Part 6 out of 8
south-east of the camp and at the north-west extremity of the range, or
the most western part visible from D'Urban's group. I never ascended a
hill with feelings of keener interest in the views it commanded. Eastward
I beheld that hilly country which I had always considered to lie in the
best line of exploration; and from this point it looked well.
HIGH LAND DISCOVERED TO THE WESTWARD.
I could easily trace the further course of the Darling for about 20 miles
westward; but the most remarkable feature discoverable from the hill was
the undulating character of the country to the north-west beyond the
river. That region no longer presented a dead flat like the ocean, but
had upon it various eminences some resembling low portions of tableland,
others being only undulations raised a little above the common level; but
the whole country was much variegated with wood and plain.
We moved forward along the plains, keeping the river in sight on the
right; and after travelling 13 1/2 miles we encamped close to it. The
banks were so steep at this part that the cattle could not be got down
without considerable difficulty. The water was quite sweet.
We continued our journey in a south-west direction, and thus crossed
various slight eminences connected with a range which lay nearly parallel
to our route, on the left, and was named by me Rankin's Range.
THE OCCA TRIBE.
Some natives followed us during a part of this day, shouting, and at
length came boldly up to the head of the column. They were very greedy,
coveting everything they saw; and holding out their hands, uttering
constantly, in an authoritative tone, the word occa! which undoubtedly
means give! I had not been in their presence one minute before their
chief, a very stout fellow, drew forth my pocket-handkerchief, while a
boy took my Kater's compass from the other pocket and was on the point of
running off with it. I gave a clasp-knife to the chief, when another of
the party most importunately demanded a tomahawk. Observing that he
carried a curious stone hatchet I offered to exchange the tomahawk for
it, to which he reluctantly agreed. I left them at last disgusted with
their greediness; and I determined henceforward to admit no more such
specimens of wild men to any familiarity with my clothes, pockets, or
accoutrements. They paid no attention to my questions about the river.
When the party moved on they followed, and when I halted or rode back
they ran off; thus alternately retiring and returning, and calling to the
men. At last I galloped my horse at them, whereupon they disappeared
altogether in the bush. At 10 1/2 miles we came upon the river, and
encamped where it was very deep and broad, the banks and also the flood
marks being much lower than further up the Darling.
We were compelled to turn east for half a mile to clear a bend in the
river to our left, which, impinging upon some rather high ground, left us
no very good passage. The course of the river lower down was such that
after travelling many miles to the south-west, and two to the west and
north-west, I was obliged to encamp without being able to find it. By
following a hollow however which descended in a north-east direction from
our camp, the river was discovered by our watering party in the evening
at the distance of about three miles. The country which we had crossed
this day was of a somewhat different character from any yet passed,
consisting of low, bare eminences, bounding extensive open plains on
which were hollows on a clay bottom surrounded by Polygonum junceum, and
evidently the receptacles of water at other times. The hills, if the bare
eminences might be so-called, were composed of a red sandy soil producing
only salsolae and composite plants, but no grass. This red sand was so
loose that the wheels of the carts sank in it at some places to the
axles. There were bold undulations where we encamped; all declining
towards the hollow connected with the river. There was also a little hill
overlooking plains to the north and west. We passed a solitary tree of a
remarkable character, related to Banisteria, the wood being white and
close-grained, much resembling beech. As it pleased the carpenters I
gathered some of the seeds. This evening by observation of the star alpha
Crucis I ascertained the variation to be 7 degrees 52 minutes 15 seconds
We descried, from a tree not far from the camp, hills to the westward,
and the interest with which we now daily watched the horizon may easily
be imagined, for on the occurrence and direction of ridges of high land
depended the course of the Darling and its union with other rivers, or
discharge into the sea on the nearest line of coast. A range extending
from west to north-west was in sight, also a lower ridge, but apparently
on the other side of the river. The cattle having separated on its banks
during the night they were not brought up so early as usual; and in the
interim I endeavoured to repair the barometer, which was out of order.
This accident had occurred in consequence of the man having carried it,
contrary to my orders, slung round his body instead of holding it in his
hand. Much of the quicksilver had shaken out of the bag and lodged in the
lower part of the cylinder; but by filing the brass and letting off this
mercury the instrument was rendered once more serviceable. We travelled
this day due west, and at the end of 7 1/2 miles we encamped on a bend of
the river where the water was deep, and the banks rather low, but very
steep. The sky became overcast, almost for the first time since we had
advanced into these interior regions, and at sunset it began to rain. The
position of the hills and the direction of the river were here
particularly interesting, as likely soon to decide the question
respecting the ultimate course of this solitary stream on which our lives
depended in this dry and naked wilderness!
The morning was fine as usual, the rain which fell during the night had
only laid the dust. We proceeded south-west until the bends of the river
obliged me to move still more to the southward. The hills on the opposite
bank at length receded, and we saw before us only a wide desert plain
where nothing seemed to move, and the only indication of life throughout
this melancholy waste was a distant column of dark smoke ascending in
remarkable density to the sky. In the afternoon, the wind blowing keenly
from the west-south-west, we encamped amongst some polygonum bushes near
the river after travelling 10 1/4 miles.
A thick haze came on, with an extremely cold wind from the south-west;
and as it was necessary to look well before me in this part of our
journey, I gave the men and cattle the benefit of a day's rest. The river
was so shallow that it seemed almost possible to step across it; and no
deep reaches appeared in its bed. This probably was the reason why no
natives were in the vicinity, as in such deep parts only can they find
fish. The quantity of water continued the same as when we first came on
the river 120 miles higher up.
GRASS PULLED AND PILED IN RICKS BY THE NATIVES.
In the neighbourhood of our camp the grass had been pulled to a very
great extent, and piled in hay-ricks so that the aspect of the desert was
softened into the agreeable semblance of a hay-field. The grass had
evidently been thus laid up by the natives, but for what purpose we could
not imagine. At first I thought the heaps were only the remains of
encampments, as the aborigines sometimes sleep on a little dry grass; but
when we found the ricks, or haycocks, extending for miles we were quite
at a loss to understand why they had been made. All the grass was of one
kind, a new species of Panicum related to P. effusum R. Br.* and not a
spike of it was left in the soil over the whole of the ground. A
cucurbitaceous plant had also been pulled up and accumulated in smaller
heaps; and from some of the roots the little yam had been taken, but on
others it remained. The surface, naturally soft, thus appeared as bare as
a fallow field. I found a pole about 20 feet long, with a forked end, set
upright by having one end planted in the ground and fixed by many sticks
and pieces of old stumps from the river. As the natives erect similar
poles on the banks of the Darling to stretch their nets on for taking
ducks it is probable that the heaps of grass had been pulled here for
some purpose connected with the allurement of birds or animals.
(*Footnote. P. laevinode, Lindley manuscripts; panicula composita
contracta capillari, ramis pedicellisque flexuosis, spiculis acutis
glabris, gluma exteriore rotundata laxa: interiore 5-nervi, foliis
vaginis geniculisque glabris laevibus.)
HILLS BEYOND THE DARLING.
The morning was fine but a heavy dew had fallen during the night. We
proceeded across ground quite open, herbless, and so very soft that even
my horse waded through it with difficulty. At length we gained some
gentle rises at the base of which the soil was a clay, so tenacious as to
have hollows in its surface which, during wet seasons, had evidently
retained water for a considerable time. A fine hill, apparently connected
with a range extending northward, at length became visible beyond the
right bank of the river and, as I had previously observed in one or two
similar cases, the Darling took a westerly turn towards the hill, so that
this day's journey was not much to the south of west. On one of the low
eminences which we crossed a new species of parrot was shot, having
scarlet feathers on the breast, those on the head and wings being tinged
a beautiful blue, and on the back, etc. a dark brownish green.* The round
knolls consist of a red earth which is different from the soil of the
plains; its basis appearing to be ironstone. We encamped on good firm
ground, and there was abundance of good grass on the riverbank. We were
not very far from the heights on the opposite side; a branch from them
extending nearly to the river.
(*Footnote. This bird has since been named by Mr. Gould Platycercus
The ground was much better this day for travelling over. We passed
through a scrub of limited extent, and for the first time in these parts
we discovered a new species of casuarina. On ascending a small hill to
the left of our route I perceived two summits of a distant range, bearing
169 degrees 20 minutes (from North) and I was not sorry to see that the
intervening country was better wooded and undulated more than that we had
lately traversed, for wherever trees or bushes grew, we generally found
the ground to be hardest. We were compelled to travel much farther than I
intended in order to reach the river, which took a great sweep to the
west, a change in its direction which I had previously observed to take
place in the course of this river on approaching a similar feature on the
right bank. The river was narrower and its channel more contracted at
this part than at any other I had seen; indeed so great was the change in
the dimensions that I doubted whether this was more than an arm of it.
The current however ran at about the same rate, and the general course
for some miles to the southward was marked out, as usual, by large trees.
At the camp the head of the range on the right bank bore North 16 degrees
The distant range which I observed during the journey of yesterday
appeared high above the horizon of our camp this morning, and the
refracted image was so perfect that with my glass I could distinguish the
trees and other objects. Thus I obtained bearings on the range from a
spot whence it could be but seldom visible. The small eminences to the
eastward, from which I first saw that range, were also refracted, and
appeared like cliffs on a sea coast. To the astonishment of the men all
the hills however soon disappeared. The Darling took some bends eastward
of south; and we were much troubled during this day's journey by the soft
ground through which we were obliged to travel in order to keep clear of
the river. At length I could proceed south-west, and on reaching, at 12
1/4 miles, a bend in the channel, I saw one of the low ridges extending
westward. On ascending it I discovered a range to the south-west,
apparently connected with that already seen to the south, and from the
many beaten paths of the natives it seemed probable that this angle was
the nearest to the hilly country which lay to the south-east.
There were also permanent huts on both banks, the first of the kind I had
seen, large enough certainly to contain a family of 15 persons; and in
one there had recently been a fire. They were semicircular and
constructed of branches of trees, well thatched with straw, forming
altogether a covering of about a foot in thickness, and they were well
able to afford a ready and dry shelter in bad weather. In this respect
the inhabitants of that part of the Darling may be considered somewhat
before their brethren further eastward as rational beings. These
permanent huts seemed also to indicate a race of more peaceful and
settled habits, for where the natives are often at war such habitations
could neither be permanent nor safe. The river was here itself again, and
not contracted as at the last encampment.
INTERVIEW WITH THE RED TRIBE.
Early this morning the natives were heard hailing us from the woods, and
as soon as I had breakfasted I advanced to them with Burnett. They were
seventeen in number, and five or six of the foremost held out green
boughs. I also pulled one, but they called to me and beckoned me to lay
aside my sword, which I accordingly did, and then they all sat down. They
had good, expressive countenances, but they were not strong-looking men.
One, whose physiognomy I thought very prepossessing, and much improved by
the cheeks and other features being coloured red, appeared to be their
chief. He sat in the middle of the front row, and though he said but
little yet he was addressed by the more forward and talkative. This
rough, manly, rosy-faced fellow was such a figure as Neptune or Jupiter
are usually represented; he had also a flowing beard. The group were
almost all marked with the smallpox. I could not gain any certain
information from them about the course of the river or the bearing of the
nearest sea; but they all pointed to the north-north-west when I made
signs of rowing in water, or of large waves, etc. On quitting them I
presented the king with a greyhound pup and a tomahawk. A total ignorance
of the nature of the latter was a proof that we were indeed strangers to
them; for, although the tool had a handle, they knew not what use to make
of it until I showed them. We left them quite delighted with both gifts,
which were doubtless as important to them as the discovery of a sea would
then have been to me. The journey of this day opened prospects the most
promising for such a discovery, for the river from that bend pursued a
more westerly course. Ranges beyond ranges arose also in the south-west,
while vast plains, without any indication of the Darling among them,
extended before us to the west-south-west. I had some trouble indeed to
get as near to the river as was indispensable for encampment; but at
length we halted on a firm bit of ground, close to a very sharp bend in
HOW TO AVOID THE SANDY HILLS AND SOFT PLAINS.
We possessed nearly west over open ground skirted on the south by gentle
eminences of red earth. There plains of soft naked soil were most
distressing to the bullocks, and even to horses and men on foot; in the
general direction of the river these plains extended to the horizon, but
the southern boundary of small hills was a peculiar feature, not observed
higher up. Though the base of these eminences consisted of fine blue
clay, yet their tops were so sandy and soft that the carts sank deeper
than on the plains. It was my study to keep along the side of these hills
as much as my route would permit; for in general the best line for
travelling through the valley of the Darling is along the edging of stiff
clay always to be found near the base of the red sandhills, which form
the limits of those softer plains that usually extend for several miles
back from the river.
On ascending the highest of the hills on my left I discovered that the
ground to the southward was much more broken, and the appearance of a
valley between me and a range which I named after Dr. Macculloch raised
my hopes of finding some change in the country. On ascending however
another eminence to the right, I perceived the summit of a hill which
bore west-north-west, and rather discouraged my hopes respecting the
river, for I had assumed that its new direction towards the westward
would continue. We crossed the hill and encamped about two miles to the
southward of a bend of the river. Here there was a fall of about four
feet over masses of ferruginous clay with selenites embedded.* The banks
were lower at this point than usual, and the quantity of running water
was rather increased, probably from the springs which we had latterly
observed in great abundance in the banks, generally about two feet above
the surface of the stream. On the plains this day we found much selenite.
(*Footnote. This clay, in the opinion of geologists, has every appearance
of a mud deposit.)
There was again a considerable mirage or refraction this morning on the
rising of the frost; and I hastened to a small hill near our camp that I
might behold the transient vision of a distant horizon. The view was most
interesting for the high lands on all sides appeared raised as if by
magic; and I thus discovered that the hill, previously seen in the west,
was connected with a chain which extended round to the north, and that
there was higher land to the southward of Macculloch's range; the highest
point being to the east, or east-north-east, beyond the hill discovered
on the 21 instant. The horizon was lowest towards the west-south-west,
for even in the south-west I could perceive a rise sufficient to confine
the course of the river to the west-south-west. We proceeded nearly west
by south over a soft bed of naked earth, across which, at one place, a
well-beaten road of the natives led to the valley on the south and to
some watercourse, if not to water itself. After 10 1/4 miles of weary
travelling, we encamped on a bend of the Darling, in latitude 31 degrees
31 minutes 20 seconds South.
The soil of the plains being extremely soft, uneven, and full of holes,
the cattle were at length almost unable to get through their allotted
journeys; I therefore determined to let them rest during the three
following days while I proceeded to the hills beyond the Darling, in a
west-north-west direction nearly, and distant from our camp 11 2/3 miles.
VISIT A HILL BEYOND THE DARLING.
I forded the Darling where the bottom was a hard clay; and I proceeded in
a direction bearing 27 degrees north of west to the hill. There was much
less of the soft soil on this bank, and at a mile from the ford we
travelled on very firm clay, quite clear of vegetation, white, shining,
and level as ice. At about seven miles from the river we reached the
first rise of firm red earth. The vegetation upon it consisted of the two
species of atriplex so very common on that soil, and more of the salsolae
than I had before seen. This rise seemed to mark the extent of the bed of
clay through which the Darling flows, at least as far as we had hitherto
traced it. The country was open to about three miles from the summit
where we passed through a scrub of stunted casuarinae, interspersed with
a few of the acacia with spotted bark. Here we crossed some beds of
conglomerate, consisting of grains and pebbles of quartz, cemented by a
hard ferruginous matrix, probably decomposed felspar; and we saw soon
after a few blocks of the same hard sandstone which occurs at Dunlop's
range and other high points.
VIEW FROM ITS SUMMIT.
The summit, consisting of the same rock, was very broad and strewed with
small stones, and partly covered with a dwarf acacia bush which gave a
uniform tinge, like heath, to the whole country as far as my view
extended to the westward. The horizon to the west and south-west was
finely broken by hills resembling Oxley's Tableland and D'Urban's group,
but the day was hazy, and I looked in vain for any indication of water.
The heights towards the south-west appeared too detached also to promise
any; more resembling islands in a sea, or pinnacles, only half-emerged
from a deluge, so level was the general surface. Towards the north-west
however the heights did seem connected, and had the appearance of being
the loftier summits of very distant ranges; especially an eminence
bearing 21 degrees north of west which I named Mount Lyell. There was
also an isolated and remarkable summit which bore 50 1/2 degrees north of
west, to which I gave the name of my friend, Dr. Daubeny. The lower
ground seemed to undulate, but no part of it was intersected by open
plains or any lines of large river trees indicating the permanent
existence of water. On the contrary, as far as I could judge from colour
and outline, the same thick dwarf scrub appeared to be the universal
covering of the land; neither could I distinguish any smoke or other
trace of human inhabitants, nor even the track of a single emu or
kangaroo in that trans-Darling region. Still, it was impossible to
ascertain from the hill whether any streams did flow through the country
beyond, although appearances were by no means in favour of such a
conclusion. Neither could I distinguish from that summit, as I hoped to
do, the ultimate course of the Darling, as the line of large trees upon
its banks continued, as far as I could distinguish, in the same
direction. Another low but extensive range, exactly resembling that to
the eastward of our camp, was visible on the horizon beyond it, and
seemed to be the limit of its bed or basin on the eastern or left bank,
and the range certainly did differ most essentially in its outline from
the hills on the right bank, being the last and lowest termination of the
higher ranges in the east.
As we descended I named the first hill beyond the Darling ever ascended
by any European after my friend Mr. Murchison, a gentleman who has so
greatly advanced the science of geology. We recrossed the river at the
ford just as the sun was going down, and I had the satisfaction to find
that no natives had visited the camp during my absence.
Natives of the Spitting tribe.
Singular behaviour on the discharge of a pistol.
Second interview with the Spitting tribe.
Amusing attempts to steal, or diamond cut diamond.
Dry channel of a stream.
Tombs on the sandhills.
White balls on tombs.
Dry state of the country.
Danger and difficulty of watching the cattle on the riverbanks.
Uniform character of the Darling.
The Grenadier bird.
The Doctor and the natives.
A range discovered by refraction.
Dance of natives.
Tombs of a tribe.
Plan of natives' hut.
Method of making cordage.
The tall native's first visit.
Channel of a small stream.
The carts beset on the journey by very covetous natives.
Cattle worn out.
The tall man again.
Approach of the Fishing tribe.
Covetous old man.
Conduct on witnessing the effect of a shot.
The party obliged to halt from the weak state of the cattle.
The natives very troublesome.
Their manner of fishing.
The burning brand.
A tribe from the south-east.
The old man appears again with a tribe from the south-west.
Small streams from the west.
The Darling turns southward.
Resolve to return.
Description of the country on the banks of the river.
The men at the river obliged to fire upon the natives.
Steady conduct of the party.
Origin of the dispute.
Narrow escape of Muirhead.
Treacherous conduct of the aborigines.
NATIVES OF THE SPITTING TRIBE.
About nine o'clock this morning Joseph Jones came in to report that a
native had pointed a spear at him when he was on the riverbank with the
sheep; and that this native, accompanied by a boy, kept his ground in a
position which placed the sheep entirely in his power, and prevented
Jones from driving them back. He added that on his holding out a green
bough the man had also taken a bough, spit upon it, and then thrust it
into the fire. On hastening to the spot with three men I found the native
still there, no way daunted, and on my advancing towards him with a twig
he shook another twig at me, quite in a new style, waving it over his
head, and at the same time intimating with it that we must go back. He
and the boy then threw up dust at us in a clever way with their toes.*
These various expressions of hostility and defiance were too intelligible
to be mistaken. The expressive pantomime of the man plainly showed the
identity of the human mind, however distinct the races or different the
language--but his loud words were, of course, lost upon us. Overseer
Burnett very incautiously stole up and sat unarmed and defenceless within
five yards of him. All Burnett's endeavours to conciliate and inspire
confidence had but little effect upon the savage, who merely lowered his
tone a little, and then advancing a few steps, addressed himself no
longer to me, but to him. I felt some apprehension for the safety of
Burnett but it was too late to call him back. We were seated in the usual
form at a distance of at least one hundred yards from him, and the savage
held a spear, raised in his hand. At length however he retired slowly
along the riverbank, making it evident by his gestures that he was going
for his tribe; and singing a war-song as he went. The boy in particular
seemed to glory in throwing up the dust at us, and I had not the least
doubt, but certainly not the slightest wish, that we should see this man
(*Footnote. Strange as this custom appears to us it is quite consistent
with some passages in the early history of mankind. King David and his
host met with a similar reception at Bahurim: "And as David and his men
went by the way, Shimei went along on the hill's side over against him,
and cursed as he went, and threw stones at him, and cast dust." 2 Samuel
16:13. So also we read in Acts 22:23: "They cried out and cast off their
clothes, and threw dust into the air." Frequent mention is made of this
as the practice of the Arabians, in Ockley's History of the Saracens,
when they would express their contempt of a person speaking, and their
abhorrence of what he publicly pronounces. We find also this directly
stated in Light's Travels in Egypt page 64: "One more violent than the
rest, threw dust into the air, the signal both of rage and defiance, ran
for his shield, and came towards me dancing, howling, and striking the
shield with the head of his javelin, to intimidate me.")
About half-past four in the afternoon a party of the tribe made their
appearance in the same quarter; holding out boughs, but according to a
very different ceremonial from any hitherto observed towards us by the
aborigines. They used the most violent and expressive gestures,
apparently to induce us to go back whence we had come; and as I felt that
we were rather unceremonious invaders of their country it was certainly
my duty to conciliate them by every possible means. Accordingly I again
advanced, bearing a green branch on high, but the repulsive gestures then
becoming much more violent than before I stopped at some distance from
the party. Honest Vulcan, our blacksmith (two or three men being near
him) was at work with his bellows and anvil near the riverbank. This
man's labour seemed to excite very much their curiosity; and again the
overseer and Bulger advanced quietly towards those natives who had
approached nearest to the blacksmith. Hearing at length much laughter, I
concluded that a truce had been effected as usual, and I too walked
forward with my branch. But on going to the spot I found that all the
laughter came from our party, the natives having refused to sit down and
continuing to wave the branches in our people's faces, having also
repeatedly spit at them; the whole of which conduct was good-naturedly
borne in hopes of establishing a more amicable intercourse. As a
peace-offering I then presented the man who appeared to be the leader
with a tomahawk, the use of which he immediately guessed by turning round
to a log and chopping at it. Two other stout fellows (our morning visitor
being one of them) then rudely demanded my pistols from my belt;
whereupon I drew one and, curious to see the effect, I fired it at a
SINGULAR BEHAVIOUR ON THE DISCHARGE OF A PISTOL.
The scene which followed I cannot satisfactorily describe or represent,
although I shall never forget it. As if they had previously suspected we
were evil demons, and had at length a clear proof of it, they repeated
their gesticulations of defiance with tenfold fury, and accompanied the
action with demoniac looks, hideous shouts and a war-song, crouching,
jumping, spitting, springing with the spear, and throwing dust at us, as
they slowly retired. In short, their hideous crouching postures, measured
gestures, and low jumps, all to the tune of a wild song, with the
fiendish glare of their countenances, at times all black, but now all
eyes and teeth, seemed a fitter spectacle for Pandemonium than the light
of the bounteous sun. Thus these savages slowly retired along the
riverbank, all the while dancing in a circle like the witches in Macbeth,
and leaving us in expectation of their return and perhaps an attack in
the morning. Any further attempt to appease them was out of the question.
Whether they were by nature implacable or whether their inveterate
hostility proceeded from some cause of disquiet or apprehension
unimaginable by us it was too probable they might ere long force upon us
the painful necessity of making them acquainted with the superiority of
CHARACTER OF DIFFERENT TRIBES.
The manner and disposition of these people were so unlike those of the
aborigines in general that I hoped they might be an exception to the
general character of the natives we were to meet with: an evil disposed
tribe perhaps, at war with all around them. The difference in disposition
between tribes not very remote from each other was often striking. We had
left at only three days' journey behind us natives as kind and civil as
any I had met with; and I was rather at a loss now to understand how they
could exist so near fiends like these. I believe the peculiar character
of different tribes is not to be easily changed by circumstances. I could
certainly mention more instances of well than evil disposed natives on
the Darling; where indeed until now all had met us with the branch of
peace. We had not yet accomplished one half of our journey to the Murray
from the junction of the Bogan and Darling; and it was no very pleasing
prospect to have to travel such a distance through a country which might
be occupied by inhabitants like these. In the present case I hoped that
our patient forbearance and the gift of the tomahawk would deter our late
visitors, if anything human were in their feelings, from annoying us
more: and if not that their great dread of the pistol would at least keep
them at a distance.
SECOND INTERVIEW WITH THE SPITTING TRIBE.
The natives did not appear in the morning as we had expected, but at
three in the afternoon their voices were again heard in the woods. I
ordered all the men to be on the lookout, and when the natives came near
I sent Burnett towards them, once more with a branch, but with orders to
retire upon any indication of defiance. It turned out, as I had supposed,
that their curiosity and desire to get something more had brought them
An old man was at length prevailed on to join Burnett and to sit down by
him. This was effected however but very slowly, the others standing at a
great distance, and some who remained in the rear still making signs of
defiance. Others of the tribe at length joined the old man, but they
prepared to return on my approach, recognising me perhaps as the owner of
the pistol. On seeing this I directed Burnett to give a clasp-knife to
the old man who seemed much pleased with the present. They next made a
move towards the spot where the blacksmith was at work, commencing at the
same time a kind of professional chant, and slowly waving their green
boughs. The appearance of one of these men in particular was very odd.
There was evidently some superstition in the ceremony, this personage
being probably a coradje or priest. He was an old man with a large beard
and bushy hair, and the lower part of his nose was wanting, so that the
apex of that feature formed more than a rightangle, giving him an
extraordinary appearance. None except himself and other ancients wore any
kind of dress; and this consisted of a small cloak of skins fastened over
the left shoulder. While the man from the woods waved his bough aloft and
chanted that monotonous hymn, an idea of the ancient druids arose in my
mind. It was obvious the ceremony belonged to some strange superstition.
He occasionally turned his back towards each of us like the grisly priest
with murmuring prayer; he touched his eyebrows, nose, and breast as if
crossing himself, then pointed his arm to the sky; afterwards laid his
hand on his breast, chanting with an air of remarkable solemnity and
abstracted looks, while at times his branch:
he held on high,
With wasted hand and haggard eye,
And strange and mingled feelings woke,
While his anathema he spoke.* Scott.
(*Footnote. Burder in his Oriental Customs says (Number 187): "An opinion
prevailed both in those days and after ages that some men had a power, by
the help of their gods, to devote not only particular persons, but whole
armies to destruction. This they are said to have done, sometimes by
words of imprecation, of which there was a set form among some people,
which Aeschines calls diorizomenen aran, the determinate curse. Sometimes
they also offered sacrifices, and used certain rites and ceremonies with
All this contrasted strangely with the useful occupation of honest
Vulcan, whom I had positively enjoined not to laugh, or stop working.
AMUSING ATTEMPTS TO STEAL, OR DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND.
At length I prevailed on an old man to sit down by me and gave him a
clasp-knife in order to check the search he was disposed to make through
my pockets. Meanwhile the others came around the forge and immediately
began to pilfer whatever they could lay either hand or foot upon. While
one was detected making off with a file another seized something else,
until the poor blacksmith could no longer proceed with his work. One set
his foot on an axe and thus, all the while staring the overseer (who eyed
him) in the face he quickly receded several yards, jumping backwards to
another, who stood ready behind him to take the tool. Some jogged their
neighbours at the moments most opportune for plundering; and an old man
made amusing attempts to fish up a horse-shoe into the hollow of a tree.
The best of this part of the scene was that they did not mind being
observed by anyone except the blacksmith, supposing that they were
robbing him only. Vulcan was at last tempted to give one of them a push,
when a scene of chanting, spitting,* and throwing dust commenced on the
part of the thief, who was a stout fellow and carried a spear which he
seemed inclined to use. Notwithstanding all the vigilance of several men
appointed to watch the articles about the forge, an excellent rasp or
file was carried off. The natives left our party however in a perfectly
civil way, and we were right glad to feel at peace with them on any
(*Footnote. "The malediction of the Turks, as of other oriental nations,
is frequently expressed in no other way than by spitting on the ground."
Clarke's Travels volume 3 page 225. Mons. D'Arvieux tells us: "the Arabs
are sometimes disposed to think that when a person spits it is done out
of contempt; and that they never do it before their superiors. But Sir J.
Chardin's manuscript goes much further; he tells us in a note on Numbers
12:14 that spitting before anyone, or spitting upon the ground in
speaking of anyone's actions, is throughout the East an expression of
extreme detestation." Harmer volume 4 page 429.)
At length we were ready to quit this spot and gladly continued our
journey in hopes of leaving our troublesome neighbours also. After
proceeding some way however Mr. Larmer's horse pitched him over its head
and galloped back to the place which we had so willingly quitted. Just
then the natives emerged from their woods in greater numbers than ever,
being painted white, many carrying spears, and shouting. This startled
the horse and made him again gallop away, and we halted on the edge of a
plain until Mr. Larmer recovered the animal; which was the more easily
accomplished as the attention of the natives was fortunately fixed
chiefly on us. They repeated all their menaces and expressions of
defiance, and as we again proceeded the whole of their woods appeared in
flames. I never saw such unfavourable specimens of the aborigines as
these children of the smoke, they were so barbarously and implacably
hostile and shamelessly dishonest, and so little influenced by reason,
that the more they saw of our superior weapons and means of defence the
more they showed their hatred and tokens of defiance. The day's journey
was over a firmer surface than usual, and we encamped on a bend of the
river in latitude 31 degrees 36 minutes 48 seconds South.
DRY CHANNEL OF A STREAM.
The party moved off early. The ground we travelled over, or rather
through, was very soft and exceedingly heavy for the draught animals. At
about five miles we approached a line of trees, extending from the
hollow, which for some days past had appeared between us and the hills on
our left. On examining it I found that it was the dry bed of what had
been a considerable stream, preserving a uniform breadth of about 50
yards; and having lines of flood-marks upon the bank, similar to those of
the Darling, and rising to the height of eight or nine feet. Trees such
as characterised the banks of the Darling but of smaller size grew on its
banks, which had also their flats of polygonum and small gullies similar
to those on that river, but on a lesser scale. Upon the whole it was
evident that this channel at some seasons was filled with a body of
water, the sources of which were in the high ground between the Lachlan
and the Bogan. We had observed so many paths of the natives leading from
the Darling towards the country whence this riverbed ranged that for
several days we were of opinion water was still to be found there. The
utter dryness of the bed was not surprising at a season when large dead
freshwater mussels, weighing 3 1/2 ounces, projected amid the roots of
the grass of two summers, and from ground which was the firmest we could
find for travelling upon with carts. Crossing to the left bank of this
riverbed we continued our course towards an angle of the Darling until we
came again on this tributary, as I supposed it to be. I therefore again
continued along its left bank because it afforded firmer ground than the
cracked plains, and in expectation that it would lead to some near turn
of the main river. When we were rapidly approaching the larger trees by
which the latter was known the dry channel of the minor stream suddenly
turned to the southward, and we finally encamped two miles east of the
nearest part of the Darling; in latitude 31 degrees 44 minutes 28
seconds. This newly discovered channel seemed to turn from that river so
as to embrace the extremities of the low ranges coming from the east, and
which successively terminate on the plains of the Darling. One of these
was about a mile to the east of our camp and consisted of hardish
sandstone, composed of grains of quartz, without any apparent cement, but
containing a small quantity of decomposed felspar. At the base of those
hills I found, as elsewhere, pebbles consisting chiefly of a splintery
quartz rock, in which the grains of sand or quartz were firmly embedded
in a siliceous cement. On the northern side of that ridge I observed at
some distance an isolated clump of trees resembling pines or cypresses,
growing very thick, and the foliage was of a brighter green than that of
the callitris trees which they most resemble; unlike them however they
had no dead lower branches but were thick and green to the ground. I
regretted much that I had not an opportunity of examining them closely.
In the Darling, westward of this camp, was a bed of round concretions,
all about an inch in diameter. They were dark-coloured and when first
taken out had a foetid smell.
Pursuing the left bank of the newly discovered channel we found that it
embraced some low rising grounds which, ever since we had made
Macculloch's range, had been the limits of the polygonum flats along the
left bank also of the Darling.
TOMBS ON THE SANDHILLS.
On the tops of some of those hills I observed what appeared to be the
tombs of the natives. They consisted of a circular trench of about 30
feet in diameter, the grave being covered by a low mound in the centre;
and they were always dug in the highest parts of hills. On observing this
preference of heights as burying places I remembered that it was on the
summit of the hill where I fixed our depot on the Darling that we saw the
numerous white balls and so many graves.* The balls were shaped as in the
accompanying woodcut, and were made of lime.
(*Footnote. M. de la Roque says of the Bedouin Arabs of Mount Carmel:
"that the frequent change of the place of their encampment, not admitting
their having places set a part for burial, they always choose a place
somewhat elevated for that purpose, and at some distance from the camp.
They make a grave there, into which they put the corpse, and cover it
with earth, and a number of great stones, lest the wild beasts should get
at the body." Voyage dans la Palestine chapter 23. See also 2 Kings
23:16, 1 Kings 13:2 and Isaiah 23:15-17.)
WHITE BALLS ON TOMBS.
Beside them were, in some cases, casts also in lime or gypsum, which had
evidently been taken from a head, the hair of which had been confined by
a net, as the impression of it and some hairs remained inside. A native
explained one day to Mr. Larmer, in a very simple manner, the meaning of
the white balls, by taking a small piece of wood, laying it in the
ground, and covering it with earth; then, laying his head on one side and
closing his eyes, he showed that a dead body was laid in that position in
the earth where these balls were placed above.*
(*Footnote. A singular coincidence with the ancient customs of Israel:
"The Jews used to mark their graves with white lime that they might be
known, that so priests, Nazarites, and travellers might avoid them, and
not be polluted. They also marked their graves with white lime, and so
also in their intermediate feast-days. They made use of chalk because it
looked white like bones." Burder's Oriental Customs volume 2 page 232. It
may be also remarked that a superstitious custom prevailed amongst the
Gentiles in mourning for the dead. They cut off their hair, and that
roundabout, and threw it into the sepulchre with the bodies of their
relatives and friends; and sometimes laid it upon the face or the breast
of the dead as an offering to the infernal gods, whereby they thought to
appease them and make them kind to the deceased. See Maimonides de Idol
c. 12 1. 2. 5.)
On crossing the channel of the tributary which we had followed I found
its bed broad, extensive, and moist, and in it two small ponds containing
the first water besides that of the Darling seen by the party in tracing
the course of this river nearly 200 miles. The rich soil in the dry bed
was here beautifully verdant with the same fragrant trefoil which I saw
on the 4th of June in crossing a lagoon, the bed of which was of the same
description of soil. The perfume of this herb, its freshness and flavour,
induced me to try it as a vegetable, and we found it to be delicious,
tender as spinach, and to preserve a very green colour when boiled. This
was certainly the most interesting plant hitherto discovered by us; for,
independently of its culinary utility, it is quite a new form of
Australian vegetation, resembling, in a striking manner, that of the
south of Europe.* I endeavoured to preserve some of its roots by taking
them up in the soil as the seed (a very small pea) was not ripe.
(*Footnote. Trigonella suavissima, Lindley manuscripts; caulibus
porstratis, foliolis obcordatis cum dente interjecto subdentatis subtus
pilosiusculis, stipulis semisagittatis aristato-dentatis trinerviis,
umbellis paucifloris sessilibus, leguminibus falcatis reticulatis
Finding that the minor river-course which had been at one time within
half a mile of the Darling was again receding from that river, so that
when I wished to encamp I saw no appearance of it within six miles, and
that no more water could be seen in the dry channel, I crossed over and
made for the Darling in a west-south-west direction.
OLD CANOE. DRY STATE OF THE COUNTRY.
Exactly where the carts passed the dry channel a native's fishing canoe,
complete with the small oar or spear and two little cords, lay in the dry
and grassy bed of this quondam river where now we were likely to pass the
night without finding water.* The intervening plain became very soft and
distressing to the draught animals, and we were compelled to encamp on
the edge of a scrub which bounded it, and at a distance of about four
miles from the Darling. This was a long way to send our cattle, but the
observance of our usual custom seemed preferable upon the whole, even in
this extreme case, to passing the night without water. The sun was just
setting when oxen and horses were driven towards the west in quest of the
Darling, our only and never-failing resource at that time. Magnetic
variation 7 degrees 8 minutes 15 seconds East.
(*Footnote. Large shells of the Unio genus projected from the hard and
grassy surface, which had evidently been in the state of mud for a
sufficient time to admit of their growth.)
DANGER AND DIFFICULTY OF WATCHING THE CATTLE ON THE RIVERBANKS.
The men who returned with water for the camp last evening had obtained it
at a lagoon short of the river, and where a large tribe of natives were
seated by their fires. Another party of our men had driven the cattle to
the river itself, for on its banks alone could any tolerable grass be
found. I was therefore apprehensive that the natives would molest the
cattle, when so far from our camp, and I accordingly sent six men armed
to watch them. They returned about eleven o'clock this morning with all
the cattle except one bullock; and as the drivers had been closely
followed by the natives from daybreak it was then supposed that the
animal had been speared. One of our wheels requiring new spokes, I
proceeded only four miles this day, towards an angle of the river, in
order to encamp in a good position and recover the missing animal alive
or dead. The death of a bullock by the hands of the natives would have
been a most unfortunate circumstance at that time, not so much because
this was one of our best working animals, as because the dread with which
these animals inspired the natives was one of our best defences. If they
once learned to face and kill them it would be difficult for us, under
present circumstances, to prevent the loss of many, and still more
serious evils might follow. As soon as we took up our ground therefore I
sent six men in search of the lost bullock; and before night they had
followed his track to within a mile and a half of our camp near the
river. Meanwhile we had found, long before their return, that he had
fortunately joined the others early in the morning.
UNIFORM CHARACTER OF THE DARLING.
The river and its vicinity presented much the same appearance here that
they did 200 miles higher up. Similar lofty banks (in this neighbourhood
60 feet in altitude) with marks of great floods traced in parallel lines
on the clayey sides; calcareous concretions, transparent water, with
aquatic plants, a slow current, with an equal volume of water, fine
gumtrees, and abundance of luxuriant grass. Slight varieties in the
feathered tribe were certainly observed; besides the crested pigeon there
was one much smaller and of handsome but sober plumage and excellent
flavour when dressed. Cockatoos with scarlet and yellow top-knot, and
about six kinds of parrots which were new to us; also some curious small
THE GRENADIER BIRD.
But of all the birds of the air the great object of Burnett's search was
one wholly scarlet, of which kind only two had been seen at different
places, far apart. Being wholly new, this bird might have been named the
Grenadier, as a companion to the Rifle-bird. The junction of even the dry
bed of a tributary was certainly a novelty; and the effect of this on the
course of the river remained to be seen. From the station beyond the
Darling I took the bearing of the furthest visible trees in the line of
that river, and on my map it exactly intersected the bend, now the
nearest to our camp. Beyond it nothing could be seen from hills or lofty
trees, and all I could know then was that the river turned nearly
westward, and that a tributary was about to fall into it from the east.
We were near the place where it might reasonably be ascertained, from the
direction of its further course, whether the Darling finally joined the
THE DOCTOR AND THE NATIVES.
The repair of the wheel could not be effected before one o'clock.
Meanwhile The Doctor, having been to the river for two buckets of water,
was surprised on ascending the bank by a numerous tribe armed with spears
and boomerangs. One of the natives however stepped forward unarmed,
between his fellows and The Doctor, and with the aid of two others made
the tribe fall back. Souter had fortunately bethought him of holding out
a twig as soon as he saw them. These three men accompanied him to the
camp, and as they seemed well-disposed, and showed confidence, I gave the
foremost a tomahawk. Two of them were deeply marked with smallpox. On
mentioning the Calare, they immediately pointed towards the Lachlan, this
being the well-known native name of that river; but their curiosity was
too strongly excited by the novelties before them to admit of much
attention being given to my questions. They remained about half an hour
and then departed; and we soon after proceeded. Having passed through
some scrub we reached a firm bit of plain on which we encamped; the day's
journey being about six miles. Near our camp there was a long lagoon in
the bed of a watercourse which seemed to be a channel from the back
country. We heard the many voices of our black friends in the woods.
A FRIENDLY TRIBE.
The same tribe came up to our tents in the morning with the men who had
been in charge of the cattle, and who reported that these natives had
assisted in finding them. I was so much pleased with this kindness and
the quiet, orderly behaviour of the tribe that I presented two of them
with clasp-knives. They approached fearlessly, gins and all, and quite
unarmed, to a short distance from our camp; and they were all curiosity
to see our party. The difference between the conduct of these harmless
people and that of those whom we had last seen was very striking. All the
men retained both front teeth, an uncommon circumstance; for these were
the first natives whom I had seen in Australia possessing both. Their
women were rather good-looking. After travelling six miles we crossed the
dry bed of a watercourse which I supposed was the same as that from which
we turned a day or two before, but the line of bearing of this was
southward, and we were following the river which flowed in the contrary
direction. After travelling about eleven miles we encamped a mile east of
two bends of the stream, beside a patch of scrub which afforded us fuel.
The banks of the Darling near this camp were unusually low, being not
more than thirty feet high; the channel also was contracted and,
containing many dead trees, had altogether a diminished appearance.
Penetrating the scrub in a southerly direction we soon came upon open
ground, the surface of which consisted of firm clay. The river was close
on our right until, at about six miles forward, it turned off to the
westward. We pursued our journey over plains and through scrubs, first
south-west, then west, and finally north-west, encamping at last, after a
journey of fourteen miles, where the bend of the river was still 1 1/2
miles to the north of us. We had crossed at 12 miles the dry bed of a
river which was five chains wide, and whose course was to the north. In
it were several natives' canoes, and on its banks grew large
rivergum-trees, or eucalypti. The course of this tributary (which
probably included that which we had seen previously) and the change in
the direction of the main stream, which trended now so much towards the
west, made it still possible that a range separated it from the Murray.
There was now less of the extensive plains of bare soft earth, and more
of the firm clay, with small rough gumtrees. Few bushes of the genus
acacia were now to be seen, but the minor vegetation appeared to be much
the same as on the upper parts. As great a paucity of grass also
prevailed here, except on the riverbank, and as great an abundance of the
same atriplex and cucurbitaceous plants as I had noticed elsewhere.
A RANGE DISCOVERED BY REFRACTION.
From a tree at our camp a range was observed in the south-west, having
become visible from refraction, and this rendered it still more probable
that the river would continue its westerly course. I soon found it
necessary however to travel south-west in order to avoid it, and having
yesterday exceeded our usual distance I halted at the end of 8 1/4 miles;
the river being then distant about two miles to the north. From a bare
hill beyond this camp I could see nothing southward, except a perfectly
level horizon of low bushes, the country being nevertheless full of
hollows, in which grew trees of large dimensions. The river line was so
sunk among these hollows that I could trace it for only a short distance,
and there it bore about west-north-west. The banks of the river opposite
to our camp of yesterday were of rather different character from those
which we had seen above. The slopes towards the stream commenced some
hundred yards from it, and they were grassy and gently inclined on each
side, so that our carts might have passed easily. We saw enormous trees
by the riverside, and the scenery was altogether fine. The stream glided
along at the rate of two miles per hour over a rock of ferruginous
sandstone containing nodules of ironstone.
DANCE OF NATIVES.
Nine natives approached the party while on the march this day; and they
appeared very well disposed, frank and without fear. They carried no
weapons. While we halted I perceived through my glass a party of about
seventeen on a small eminence near the riverbank, and nine others, whom I
supposed to be those who had been with us, joined them; upon which a
large fire was made under some trees. Around this fire I distinctly saw
them dance for nearly half an hour, their bodies being hideously painted
white so as to resemble skeletons. The weather was very cold and it
seemed as if this dance amongst the burning grass was partly for the
purpose of warming themselves. I am rather inclined to suppose however,
considering the circumstances under which the tribe higher up danced,
that it was connected with some dark superstition, resorted to perhaps,
in the present instance, either to allay fear or to inspire courage. I
saw several gins carrying children in cloaks on their backs, some of whom
and several of the children also danced. Our watering party was directed
towards another portion of the river to avoid collision, if possible; and
these natives at last decamped along its bank in an opposite direction,
As the people were packing up their tents, the fire of the natives
appeared again in the wood, about a mile off and near the edge of the
plain. They soon after advanced towards our camp, and came up more
frankly than any whom we had yet seen. Gins with children on their backs,
and little boys, came also. The party sat down close to our tents and
soon began to solicit by signs for a tomahawk. It was evident that they
had heard of us, and of our customs in that respect. One man older than
the rest, as appeared by his grey beard, was most importunate; and an old
woman explained that it was very cold, and asked me for some warm
clothing, much in the manner of a beggar. I was very sorry that we could
not spare her anything save a sack and a ragged shirt. To the old man I
gave a tomahawk, and to two others a spike-nail each; I presented also a
tin jug to one, who took a great fancy to it. They seemed by their
gestures and looks to inquire how we had got safely PAST ALL THE OTHER
TRIBES; and they were very attentive to our men when yoking the bullocks,
of which animals they did not appear to be much afraid. These natives
retained all their front teeth and had no scarifications on their bodies,
two most unfashionable peculiarities among the aborigines, and in which
these differed from most others. They sent the gins and boys away, saying
they went to drink at the river. We soon moved off, upon which they
followed the others. The old man wore a band consisting of cord of about
four-tenths of an inch in diameter, wound four or five times round his
head. On examination we perceived that it was made of human hair. They
had no weapons with them. These natives, as well as most others seen by
us on the river, bore strong marks of the smallpox, or some such disease
which appeared to have been very destructive among them. The marks
appeared chiefly on the nose, and did not exactly resemble those of the
smallpox with us, inasmuch as the deep scars and grooves left the
original surface and skin in isolated specks on these people, whereas the
effects of smallpox with us appear in little isolated hollows, no parts
of the higher surface being detached like islands, as they appeared on
the noses of these natives. This was what is termed, according to Souter,
the confluent smallpox.
We crossed some soft red sandhills and at 7 1/2 miles passed the bank of
a beautiful piece of water on which were various kinds of waterfowl. This
lake was brimful, a novel sight to us; the shining waters being spread
into a horseshoe shape, and reflecting the images of enormous gumtrees on
the banks. It extended also into several bays or sinuosities which gave
the scenery a most refreshing aquatic character. The greatest breadth of
this lake was about 200 yards. It seemed full of fishes, and it was
probably of considerable depth, being free from weeds, and continuing so
full and clear throughout summers which had drunk up all the minor
streams. After crossing some soft ground, the Darling having been in
sight on our right, we encamped on its banks near a small hill
overlooking the river, and a little beyond the camp, in the direction of
our line of route.
TOMBS OF A TRIBE.
On this hill were three large tombs of the natives, of an oval shape and
about twelve feet in the greater axis. Each stood in the centre of an
artificial hollow, the mound, or tomb in the middle, being about five
feet high; and on each of them were piled numerous withered branches and
limbs of trees, no inappropriate emblem of mortality. I could scarcely
doubt that these tombs covered the remains of that portion of the tribe
swept off by the fell disease which had left such marks on all who
survived. There were no trees on this hill save one quite dead, which
seemed to point, with its hoary arms, like a spectre to the tombs. A
melancholy waste, where a level country and boundless woods extended
beyond the reach of vision, was in perfect harmony with the dreary
foreground of the scene. (See Plate 16.)
At the base of this hill, on the west, the river took a very sharp turn,
forming there a triangular basin, much wider and deeper than any of the
reaches. Near it we found a native village in which the huts were of a
very strong and permanent construction. One group was in ruins, but the
more modern had been recently thatched with dry grass.
PLAN OF NATIVES' HUT.
Each formed a semicircle, the huts facing inwards, or to the centre, and
the open side of the curve being towards the east. On the side of the
hill of tombs there was one unusually capacious hut, capable of
containing twelve or fifteen persons, and of a very substantial
construction as well as commodious plan, especially in the situation for
the fire which, without any of the smoke being enclosed, was accessible
from every part of the hut.
It was evidently some time since this dwelling had been inhabited; and I
was uncertain whether such a large solitary hut had not been made during
the illness of those who must have died in great numbers, to give
occasion for the large tombs on the hill.
METHOD OF MAKING CORDAGE.
In this hut were many small bundles of wild flax, evidently in a state of
preparation, for making cord or line nets and other purposes. Each bundle
consisted of a handful of stems twisted and doubled once, but their
decayed state showed that the place had been long deserted. A great
quantity of the flax, in that state, lay about the floor, and on the roof
of the hut. The view from the hill of tombs was dreary enough, as already
observed. Southward a country as level, and then much bluer than the
ocean, extended to the horizon. North-westward some parts of the range
beyond the river appeared between the large gumtrees. On all other sides
the horizon was unbroken.
THE TALL NATIVE'S FIRST VISIT.
The cattle were not brought up so soon as usual this morning; and six or
seven of the natives whom we saw yesterday came to us with a stranger, a
very strong tall and good-looking native. They were also accompanied by a
female who had lost a relative, as appeared by her whitened hair, and who
carried on her back a very large net. I soon bade them adieu, and moved
forward, crossing some sandy plains which reminded me of descriptions of
deserts in Asia or Africa: and then a small range of red sand on which
grew three or four cypress trees of a species we had not previously seen.
We descended to a very extensive and level plain; the surface of which
being clay was firm and good for travelling upon.
CHANNEL OF A SMALL STREAM.
We afterwards entered a small wood of rough gum (eucalyptus) in which,
while proceeding westward and looking in vain for the Darling, we came
upon a fine lagoon of water resembling a river. It had flood marks on its
banks, with white gumtrees, and extended to the north-west and north-east
as far as we could see for the woods. There we encamped for the night. On
our way I had observed from the hill a column of smoke rising far in the
south-east, as from a similar ridge to that on which I stood. The country
to the west and south-west declined so much as to be invisible beyond a
horizon not more than three or four miles distant.
On further examination of the lagoon it appeared to be a creek extending
to the north-east, but at three miles from where we crossed it, in
travelling on 256 degrees (from North) it had a very diminished
appearance. We continued over a firm clay surface on the same bearing
until we came on the Darling.
THE CARTS BESET ON THE JOURNEY BY VERY COVETOUS NATIVES.
The same natives whom we had seen, but accompanied by another tribe as it
seemed, overtook the carts on the road and now accompanied us. They were
so covetous that the progress of the carts was impeded for some time by
the care necessary on the part of the drivers to prevent these people
from stealing. Everything, no matter what, they were equally disposed to
carry off. Although watched sharply they contrived to filch out articles
and hand them from one to another. Even the little sticks in the horns
which carried grease for the wheels did not escape their hands; and the
iron pins of the men who were measuring with the chain were repeatedly
seized in their toes and nearly carried off.
When we reached the stream they set fire to an old hut which stood where
they saw our carts were likely to pass; this being intended no doubt as a
signal to others still before us on the river. Seeing that they were bent
on mischief I proceeded three miles further, and selected the position
for the camp with more care than usual. It was not good but the best I
could find; a slightly rising ground nearly free from trees, surrounded
by low soft polygonum flats, and only half a mile from the river.
CATTLE WORN OUT.
It was evident that the draught cattle could not continue this work until
after they had had some repose. This day's journey did not much exceed
eight miles, and yet some of the best of the bullocks had lain down on
the road. On the other hand the natives were likely to become formidable;
for the tribes increased in numbers while we were taking up our ground.
THE TALL MAN AGAIN.
They advanced towards us without ceremony, led on by the old man and the
tall athletic savage we had seen before, and who had both been noticed as
the most persevering thieves of all.
APPROACH OF THE FISHING TRIBE.
These two men had hung about our party several days and their intention
of assembling the tribes around us for the worst of purposes was no
longer to be doubted. I felt no occasion to be ceremonious with them, for
I had frequently given them to understand that we did not wish their
company. I immediately took several men forward with muskets to keep the
tribes off while our party were encamping, but to no purpose. The natives
carried a quantity of large fishes, and introduced me particularly to a
very good-humoured-looking black who seemed to be chief of the new tribe,
and who took some pains to explain to me that the spears they carried
were only for killing fishes or kangaroos (boondari). This chief appeared
to have great authority although not old. He wore tightly round his left
arm, between the shoulder and the elbow, a bracelet of corded hair. This
distinction, if such it was, I also noticed in one of the old men.* The
afternoon was a most harassing time, from the repeated attempts to pilfer
the carts and tents.
(*Footnote. Of the bracelet as worn among the Orientals Harmer says:
"This I take to have been an ensign of royalty; and in that view I
suppose we are to understand the account that is given us of the
Amalekite's bringing the bracelet that he found on Saul's arm, along with
his crown, to David, 2 Samuel 1:10." Volume 2 page 438.)
COVETOUS OLD MAN.
The old man whose cunning and dexterity in this way were wonderful had
nearly carried off the leathern socket for the tent-poles; another
extracted the iron bow of a bullock-yoke.
CONDUCT ON WITNESSING THE EFFECT OF A SHOT.
The most striking instance however of their propensity for clutching
occurred when Burnett, by my order, shot a crow, in hopes that its sudden
death might scare them; but instead of any terror being exhibited at the
report or effect of the gun the bird had not reached the ground when the
chief was at the top of his speed to seize it!
The strong tall man was by far the most covetous, it was almost
impossible to keep him from our carts; even after all the others had been
rather roughly pushed off and had sat down. About sunset the tribe
retired, but with demonstrations of their intention to visit us in the
morning. Meanwhile I was thinking to explore the further course of the
river with a few men and pack animals only, leaving the bullocks and
other men to refresh here for our long homeward journey.
THE PARTY OBLIGED TO HALT FROM THE WEAK STATE OF THE CATTLE.
Rest indeed was most essential to enable them to do this; and as the
natives were now gathering around us circumstances were not likely to
mend in either respect by our travelling at a slow rate. The necessity
for separation however was obvious if the survey was to be continued
farther; but I determined to halt for two days preparatory to our setting
out, during which time I hoped by patient vigilance and firmness to
disappoint the cupidity, and yet gratify the curiosity, of the natives,
so as to induce them to draw off and leave us.
THE NATIVES VERY TROUBLESOME.
Early this morning the blacks came up in increased numbers, and we were
forced to shove the tall fellow by the shoulders from our stores. The old
man however managed to cut (with a knife which he had received from us AS
A PRESENT) one of the tent ropes; and because it was taken from him when
he was making off with it he threw a fire-stick at the tent.
One strange native arrived, after many cooeys, from a distance; whereupon
the chief of the fishing-tribe (whom we styled king Peter) led him to us
and introduced him to my particular attention. The tribe also took great
interest in this introduction, and I, on our part, met the stranger as
favourably as I could, by sitting down opposite to him in the midst of
the tribe to which king Peter had led me. While I sat thus, under a dense
group of bawling savages, I perceived that the most loquacious and
apparently influential of all was the female who came up to us on the
morning of the 8th, carrying a net. She was now all animation, and her
finely shaped mouth, beautiful teeth, and well-formed person, appeared to
great advantage as she hung over us both, addressing me vehemently about
something relative to the stranger. He, all the while, sat mute before me
while I continued not only silent but quite ignorant of the purport of
what was said. My handkerchief was at length taken out, and many hands
being at length laid upon me, I retired as ceremoniously as circumstances
permitted, but not until I had been so manipulated by fishy paws that the
peculiar odour of the savage adhered to my clothes long after.
I next allowed Peter to approach my tent, upon looking into which he set
up a loud but feigned laugh, instead of evincing any surprise on seeing
many objects to him so very strange. He afterwards came up with the old
man and the stranger, proposing that the three should go in and examine
it; but I positively refused to let them enter the tent together, for a
bull in a china-shop were no hyperbole compared to pilfering savages in a
tent among barometers, sextants and books.
At length I found to my regret king Peter's hand in my pocket, pulling at
my handkerchief several times, although I had given him a tomahawk and
breastplate. They began to see (as I hoped) that they could not easily
get more from us. I perceived a messenger despatched across the river,
and asked this chief by gestures and looks the object of the mission,
when he made signs that others would come to dance. It was clear the man
was sent for another tribe as:
The messenger of blood and brand.
Still their numbers did not exceed sixty, though gathered along the
riverbank for many miles back; and my men, with twelve muskets, were
strong enough when kept together; but this could not be, and it was a
time of considerable anxiety with us all. About noon the whole tribe took
to the river, with the exception of the two old men, the tall man, and
their two gins.
These persons had followed us far, gathering the tribes and leading them
forward to pilfer; but the ceremony they went through when the others
were gone was most incomprehensible, and seemed to express no good
intentions. The two old men moving slowly, in opposite directions, made
an extensive circuit of our camp; the one waving a green branch over his
head and occasionally shaking it violently at us, and throwing dust
towards us, now and then sitting down and rubbing himself over with dust.
The other took the band from his head and waved it in gestures equally
furious, occasionally throwing dust also. When they met, after each had
paced half round our position, they turned their backs on each other,
waving their branches as they faced about, then shaking them at us, and
afterwards again rubbing themselves with dust. On completing their
circumambulation they coolly resumed their seats at a fire some little
way from our camp. An hour or two after this ceremony I observed them
seated at a fire made close to our tents, and on going out of mine, they
called to me, upon which I went and sat down with them as usual, rather
curious to know the meaning of the extraordinary ceremony we had
witnessed. I could not however discover any change in their demeanour;
they merely examined my boots and clothes, as if they thought them
already their own. Meanwhile king Peter and his tribe were much more
sensibly occupied in the river, catching fishes.
ICHTHYOPHAGI. THEIR MANNER OF FISHING.
These tribes inhabiting the banks of the Darling may be considered
Ichthyophagi, in the strictest sense, and their mode of fishing was
really an interesting sight. There was an unusually deep and broad reach
of the river opposite to our camp, and it appeared that they fished daily
in different portions of it, in the following manner. The king stood
erect in his bark canoe, while nine young men with short spears went up
the river, and as many down, until, at a signal from him, all dived into
it, and returned towards him, alternately swimming and diving;
transfixing the fish under water, and throwing them on the bank. Others
on the river brink speared the fish when thus enclosed as they appeared
among the weeds, in which small openings were purposely made that they
might see them. In this manner they killed with astonishing despatch some
enormous cod-perch; but the largest were struck by the chief from his
canoe with a long barbed spear. After a short time the young men in the
water were relieved by an equal number; and those which came out,
shivering, the weather being very cold, warmed themselves in the centre
of a circular fire, kept up by the gins on the bank. The death of the
fish in their practised hands was almost instantaneous, and seemed caused
by merely holding them by the tail with the gills immersed. The old men
at our camp sat watching us until sunset, when they went off quietly
towards the river; the afternoon also passed without a second visit from
the fishing tribe.
THE BURNING BRAND.
Soon after sunrise this morning some natives, I think twelve or thirteen
in number, were seen approaching our tents at a kind of run, carrying
spears and green boughs. As soon as they arrived within a short distance
three came forward, stuck their spears in the ground and seemed to beckon
me to approach; but as I was advancing towards them, they violently shook
their boughs at me and, having set them on fire, dashed them to the
ground, calling out "Nangry" (sit down). I accordingly obeyed the
mandate; but seeing that they stood and continued their unfriendly
gestures, I arose and called to my party, on which the natives
immediately turned, and ran away.*
(*Footnote. Harmer says: "It was usual with the Greeks (Alex. ab Alex.
Genial Dier 1 v c3) when armies were about to engage, that before the
first ensigns stood a prophet or priest, bearing branches of laurels and
garlands, who was called Pyrophorus, or the torch-bearer, because he held
a lamp or torch; and it was accounted a most criminal thing to do him any
hurt, because he performed the office of an ambassador. This sort of men
were priests of Mars, and sacred to him, so that those who were
conquerors always spared them. Hence, when a total destruction of an
army, place, or people, was hyperbolically expressed, it used to be said:
'not so much as a torch-bearer, or fire-carrier escaped.'" Herod. Urania
sive 1 8 c6.)
I took forward some men, huzzaing after them for a short distance, and we
fired one shot over their heads as they ran stumbling to the other side
of an intervening clear flat, towards the tribe who were assembling as
lookers-on. There they made a fire, and seeming disposed to stop, I
ordered four men with muskets to advance and make them quit that spot;
but the men had scarcely left the camp when the natives withdrew and
joined the tribe beyond, amid much laughter and noise.
A TRIBE FROM THE SOUTH-EAST.
These were some natives who had the day before arrived from the
south-east, having joined the fishing tribe while they were at our
present camp. These men of the south-east had a remarkable peculiarity of
countenance, occasioned by high cheek-bones and compressed noses. We
imagined we had met their bravado very successfully, for soon after they
had been chased from our camp part of them crossed the country to the
eastward, as if returning whence they came. They passed us at no great
distance, but did not venture to make further demonstrations with burning
THE OLD MAN APPEARS AGAIN WITH A TRIBE FROM THE SOUTH-WEST.
At one o'clock the tribe for which the messenger had been sent, as I
concluded, the day before, appeared on a small clear hill to the
south-west of our camp, coming apparently from the very quarter where I
wished to go. They soon came up to our tents without ceremony, led on by
the same old thief who had followed us down the river, and who seemed to
have been the instigator of all this mischief. As he had been already
detected by us, and was aware that he was a marked man, it appeared that
he had coloured his head and beard black by way of disguise. This was a
very remarkable personage, his features decidedly Jewish, having a thin
aquiline nose and a very piercing eye, as intent on mischief as if it had
belonged to Satan himself. I received the strangers, who appeared to be a
stupid harmless-looking set, as civilly as I could, giving to one who
appeared to be their chief, a nail. I soon afterwards entered my tent and
they went northward towards the river, motioning that they were going for
food, but that they would return and sleep near us.
SMALL STREAMS FROM THE WEST. THE DARLING TURNS SOUTHWARD. RESOLVE TO
I became now apprehensive that the party could not be safely separated
under such circumstances, and when I ascertained, as I did just then,
that a small stream joined the Darling from the west, and that a range
was visible in the same direction beyond it, I discontinued the
preparations I had been making for exploring the river further with pack
animals, and determined to return. The identity of this river with that
which had been seen to enter the Murray now admitted of little doubt, and
the continuation of the survey to that point was scarcely an object worth
the peril likely to attend it.
DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER.
I had traced its course upwards of 300 miles, through a country which did
not supply a single stream, all the torrents which might descend from the
sharp and naked hills being absorbed by the thirsty earth. Over the whole
of this extensive region there grew but little grass, and few trees
available for any useful purpose, except varieties of acacia, a tree so
peculiar to these desert interior regions, and which there seemed to be
nourished only by the dews of night.
AFFRAY WITH THE NATIVES.
Scarce an hour had elapsed after I had communicated my determination to
the party when a shot was heard on the river. This was soon followed by
several others which were more plainly audible because the wind was
fortunately from the north-west; and as five of the bullock-drivers and
two men, sent for water, were at that time there, and also the tribe of
king Peter, it was evident that a collision had taken place between them.
The arrival of the other tribe, who still lingered on our right front,
made this appear like a preconcerted attack; and two of the tribe again
came forward, just as the shots were echoing along the river, to ask for
fire and something to eat. Their apparent indifference to the sound of
musketry was curious, and as they had not yet communicated with those to
whom they were visitors, I believed they were really ignorant then of
what was going on. The river extended along our front from west to
north-east, at an average distance of three-quarters of a mile; and this
tribe was now about that distance to the eastward of the scene of action:
soft and hollow ground, thickly set with polygonum, intervened. I had
previously sent a man to amuse and turn back their messenger, when I saw
him going towards the fishing tribe; and now this strange tribe having
arrived, as I concluded, hungry and expecting the fish, seemed
disappointed, and came to ask food from us.
THE MEN AT THE RIVER OBLIGED TO FIRE UPON THE NATIVES.
I was most anxious to know what was going on at the river, where all our
horses and cattle were seen running about, but the defence of our camp
required all my attention.
STEADY CONDUCT OF THE PARTY.
As soon as the firing was heard several men rushed forward as volunteers
to support the party on the river and take them more ammunition. Those
whose services I accepted were William Woods, Charles King, and John
Johnston (the blacksmith) who all ran through the polygonum bushes with a
speed that seemed to astonish even the two natives still sitting before
our camp. In the meantime we made every possible preparation for defence.
Robert Whiting, who was very ill and weak, crawled to a wheel; and he
said that, though unable to stand, he had yet strength enough to load and
fire. The shots at the river seemed renewed almost as soon as the
reinforcement left us, but we were obliged to remain in ignorance of the
nature and result of the attack for at least an hour after the firing had
ceased. At length a man was seen emerging from the scrub near the
riverbank, whose slow progress almost exhausted our patience, until, as
he drew near, we saw that he was wounded and bleeding. This was Joseph
Jones who had been sent for water and who, although much hurt, brought a
pot and a tea-kettle full, driving the sheep before him, according to
ORIGIN OF THE DISPUTE.
It now turned out that the tea-kettle which Jones carried had been the
sole cause of the quarrel. As he was ascending the riverbank with the
water, Thomas Jones (the sailor) being stationed on the bank, covering
the other with his pistol as was usual and necessary on this journey;
king Peter, who had come along the bank with several other natives, met
him when halfway up, and smilingly took hold of the pot, as if meaning to
assist him in carrying it up; but on reaching the top of the bank he, in
the same jocose way, held it fast, until a gin said something to him,
upon which he relinquished the pot and seized the kettle with his left
hand, and at the same time grasping his waddy or club in his right he
immediately struck Joseph Jones senseless to the ground by a violent blow
on the forehead. On seeing this the sailor Jones fired and wounded, in
the thigh or groin, king Peter, who thereupon dropped his club, reeled
over the bank, swam across the river, and scrambled up the opposite side.
This delay gave Jones time to reload for defence against the tribe, who
were now advancing towards him. One man who stood covered by a tree
quivered his spear ready to throw and Jones on firing at him missed him.
His next shot was discharged amongst the mob, and most unfortunately
wounded the gin already mentioned; who, with a child fastened to her
back, slid down the bank, and lay, apparently dying, with her legs in the
water. Just at this time the supports arrived, which the fellow behind
the tree observing, passed from it to the river, and was swimming across
when Charles King shot him in the breast and he immediately went down.
These people swim differently from Europeans; generally back foremost and
nearly upright as if treading the water. On the arrival of our three men
from the camp the rest of the tribe took to the river and were fired at
in crossing, but without much or any effect. The party next proceeded
along the riverbank towards the bullock-drivers, who were then at work
stripped and defenceless, endeavouring to raise a bullock bogged in the
muddy bank. The tribe on the other side appeared to know this, as they
were seen hastening also in that direction, so that the timely aid
afforded by the three men from the camp probably saved the lives of
several of the party. When the men returned up the river they perceived
that the body of the gin had been taken across and dragged up the
opposite bank. The whole party had then to proceed to the higher part of
the river in order to collect the cattle, and thus they approached the
place where the newly-arrived tribe were crossing to join the others.
NARROW ESCAPE OF MUIRHEAD.
Near this spot the men next endeavoured to raise a bullock which had got
fixed in the bank, and while Robert Muirhead accidentally stooped to lift
the animal two spears were thrown at him from an adjoining scrub with
such force that one was broken in two, and the other entered three inches
deep in a tree beside him. He escaped both only by accidentally stooping
at the moment. Such were the particulars collected from the men after
their return from this affray.
TREACHEROUS CONDUCT OF THE ABORIGINES.
The spears appeared to have been thrown by some members of the fishing
tribe who had been seen with those newly arrived natives from my camp,
and who had probably by this time heard of what had taken place lower
down the river. Thus the covetous disposition of these people drew us at
length (notwithstanding all my gifts and endeavours to be on friendly
terms) into a state of warfare.
We met frequently with instances of natives receiving from us all they
could want on one day, yet approaching us on the next with the most
unequivocal demonstrations of enmity and hostility. Indeed it seemed
impossible in any manner to conciliate these people, when united in a
body. We wanted nothing, asked for nothing; on the contrary we gave them
presents of articles the most desirable to them; and yet they beset us as
keenly and with as little remorse as wild beasts seek their prey. It was
a consolation however under such unpleasant circumstances to have men on
whose courage, at least, I could depend, for numbers might now be
expected to come against us; and it was necessary that we should be
prepared to meet them in whatever force they appeared. On the return of
the men in the evening they reported that, notwithstanding all their
exertions, the bullock could not be got up from the mud.
Seven men were accordingly sent to the spot that afternoon and, as they
did not succeed, it became necessary to send a party to the river in the
morning. This was also proper, I considered, in order to cover our
retreat, for by first scouring the riverbank, no natives could remain
along it to discover that our journey was not, as they would naturally
suppose, continued downwards.
A death-like silence now prevailed along the banks of the river, no
far-heard voices of natives at their fires broke, as before, the
stillness of the night, while a painful sympathy for the child bereft of
its parent, and anticipations of the probable consequences to us, cast a
melancholy gloom over the scene. The waning moon at length arose, and I
was anxiously occupied with the observations which were most important at
this point of my journey, when a mournful song, strongly expressive of
the wailing of women, came from beyond the Darling, on the fitful breeze
which still blew from the north-west. It was then that I regretted most
bitterly the inconsiderate conduct of some of the men. I was indeed
liable to pay dear for geographical discovery when my honour and
character were delivered over to convicts, on whom, although I might
confide as to courage, I could not always rely for humanity. The
necessity for detaching the men in charge of the cattle had however
satisfied me that we could not proceed without repeated conflicts, and it
remained now to be ascertained whether greater security would be the
result of this first exhibition of our power.
Commencement of the homeward journey.
The cattle begin to fail.
Halt and endeavour to lighten the carts.
Rain comes on.
Native conversations at a distance.
Party separated to watch the cattle.
Illness of some of the men from scurvy.
Mr. Larmer's excursion into the country to the eastward.
The Spitting tribe again.
Return of Mr. Larmer, who had found water and inhabitants.
A day's halt.
Ride to Greenough's group.
View from the summit.
Barter with natives beyond the Darling.
The Red tribe again.
New species of caper eaten by the natives.
Importunity of the Red tribe.
Cross the Darling.
View from the summit of Mount Macpherson.
Rain again threatens.
Absence of kangaroos and emus on the Darling.
The Occa tribe again.
Hints to Australian sportsmen.
Meet the Fort Bourke tribe.
Mr. Hume's tree.
Return to Fort Bourke.
Description of that position.
Saltness of the Darling.
The rivers supported by springs.
Traces of floods.
Extent of the basin of this river.
Surface of the plains.
Geology of the Darling.
Gum acacia abundant.
General character of the natives.
Their means of existence.
Nets used by them.
Condition of the females.
Singular habits of a rat.
Security of a species of ants.
Apprehended scarcity of water on leaving the Darling.
Six of the cattle dead from exhaustion.
Rest of two days at Fort Bourke.
Visited by the Fort Bourke tribe.
COMMENCEMENT OF THE HOMEWARD JOURNEY.
Early this morning ten men returned to the river with orders to raise the
bullock to the bank, but after they had done so it again lay down, unable
to move, the legs having become probably cramped or benumbed from
remaining so long fast in the mud. They then descended the river about
two miles to where the other bullock lay, which they were equally unable
to move. No natives appeared or were even heard; and thus we might be
considered to occupy the left bank of the river, all along our front. We
broke up the camp at ten A.M. and turned our faces homewards. Our old
track was a tolerably well beaten road, and therefore much easier for the
bullocks, especially those of the leading cart; it was also no longer
necessary to face bush or scrub. To me the relief in travelling homewards
was considerable, as I was much more at liberty to attend to arrangements
necessary for our defence than when the direction of our route required
my attention. This day we cut off a corner by which we shortened our way
about a mile; and we reached our second encampment back from that which
we left in the morning, thus effecting two days' journey in one.
THE CATTLE BEGIN TO FAIL.
We only got to our ground however by eight o'clock at night; and before
we arrived one bullock, which had been some time weakly, lay down to rise
no more, and we were compelled to shoot it. The camp we reached was near
the large native village on the river, and the hill with the natives'
tombs (see July 8) and the same spot where the gin and the tall man first
came up to us. We approached the place with some caution but found nobody
in occupation, and we encamped with a strong guard on our cattle.
HALT AND ENDEAVOUR TO LIGHTEN THE CARTS.
As there was good food here and our animals were much exhausted by the
last journey I considered it highly advisable to halt this day. We
examined the loads and, in order to lighten the carts as much as
possible, we burned some heavy articles no longer required.
RAIN COMES ON.
The morning was damp and cloudy and at nine it began to rain heavily. We
had still to traverse about 400 miles of level country, subject to
floods, and peopled by cunning savages with whom we were now likely to be
involved in war.
NATIVE CONVERSATIONS AT A DISTANCE. PARTY SEPARATED TO WATCH THE CATTLE.
About 11 o'clock a long, loud cooey from the hill of tombs announced that
the natives had already overtaken us; but we were under arms immediately
and prepared for defence. Natives were soon after seen to pass along the
riverbank, but as none of them approached us I sent four armed men
towards the huts or village with orders to ascertain what number was
there and, in case they met a single native, to bring him to me. I was
desirous to prevent any messenger whom the tribe might have sent back to
the country through which we had to pass from arriving before we could
dispel by our peaceful demeanour any fears that might be raised to
provoke hostility on the part of the inhabitants there. The men found two
natives hiding behind trees, who ran off when observed and swam the
river. About two o'clock one of the guard with the cattle came in and
reported that twelve or fourteen natives were watching on the other side
of the Darling, and asked what he was to do. I instructed him and the
other men to motion to all such to go away, but not to fire at any unless
it became necessary to do so in their own defence. The afternoon cleared
up a little but after dark the sky was overcast. The night passed quietly
without further alarm of natives.
The vicinity of the river was an advantage to us here which the ground,
for several stages on, would not afford; for in case of need it enabled
all our men to be at hand.
THREE FEMALES FOLLOW THE PARTY.
The morning was fair but the sky continued to be cloudy when we commenced
our journey. After we had proceeded some miles the cooeys of the natives
were heard around us, and we once more expected an attack. We were then
in a close scrub and the cattle were advancing slowly, for the ground had
been softened by the rain. We halted the carts in a small open space and
prepared for defence. The men forming our rear guard, having concealed
themselves behind bushes, intercepted three gins and a boy who appeared
to be following our movements. When discovered they called out loudly
"Wainba! Wainba!" and we concluded from this that the male savages were
not far off, and that they employed these women on outpost duty. Our men
beckoned to them to go back and, no other natives appearing, we resumed
our march. The gins however were not to be driven from their object so
easily; and indeed from the barking of our dogs towards the scrub during
the night, and by the tracks observed in the sand across our route next
morning, it appeared that these poor creatures had passed the night, a
cold one too, in the scrub near our camp without fire or water, and that
they had preceded us in the morning.
In the calm evening of that day and as the sun was setting I distinctly
heard the women, at a distance of nearly two miles, relating something
respecting us to a party of their tribe beyond the Darling. It may be
difficult for those unused to the habits of Australian natives to
understand how this could be; but it must be remembered that these people
having no fixed domicile, the gins generally form a separate party, but
may thus often carry on a conversation from a great distance with their
male companions--consequently when a mile apart only these people may be
said to be in company with each other. As the gins are always ordered by
their lords and masters to meet them at such places of rendezvous as they
may think proper, we may account for the well-known accuracy of these
natives in the names which belong to every locality in their woods.
Nearly the whole day's journey led through a bushy scrub and over ground
rather soft and heavy. We reached however our former place of encampment
which we again occupied; and we sent our cattle to the river for the
night with a party of four armed men. The evening was extremely cold and
raw, the wind blowing from south-west, with drizzling rain. Between us
and the river the country was open, but the above-mentioned scrub and low
hills were close behind us; and through this scrub (as appeared by the
foot-marks seen this morning) the gins had passed our camp, and preceded
us along our line of route, making towards the river as soon as our track
approached an open plain, probably because they could not have continued
on the track of the party there, without having been seen by us.
The men returned from the river in good time with the cattle, having
neither seen nor heard the natives. The morning was beautiful, and we
proceeded, hoping that the fine weather might last. We passed the place
where we had halted on the 5th, and continued the journey for a mile or
two further in a new direction, by which we cut off a considerable
detour, and gained in direct distance about five miles. We encamped near
a bare hill beyond which the river was about a mile distant.
WEAK STATE OF THE CATTLE.
There was scrub all round us and I did not like our position; but it was
impossible to drive the wearied cattle further. As we approached this
camp I heard the voice of one of the gins answered by that of a male, and
"wite ma" was the subject of conversation; they might have been two miles
from us, as the voices of the natives in the woods are audible, as just
stated, a long way off, in a still evening.
After a cold frosty night the morning was fine, and we continued our
journey. At about a mile and a half we entered on our former track, and
after five miles more we encamped on the ground which we had occupied on
the 4th instant. By this short journey I hoped to refresh the cattle a
little, and to make out a better one next day by getting through the
brush and past the natives' bivouac. This camp of ours was a good mile
from the river, and it was very necessary to send a separate party to
remain on its bank all night with the cattle.
In these times, when I saw the animals brought up by the men all safe
from the river in the morning, I was wont to thank God in my heart for
their preservation. This morning I set out on a direct line for our
former camp, not so much for the sake of cutting off two miles, which we
did, as to avoid the very soft and heavy ground through which we had
travelled with difficulty in the journey down. In this last and more
direct line we found excellent firm plains for nearly the whole of the
way; and we fell in with our old route where I wished, exactly at our
former camp. Thus we had got over a day's stage by half-past one o'clock.
The cattle were tired, but as we would be here in the midst of scrub and
brush, and close to a large camp of natives, we continued our route about
five miles further, to the spot where we had before repaired the wheels,
and we reached it at five o'clock. One poor bullock laid down by the way
and we were obliged to leave it. We heard no natives on the river,
although it was here that we first fell in with the tribe which followed
us down; and from the absence of all natives now it seemed that they had
heard of the affair on the river, and kept out of our way perhaps from
fear of us; at all events their absence was a great comfort, and we hoped
it might continue.
Two men went back early this morning and brought on old Pistol, the
bullock which had lain down the day before. We started at ten o'clock,
passing our encampment of the 1st July and halting on the bank of the
river bed where, on coming down, we had found some water. It was now
however dried up, but we had taken the precaution to bring on enough for
the party, and there was good food for the cattle, and great appearance
of rain falling. We had no occasion therefore to send to the river, which
was a long way off. Pistol again fell behind this afternoon, and it was
really distressing to see the animals in so weak a state with such a long
journey still before them.
ILLNESS OF SOME OF THE MEN FROM SCURVY.
Some men now showed symptoms of scurvy and Robert Whiting, being unable
to walk, had to be carried on the carts. The clover-leaved plant* growing
here was therefore cooked for the men as a vegetable; and such medicines
were administered as were likely to check the complaint: near this lagoon
we also found the Plantago varia of Mr. Brown. The weather appeared
unsettled; the sky again lowering, and at sunset it was overcast with
portentous rainy-looking clouds. The air had become mild when the wind,
which had blown some days from the south and south-west, suddenly came
round to the north, and a few drops of rain fell in the evening.
(*Footnote. Trigonella suavissima, Lindley Manuscripts see above.)
The wind blew strongly all night from the north-west, and in the morning
huge clouds darkened the sky, but there was no immediate prospect of
rain. The air was warm and parching, and we proceeded with our thirsty
cattle to the next stage of our journey (the camp of the 30th June)
distant about five miles. This we reached by half-past eleven, and I sent
the cattle with four armed men to the river, which was about a mile from
our position. In the course of the afternoon the wind from north-west
increased to a gale, but the air was still warm, and the sun set in a
clear sky, while the heavy clouds sank to the eastern horizon where sheet
lightning played incessantly until after midnight. The air brought by
that wind from the north-west was so dry as to occasion a most unpleasant
heat and parched sensation in the skin of the face and hands, and several
men complained of headache. That air seemed to contain no moisture, and
in all probability blew over extensive deserts.
The morning was clear with a cold and gentle breeze from north-west. We
this day reached the spot which we had occupied on the 29th June and
again encamped there, with the intention of halting two days in order to
refresh the cattle. During the afternoon the sky became again overcast
and the wind, shifting to the south-west, blew strongly with drizzling
MR. LARMER'S EXCURSION INTO THE COUNTRY TO THE EASTWARD.
Very tempestuous weather, unlike any we had hitherto met with in the
interior. I sent Mr. Larmer with four men to examine the dry creek which
we had now left higher up towards the hills on the east, that he might
ascertain if any ponds remained there, as it lay in our best line of
route homewards. That creek afforded the only prospect during this dry
season of a line of route by which we might avoid the great detour in
following the Bogan river, which route would otherwise be unavoidable
merely from the general scarcity of water. Two of the men were now
invalids, one with scurvy, the other with dysentery.
THE SPITTING TRIBE AGAIN.
The wind blew very keenly all night, and in the morning the sky was
cloudy, but no rain fell; towards noon the sun appeared, and the air
became milder. About two P.M. I was informed that the Spitting tribe was
on the riverbank, and in communication with our men in charge of the
cattle; also that three had come over and sat down, asking as usual for
tomahawks. These were the old man already mentioned (as wanting part of
his nose) and two strong men. Our party beckoned to them to keep back,
but they came over in three canoes. They had been fishing on the river,
and had been roasting and eating the fish on the opposite bank. Overseer
Burnett offered them his clasp-knife in exchange for a cod* weighing
about 19 pounds but they would only give a small fish weighing not above
one pound; and then coolly went over and sat down to eat the fish
themselves. Our camp was established about a quarter of a mile from the
river, on the edge of a plain and near a scrub, for the sake of fuel. At
four P.M. the alarm was given that the natives were close to the camp,
and we no sooner saw them than the whole of the scrub proved to be on
fire, to the imminent danger of our equipment. I sent five men with
muskets to them (au pas de charge); and in five minutes they had retired
across the river, two shots having been fired over their heads as they
ascended the opposite bank. It appeared that this party consisted of
eight men, each carrying a spear and a waddy, besides the same boy who
had been seen higher up, and who was observed on this occasion very busy
lighting branches in the scrub; the vile old fellow sans nose was one,
and also the sullen man, who was the first we had ever seen throw dust.
These latter stood on our side, covering the passage of the others, and
crossing last, which manly conduct was the best trait I had seen in their
character. On reaching the top of the opposite bank they commenced their
usual chant and demoniac dance, waving burning branches over their heads,
brandishing their spears, and throwing their waddies high in the air,
even above the lofty trees, all the time retreating in leaping and
singing order. It was evident that our dogs had frightened them; and at
the report of the guns the tall fellow fell flat on the earth as he was
ascending the opposite bank. Later in the evening some natives were seen
driving the bullocks about on the opposite side, but as they desisted
when called to, and afterwards cooeyed to the others before they joined
them, it was supposed that these had just arrived from a distance.
(*Footnote. Gristes peelii.)
RETURN OF MR. LARMER, WHO HAD FOUND WATER AND INHABITANTS.
Mr. Larmer returned at dusk having seen two more fine ponds of water in
the direction of the river bed which we had lately left. He reported
however that the watercourse ran eastward, or contrary to that of the
Darling, a direction also opposed to the fall of the hills, where it no
doubt originated. The party met a tribe of blacks in huts at the largest
and most eastern of these ponds. They were perfectly inoffensive, only
looking from their huts and asking, as it seemed, which way the party was
going. Mr. Larmer reported that he saw from the range which he ascended a
higher one about 40 miles to the southward, and smoke in the intermediate
valley, the country being covered with a thick scrub.
We proceeded at first 5 1/2 miles along our former route, then eight
miles in a north-east direction, by which course we avoided the former
camp of the Spitting tribe, and a portion of our route which led over a
very soft, cracked plain: we also shortened the distance so much as to
gain one day upon three of our former stages. In making this new cut we
had the good fortune to meet with firm open ground, so that we encamped
by three P.M. within sight of the river and our former route, and five
miles beyond the camp of June 27 where the Spitting tribe had probably
remained, expecting us.
Early in the morning we observed a smoke in the woods near the river, at
a distance of about two miles. At length I saw through my glass a native
with a skin cloak advancing over the naked plains towards us, but he soon
disappeared, then I perceived two others coming rapidly forward; at
length I heard them calling, and observed that one held high up a green
branch in his right hand. The intervening country was an extensive, open,
dusty plain, and our camp was partially concealed by trees. The savages
came to a stand for a moment at a low bush, a quarter of a mile off, but
on my turning for a short time and again looking I perceived them already
far away, scampering at amazing speed back towards the river. It seemed
as if they had become alarmed at our silence, or on discovering our
numbers and the extent of our camp. Of course we expected a visit from
their tribe, either during the day's journey or in the evening. By
proceeding in a direction 72 degrees 45 minutes East of North we
travelled along a fine plain, and hit exactly a sharp angle in our former
route (June 24). Thus a distance of a mile and a half was gained upon
that line, and some very soft and heavy ground avoided. This day's route
was consequently almost a straight line, and we halted opposite to a bend
of the river, 2 1/2 miles short of the camp of June 23. As we approached
this part of the river a dense column of smoke, such as the natives send
up as signals, arose from it. We saw no more of the natives however that
night, although the men with the cattle noticed their fires on the other
side of the river.
As we journeyed along the former tract and over a plain near the Darling
we observed smoke to arise from the same place in which it had appeared
on the preceding evening; but still no natives came to us. On passing our
old camp we perceived that two men and a boy had that morning stood on
the ashes of our former fires, and gone all over the ground. We saw
nothing however of the natives during the whole of this day; and we
finally halted within half a mile of our encampment of June 23. Here we
found a species of Atriplex related to A. halimus.*
(*Footnote. Atriplex halimoides; fruticosa erecta squamuloso-incana,
foliis rhombeo-ovatis integris, perianthiis fructiferis axillaribus
solitariis sessilibus spongiosis, dorsi alis ovatis integris. Lindley
A DAY'S HALT.
The cattle having had a fatiguing journey I thought it best to give them
a day's rest, especially as I wished to examine the country and a group
of hills to the eastward.
COUNTRY EASTWARD OF THE DARLING.
I therefore set out with three men for the highest summit (bearing 124
degrees from North) and distant thirteen miles. We passed over four miles
of firm open ground, with some small rough gumtrees upon it. We then
crossed a track on which I saw the angophora for the first time since we
traversed Dunlop's range; and near it we passed a hollow about half a