods until at three miles we
fell in with the river, and on turning to the left in order to avoid its
immediate banks, a large lagoon also obstructed our progress. The
tortuous course of the river was such that it was only by pursuing a
direction parallel to the general course we could hope to make sufficient
progress. But in exploring the general course only of rivers the
traveller must still grope his way occasionally; for here, after turning
the lagoon, we again encountered the river taking such a bend southward
that we were compelled to travel towards the east, and even northward of
east, to avoid the furrowed ground on its immediate bank.
LINES OF IRRIGATION ACROSS THE PLAINS.
At length we reached an open tract across which we travelled in a
south-west direction about eight miles, when we arrived at one of those
watercourses or chains of ponds which always have the appearance of being
on the highest parts of the plains. As the general course of this, as far
as it could be seen, was nearly east and west, I thought it might be the
same as the channel which I had named Wheel Ponds on the 7th instant; but
the range of these chains of ponds, not being confined by any hills of
note, I could not be certain as to the identity, or whether such channels
did not separate into different branches on that level country. The ponds
they contained, even during the dry season, and the permanent character
of their banks, each lined with a single row of trees throughout a
meandering course over naked plains, bespoke a providential arrangement
for the support of life in these melancholy wastes, which, indeed,
redeemed them from the character of deserts. We encamped on this chain of
ponds, having first crossed the channel, that we might have no impediment
before us, in the morning; experience having taught us that the cattle
could overcome a difficulty of this kind better when warmed to their work
than at first starting from their feeding-place.
HEAVY RAIN--UNABLE TO PROCEED.
Some very heavy thundershowers fell, but the sky became clear in the
evening so that we ascertained the latitude to be 29 degrees 39 minutes
49 seconds South. We also obtained the bearing of Mount Riddell, and
other points of the Nundewar range, making our latitude 146 degrees 37
minutes 30 seconds East.
On these ponds we first saw the beautiful crested pigeon mentioned by Mr.
Oxley as frequenting the neighbourhood of the marshes of the Macquarie.
THE PARTY IMPEDED BY THE SOFT STATE OF THE SURFACE.
We packed up our tents to proceed on our journey as usual, the weather
being beautiful; but after three hours of excessive toil the bullocks had
not advanced two miles, because the stiff clay so clogged the wheels that
it could not be easily removed. Seeing the cattle so distressed I was
compelled to encamp, and await the effect of the sunshine and the breeze
on the clammy surface.
LAGOONS NEAR THE RIVER.
In the meantime I rode northward towards the river accompanied by Mr.
White and, at about a mile from the tents, we found one of the lagoons
which are supplied by its floods. The margin was thickly imprinted with
the marks of small naked feet, in all probability those of the gins and
children whose most constant food, in these parts, appeared to be a
large, freshwater mussel. We next traced the course of the river westward
for about five miles, being guided by the line of river trees. When we
arrived we found within them a still lagoon of deep water, the banks
thereof being steep like a river, and enclosing the water within a very
tortuous canal, or channel, which I had no doubt belonged to the river.
To the southward the whole country was clear of wood, and presented one
general slope towards the line of the river.
From our camp on the plain Mount Riddell bore 123 degrees 30 minutes
THE SURFACE AGAIN HARDENED.
After an unusually hot night the morning broke amid thunderclouds which
threatened, by another shower, to destroy our hopes of advancing this day
and the next at least. Nevertheless, we lost no time in yoking the cattle
and proceeding: for the heat and drought of the previous day had already
formed a crust upon which the animals could travel. Meanwhile the thunder
roared, and heavy showers were to be seen falling in two directions. One
rain-cloud in the north-east, whence the wind blew strong, nearly
overtook us; while another in the south-west exhausted itself on the
Nundewar range. But as the wind increased the storm-clouds sank rapidly
towards the part of the horizon whence it came, until the beams of the
ascending sun at length overwhelmed them with a glorious flood of light,
and introduced a day of brilliant sunshine.
We traversed, as rapidly as we could, these precarious plains, keeping
the woods which enveloped the Gwydir on our right: and thus, at the end
of twelve miles, we arrived on the banks of a lagoon, apparently a
continuation of the line of ponds or river, which had proved such a
providential relief to us after our severe suffering from want of water
under Mount Frazer.
REACH A BROAD SHEET OF WATER.
Here however we found a broad and extensive lagoon nearly level with its
banks and covered with ducks. It had the winding character and uniformity
of width of a river, but no current. I thought this reach might also
contain some surplus water of the Namoi, which could not be far distant
for we had now reached those low levels to which we had previously traced
the course of that river. We travelled along the bank of this fine piece
of water for two miles, and found its breadth to be very uniform. An arm
trending northward then lay in our way. The country was full of holes and
deep rents or cracks, but the soil was loose, and bare as a new-ploughed
field. I therefore withdrew the carts to where we first came on the
lagoon; not only for the sake of grass, but that we might continue our
route over the firmer ground which appeared to the eastward.
POSITION OF THE PARTY. THE COMMON COURSE OF THE RIVER AND THE SITUATION
OF THE RANGE CONSIDERED.
I had now on my map the Nundewar range with the courses of the Namoi on
one side, and the Gwydir on the other. I was between these two rivers,
and at no great distance from either; Mount Riddell, the nearest point of
the range, bore 21 1/2 degrees South of East, being distant 42 miles. The
opposite bearing or 20 degrees North of West might therefore be
considered to express the common direction of these waters. In a country
so liable to inundation as the district between these rivers appeared to
be, it was a primary object with us to travel along the highest or driest
part, and we could only look for this advantage in the above direction,
or parallel to and midway between the rivers. We could in this manner
trace out their junction with more certainty, and so terminate thus far
the survey of both by the determination of a point so important in
geography. The soil of these level open tracts consisted of a rich,
dark-coloured clay. The lagoon was marked by a row of stunted trees which
grew along its edge on each side, so that the line could be distinguished
from a great distance eastward, and appeared to be connected with the
ponds of Gorolei.
NONDESCRIPT TREE AND FRUIT.
Among the trees growing along the margin of this lagoon were several
which were new to me; particularly one which bore clusters of a fruit
resembling a small russet apple and about an inch in diameter. The skin
was rough, the pulp of a rich crimson colour not unlike that of the
prickly-pear, and it had an agreeable acid flavour. This pulp covered a
large rough stone containing several seeds, and it was evidently eaten by
the natives as great numbers of the bare stones lay about. The foliage of
the tree very much resembled the white cedar of the colonists, and milk
exuded from the stalk or leaves when broken.
A great variety of ducks and other waterfowl covered this fine piece of
water. We made the latitude of the camp 29 degrees 49 minutes South, the
longitude 149 degrees 28 minutes East.
The country to the northward seemed so low and the course of the Gwydir,
amid so many lagoons, so doubtful that I considered it advisable to ride
in that direction before we ventured to advance with our carts. I
therefore set out this morning accompanied by Mr. White in the direction
already mentioned, of 20 degrees west of north--so that, in returning,
the cone of Mount Riddell might guide us to the camp without any
necessity for continuing the use of the compass, which occasions much
delay. In such cases a hill, a star, or the unerring skill of a native,
is very convenient as obviating the necessity for repeatedly observing
the compass, in returning through pathless woods towards any point which
might easily be missed without such precautions.
PLAINS OF RICH SOIL, BEAUTIFULLY WOODED.
We found in the course of a ride of twenty miles from the camp a much
better country for travelling over than that in the immediate vicinity of
the lagoon. We crossed, at eleven miles, a line of ponds in a deep
channel whereof the bank seemed the highest ground; and beyond them was a
rich plain with a few clumps of trees; where the grass also was
remarkably good. At twenty miles, the length of our ride, we fell in with
a second chain of ponds, beyond which we saw another plain. We were
delighted with the prospect of so favourable a country for extending our
journey, and not less so with the apparent turn of the Gwydir, as
indicated by its non-appearance in our ride thus far. It was obvious that
the more this river turned northward the greater would be the probability
that it might lead to a channel unconnected with that of the Darling--and
terminate in some still greater water, or open out a field of useful
SMALL BRANCHES OF THE GWYDIR.
The direction of the channels we had already crossed however was somewhat
to the south of west--and it was difficult to account for their waters
otherwise--than by supposing that they came from the Gwydir.
MUCH FREQUENTED BY THE NATIVES.
We could trace their course to a remote distance by the smoke of the
fires of the native population. The numerous marks of feet in the banks,
with the abundant remains of mussels and bones of aquatic birds proved
that human existence was limited to these channels; not only on account
of water, but of those animals, birds, and fishes also, which are man's
In returning we explored the western termination of the lagoon on which
we had encamped, and thus ascertained that it was not part of any channel
of flooded waters. Beyond the lagoon was a plain, apparently subject to
inundation, and bounded at the distance of some miles by a line of trees
which, in all probability, defined the course of the Namoi.
The party proceeded along the course I had traced the day before. The
country as far as the first chain of ponds was full of holes, which
evidently were at certain seasons filled with water; and the height to
which the inundations rose was marked on the trunks of the trees by a
dark stain which, to a certain height, seemed universal. Considering
these proofs of extensive flooding, and the soft nature of the soil we
were then crossing, it was obvious that a rainy season would render our
return impracticable, at least with the carts. For the first time, and
with great reluctance, we left the high ground behind us to traverse a
region subject to inundation, without the prospect of a single hill to
which we might repair in case of necessity. It was nevertheless
indispensable that we should find the river Gwydir and cross it before we
could hope to travel under more favourable circumstances.
Beyond the first channel we traversed an open plain of rich soil similar
to that of the plains near Mount Riddell.
We reached the second channel at a higher part than that attained by me
previously, so that the distance traversed by the party was only
seventeen and a half miles, as determined by the latitude; and this
journey, although very distressing to the cattle, was accomplished by
half-past two. Thermometer 96 degrees. Here the ponds opened into a large
lagoon covered with ducks. It was surrounded with the remains of numerous
fires of natives, beside which lay heaps of mussel shells (unio) mixed
with bones of the pelican and kangaroo. Latitude 29 degrees 43 minutes 3
Leaving our encampment at six A.M. we first crossed a small plain, then
some forest land, and beyond that entered on an open plain still more
extensive, but bounded by a scrub, at which we arrived after travelling
seven miles. The soil of this last plain was very fine, trees grew upon
it in beautiful groups--the Acacia pendula again appearing. The grass, of
a delicate green colour, resembled a field of young wheat. The scrub
beyond was close and consisted of a variety of dark-leaved shrubs, among
which the eucalypti were almost the only trees to which I was not a
stranger. Here I halted the carts while I penetrated three miles into
this scrub, accompanied by Mr. White, in hopes of finding either the
Namoi or the Gwydir--but without success. Continuing the journey in the
direction of 37 degrees West of North we entered an open alley which had
the appearance of being sometimes the bed of a watercourse. It terminated
however in higher ground where bulrushes grew, and which seemed very
strange, because we then approached a much more open and elevated
country. Most of the ground was covered with hibiscus* (with red stalk
and small flower) which grew to the height of twenty inches and
alternated with patches of luxuriant grass, Acacia pendula, and
eucalyptus. At eleven miles we encountered a channel in which were many
ponds, its direction being, like that of the others we had crossed, to
the southward of west. Here we encamped, the bullocks having been much
fatigued, and also cut in the necks by the yokes. The bed of these ponds
was soft, and it required some search before a good place could be found
for the passage of our carts: when this was accomplished, and the camp
selected, I rode forward in a north-west direction, anxious to know more
of the country before us.
(*Footnote. Hibiscus (Trionum) tridactylites, Lindley manuscripts;
annuus, pilosus, foliis radicalibus subrotundis integerrimis caulinis
digitatis; laciniis pinnatifidis lobis distantibus cuneatis apice
dentatis, calyce piloso.)
LAUGHABLE INTERVIEW OF DAWKINS WITH A TRIBE.
I perceived the fires of the natives at no great distance from our camp,
and Dawkins went forward taking with him a tomahawk and a small loaf. He
soon came upon a tribe of about thirty men, women, and children, seated
by the ponds, with half a kangaroo and some crayfish cooked before them,
and also a large vessel of bark containing water. Now Dawkins must have
been, in appearance, so different to all the ideas these poor people had
of their fellow-men, that on the first sight of such an apparition it was
not surprising that, after a moment's stare, they precipitately took to
the pond, floundering through it, some up to the neck, to the opposite
bank. He was a tall, spare figure, in a close white dress, surmounted by
a broad-brimmed straw hat, the tout-ensemble somewhat resembling a
mushroom; and these dwellers by the waters might well have believed, from
his silent and unceremonious intrusion, that he had risen from the earth
in the same manner. The curiosity of the natives, who had vanished as
fast as they could, at length overcame their terrors so far as to induce
them to peep from behind the trees at their mysterious visitor. Dawkins,
not in the least disconcerted, made himself at home at the fires, and on
seeing them on the other side, began his usual speech: "What for you
jerran budgery whitefellow?"* etc. He next drew forth his little loaf,
endeavouring to explain its meaning and use by eating it; and he then
began to chop a tree by way of showing off the tomahawk; but the
possession of a peculiar food of his own astounded them still more. His
final experiment was attended with no better effect; for when he sat down
by their fire, by way of being friendly, and began to taste their
kangaroo, they set up a shout which induced him to make his exit with the
same celerity which no doubt had rendered his debut outrageously opposed
to their ideas of etiquette, which imperatively required that loud
cooeys** should have announced his approach before he came within a mile
of their fires. Dawkins had been cautioned as to the necessity for using
this method of salutation, but he was an old tar, and Jack likes his own
way of proceeding on shore; besides, in this case, Dawkins came unawares
upon them, according to his own account; and it was only by subsequent
experience that we learnt the danger of thus approaching the aboriginal
inhabitants. Some of this party carried spears on their shoulders or
trailing in their hands, and the natives are never more likely to use
such weapons than when under the impulse of sudden terror.
(*Footnote. "Why are you afraid of a good white man?" etc.)
(**Footnote. The natives' mode of hailing each other when at a distance
in the woods. It is so much more convenient than our own holla, or
halloo, that it is universally adopted by the colonists of New South
I continued my ride for six miles in a north-west direction without
discovering any indication of either river; on the contrary, the country
was chiefly open, being beautifully variegated with clumps of picturesque
trees. The weather was very hot until a thunder-shower fell and cooled
the air in some degree. During the night the mosquitoes were very
troublesome; and the men rolled about in the grass unable to find rest.
At half-past six we proceeded in a north-west direction until at seven
miles a thick scrub of acacias obliged us to turn a little to the
northward. When we had advanced ten miles a burnt forest, with numerous
columns of smoke arising from different parts of the country before us,
proved almost beyond doubt that we were at length approaching the river.
Satisfied that the dense line of wood whence these columns of smoke arose
was the river, I turned westward for the purpose, in the first place, of
proceeding along the skirts of it in the opener ground; secondly, that
the natives, whose voices resounded within the woods, might have time to
see us, and, thirdly, that we might make out a day's journey before we
approached the riverbank.
AGAIN REACH THE GWYDIR.
From west I at length bent our course north-west, and finally northward,
thus arriving on the banks of the Gwydir after a journey of fifteen
miles. But here the river was so much altered in its character that we
could never have been induced by mere appearance to believe this stream
was the same river which we came upon about a degree further to the
eastward. The banks were low and water-worn, the southern or left bank
being in general the steepest, its height about 14 feet, the breadth was
insignificant, not more than 12 or 14 feet; the current slow but
constant; and the water of a whitish colour. I at first supposed it might
be only a branch of the river we had seen above, until I ascertained, by
sending Mr. White to examine it upwards, and a man on horseback
downwards, that it preserved the same attenuated character in both
directions. The course appeared to be very tortuous, and it flowed
through a soft absorbent soil in which no rock of any kind could be seen.
A NEW CUCUMBER.
In the rich soil near the water we found a species of cucumber about the
size of a plum, the flower being of a purple colour. In taste it
resembled a cucumber, but that it was also very bitter. Mr. White and I
peppered it and washed the slices with vinegar and then chewed it, but
neither of us had the courage to swallow it. The character of the spiders
was very strange; and it seemed as if we had arrived in a new world of
entomology. They resembled an enamelled decoration, the body consisting
of a hard shelly coat of dark blue colour, symmetrically spotted with
white, and it was nearly circular, being armed with six sharp projecting
points.* The latitude of this camp was 29 degrees 28 minutes 34 seconds
(*Footnote. An undescribed species of Cancriform epeira, belonging to the
subgenus Gasteracantha of M. Hahn.)
REDUCED STATE OF THE RIVER.
The general course of the Gwydir appeared to be nearly westward, between
the first and last points thus ascertained by us; and this direction
being also in continuation of the river seen so much further to the
eastward by Mr. Cunningham we could entertain no doubt as to the
identity. The channels we had crossed before we came to the running
stream at our present encampment could only be accounted for as separate
ducts for the swollen waters of the river when no longer confined by any
immediate high ground to one great channel; and hence the attenuated
state (as we inferred) of the actual bed of the stream. This I resolved
to trace through one day's journey, and then to cross, if we found no
change, and so proceed northward.
We travelled as the dense line of river-wood permitted for eleven miles;
the ground outside this belt being in general open and firmer than that
nearer the river, which was distinguished by certain inequalities, and
was besides rather thickly wooded. We found that on a bearing of 20
degrees south of west we just cleared the southern bends of the stream.
We heard the natives in the woods during our journey but none approached
the party. In order to encamp we directed our course northward, and
making the riverbank after travelling one mile, we encamped upon it. I
then sent Mr. White due north in order to ascertain if any other channel
existed, but he found, on the contrary, that the ground rose gradually
beyond the river, which convinced me that this, in which the water
flowed, was the most northerly channel. The latitude was 29 degrees 31
minutes 49 seconds South.
I gave the party a day's repose that I might put my map together and duly
consider the general course of the waters as they appeared thereon, and
also the actual character of the stream on which we were encamped. The
banks consisted of soft earth, having a uniform slope, and they were
marked with various horizontal lines, probably denoting the height which
the water had attained during different floods. The river had a peculiar
uniformity of width and would therefore but for the tortuous course, have
resembled a canal. The width was small in proportion to the depth, and
both were greatest at the sharp bends of the channel. The water was of a
white clay colour. The ground to the distance of half a mile from each
bank was broken and furrowed into grassy hollows resembling old channels;
so that the slightest appearance of such inequality was a sure indication
of the river being near while we travelled parallel to its course. The
whole of the country beyond was so level that the slightest appearance of
a hollow was a most welcome sight as it relieved us from any despair of
At four o'clock this day the thermometer stood at 97 degrees, the clouds
were cumulostratus and cirrus, and there was a good breeze from the
CROSS THE RIVER AND PROCEED NORTHWARD.
The cattle being much fatigued by incessant travelling during great heat
I left most of them at this camp with Mr. White and half the men of the
party, and I crossed the river with the other portion and some
pack-animals carrying a small supply of provisions, some blankets, etc.
The river was accessible to the cattle at only one place, the muddy bank
by the water's edge being so soft that they were everywhere else in
danger of sinking; the men were therefore obliged to carry the packages
across and load the animals on the opposite bank. This work was completed
by ten A.M. and we proceeded due north from the depot camp. We soon saw a
flock of eight emus. The country consisted of open forest which, growing
gradually thinner, at length left intervals of open plain. The ground
seemed to rise for the first mile, and then to slope northward towards a
wooded flat which was likely to contain water, although we found none
there. Penetrating next through a narrow strip of casuarinae scrub, we
found the remains of native huts; and beyond this scrub we crossed a
beautiful plain; covered with shining verdure, and ornamented with trees
which, although dropt in nature's careless haste, gave the country the
appearance of an extensive park. We next entered a brush of Acacia
pendula, which grew higher and more abundant than I had seen it
A NIGHT WITHOUT WATER.
After twelve the day became excessively warm, and although no water could
be found we were compelled to encamp about two P.M., one of the party
(Burnett) having become seriously ill. As the country appeared to decline
towards some wooded hollows I hoped that one of these might be found to
contain a pool, especially as the wood appeared to consist of that
species of casuarina which, in the colony, is termed swamp-oak, and which
usually grows in moist situations. Subsequent experience however proved
quite the reverse; for, on exploring the deepest hollows and densest
thickets about our camp, not a hollow containing the least moisture could
be found. Thus the cattle were compelled to endure this privation once
more, after a hard day's work, and during an unusually hot evening.
To add to our distress The Doctor, as Souter was termed by his comrades,
having, as soon as we halted, set out in search of water, with the
tea-kettle in his hand, did not return.
When the sun had nearly set a black swan was observed high in the air,
slowly winging its way towards the south-west, and many smaller birds
appeared to fly in the same direction. Even the sight of an aquatic bird
was refreshing to us, but this one did not promise much for the country
to the northward for, at that time of the evening, we might safely
conclude that the greater body of water lay to the south-west in the
direction of the swan's flight. I found the latitude of this camp to be
29 degrees 23 minutes 54 seconds South, making our distance from the camp
on the river about ten miles.
The non-appearance of Souter occasioned me much uneasiness; fortunately
the trees were marked along our line of route from the river, and it was
probable that he would this morning find the line, and either follow us
or retrace his steps towards the camp on the river. The men who know him
best thought he would prefer the latter alternative, as he had been
desirous of remaining at the depot.
This was likely however to occasion some inconvenience to us, as he was a
useful hand, and I did not despair, even then, of finding some use for
the tea-kettle. Burnett had recovered; the morning was clear, with a
pleasant breeze from the north-east, and the irresistible attraction of a
perfectly unknown region still led us northward.
The undulations were scarcely perceptible, and the woods were disposed in
narrow strips enclosing plains on which grew abundance of grass. They
occupied the lowest parts, and umbrageous clumps of casuarinae in such
situations often led me on unsuccessful searches for water, until I was
almost convinced that these trees only grew where none could possibly
The prospect of finding any at length seemed almost hopeless, but I had
determined to try the result of as long a journey as could be
accomplished this day, with the intention of giving, in the event of
failure, the little water remaining in our cask to the animals; and then
to retrace our steps during the night and the cool part of the following
day so as to regain, if possible, the depot camp next evening.
Meanwhile my party, faint with heat and thirst, toiled after me. In some
parts of these parched plains numerous prints of human feet appeared, but
the soil which had evidently been very soft when these impressions were
made was now baked as hard as brick, and although we felt that:
On desert sands twere joy to scan
The rudest steps of fellow man,
these made us only more sensible of the altered state of the surface at
that time. Water had evidently once lodged in every hollow, and the
prints of the kangaroo when pursued by the natives and impeded by the mud
were visible in various places.
At five miles we entered a wood of pinetrees (callitris) the first we had
seen since we left the Namoi; but on passing through it we discovered no
other change. A thick wood of Acacia pendula fell next in our way, and
then several patches of casuarinae. On approaching one of these I
observed a very slight hollow and, on following it to the right, or
eastward, about a mile (the party having in the meantime halted) I
perceived a few dry leaves in a heap, as if gathered by water falling in
WATER DISCOVERED BY MY HORSE.
Trifling as this circumstance was it was nevertheless unusual on that
level surface, and I endeavoured to trace the slope downwards until my
horse, who at other times would neigh after his companions, here pulled
hard on the rein, as if to cross a slight rise before me. I laid the
bridle on his neck while he proceeded eagerly forward over the rise, and
through some wood, beyond which my eyes were once more blessed with the
sight of several ponds of water, with banks of shining verdure, the whole
extended in a line which resembled the bed of a considerable stream. I
galloped back with the good news to the party whose desperate thirst
seemed to make them incredulous, especially as I continued our line of
route northward until it intercepted, at about a mile on, as I foresaw it
would, this chain of ponds. It was still early; but we had already
accomplished a good day's journey, and we could thus encamp and turn our
cattle to browse on the luxuriant verdure which surrounded these ponds.
They were wide, deep, full, and close to each other, being separated only
by grassy intervals resembling dykes.
NATIVE WEIRS FOR CATCHING FISH.
Drift timber and other fluviatile relics lay high on the banks, and
several weirs for catching fish, worked very neatly, stood on ground
quite dry and hard. Lower down, as indicated by the flood-marks, the
banks were much more broken, and the channel seemed deeper, while
enormous bluegum-trees (eucalypti) grew on the banks, and I was therefore
of opinion that some larger river was before us at no great distance. I
did not explore this channel further, being desirous to refresh my horses
and rest the party for continuing our journey next morning. In the soil
here the only rock I found was a large, hard boulder, being a
conglomerate of pebbles and grains of quartz, cemented by decomposed
felspar or clay. Latitude 29 degrees 9 minutes 51 seconds South.
ARRIVE AT A LARGE AND RAPID RIVER.
After crossing the line of ponds and a slight elevation beyond them we
came upon a channel of considerable breadth, which contained several
other very large ponds separated by quicksands, which afforded but a
precarious passage for the pack-animals. Both banks were steep, the
average width exceeding fifty yards. Beyond this river channel the wood
consisted chiefly of casuarinae. We next penetrated through two scrubs of
dwarf eucalypti; and some trees of the callitris were also seen. At six
miles the woods assumed a grander character; masses of casuarinae
enclosed open spaces covered with rich grass; and, being in some
directions extensive, afforded park-like vistas, which had a pleasing
effect from the rich combination of verdure and shade in a season of
excessive heat. In one of these grassy alleys a large kangaroo was seen,
the first since we left the upper part of the Gwydir. The absence of this
animal from the plains and low grounds was remarkable, and we had reason
to conclude that he seldom frequents those parts. At eight miles our
course was intercepted by a deep and rapid river, the largest that we had
yet seen. I had approached within a few yards of the brink; and I was not
aware of its being near until I saw the opposite water-worn shore, and
the living waters hurrying along to the westward. They were white and
turbid, and the banks, consisting of clay, were nearly perpendicular at
this point, and about twenty feet higher than the surface of the stream.
On further examination I found that the course was very tortuous and the
water deep. My horse was however got across by a man wading up to the
neck. The softness of the clay near the stream at some parts, and the
steep water-worn face of the banks at others, rendered the passage
SEND BACK FOR THE PARTY ON THE GWYDIR.
We were all delighted however to meet such an obstruction, and I chose a
favourable spot for our camp within a bend of the river; and I made
arrangements for bringing forward the party left with Mr. White on the
Gwydir, also for the construction of a boat by preparing a saw-pit and
looking for wood favourable for that purpose. There was abundance of rich
grass along the banks of this river; and here our horses at length
enjoyed some days of rest.
Early this morning I sent back a party of the men, with the freshest of
the bullocks to Mr. White, to whom I also enclosed a letter for Mr. Finch
which I requested might be concealed in a tree with certain marks. I
hoped however that by that time Mr. Finch might have overtaken Mr.
White's party. Four men remained with me, namely two carpenters, a
sawyer's man, and my own servant. The morning was cloudy, and a
refreshing shower fell at nine A.M.
ABUNDANCE OF THREE KINDS OF FISH.
We soon found that this river contained fish in great abundance, and of
three kinds at least: namely first, a firm but coarse-tasted fish, having
strong scales; this made a groaning noise when on the hook:* secondly,
the fish we had found in the Peel, commonly called by the colonists the
cod, although most erroneously, since it has nothing whatever to do with
malacopterygious fishes:** and thirdly, the eel-fish, which we had caught
at the lagoon near Tangulda.***
(*Footnote. Family, Percidae; Genus, Acerina; Subgenus, Cernua, Flem. or
Ruffe; Species, Cernua bidyana mihi, or Bidyan ruffe. Colour, brownish
yellow, with the belly silvery white. The three middle pectoral rays are
branched. The dorsals confluent. The first dorsal fin has 11 spines, the
ventrals having 1 + 6 rays, and the anals 3 + 6. See Plate 9.
Observation: Bidyan is the aboriginal name.)
(**Footnote. Family, Percidae; Genus, Acerina; Subgenus, Gristes, Cuv. or
Growler; Species, Gristes peelii mihi, or Cod-perch. Colour, light
yellow, covered with small irregular dusky spots, which get more
confluent towards the back. Throat pinkish, and belly silvery white.
Scales small, and concealed in a thick epidermis. Fins obscure. The
dorsals confluent. The first dorsal has 11 spines, and the caudal fin is
convex. Plate 6 figure 1. Observation: This fish may be identical with
the fish described by MM. Cuvier and Valenciennes Volume 3 page 45 under
the name of Gristes macquariensis: but it differs from their description
in not having the edge of the second dorsal and anal white; and besides
is in many respects very different from the figure given by M. Guerin of
the Gristes macquariensis in the Iconographie du Regne Animal.)
(***Footnote. Family, Siluridae, Cuv.; Genus, Plotosus, Lacepede, or
Eel-fish; Subgenus, Tandanus mihi; Species, Plotosus tandanus mihi; or
Tandan Eel-fish. Colour, silvery. The dorsal fin placed halfway between
the pectoral and ventral has six rays, of which the middle two are the
longest. Plate 6 figure 2. Observation: This is an Asiatic form of fish;
whereas the Gristes is an American form. Tandan is the aboriginal name.)
PREPARATIONS FOR CROSSING THE RIVER.
After maturely considering the prospects this river opened to us then,
before exploring its course, it remained questionable whether it did or
did not belong to the Darling. We were nearly in the prolongation of the
supposed course of that river, and still nearer to its supposed outlet on
the southern coast than we were to any part of the northern coast of
Australia. No rising ground could be seen to the northward or westward,
and whether we proceeded in a boat or along its bank it was desirable to
explore the course of this river downwards. The horses required rest, and
it was necessary to unite the party before this could be attempted. I
expected Mr. Finch to arrive with the stores, and in the meantime the
preparation of a strong boat was going forward, to be ready in case our
further discoveries might lead to navigable waters. With this view it was
made to take into three pieces. The bottom being nearly flat formed one
portion, and the two sides the others. They were to be united by small
screw-bolts, the carpenter having brought a number of these useful
articles for such purposes; and when the sides and bottom were detached
they could be carried on the carts. Thus we were to proceed with a
portable punt, ready for the passage of any river or water which might be
in our way.
This day we laid down the keel and principal timbers of a boat to be
strongly planked, so as to be proof against the common drift-timber in
the river. For this part of the work we used bluegum (eucalyptus) the
only callitris we knew of being several miles back along the route.
At night some stars appeared, whereby I ascertained the latitude of this
camp to be 29 degrees 2 minutes south. The thermometer at noon was 76
degrees; and at four P.M. 82 degrees.
A clear morning with a fine breeze; the thermometer which had ranged from
90 to 108 degrees during the two last months stood now at 64 degrees. To
breathe such refreshing air and not move forward was extremely irksome.
The river rose this day a quarter of an inch. Thermometer at six 64
degrees. Wind south. At noon 86 degrees.
NATIVES APPROACH IN THE NIGHT.
In the evening the sky became overcast with a cold and stormy wind. At
ten P.M. I was called out of my tent to look at a firestick which
appeared in motion amongst the trees north-eastward of our camp. We had
seen no natives, but their habit of carrying a light whenever they stir
at night (which they do but seldom) is well known; and the light we then
saw moved in the direction of our horses and saw-pit. Our numbers did not
admit of our keeping a watch, and although I had ordered the men to bring
dogs on this ride they had brought none; we could only therefore lie down
and trust to Providence.
VIEW FROM ONE TREE FASTENED TO ANOTHER.
The clear cool weather continuing I endeavoured to obtain a view of the
horizon from a tree raised by block and tackle to the top of another; but
no point of high land appeared on any side to break a woody horizon as
level as the sea. At six A.M. thermometer 70 degrees; wind south.
The natives to the number of ten or twelve appeared on the opposite bank.
Our attention was first drawn to them by the snorting and starting of the
horses which happened to be grazing by the riverside. On seeing us
approach they suddenly disappeared. About a dozen eggs, white, and the
size of those of a blackbird, were found by one of the men in the sand
near the riverbank. Each contained a perfectly formed lacertine reptile.
This morning my attention was drawn by a noise resembling the growl of a
dog, when I perceived a black insect nearly as large as a bird carrying
something like a grasshopper, alight, and disappear in a hole. On
digging, it suddenly arose from amidst the dust and escaped; but we found
there several large larvae; this was the most bulky insect I ever saw. A
beautiful species of stilbum frequently visited my tent; its buzz, having
two distinct notes, had a very pleasing sound. The sandy banks abounded
with a species of monedula, and others of the Bembecidae tribe. In dead
trees we found the Scutellera corallifera as described in the Appendix to
Captain King's voyage.
This day the river fell nearly an inch.
MR. WHITE ARRIVES WITH THE PARTY AND LOST MAN.
Mr. White arrived with the carts and the depot party, including Souter,
The Doctor, who had wandered from our camp in search of water on the 21st
DETAINED BY NATIVES.
His story was that on going about six miles from the camp he lost his
way, and fell in with the blacks, who detained him one day and two
nights, but having at length effected his escape while they were asleep
early on the second morning, he had made the best of his way towards the
Gwydir, and thus reached the depot camp.
MR. WHITE CROSSES THE RIVER.
This day Mr. White crossed the river and examined the country for several
miles beyond it, in search of the pine (or callitris) which we required
for the completion of our boat, but he found none in that direction.
MARKS OF FLOODS ON TREES.
About three miles to the north of our camp he came upon a chain of large
lagoons extending in a westerly direction, and the drift marks on trees
showed that at some seasons a considerable current of water flowed there
to the westward, rising occasionally to the height of ten or twelve feet
above the surface of these lagoons. He also saw a kangaroo, a
circumstance which indicated that higher forest land was not far distant.
Thermometer at six A.M. 67 degrees. Wind North-East high. Sky clear. At
noon thermometer 87, clear sky.
We now looked with some anxiety for Mr. Finch's arrival and, in order to
preserve our provisions as long as possible, I determined to make the
abundance of fish available, by distributing fishing-hooks to the men,
and to reduce their weekly ration of pork from 3 1/2 to 2 pounds.
In fishing we were tolerably successful; but flour was the article of
which we stood most in need, and for this the country afforded no
substitute, although I reduced the allowance of that also. The only
starving members of the party were our unfortunate dogs, which had become
almost too weak to kill a kangaroo--had any been seen there; neither did
that region contain bandicoots which, in other situations, had been
occasionally caught about dead trees, with the assistance of some of the
watch-dogs. We were obliged to shoot hawks and crows, and boil them into
a mess, which served, at least, to keep these poor animals alive.
The cart was sent back about twelve miles for some of the callitris trees
required for planking, none having been seen nearer to our camp.
MAN LOST IN THE WOODS.
William Woods, who had gone out in search of the spare cattle early in
the morning, did not return by one P.M., and as he was a good bushman, we
began to feel apprehensive that the natives had detained or perhaps
killed him. I therefore proceeded in search with four men, and scoured
the forest within five miles of the camp without discovering any traces
either of the natives or of him. On returning however at sunset, we had
the satisfaction to find that he had reached the camp about an hour
before us, having during the whole day been unable to find his way back
to our camp through the trackless forest.
Today the river fell another inch, and this failure of the waters, as
upon the Namoi, added much to the irksomeness of the delay necessary for
the completion of a boat. In the present case however more than on the
Namoi, the expected arrival of Mr. Finch, and the exhausted state of our
cattle, disposed me to give the party some days rest at so convenient a
point, and towards which I had indeed looked forward with this view, in
the efforts we made to attain it. The characters of my men were now
better known to me, and I could not help feeling some sympathy for The
Doctor, as the men called Souter. He was also what they termed a new
chum, or one newly arrived. He left the mess of his fellow prisoners, and
cooked and ate by himself. In figure he was the finest specimen of our
race in the party, and as he lay by his solitary fire, he formed a
striking foreground to the desert landscape. In his novitiate he was most
willing to do anything his fellows required, and I felt often disposed to
interfere when I overheard such words as "Doctor! go for a kettle of
water, while I light a fire," etc. Worthington, in particular, I
overheard, telling him he had been "a swell at home;" but a few days
afterwards The Doctor came to me, stating that an immediate operation was
necessary to save the life of Worthington, and demanding the dissecting
instruments. On inquiry I found that this man, alias Five-o'clock, had a
slight swelling in the groin, for which The Doctor's intended remedy, as
far as I could make out, was an incision in the lower part of the
abdomen. I gravely assured Five-o'clock that if The Doctor thought such
an operation necessary it must take place, although I should defer
lending him the instruments for a day or two. Thus I succeeded in
establishing the importance of The Doctor's position, and we heard no
more of his having been a swell--or of the swelling of Worthington who,
on that pretext, seemed inclined to escape work.
The cart returned with some fine timber which was soon placed on the
saw-pit; meanwhile a stockyard for the cattle was erected on the higher
NATIVES' METHOD OF FISHING.
No fish could be caught this day, and we supposed that the natives were
busy taking them above and below our camp for, in their mode of fishing,
few can escape. We had previously seen the osier nettings erected by them
across the various currents, and especially in the Gwydir, where some had
been noticed of very neat workmanship. The frame of each trellis was as
well squared as if it had been the work of a carpenter, and the twigs
were inserted at regular intervals, so as to form, by crossing each
other, a strong and efficient kind of net or snare. Where these were
erected a small opening was left towards the middle of the current,
probably that some bag or netting might be applied there to receive the
fish while the natives in the river above should drive them towards it.
The river continued still to fall during the day.
The sky overcast. A good supply of fish caught in the morning. A small
black native dog made its appearance about the camp, and was immediately
run down and worried by our dogs. From the miserable mangey appearance of
this animal I conjectured that it had belonged to the natives who were
probably skulking about us, and who are very much attached to their dogs.
I was therefore very sorry that this poor animal had been killed; and
that no traces might remain of our apparent want of kindness I ordered
the body to be burnt, and gave positive instructions to prevent strange
dogs being worried in future. This day we completed the planking of the
MR. WHITE'S ACCOUNT OF THE RIVER.
The night had been calm and close; and just before daybreak distant
thunder resembling discharges of artillery was heard in the south-west.
The sun rose clear, but was soon obscured when the wind sprung up from
the north-east. I sent Mr. White with a party of men down the river to
clear away any trees likely to obstruct the boat, and to ascertain
whether any other impediments appeared in the channel. On his return he
reported that at the distance of some miles down the channel was filled
with dead trees of considerable size; and that in another place the
bottom consisted of flat rocks which occasioned a rapid or shallow of
considerable length, over which our boat, being made of very heavy
materials, could not be carried without considerable delay. This
unpleasant intelligence, and the continued subsidence of the stream,
determined me to explore its course with a party on horseback until I
could ascertain whether it took the desired direction, namely,
north-west; and whether at any lower point the channel improved so much
as to enable us to relieve the cattle of part, at least, of their load,
by carrying it in the boat. I was most desirous of leaving the cattle
there, and some of the party, to await the arrival of Mr. Finch, while I
continued our researches with the boat if we could possibly find water
sufficient for the purpose. This method of proceeding was contemplated in
my original plan on leaving Sydney, when I hoped to reach a navigable
stream where the cattle might refresh for the return journey, until the
party, thus enabled to extend its operations by water, might fall back on
some such depot.
Excursion down the Karaula.
Its unexpected course.
Junction of the Gwydir.
Owls and Rats.
Natives at the camp during my absence.
Their attempts to steal.
Tents struck to cross.
Arrival of Mr. Finch.
Murder of his men.
Loss of his horses.
And seizure of his stores by the natives.
Destroy the boat and retire from the Karaula.
Forced march to the Gwydir.
Numerous tribes surround the party.
Good effects of sky-rockets.
Funeral dirge by a native female.
Dog killed by a snake.
Numerous tribes follow.
The party regains the plains.
EXCURSION DOWN THE KARAULA.
I left the camp with six men and four pack-animals, carrying nine days'
rations, and proceeded along the left bank of the newly-discovered river.
ITS UNEXPECTED COURSE.
I found the course much more to the southward than I had expected or
wished. The stream separated into branches which re-united, and the
channel was besides crossed in many places by large trees reaching from
bank to bank. After passing close by several southerly bends in following
a bearing of 20 degrees south of west, I met the river crossing that line
at rightangles. This was at a distance of 7 1/2 miles from the camp, and
near the point where the water broke over a rock of ferruginous
sandstone, interspersed with veins of soft white clay. The rock appeared
to be stratified, and inclined to the north-east. At 4 1/2 miles further
we again made the river on a bearing of south 10 degrees west after
crossing a small plain and passing through a scrub of tea-tree (or
mimosa). Two miles beyond that part of the river we crossed the junction
of a chain of ponds with it; and in proceeding on a bearing of 30 degrees
east of south we crossed, when about two miles from that junction,
another chain of ponds, apparently that on which we had encamped on the
22nd of January.
After riding about four miles beyond these ponds, according to the
windings of the river, but chiefly towards the south, we encamped on a
high point overlooking the stream, and where the grass was good. We here
caught a large cod-perch, this being by far the best of the three kinds
hitherto found by us. Latitude observed 29 degrees 12 minutes 3 seconds
The course of the river compelled me to travel still further southward,
which direction I accordingly pursued for seventeen miles, occasionally
taking slight turns south-eastward, in order to avoid either the bends of
the river, or hollows containing lagoons. One of these, which we arrived
at after travelling about thirteen miles, was a very extensive sheet of
water, a pleasing sight to us, still remembering how recently and
frequently we had sought that life-sustaining element in vain. This
latter had firm banks resembling the ancient channel of a river, although
the bed was evidently much higher than the water flowing in the channel
we were then exploring; and it was further remarkable in being contracted
at one part by masses of a very hard rock consisting of grains and small
pebbles of quartz cemented in a hard ferruginous matrix, probably
At seventeen miles we entered a plain where grew trees of the Acacia
pendula, and we traversed it in the most elongated direction or to the
south-west. On entering the wood beyond a sudden, extreme pain in my
thigh made me shout before I was aware of the cause. A large insect had
fastened upon me, and on looking back I perceived Souter, The Doctor,
defending himself from several insects of the same kind.* He told me that
I had passed near a tree from which their nest was suspended; and it
appeared that this had been sufficient to provoke the attack of these
saucy insects, who were provided with the largest stings I had ever seen.
The pain I felt was extreme, and the effect so permanent that when I
alighted in the evening from my horse on that leg, not thinking of the
circumstance, I fell to the ground, the muscles having been generally
affected. The wound was marked by a blue circular spot as large as a
sixpence for several months.
(*Footnote. Genus, Vespa; subgenus, Abispa; species, Abispa australiana
(mihi). Head, antennae, and feet yellow; eyes black; the scutellum of
prothorax yellow; the scutum of mesothorax black, with the scutellum
yellow; the scutum of metathorax yellow, with the scutellum black, and
the axillae yellow. The wings yellow, with dusky tips. The first segment
of abdomen has the petiole black. The second segment is black, and the
Beyond the wood a magnificent sheet of water lay before us and extended
like a noble river in a north and south direction. Keeping its eastern
bank I traced it southwards until I reached the termination, or rather an
interval, where some rocks occurred in its bed, of the same kind as those
last mentioned. The produce of gradual decomposition lay around the rocks
and seemed to prove that although these masses had been originally
denuded by the current which formed the channel, the current had not
flowed there for a very considerable time. We encamped between the two
lagoons, separated by this interval and these rocks, in latitude 29
degrees 27 minutes 27 seconds South.
We continued along the bank of the second lagoon which, turning towards
the east, threatened to stop our progress. At length however we arrived
at the termination of the water, and passing over the soft mud we
proceeded southward to look for the Gwydir, which I knew could not then
be far distant. We rode through groves of casuarinae, and over small
plains and burnt flats. In one of the thickets we saw two small
kangaroos, the first observed since our arrival on the banks of this
large river. Emus appeared to be numerous but very wild; pelicans
abounded on the lagoons, and seemed to be remarkably tame, considering
the remains of them which we saw at the old fires of the natives. It was
obvious on various occasions however that the first appearance of such
large quadrupeds as bullocks and horses did not scare the emu or
kangaroo, but that, on the contrary, when they would have run at the
first appearance of their enemy, man, when advancing singly, they would
allow him to approach mounted, and even to dismount, fire from behind a
horse, and load again, without attempting to run off.
JUNCTION OF THE GWYDIR.
At length we perceived that the ground sloped towards the south, and at
the distance of about four miles from where we had slept we made the
Gwydir. The course of this river was as tortuous as at our last camp upon
it, which could not be distant more than fourteen or fifteen miles. The
volume of water was so much reduced that in shallows, where alone the
current could be perceived, I could step across it. This stream could not
therefore contribute much to that I was tracing, and in search of which I
now turned westward. On this course the windings of the Gwydir often came
in my way, so that I turned to north 25 degrees east, in which direction
I at length reached the large river, which had been the object of our
excursion. Here it was, indeed, a noble sheet of water, and I regretted
much that this had not been our first view of it, that we might have
realised, at least for a day or two, all that we had imagined of the
Kindur. I now overlooked, from a bank seventy feet high, a river as broad
as the Thames at Putney; and on which the goodly waves, perfectly free
from fallen timber, danced in full liberty. A singular-looking
diving-bird, carrying only its head above water, gave a novel appearance
to this copious reservoir: and there was a rich alluvial flat on the
I could not however perceive much current in these waters, and I traced
the stream downwards, anxious to discover that this breadth and magnitude
continued; but I was undeceived on arriving at a slight fall where the
river was traversed by another rocky dyke similar to those seen higher
up, and over which it fell in a small body like that in the rapid near
the camp. Below this fall the river bore no such imposing appearance, but
assumed that which it wore at the various places where we had visited its
banks much higher up the stream. The meandering Gwydir terminated in this
river a little way below the fall; and I could not perceive any
difference in the appearance of the larger channel below that junction.*
(*Footnote. The situation of this junction afforded a curious
illustration of the principle which guided me in choosing my route from
the great Namoi Lagoon on the 14th of January. Having been then between
two rivers (at A) I chose the bearing of 20 degrees west of north, as
given by the bearing of the high land (B) in the opposite direction, and
this junction (C) was now found to be exactly in that line. That high
land was a projecting point of a range; the course of rivers is
conformable to the angles of such ranges, and therefore the rivers on
each side of me (at A) were not so likely to come in my way in the
direction of AC, as in any other direction I could have chosen. The
chance of finding firm ground in that direction was also better as the
rivers were only likely to continue separate by the protrusion of some
remote offset of ground between them, from the salient feature B.)
Thus terminated our excursion to explore this last-discovered stream; for
there was no necessity for extending it further, as I could not suppose
that it was any other than the Darling. Into this river we had traced the
Gwydir; the junction of the Namoi, also, could not be far distant; and
even that of the Castlereagh was only about 70 miles to the south-west,
which was the direction of the supposed general course of the Darling. It
was probable that the streams we had now explored formed the chief
sources of that river, and that we had connected its channel thus at an
intermediate point, with the basin of all those rivers which had been
crossed by Mr. Cunningham near the coast range above. It therefore
remained for me only to return to the party, which had probably, by that
time, finished the punt; and there to cross the river, in order to
ascertain, by extending our journey, the nature of the country forming
the northern or north-western side of this extensive basin.
RETURN TOWARDS THE CAMP.
Returning towards the camp with these intentions we halted to pass the
night by some ponds near the river, having observed the smoke of the
natives' fires in the immediate vicinity. At this place many trees bore
recent marks of their stone tomahawks, and the soft banks of the river
were much imprinted with their feet; nevertheless, to our disappointment,
none of the natives appeared; for a sight of our fellow-men, the
inhabitants of these deserts idle, had at length become a subject of
OWLS AND RATS.
Owls were numerous in these desolate regions and I noticed many
varieties. I observed two in particular, of a very small description, not
much larger than a thrush. It was not unusual to find them half asleep
sitting on branches from which they seldom stirred until nearly caught by
the men. Rats and mice occurred in many parts under the surface in small
holes, which appeared filled with seeds of grass and plants; and the
scarcity of the former in some places seemed partly owing to the
provident instinct of these little animals.
Proceeding on a bearing of 36 degrees East of North we made the line of
marked trees at a distance of about twelve miles from the camp, where Mr.
White remained with the party. The weather being excessively hot, and our
horses tired, I halted at the ponds which had formerly enabled the party
to quench their two days' thirst.
Some fires of the natives were burning, and three of their dogs, which
were very tame, hung about our camp and would not be driven away.
NATIVES AT THE CAMP DURING MY ABSENCE.
We reached the camp by nine A.M. and I learnt that the natives had
visited it during my absence. Burnett, having shot a duck, was swimming
for it to the middle of the river when a party of them suddenly appeared
on the high bank opposite. The white figure in the water, so novel to
them, continued nevertheless to swim towards the duck until he seized it,
apparently to their great amusement, and they were afterwards prevailed
on to cross the river. They sat down, insisting that our men should sit
also; they talked very much, and laughed at many things. They had taken
their seats in a place exposed to the sun's rays; and from this they did
not stir until they had by signs expressed their wish to remove, which
they then did, under the shade of a tree. At length they ventured to walk
about the tents, and they then insisted on presenting their clubs and
woomeras to our men. None of the names which we had written down from
Barber's statements seemed at all familiar to their ears; but Mr. White
obtained a vocabulary which showed that their language was nearly the
same as that of the aborigines at Wallamoul; the only difference being
the addition of na to each noun, as namil for mil, the eye, etc.
THEIR ATTEMPTS TO STEAL.
They were much disposed to steal. Mr. White observed one to purloin a
teacup from his canteen and conceal it very cleverly in his kangaroo
cloak. Another, notwithstanding the vigilance of our men, had nearly got
off with the carpenter's axe. They looked rather foolish when Mr. White
managed to shake his teacup from the cloak. The number of our party
seemed an object of their attention, and they explained, by pointing in
the direction in which I had gone, and by holding up seven fingers, our
number, that we had not gone down the river unobserved by them. They did
not appear to be acquainted with the use of bread; but they well
understood the purpose of the boat; and when Callide (the sea) was
pronounced to them, they pointed in the direction of Moreton Bay,
repeating very frequently the word Wallingall. They immediately
recognised Whiting, the top-sawyer at the pit, as was obvious by their
imitating, as soon as he appeared, the motion of sawing, and pointing at
the same time to him. They seemed rather struck with the thickness of his
wrists; indeed, they took some interest in comparing their limbs with
those of the party. One man had hair and features very different from
those of his companions, the hair being parted on the forehead, long, and
not curled. A sailor of our party thought he resembled a Malay. On the
discharge of a double barrel they seemed much terrified, and soon after
retired, making signs that they should return, and, by gestures, invited
some of the men to cross the river with them. Two tomahawks were
presented to them, and one of their number was dressed out with old
clothes. Their name for the river was understood to be Karaula. This
interview took place on the day previous to my return to the camp.
TENTS STRUCK TO CROSS. ARRIVAL OF MR. FINCH.
The boat was already in the water, and everything packed up for the
purpose of crossing the river, when Mr. Finch approached the camp, and I
hastened to congratulate him on his opportune arrival.
MURDER OF HIS MEN.
But he told a dismal tale--two of his men having been killed, and all the
supplies, cattle and equipment, having fallen into the hands of the
natives. This catastrophe occurred at the ponds of Gorolei, beyond Mount
Frazer, which Mr. Finch had reached after having been distressed, even
more than our party had been in the same place, for want of water.
LOSS OF HIS HORSE.
This privation had first occasioned the loss of his horse and several
other animals, so that his party had been able to convey the supplies to
these ponds, by carrying forward from the dry camp, only a portion at a
time, on the two remaining bullocks. Mr. Finch at length succeeded in
thus lodging all the stores at the ponds, but being unable to move them
further without the assistance of my cattle he left them there, and
proceeded forward on foot along our track with one man, in expectation of
falling in with my party, at no great distance in advance.
AND SEIZURE OF HIS STORES BY THE NATIVES. MURDER OF HIS MEN.
After ascertaining that we were not so near as he hoped, and having
reached the Gwydir and traced our route along its banks until he again
recognised Mount Frazer, he returned at the end of the second day, when
he found neither his tents nor his men to receive him, but a heap of
various articles such as bags, trunks, harness, tea and sugar canisters,
etc. piled over the dead bodies of his men, whose legs he, at length,
perceived projecting. The tents had been cut in pieces; tobacco and other
articles lay about; and most of the flour had been carried off, although
some bags still remained on the cart. The two bullocks continued feeding
near. This spectacle must have appeared most appalling to Mr. Finch,
uncertain, as he must have been, whether the eyes of the natives were not
then upon him, while neither he nor his man possessed any means of
defence! Taking a piece of pork and some flour in a haversack, he
hastened from the dismal scene; and by travelling all day, and passing
the nights without fire, he most providentially escaped the natives, and
had at length reached our camp.
DESTROY THE BOAT AND RETIRE FROM THE KARAULA.
Thus terminated my hopes of exploring the country beyond the Karaula, and
I could not but feel thankful for the providential circumstance of Mr.
Finch's arrival, at the very moment I was about to proceed on that
undertaking, trusting that I should find, in returning to this depot, the
supplies which I expected him to bring. We had now, on the contrary, an
additional demand on our much exhausted stock of provisions. The season
when rain might be expected was approaching, and we had behind us two
hundred miles of country subject to inundation, without a hill to which
we could in such a case repair. The soil was likely to become impassable
after two days rain, and our cartwheels were represented by the
carpenters to be almost unserviceable. These considerations, and the
hostile disposition of the natives in our rear, not only deterred me from
crossing the Karaula, but seemed to require my particular attention to
the journey homewards. We had at least accomplished the main object of
the expedition by ascertaining that there was no truth in The
Bushranger's report respecting the great river.
The wheels of the carts requiring repair before we could commence our
retreat, the carpenters were employed on this work until three P.M. Our
boat (emblem of our hopes!) was sunk in the deepest part of the Karaula.
The natives were heard approaching during the morning; and crows and
hawks, hovering in the air, marked their place in the woods. At length, I
perceived them peeping at us from behind trees; but our feelings towards
the aborigines were very different then from what they had been before we
received the news brought by Mr. Finch, however innocent these people
might be of the murder of his men. I did not therefore invite their
approach, and they were too cautious to be intrusive. The wheels being
repaired at three P.M. we turned our faces homewards, and exactly at
sunset we reached the ponds where I had twice previously encamped.
FORCED MARCH TO THE GWYDIR.
In our line of route back to the Gwydir we knew by experience that no
water was to be found. The distance to that river from our present camp
was twenty-three miles; but I considered it better to cross this dry
tract by a forced march in one day than to pass a night without water. By
this arrangement we could halt on the river during the day following to
recover and refresh the cattle after so long a journey. We were
accordingly in motion at half-past 5 A.M., and the early part of the
morning being rather cool we got forward very well. After midday the
weather was very hot. At four P.M. the bush of one of the wheels became
so loose that the cart fell down, and it was necessary to repair the
wheel before it could proceed. Mr. White undertook this with the aid of
some of the men, while I continued the journey with the rest; and it may
be imagined how cleverly the work was done from the fact that my zealous
assistant overtook us with the cart before we reached the end of the
We perceived smoke arising before us when we had arrived within six miles
of our old encampment on the Gwydir, and soon after we found the grass
burning on both sides of our line of route, which, it should be observed,
had been marked by us throughout on advancing into this country, not only
by the wheel tracks in the soft soil, but also by chipping the trees on
both sides with an axe.
NUMEROUS TRIBES SURROUND THE PARTY.
We now found the track of wheels almost obliterated by the prints of
naked feet, as if a great number had followed us, or rather Mr. Finch. A
long-continued cooey was at length heard at a distance, apparently the
signal of our arrival, and from the confused sounds which followed, and
smoke ascending in various places, it was evident that a numerous tribe
was awaiting us. The wearied cattle reached the river just after the sun
had gone down. The crossing place was extremely bad, and the poor cattle
had accomplished a wonderful day's work; nevertheless I considered it
necessary, whatever efforts it might cost us, to encamp on the other
side. That bank afforded an admirable position on which I could with
safety halt the next day and guard our cattle within a fine turn of the
river; whereas the side on which we were was particularly exposed to
annoyance if the natives became troublesome; and it did not command any
favourable run for the cattle which might thus have strayed back towards
the Karaula. Our lightest cart, which was the first, stuck fast in the
bed of the river, the tired bullocks being unable to draw it further. The
moon was about five days old, and with the assistance of its light
everything was carried across by the men, so that by nine o'clock we had
established our camp where I wished, the empty carts alone remaining on
the bank which we had left. The party had been travelling and working
hard without intermission during 16 hours, some men not having even
breakfasted: but the next morning unveiled to them more clearly the
advantages gained by these exertions.
I was awoke by the shouts of a numerous tribe of natives, and on going
out of my tent I found that they covered the opposite bank to the water's
edge. They stood on our empty carts in scores like so many sparrows, and
on every old tree or stump likely to afford them a better view of my
camp. But I overlooked them completely, and as they became more and more
vehement in their language and gestures the greater was our satisfaction
in being on the right side of the river. What they did say we could not
guess; but by their loud clamour and gestures all the leading men seemed
to be in a most violent passion. One word only they knew of the language
spoken by our stockmen, and that was budgery, or good; and this I
concluded they had learnt at some interview with Dawkins, who used it
ever and anon in addressing them. They were handling everything attached
to our empty carts, but some of our men went over to prevent any serious
injury being done. All the clamour seemed directed at me, and being
apparently invited by signs to cross to them, I went to the water's edge,
curious to know their meaning. They then assumed the attitudes of the
corrobory dance, and pointed to the woods behind them. "Come and be merry
with us," was thus plainly enough said, but as their dance is warlike and
exciting, being practised by them most when tribes are about to fight,
they must either have thought me very simple, or, as seems most likely,
the invitation might be a kind of challenge, which perhaps even a hostile
tribe dared not, in honour, decline, whatever the consequences might be.
These natives were the finest looking men of their race which I had seen.
The peculiar colour of their bodies, covered with pipe-clay, gave them an
appearance of being dressed. They were in number about 100, all men or
boys, the strongest carrying spears. None of the words of The Barber
seemed at all intelligible to them, but on mentioning the Namoi they
pointed to the south-west, which I knew was the direction in which that
river was nearest to the camp. I recognised the gigantic pipe-clayed man
who had presented his spear at me when we first reached the Gwydir much
higher up. That he was the man I then met he clearly explained to me by
assuming the same attitude and pointing eastward to the place. A good
deal of laughter (partly feigned I believe on both sides) seemed to
soften the violence of their speech and action; but when I brought down a
tomahawk, and was about to present it to the man whom I had formerly met,
and who was the first to venture across, their voices arose with tenfold
fury. All directed my attention to a dirty-looking old man who
accordingly waded through the water to me, and received my present.
Several other stout fellows soon surrounded us, and with the most
overbearing kind of noise began to make free with my person and pockets.
I was about to draw a pistol and fire it in the air when White, mistaking
my intention, observed that their vehemence probably arose from their
impatience at our not understanding them, which I thought very likely.
They repeated so incessantly the words einer, einer, that I ran up the
bank for my book, remembering to have seen the word, and I then found
that einer meant a gin, or female, as will appear on referring to the
vocabulary I obtained at Wallamoul.* The translation of this word
produced a hearty laugh among our men, and Finch drily observed that some
would then be very serviceable. I was in doubt whether they meant to
inquire, by frequently pointing up to our tents, if we had any, or
whether they wished to accommodate us with wives. At length they rather
suddenly drew together on the bank, again making signs of the corrobory
dance, beckoning to some of the men to go with them, and expressing their
intention to depart, but to return again to sleep there, by saying
nangary, and pointing to the ground. This I understood clearly, and very
soon they all disappeared. Fortunately none ascended the bank to our
tents, as it was not desirable they should know our numbers exactly. It
did not appear that they understood the nature and effect of firearms.
Meanwhile our wheels had been found so frail that we must have halted
here under any circumstances in order to strengthen them for the tough
work they were to encounter. The carpenters therefore worked hard at them
this forenoon. In thus returning, I gathered for my friend, Mr. Brown, a
hortus siccus of such plants as appeared new to me; the field of research
being obviously, at this time, confined to our line of route.
(*Footnote. See Appendix 2.1 volume 2.)
PASSAGE OF THE RIVER.
As soon as the natives were gone I set all hands except the carpenters to
extricate the cart, still in the bed of the river; and it was at length
brought up the bank. We next yoked the bullocks to the empty drays and
cart on the opposite side, and all were soon brought safely through the
river. I preferred doing this work when the natives were absent because I
did not wish them to see the difficulties which the passage of a river
occasioned to us.
When the sun was near setting the voices of our unwelcome visitors were
again heard, and they soon appeared gaily painted white for the
corrobory; but foreseeing this return I had forbidden the men from
looking towards them, and in order to discourage their approaches still
more, I directed The Doctor to pace backward and forward on the bank
before our tents, with a firelock on his shoulder and the calm air of a
sentinel, but without noticing the natives opposite. They accordingly
also kept back, although one of them crossed to the bullock-driver who
was alone, watching the cattle on our left, and endeavoured to persuade
him to go over the river with him. The whole at length disappeared
without further parley. Under any other circumstances I should certainly
have been willing to have met their civilities at least halfway, but
recent events had weakened our confidence in the natives.
GOOD EFFECTS OF SKYROCKETS.
When night came on we saw their fires behind the trees at a little
distance from the river, and we also heard their voices; but to complete
the effect of our coolness in the evening, which certainly must have
puzzled them, considering our kindness in the morning, I sent up a
rocket, after which their very fires disappeared, and we heard their
voices no more.
From this camp the first day's journey homeward along our old track was
parallel to the river; the second left its banks and led in a south-east
direction to Rodrigo Ponds, where we had encamped on the 17th of January.
On emerging from the wooded margin of the river this morning, I struck
into a new direction, leaving the natives to believe that we still
followed the beaten track towards our old camp on the Gwydir; where they
would no doubt await us that evening, while we pursued the bearing of 64
degrees East of South, in hopes to pass a quiet night at Rodrigo Ponds,
thus stealing a march upon them--a manoeuvre which we successfully
After proceeding some miles in the new direction we found some very bad
swampy ground before us. It was covered with holes brim full of water;
and we at length arrived where long reeds grew in extensive patches. The
inequalities of the surface owing to these holes required the nicest care
in conducting the carts between them, but after frequent halts I was glad
to back out of this swamp, and only regained the firm ground by
considerable turnings and windings. We were not far probably from the
Namoi in that reedy region, but it might have been very extensive. On
regaining its eastern skirts I resumed the course pursued in the morning,
and passed through a tract where the grass and trees were to a
considerable extent on fire. At length however we recognised the
park-like scenery which we had formerly crossed; and with no small
pleasure again we fell in with our former track, at a distance of about
three miles short of our old camp at Rodrigo Ponds.
FUNERAL DIRGE BY A NATIVE FEMALE.
While I stood near this spot, awaiting the arrival of the party which was
still at some distance, I overheard a female singing. The notes were
pleasing and very different from the monotonous strains of the natives in
general. Just then I had been admiring the calm repose of the surrounding
landscape, gilded by the beams of a splendid setting sun, and
anticipating a quiet night for the party. The soft sounds, so expressive
of tranquillity and peace, were in perfect unison with the scene around.
Nothing could have been more romantic, nevertheless I could most
willingly have dispensed with the accompaniment at that time, so
associated were all our ideas of the natives, with murder and pillage.
When my men came up I directed them to give a hurra, in hopes that it
would put the party, whoever they might be, to flight. Yet after a cheer
about as rough as English throats could well utter, the sweet strain, to
my surprise, continued,
And bade the lovely scenes at distance hail.
But this was not the song of hope, but of despair, at least so it sounded
to me under the circumstances, and so it really proved to be, as I
Men's voices were also heard, as we proceeded quietly to our old ground,
and I could not help regretting that after having given the natives on
the Gwydir the slip, and seen no others the whole day, we should again
find the very spot on which we were to pass the night, pre-occupied by
natives. Our party set up their tents, and the song ceased, but I
proceeded with Mr. White towards the place whence the voices came. We
there saw several persons amid smoke, and apparently regardless of our
presence; indeed, their apathy, as compared with the active vigilance of
the natives in general, was surprising. A young man continued to beat out
a skin against a tree without caring to look at us, and as they made no
advance we did not go up to them. Mr. White, on visiting their fires
however at ten P.M. found that they had decamped.
All this seemed rather mysterious until the nature of the song I had
heard was explained to me afterwards at Sydney by The Bushranger when I
visited him in the hulk on my return. He then imitated the notes, and
informed me that they were sung by females when mourning for the dead;
and he added that on such occasions it was usual for the relatives of the
deceased to seem inattentive or insensible to whatever people might be
doing around them.*
(*Footnote. This custom is not peculiar to Australia, it prevailed also
in the East:
"A melancholy choir attend around,
With plaintive sighs, and music's solemn sound:
Alternately they sing, alternate flow
The obedient tears, melodious in their woe." Pope's Iliad, Book 24 verse
The note here is: "This was a custom generally received, and which passed
from the Hebrews to the Greeks, Romans, and Asiatics. There were weepers
by profession, of both sexes, who sung doleful tunes round the dead."
Harmer Volume 3 page 31.
It is admitted by all that this last practice obtained, and the following
passages are proofs of it. Jeremiah 9:17, 18. "Call for the mourning
women that they may come, and let them make haste, and take up a wailing
for us, that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids gush out
with waters." Idem. pages 33 to 36.)
At the time however this behaviour of the natives only made us more on
our guard, and impressed the men with a sense of the necessity for
vigilance, especially during the night when a watch was set on the
cattle, and two men guarded the camp, while all the rest slept with their
arms at hand.
This day two of the dogs fell behind, and as the whole were miserably
poor we at first supposed that these had died from exhaustion; but as the
weaker of the two came up to us in the evening it appeared then more
probable that the dogs had been detained by the natives, who might be
following our track, and that this one had escaped from them.
DOG KILLED BY A SNAKE.
On the march this morning we lost an excellent little watch-dog, named
Captain, by the bite of a snake. While the other dogs with the party grew
mere skeletons, Captain continued in good case, having fared very well on
the rats, mice, bandicoots, etc. which he, under the direction of The
Doctor, who shared the prey, had the sagacity to scrape out of the earth.
Captain was also a formidable enemy to lizards, et hoc genus omne; but
this morning his owner found him engaged with that venomous reptile known
in the colony by the name of deaf-adder, and although compelled instantly
to let it go, it was too late, for poor Captain stretched out his legs
and expired on the spot, having been already bitten by the poisonous
We repassed this day the place where only I had seen that bush of the
interior, the Stenochilus maculatus. It grew to the height of about four
or five feet, and we found the fruit and flower on the same twig.
Numerous small birds with red bills flew about these bushes, and we
found, slightly attached to the tender top-twigs, their tiny nests in
great numbers, some containing eggs. No instinctive sagacity, such as we
perceive in birds elsewhere, to conceal their nests, was here apparent,
nor was it required; but such nests must have fallen an easy prize even
to very little boys, had there been any; so that the security these birds
enjoyed seemed truly characteristic of the desert and absence of birds of
The party arrived at the old camp by Pelican Ponds early in the day.
Here, as the men were growing weak, I found it necessary to restore to
them the full allowance of rations, especially as they could no longer
derive any support from the hope of making great discoveries, for no
travellers could have felt more zealous in the cause than these poor
fellows had done throughout the journey.
Our way to the next encampment was long, and great part of the ground
full of holes, and unfavourable for travelling. Indeed, I considered it
the worst portion of country intervening between us and the Liverpool
range. This was precisely where the effect of rainy weather on the soil
was to be most dreaded, and, after having been so long exposed to be cut
off in these low levels from any higher ground by floods; the lowering
character of the sky, now that we were about to emerge, only rendered me
more impatient to see the hills again. We accordingly set off at a very
early hour, and after travelling seven miles we halted for ten minutes to
water the cattle at some ponds, where, as the weather was uncommonly
warm, the men were also refreshed with some limejuice mixed with the
water. The cattle came on very steadily afterwards, notwithstanding the
The blue summit of Mount Riddell at length arose above the horizon, and
was as welcome as the sight of land after a long voyage.
NUMEROUS TRIBES FOLLOW.
When we had proceeded about halfway to the next camp we discovered that
we were followed closely by a numerous tribe of natives. One of our men
having dropped behind fell in with them, and was nearly detained by a
fellow who flourished a large iron tomahawk over his head. Another of our
party who came in contact with a native, and who requested him by signs
to come to me, understood him to express by similar means his intention
to go northward. The main body however amounting to one hundred or
upwards, continued to move parallel to our route, and in lines of twos
and threes. Fortunately we were approaching the open plains where I knew
we should be comparatively secure from any treacherous assaults, and it
was therefore probable that they would not follow us so far. We were
advancing however towards those who were feasting on my supplies, not far
from the base of the mountain cone, which was then our landmark. The
natives there were not unlikely to be formidable enemies, encouraged by
their late success; and, with such prospects before us it was by no means
agreeable to be thus followed in rear by others. I was accordingly much
inclined to question the intentions of these if they continued to
accompany our party beyond the woods. As we approached the plains we
perceived fire and smoke before us, on the banks of the large lagoon,
where we were to encamp, and on an angle of ground where our passage was
confined between the lagoon and a narrow muddy channel from the east we
saw seven new but deserted huts, which had been erected on our track, as
if to watch our approach. On reaching them we found one large hut in the
centre, and the others arranged in a semicircle round it, the whole being
of a very substantial construction, and neatly thatched with dry grass
THE PARTY REGAINS THE PLAINS.
We arrived at our old ground after a journey of nine hours, which was the
time exactly in which we had before traversed the same distance.
Our tents now commanded a view of the open plains between us and the
woods from which we had at length emerged. The bold outline of the
Nundewar range in the opposite direction was a comfortable prospect for
us; although we were still to investigate the particulars of the tragedy
which had been acted at their base. A very hot wind blew strongly in the
afternoon, and I was prepared to advance towards the natives had they
followed us into the plain. Mr. White in the meantime kept a sharp
lookout; but the natives prudently remained within their woods.
At the lagoon we again found the beautiful crested pigeon which seemed
peculiar to these parts, as on both occasions we had seen it here, and
only in this vicinity. The remarkable tree on which the fruit had been
before abundant bore now, with the exception of a young crop, one
solitary specimen; the rest having been pulled and eaten by the natives,
as appeared from the stones which lay about. That single specimen could
only be preserved in a drawing; and this I made as well as a very high
hot-wind and our critical situation with respect to the natives
Heavy rains set in.
Country impassable for several days.
Excursion to the plundered camp of Mr. Finch.
Recover the cart and trunks.
Bury the bodies.
Columns of smoke.
Signals of the natives.
Courage and humanity of one of the men.
Homeward journey continued.
Civility of the tribe first met.
Regain the Namoi.
Ascend Mount Warroga.
Re-cross the Peel.
We had arrived at the point where I considered it necessary to quit our
former route, and cross the open country towards the range that we might
thus fall into our old track within a few days' journey of our last camp
on the Namoi. This direction would cut off ten days' journey of the route
outward, and extended across open plains where the party would be much
more secure than in the woods, at a time when the natives had given us so
much cause to be vigilant. But these plains, however favourable, afforded
only an accidental advantage, for had the situations of wood and plain
been reversed, we must still have endeavoured to penetrate by the route
which was the most direct.
Keeping the lagoon on our right we travelled as its winding shores
permitted, towards the hills, and we thus made a good journey of ten
miles in the direction of Mount Frazer. In our way we crossed a chain of
ponds which entered the lagoon from the east, and was doubtless a branch
from some of the channels crossed by us in our outward journey; but it
was difficult to say which, from the winding course and number, of those
which thus intersect the country.
When we had proceeded a few miles a loud cooey was heard from the banks
of the lagoon, and on perceiving smoke ascending also I rode across to
ascertain what natives were there; but although I found newly-burnt grass
and a tree still on fire, also many trees from which the bark had been
newly stripped, I could discover no inhabitants.
These ponds coming from the eastward at length lay in our way so much
that it was necessary to cross them; and having effected this at a dry
part of the hollow channel we encamped on the banks, as it was unlikely
that any water might be found beyond for some distance. It now appeared
very probable, from their general direction, that these were a
continuation of Bombelli's Ponds, named after my unfortunate courier
whose bones still lay there. That point, our present camp and Meadow
Ponds, where I intended to strike again into our former track, formed an
equilateral triangle, the length of each side being about twenty-two
miles. I could therefore, during the next twenty-two miles of our route,
make an excursion to the scene of pillage from any point which might be
most convenient. I preferred the earliest opportunity, in hopes of
surprising the natives; and I accordingly prepared to set out the next
morning, accompanied by Mr. Finch and seven men on horseback, leaving Mr.
White with eight men, equally well armed, to guard the camp. By this
arrangement the bullocks, which had been rather hard wrought, would enjoy
a day's rest. I availed myself of every precaution, as far as prudence
could suggest, in selecting a position for our camp and arranging the
carts for defence. A better one against surprise could not have been
found as it overlooked an open country for several miles on all sides.
A hot wind, which had been blown during the day from the south, brought a
very gloomy sky in the evening, when the wind veered to the south-east.
The sun set amid clouds of a very uncommon appearance, too plainly
indicating that the rain was at length coming. We had now however left
those low levels and dense scrubs where the natives began to hang about
us like hungry wolves; and I could not reflect on what might have been
the consequence had we been delayed only one week longer there, without
feeling grateful for our providential escape. It was obvious that had we
got fast in the mud, or been hemmed in by inundations, we might have been
harassed on one side by the natives of the Gwydir, and on the other by
the plunderers of Mr. Finch's party, until we shared a similar fate. We
had now fortunately arrived within sight of the hills, the country around
us was open, and with these advantages, the nature of our position was so
different that I could OCCUPY the country, divide my party, visit the
camp of Mr. Finch, and recover what we could from that scene of plunder.
HEAVY RAINS SET IN.
This morning it rained heavily, and the dark sky promised no better
weather during the day. I therefore gave up at once my intention of
dividing the party here, and moved the whole forward at an early hour,
being desirous to push the carts as near the hills as possible before the
plains became too soft; and with this view I deferred my intended visit
to the plundered camp until after the termination of another day's
journey. The soil, as from experience we had reason to expect, had become
very soft, and the rain pouring in torrents it became so more and more.
The wheels however did go round, and the party followed me over a plain
which scarcely supported even a tuft of grass on which I could fix my eye
in steering by compass through the heavy rain. At length I distinguished
half a dozen trees, towards which we toiled for several hours, and which
grew, as we found when we at length got to them, beside a pond of water;
the only one to be seen on these plains. There was also some grass beside
it, and we encamped on its bank, placing the carts in a line at
rightangles to the trees, thus taking possession of all the cover from an
attack that could be found. We had travelled eight miles over the open
plain in a straight line, and considering the state of the earth I was
surprised that the cattle had made any progress through it. When the
clouds drew up a little I was not sorry to discover that the plain was
clear of wood to a considerable distance on all sides, nor to recognise
some of the hills overlooking our old route.
COUNTRY IMPASSABLE FOR SEVERAL DAYS.
According to the bearings of several of these I found that the plundered
camp was only seventeen miles distant; and as the ground was so soft that
we could not move farther with the carts until fair weather had again
rendered it passable, I resolved to halt the party here until after my
intended excursion to Bombelli's Ponds.
The rain continued but not without some intermission. At one time the
wind came from the north, and in the evening the moon made her appearance
amid fleecy clouds, which raised our hopes.
The rain poured down from a sky that might have alarmed Noah. The ground
became a sea of mud; even within our tents we sank to the knees, no one
could move about with shoes--the men accordingly waded bare-footed. The
water in the pond was also converted into mud. Ground-crickets of an
undescribed species--which perhaps may be called Gryllotalpa
australis--came out of the earth in great numbers.
At three P.M. the blue sky appeared in the west, and the nimbus clouds
subsided. Towards night the wind died away, and the full moon rising in a
most serene sky encouraged us once more to indulge in the hope of getting
A beautiful clear morning, but this was nevertheless a dies non to us,
owing to the impassable state of the surface of the earth. An emu came
very near our tents, and by carrying a bush a la Birnam we got several
shots without however having the good fortune to hit it. We had the
satisfaction to find that the ground was drying very fast. In the evening
the mountains to the eastward were seen clearly for the first time. They
appeared to be very rocky and steep, much resembling the outline of
Teneriffe or Madeira; and no trees appeared on the highest pinnacles.
EXCURSION TO THE PLUNDERED CAMP OF MR. FINCH.
The weather continuing fine it was now in my power to visit the
unfortunate camp of Mr. Finch. Leaving Mr. White therefore in charge of
ours, I proceeded this morning towards that spot, accompanied by Mr.
Finch and a party mounted on packhorses. We pursued a direct line,
traversing every scrub in the way, in expectation of surprising some of
the natives. After riding six miles we passed one of their encampments
where they appeared to have recently been, as the fire was still burning.
In the scrubs we saw several flocks of kangaroos, eight or ten in each;
and on the plains we this day saw a greater number of emus than we had
before fallen in with during the whole journey.
Reaching at length the open plains beyond Brush Hill, I once more traced
the line of that watercourse which may truly be said to have saved our
lives when we first providentially fell in with it, just as the men were
beginning to sink, overcome by extreme and long-continued thirst. To us
it had afforded then the happiest of camps after such a deliverance; and
now we were to witness in the same spot a scene of death. Having struck
into the old track of the carts as we approached the place we found the
pistol of Bombelli within a foot of the track. This was surprising, for
although Mr. Finch had informed me that Bombelli lost it in the grass
after adjusting some harness (a fatal loss, poor fellow, to him) it is
seldom that any article so dropped escapes the quick-sighted natives, to
whom the surface of the earth is, in fact, as legible as a newspaper, so
accustomed are they to read in any traces left thereon the events of the
day. For the lost pistol, Burnett, who had charge of the arms, carefully
sought, as he felt a commendable and soldier-like desire to carry back to
Sydney, in good order, our full complement of firearms.
RECOVER THE CART AND TRUNKS.
A lonely cart and two dead bodies covered by the remains of Mr. Finch's
equipment now marked the spot where we had formerly encamped. The two
bullocks were no longer to be seen. The natives had revisited the spot
since Mr. Finch last quitted it, and had carried off the remainder of the
flour, and great part of the canvas of the tent. The bodies were covered
by a pile of various articles such as saddles, bows and yokes, harness,
packsaddles, trunks, canisters, etc. The savages appeared to have been
ignorant of the use of sugar, tea, and tobacco, articles which the
aborigines nearer to our colony prefer to all other things. A large
canister of tea had been emptied on the ground, a similar canister, more
than half full of sugar, lay on its side, so that its contents were still
good, the lids of both canisters having been carried off. The whole stock
of tobacco lay scattered about the ground and destroyed by the late
rains. A spade, a steel-yard, and a hammer were left; although iron had
been so desirable that one of the iron pins of the cart was carried away.
The two hair trunks belonging to Mr. Finch and which contained his
clothes, papers, etc. remained on the heap, uninjured and unopened, while
the truly savage plunderers had carried off, apparently as stuff for
clothing, the canvas of the tent. From these circumstances it was obvious
that the murderous were quite unacquainted with the colonists or their
BURY THE BODIES.
The bodies were now in the most offensive state of putrefaction, and
already so much decayed that we could not even distinguish the persons,
except by the smaller frame of Bombelli. The body of the bullock-driver
lay under the cart, where he had been accustomed to sleep; that of
Bombelli about four feet from it. No dress appeared to have been on
either besides the shirts, and one side of each skull was so shattered
that fragments lay about on removing the remains into a grave. It seemed
most probable that the natives had stolen upon them when asleep.
I ought to state here that Mr. Finch, on first leaving the settled
districts, had five men, two of whom, having behaved ill, he had been
obliged to send back to the colony.
COLUMNS OF SMOKE.
Having interred the bodies we loaded the cart with such articles as still
remained serviceable, and yoking it to three of the horses which the men
had brought, we returned towards the camp. By the smoke which arose from
various parts we perceived that the aborigines were watching our
proceedings, and I considered it desirable, under all circumstances, to
return to the camp that night, although the distance was seventeen miles.
On approaching these remains of Mr. Finch's party in the morning, I had
proceeded under cover of the scrubs, that the natives might be as little
as possible aware of our movement or intentions. We now returned towards
our camp along the original track, as being a direction not only more
favourable for the cart, but more expeditious; for as the route was
already marked, no further care respecting the line was necessary, and I
could thus devote my whole attention to the natives, who were about.
SIGNALS OF THE NATIVES.
When we reached the head of the highest slope, near the place whence I
first saw these ponds, a dense column of smoke ascended from Mount
Frazer, and subsequently other smokes arose,* extending in telegraphic
line far to the south, along the base of the mountains; and thus
communicating to the natives who might be upon our route homewards the
tidings of our return. These signals were distinctly seen by Mr. White at
the camp, as well as by us.
(*Footnote. This mode of communicating intelligence of sudden danger, so
invariably practised by the natives of Australia, seems quite in
conformity with the customs of early ages as mentioned in Scripture. "O
ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of
Jerusalem, and set up a sign of fire in Beth-haccerem: for evil appears
out of the north, and great destruction." Jeremiah 6:1.)
The sun set soon after we passed Mount Frazer, but fortunately not until
the woods no longer intervened between us and the camp. On that naked
horizon we might hope at length to see our fires, although they were then
nine miles distant, and I knew the bearing sufficiently well to be able
to travel by compass nearly in their direction. A few bushes on the
outline of the horizon were long useful as precluding the necessity for
repeated references to the compass, but a dark cloud arose beyond and
obscured the western horizon.
COURAGE AND HUMANITY OF ONE OF THE MEN.
Just then a good old packhorse, named Rattler, knocked up, and I
reluctantly gave orders to leave him behind, when Whiting, the old
guardsman, volunteered to remain with him, and bring him on after he had
rested: this in the face of both hunger and danger I duly appreciated,
and long remembered, to his advantage. We soon after came upon some
surface water and refreshed the tired animals. Precisely at eight
o'clock, as I had arranged with Mr. White, a rocket ascended from the
camp, and to us was just perceptible, like a needle in the remote
distance. That little column of fire however was enough to assure the
fatigued men; and it enabled me to mark two stars in the same direction,
which guided me on towards the camp. At length we could distinguish the
large fires made there for the same purpose; and by ten o'clock we had
terminated the arduous labours of the day, and I had the satisfaction to
find that the party under Mr. White had remained undisturbed. Two more
rockets were afterwards sent up for the guidance of Whiting, and a huge
fire was also kept burning until, at three A.M. the old soldier arrived
safe, bringing up the old horse which, after resting a while and drinking
at the water (found by Whiting as well as by us) had come on tolerably
HOMEWARD JOURNEY CONTINUED.
Notwithstanding the fatigues undergone by a portion of the party we were
all glad to quit the muddy camp this morning; and we continued to travel
towards the old route, on the same bearing by which we had approached it.
The ground was still soft, rendering the draught heavy, and our homeward
progress was accordingly very slow. At length however we reached the
ponds, which we recognised as the same we had formerly crossed about a
mile and a half more to the eastward, and I now named them Welcome Ponds.
To these salutary waters Mr. Finch had fallen back when unable to find
any at Mount Frazer. We this day traversed an open plain extending the
whole way between the two camps. I observed, as we proceeded, a hill to
the southward, the summit of which was equally clear of timber as the
plains, above which its height was 80 or 100 feet. The sides were grassy
and smooth. I named it Mount Mud, in commemoration of the difficulties
with which we had contended in its neighbourhood. Welcome Ponds, on which
we now encamped, had been converted by the late rain into a running
brook. The slopes of the ground on its banks were so anomalous that but
for the actual current of the water to the westward, and the situation of
the hills on the eastward, whence alone it could come, I must have
remained in doubt as to the direction of the fall of the waters in that