Part 3 out of 8
part perpendicular. It was in fact a sein, only that the materials, with
the exception of the net-work, were simpler and rougher than cork or
lead--for which last, we afterwards discovered stones had been
We had on this occasion a remarkable instance of the docility of the
natives of the interior, or of the power they have of subduing their
apprehensions; manifesting the opposite extremes of fear and confidence.
These men whom we had thus surprised, and who, no doubt, imagined that we
were about to destroy them, having apparently never seen nor heard of
white men before, must have taken us for something preternatural; yet from
the extremity of fear that had prompted them to set their woods in flames,
they in a brief space so completely subdued those fears as to approach
the very beings who had so strongly excited their alarm. The savage who
had been the principal actor in the scene, was an elderly man, rather
descending to the vale of years than what might be strictly called aged.
I know not how it was, but I regarded him with peculiar interest.
Mr. Hume's manners had in a great measure contributed to allay his evident
agitation; but, from the moment I approached him, I thought there was a
shade of anxiety upon his brow, and an expression of sorrow over his
features, the cause of which did not originate with us. I could see in a
moment, that his bosom was full even to bursting, and he seemed to claim
at once our sympathy and our protection, although we were ignorant of that
which oppressed him. We had not long been seated together, when some of
his tribe mustered sufficient courage to join him. Both Mr. Hume and I
were desirous of seeing the net drawn, but the old man raised some
objection, by pointing to the heavens and towards the sun. After a little
more solicitation, however, he gave a whistle, and, four or five natives
having obeyed the summons, he directed them to draw the net, but they were
unfortunate, and our wish to ascertain the kind of fish contained in the
river was disappointed. As his tribe gathered round him, the old chief
threw a melancholy glance upon them, and endeavoured, as much as he could,
to explain the cause of that affliction which, as I had rightly judged,
weighed heavily upon him. It appeared, then, that a violent cutaneous
disease raged throughout the tribe, that was sweeping them off in great
numbers. He called several young men to Mr. Hume and myself, who had been
attacked by this singular malady. Nothing could exceed the anxiety of his
explanations, or the mild and soothing tone in which he addressed his
people, and it really pained me that I could not assist him in his
distress. We now discovered the use to which the conical substance that
had been deposited with such unusual care in one of the huts, was applied.
There were few of the natives present who were not more or less marked
with it, and it was no doubt, indicative of mourning.
DEPARTURE OF THE NATIVES.
Some of the men, however, were painted with red and yellow ochre, with
which it was evident to me they had besmeared themselves since our
appearance, most likely in preparing for the combat in which they fancied
they would be engaged. We distributed such presents as we had to those
around us, and when we pursued our journey, the majority accompanied us,
nor did they wholly leave us until we had passed the place to which their
women had retired. They might have left us when they pleased, for we
intended them no harm; as it was, however, they struck into the brushes to
join their families, and we pushed on to make up for lost time.
The travelling near the river had been so bad, not only in consequence of
the nature of the soil and brush, but from the numerous gullies that had
been formed by torrents, as they poured into its channel after heavy rains
and floods, that it was thought advisable to keep at a greater distance
from it. We turned away, therefore, to the plains, and found them of much
firmer surface. They partook, however, of the same general character as
the plains we had traversed more to the eastward. Their soil was a light
sandy loam, and the same succulent plants still continued to prevail upon
them, which we have already noticed as existing upon the other plains.
Both emus and kangaroos were seen, though not in any considerable numbers,
but our dogs were not in a condition to run, and were all but killed by
the extreme heat of the weather. We had fallen on a small pool of water
shortly after we started in the morning, but we could do no more than
refresh ourselves and the animals at it. In the afternoon, we again turned
towards the river, and found it unaltered. Its water was still salt, and
from the increased number of wild fowl and pelicans upon it, as well as
from the general flatness of the country, I certainly thought we were
rapidly approaching some inland sea. It was, however, uncertain how long
we should be enabled to continue on the river. The animals were all of
them extremely weak, and every day increased the probable difficulty of
our return. There was not the least appearance of a break-up of the
drought, the heavens were without a cloud, and the atmosphere was so clear
that the outline of the moon could be distinctly seen, although she was
far in her wane.
BRINE SPRINGS IN THE RIVER.
On the 6th, we journeyed again through a barren scrub, although on firmer
ground, and passed numerous groups of huts. At about eight miles from our
last encampment, we came upon the river, where its banks were of
considerable height. In riding along them, Mr. Hume thought he observed a
current running, and be called to inform me of the circumstance. On a
closer examination, we discovered some springs in the very bed of the
river, from which a considerable stream was gushing, and from the
incrustation around them, we had no difficulty in guessing at their
nature: in fact, they were brine springs, and I collected a quantity of
salt from the brink of them.
DISTRESS FOR WANT OF FRESH WATER.
After such a discovery, we could not hope to keep our position. No doubt
the current we had observed on first reaching the river, was caused by
springs that had either escaped our notice or were under water. Here was
at length a local cause for its saltness that destroyed at once the
anticipation and hope of our being near its termination, and,
consequently, the ardour with which we should have pressed on to decide so
interesting a point.
Our retreat would have been a measure of absolute necessity ere this, had
we not found occasional supplies of fresh water, the last pond of which
was now about eighteen miles behind us.
OUR COURSE ARRESTED.
Whether we should again find any, was a doubtful question, and I hesitated
to run the risk. The animals were already, from bad food, and from the
effects of the river water, so weak, that they could scarcely carry their
loads, and I was aware, if any of the bullocks once fell, he would never
rise again. Under such circumstances, I thought it better to halt the
party at the edge of the scrub, though the feed was poor, and the water
not drinkable. Our situation required most serious consideration. It was
necessary that we should move either backward or forward in the morning.
Yet we could not adopt either measure with satisfaction to ourselves,
under such unfavorable circumstances. I determined to relieve my own mind
by getting the animals into a place of safety, as soon as possible; and,
as the only effectual way of doing this was to retire upon the nearest
fresh water, I resolved at once to do so. The party turned back on the
morning of the 6th; nor do I think the cattle would ever have reached
their destination had we not found a few buckets of rain water in the
cleft of a rock, to refresh them. Thus it will appear that under our most
trying circumstances, we received aid from Providence, and that the bounty
of Heaven was extended towards us, when we had least reason to expect it.
Notwithstanding we had been thus forced to a partial retreat, both
Mr. Hume and myself were unwilling to quit the pursuit of the river, in so
unsatisfactory a manner. There was no difference in the appearance of the
country to the westward of it; but a seeming interminable flat stretched
away in that direction. A journey across it was not likely, therefore, to
be attended with any favorable results, since it was improbable that any
other leading feature was within our reach. I proposed, therefore, to take
the most serviceable of the horses with me down the river, that, in the
event of our finding fresh water, we might again push forward. Mr. Hume
requesting to be permitted to accompany me, it was arranged that we should
start on the 8th, thereby giving the animals a day's rest. We had not seen
any natives since our parting with the chief horde; and as we were
stationed at some little distance from the river, I hoped that they would
not visit the camp during my absence. This was the only circumstance that
gave me uneasiness, but the men had generally been behaving so well that I
relied a great deal upon them.
About 3 p.m. on the 7th, Mr. Hume and I were occupied tracing the chart
upon the ground. The day had been remarkably fine, not a cloud was there
in the heavens, nor a breath of air to be felt. On a sudden we heard what
seemed to be the report of a gun fired at the distance of between five and
six miles. It was not the hollow sound of an earthly explosion, or the
sharp cracking noise of falling timber, but in every way resembled a
discharge of a heavy piece of ordnance. On this all were agreed, but no
one was certain whence the sound proceeded. Both Mr. Hume and myself had
been too attentive to our occupation to form a satisfactory opinion; but
we both thought it came from the N.W. I sent one of the men immediately up
a tree, but he could observe nothing unusual. The country around him
appeared to be equally flat on all sides, and to be thickly wooded:
whatever occasioned the report, it made a strong impression on all of us;
and to this day, the singularity of such a sound, in such a situation,
is a matter of mystery to me.
FURTHER ATTEMPT TO EXPLORE THE RIVER.
On the 8th, we commenced our journey down the river, accompanied by two
men, and a pack-horse, carrying our provisions on one side and a bucket of
water on the other. Keeping in general near the stream, but making
occasional turns into the plains, we got to the brush from which the party
had turned back, about 3 p.m. Passing through, we crossed a small plain,
of better soil and vegetation than usual; but it soon gave place to the
sandy loam of the interior; nor did we observe any material alteration,
either in the country or the river, as we rode along. The flooded-gum
trees on the banks of the latter, were of beautiful growth, but in the
brushes dividing the plains, box and other eucalypti, with cypresses and
many minor shrubs, prevailed. We slept on the river side, and calculated
our distance from the camp at about twenty-six or twenty-eight miles.
The horses would not drink the river water, so that we were obliged to
give them a pint each from our own supply. On the following morning we
continued our journey. The country was generally open to the eastward, and
we had fine views of D'Urban's Group, distant from twenty to twenty-five
miles. About noon, turning towards the river to rest, both ourselves and
the horses, we passed through brush land for about a mile and a half. When
we came upon its banks, we found them composed of a red loam with sandy
superficies. We had, in the course of the day, crossed several creeks, but
in none of them could we find water, although their channels were of great
The day had been extremely warm, and from shaking in the barrel our supply
of water had diminished to a little more than a pint; it consequently
became a matter of serious consideration, how far it would be prudent to
proceed farther; for, however capable we were of bearing additional
fatigue, it was evident our animals would soon fail, since they trembled
exceedingly, and had the look of total exhaustion. We calculated that we
were forty miles from the camp, in a S.W. direction, a fearful distance
under our circumstances, since we could not hope to obtain relief for two
days. Independently however, of the state of the animals, our spirits were
damped by the nature of the country, and the change which had taken place
on the soil, upon which it was impossible that water could rest; while the
general appearance of the interior showed how much it had suffered from
drought. On the other hand, although the waters of the river had become
worse to the taste, the river itself had increased in size, and stretched
away to the westward, with all the uniformity of a magnificent canal, and
gave every promise of increasing importance; while the pelicans were in
such numbers upon it as to be quite dazzling to the eye. Considering,
however, that perseverance would only involve us in inextricable
difficulties, and that it would also be useless to risk the horses, since
we had gained a distance to which the bullocks could not have been
brought, I intimated my intention of giving up the further pursuit of the
river, though it was with extreme reluctance that I did so.
CALLED IT THE "DARLING".
As soon as we had bathed and finished our scanty meal, I took the bearings
of D'Urban's Group, and found them to be S. 58 E. about thirty-three miles
distant; and as we mounted our horses, I named the river the "Darling,"
as a lasting memorial of the respect I bear the governor.
ABANDON THE ATTEMPT.
I should be doing injustice to Mr. Hume and my men, if I did not express
my conviction that they were extremely unwilling to yield to
circumstances, and that, had I determined on continuing the journey, they
would have followed me with cheerfulness, whatever the consequences might
Intercourse with the natives--Their appearance and condition--Remarks on
the Salt or Darling River--Appearance of the marshes on our return--
Alarm for safety of the provision party--Return to Mount Harris--Miserable
condition of the natives--Circumstances attending the slaughter of two
Irish runaways--Bend our course towards the Castlereagh--Wallis's Ponds--
Find the famished natives feeding on gum--Channel of the Castlereagh--
Character of the country in its vicinity--Another tribe of natives--
Amicable intercourse with them--Morrisset's chain of Ponds--Again reach
the Darling River ninety miles higher up than where we first struck
We kept near the river as we journeyed homewards, and in striking across a
plain, found an isolated rock of quartz and jasper, just showing itself
partially above the surface of the ground.
We were anxious to get to the small plain I have mentioned, if possible,
for the sake of the animals, and pushed on rapidly for it. About 4 p.m. we
had reached our sleeping place of the previous evening, and being
overpowered by thirst, we stopped in hopes that by making our tea strong
we might destroy, in some measure, the nauseous taste of the water. The
horses were spancelled and a fire lit. Whilst we were sitting patiently
for the boiling of the tins, Mr. Hume observed at a considerable distance
above us, a large body of natives under some gum trees. They were not near
enough for us to observe them distinctly, but it was evident that they
were watching our motions. We did not take any notice of them for some
time, but at last I thought it better to call out to them, and accordingly
requested Mr. Hume to do so. In a moment the whole of them ran forward and
dashed into the river, having been on the opposite side, with an uproar I
had never witnessed on any former occasion.
INTERCOURSE WITH NATIVES.
Mr. Hume thought they intended an attack, and the horses had taken fright
and galloped away. I determined, therefore, to fire at once upon them if
they pressed up the bank on which we were posted. Mr. Hume went with me
to the crest of it, and we rather angrily beckoned to the foremost of the
natives to stop. They mistook our meaning, but laid all their spears in a
heap as they came up. We then sat down on the bank and they immediately
did the same; nor did they stir until we beckoned to them after the horses
had been secured.
As they conducted themselves so inoffensively, we gave them everything we
had to spare. My gun seemed to excite their curiosity, as they had seen
Mr. Hume shoot a cockatoo with it; they must consequently have been close
to us for the greater part of the day, as the bird was killed in the
morning. It was of a species new to me, being smaller than the common
white cockatoo, and having a large scarlet-and-yellow instead of a
Having stayed about half an hour with them, we remounted our horses, and
struck away from the river into the plains, while the natives went up its
banks to join their hordes. Those whom we saw were about twenty-seven in
number and the most of them were strangers.
DISTRESS FROM THIRST.
It was some time after sunset before we reached the little plain on which
we had arranged to sleep, and when we dismounted we were in a truly
pitiable state. I had been unable to refrain from drinking copiously at
the river, and now became extremely sick. Mr. Hume had been scarcely more
prudent than myself, but on him the water had a contrary effect, as well
as upon Hopkinson. The tinker was the only man fit for duty, and it was
well for us that such was the case, as the horses made frequent attempts
to stray, and would have left us in a pretty plight had they succeeded. We
reached the camp on the following day a little before sunset, nor was I
more rejoiced to dismount from my wearied horse than to learn that
everything in the camp had been regular during our absence and that the
men had kept on the best terms with the natives who had paid them frequent
The bullocks had improved, but were still extremely weak, and as the
horses we had employed on the last journey required a day or two's rest,
it was arranged that we should not break up our camp until the 12th,
beyond which period we could not stop, in consequence of the low state of
our salt provisions, we having barely sufficient to last to Mount Harris,
at the rate of two pounds per week.
REMARKS ON THE NATIVES.
The morning after we returned from our excursion, a large party of
natives, about seventy in number, visited the camp. On this occasion, the
women and children passed behind the tents, but did not venture to stop.
Most of the men had spears, and were unusually inquisitive and forward.
Several of them carried fire-sticks under the influence of the disease I
have already noticed, whilst others were remarked to have violent
cutaneous eruptions all over the body. We were pretty well on the alert;
notwithstanding which, every minor article was seized with a quickness
that would have done credit to a most finished juggler. One of the natives
thus picked up my comb and toothbrush, but as he did not attempt to
conceal them, they were fortunately recovered. After staying with us a
short time the men followed the women. They appeared to be strangers who
had come from a distance.
CUSTOMS OF THE NATIVES.
The natives of the Darling are a clean-limbed, well-conditioned race,
generally speaking. They seemingly occupy permanent huts, but their tribe
did not bear any proportion to the size or number of their habitations.
It was evident their population had been thinned. The customs of these
distant tribes, as far as we could judge, were similar to those of the
mountain blacks, and they are essentially the same people, although their
language differs. They lacerate their bodies, but do not extract the front
teeth. We saw but few cloaks among them, since the opossum does not
inhabit the interior. Those that were noticed, were made of the red
kangaroo skin. In appearance, these men are stouter in the bust than at
the lower extremities; they have broad noses, sunken eyes, overhanging
eyebrows, and thick lips. The men are much better looking than the women.
Both go perfectly naked, if I except the former, who wear nets over the
loins and across the forehead, and bones through the cartilages of the
nose. Their chief food is fish, of which they have great supplies in the
river; still they have their seasons for hunting their emus and kangaroos.
The nets they use for this purpose, as well as for fishing, are of great
length, and are made upon large frames. These people do not appear to have
warlike habits nor do they take any pride in their arms, which differ
little from those used by the inland tribes, and are assimilated to them
as far as the materials will allow. One powerful man, however, had a
regular trident, for which Mr. Hume offered many things without success.
He plainly intimated to us that he had a use for it, but whether against
an enemy or to secure prey, we could not understand. I was most anxious to
have ascertained if any religious ceremonies obtained among them, but the
difficulty of making them comprehend our meaning was insurmountable; and
to the same cause may be attributed the circumstance of my being unable to
collect any satisfactory vocabulary of their language. They evinced a
strange perversity, or obstinacy rather, in repeating words, although it
was evident that they knew they were meant as questions. The pole we
observed in the creek, on the evening previously to our making the
Darling, was not the only one that fell under our notice; our impression
therefore, that they were fixed by the natives to propitiate some deity,
was confirmed. It would appear that the white pigment was an indication of
mourning. Whether these people have an idea of a superintending Providence
I doubt, but they evidently dread evil agency. On the whole I should say
they are a people, at present, at the very bottom of the scale of
REMARKS ON THE DARLING RIVER.
We struck the Darling River in lat. 29 degrees 37 minutes S. and in E.
long. 145 degrees 33 minutes, and traced it down for about sixty-six miles
in a direct line to the S.W. If I might hazard an opinion from appearance,
to whatever part of the interior it leads, its source must be far to the
N.E. or N. The capacity of its channel, and the terrific floods that must
sometimes rage in it, would argue that it is influenced by tropical rains,
which alone would cause such floods. It is likely that it seldom arrives
at so reduced a state as that in which we found it, and that, generally
speaking, it has a sufficient depth of water for the purposes of inland
navigation: in such case its future importance cannot be questioned, since
it most probably receives the chief streams falling westerly from the
coast ranges. But, with every anticipation of the benefit that may at some
time or other be derived from this remarkable and central stream, it is
incumbent on me to state that the country, through which it flows, holds
out but little prospect of advantage. Certainly the portion we know of it,
is far from encouraging. The extent of alluvial soil, between the inner
and outer banks of the river, is extremely limited, and, instead of being
covered with sward, is in most places over-run by the polygonum. Beyond
this the plains of the interior stretch away, whose character and soil
must change, ere they can be available to any good purpose. But there is a
singular want of vegetable decay in the interior of New Holland, and that
powerfully argues its recent origin.
REMARKS ON THE COUNTRY.
There is no life upon its surface, if I may so express myself; but the
stillness of death reigns in its brushes, and over its plains. It cannot,
however, be doubted that we visited the interior during a most unfavorable
season. Probably in ordinary ones it wears a different appearance, but its
deserts are of great extent, and its productions are of little value.
Agreeably to our arrangements, we broke up our camp at an early hour on
the morning of the 12th, and proceeded up the river to the junction of
New Year's Creek. We then struck away in an easterly direction from it,
detaching a man to trace the creek up, lest we should pass any water; and
we should certainly have been without it had we not taken this precaution.
On the following day, we again passed to the eastward, through an open
country, having picturesque views of Oxley's Table Land. We crossed our
track about noon, and struck on the creek at about five miles beyond it,
and we were fortunate enough to procure both water and grass. The timber
upon the plains, between us and the Darling, we found to be a rough gum,
but box prevailed in the neighbourhood of the creek at this part of it.
On the 14th, we changed our direction more to the southward, but made a
short journey, in consequence of being obliged to make some slight repairs
on the boat carriage.
REGAIN OUR OLD ROUTE.
On the 15th, we kept an E.S.E. course, and, crossing the creek at an early
hour, got upon our old track, which we kept. We had the lateral ridge of
the Pink Hills upon our right, and travelled through a good deal of brush.
Four or five natives joined us, and two followed us to the end of our
day's journey. In the course of the evening, they endeavoured to pilfer
whatever was in their reach, but were detected putting a tin into a bush,
and soon took to their heels. This was the first instance we had of open
theft among the natives of the interior.
We passed Mosquito Brush on the 18th, but found the ponds quite dry, we
were, therefore, under the necessity of pushing on, to shorten the next
day's journey, as we could not expect to get water nearer than the
marshes. At noon, on the 19th, we entered the plain, and once more saw
them spreading in dreariness before us. While the party was crossing to
the first channel, I rode to the left, in order to examine the appearance
of the country in the direction of the wood, and as far as I skirted the
reeds had my impressions confirmed as to their partial extension. I was
obliged, however, to join the men without completing the circuit of the
marshes. They had found the first channel dry, and had passed on to the
other, in which, fortunately, a small quantity of water still remained.
It was, however, so shallow as to expose the backs of the fish in it, and
a number of crows had congregated, and were pecking at them. Wishing to
satisfy my mind as to the distance to which the river extended to the
northward, Mr. Hume rode with me on the following day, to examine the
country in that direction, leaving the men stationary. We found that the
reeds gradually decreased in body, until, at length, they ceased, or gave
place to bulrushes. There were general appearances of inundation, and of
the subsidence of waters, but none that led us to suppose that any channel
existed beyond the flooded lands.
ALARM FOR THE SAFETY OF THE PROVISION PARTY.
On our return to the camp, we observed dense masses of smoke rising at the
head of the marshes, and immediately under Mount Foster. This excited our
alarm for the safety of the party we hoped to find at Mount Harris, and
obliged us to make forced marches, to relieve it if threatened by the
On the 22nd, we crossed the plains of the Macquarie, and surprised a
numerous tribe on the banks of the river; and the difficulty we found in
getting any of them to approach us, their evident timidity, and the
circumstance of one of them having on a jacket, tended to increase our
apprehensions. When two or three came to us, they intimated that white
men either had been or were under Mount Harris, but we were left in
uncertainty and passed a most anxious night.
The body of reeds was still on fire; and the light embers were carried to
an amazing distance by the wind, falling like a black-shower around us. As
we knew that the natives never made such extensive conflagration, unless
they had some mischievous object in view, our apprehension for the safety
of Riley, with his supplies, was increased.
At the earliest dawn, we pushed for the hill. In passing that part of the
meadows under Mount Foster, we observed that the grass had also been
consumed, and we scarcely recognised the ground from its altered
appearance. As we approached Mount Harris, we saw recent traces of cattle,
but none were visible on the plains. Under the hill, however, we could
distinctly see that a hut of some kind had been erected, and it is
impossible for me to describe the relief we felt when a soldier came
forward to reconnoitre us. I could no longer doubt the safety of the
party, and this was confirmed by the rest of the men turning out to
welcome us. It appeared that our suspicions with regard to the natives had
not been without foundation, since they attempted to surprise the camp,
and it was supposed the firing of the marshes was done with a view to
collect the distant tribes, to make a second attack; so that our arrival
was most opportune.
The party I found awaiting our arrival at Mount Harris consisted of one
soldier, Riley, who had the charge of the supplies, and a drayman. They
had found the paper I had fixed against the tree, and also the letters I
had hid, and had forwarded them to Sydney, by another soldier and a
prisoner; which had weakened their party a good deal. Riley informed me,
that he had been between a month and three weeks at the station, and that
knowing our provisions must have run short he had expected us much earlier
than we had made our appearance.
My dispatches stated, that additional supplies had been forwarded for my
use, together with horses and bullocks, in the event of my requiring them.
On examination, the former were found to be in excellent order; and, as it
would take some time to carry any changes I might contemplate, or find it
necessary to make, into effect, I determined to give the men who had been
with me a week's rest.
ENCAMP AT MOUNT HARRIS.
The camp was made snug; and as the weather had become much cooler I
thought it a good opportunity to slaughter one of the bullocks, in order
to guard against any bad effects of our having been living for some weeks
exclusively on salt provisions. I was also induced to this measure, from a
wish to preserve my supplies as much as possible.
These matters having been arranged, I had a temporary awning erected near
the river, and was for three or four days busily employed writing an
account of our journey for the Governor's information.
Having closed my despatches, and answered the numerous friendly letters I
had received, my attention was next turned to the changes that had taken
place at Mount Harris during our absence. The Macquarie, I found, had
wholly ceased to flow, and now consisted of a chain of ponds. Such of the
minor vegetation as had escaped the fires of the natives, had perished
under the extreme heat of the season. The acacia pendula stood leafless
upon the plains, and the polygonum junceum appeared to be the only plant
that had withstood the effects of the drought. Yet, notwithstanding this
general depression of the vegetable kingdom, the animals that had been
brought from Wellington Valley were in the best condition, and were,
indeed, too fat for effective labour; it might, therefore, be reasonably
presumed, that herbage affording such nourishment in so unfavourable a
season, would be of the richest quality, if fresh and vigorous under the
influence of seasonable, and not excessive, rains.
FIRING OF THE GREAT MARSHES.
The appearance of the country was, however, truly melancholy; there was
not a flower in bloom, nor a green object to be seen. Whether our arrival
had increased their alarm, is uncertain, but the natives continued to fire
the great marshes, and as the element raged amongst them, large bodies of
smoke rose over the horizon like storm clouds, and had the effect of
giving additional dreariness to the scene. I am inclined to think that
they made these conflagrations to procure food, by seizing whatsoever
might issue from the flames, as snakes, birds, or other animals; for they
had taken every fish in the river, and the low state of its waters had
enabled them to procure an abundance of muscles from its bed, which they
had consumed with their characteristic improvidence. They were,
consequently, in a starving condition, and so pitiable were their
indications of it, that I was induced to feed such of them as visited the
camp, notwithstanding their late misconduct; being likewise anxious to
bring about a good understanding, as the best means of ensuring the safety
of the smaller party when we should separate, of which I had reason to be
doubtful. These people had killed two white men not long before my arrival
among them, and as the circumstances attending the slaughter are singular,
I shall relate them.
SLAUGHTER OF TWO IRISH RUNAWAYS.
The parties were two Irish runaways, who thought they could make their way
to Timor. They escaped from Wellington Valley with a fortnight's provision
each, and a couple of dogs, and proceeded down the Macquarie. About the
cataract, they fell in with the Mount Harris tribe, and remained with them
for some days, when they determined on pursuing their journey. The blacks,
however, wanted to get possession of their dogs, and a resistance on the
part of the Europeans brought on a quarrel. It appears, that before the
blacks proceeded to extremities, they furnished the Irishmen, who were
unarmed, with weapons, and then told them to defend themselves, but
whether against equal or inferior numbers, I am uninformed. One of them
soon fell, which the other observing, he took his knife out, and cut the
throats of both the dogs before the blacks had time to put him to death.
He was, however, sacrificed; and both the men were eaten by the tribe
generally. I questioned several on the subject, but they preserved the
most sullen silence, neither acknowledging nor denying the fact.
Mr. Hume had been one day on Mount Harris, and while there, had laid his
compass on a large rock, near to which Mr. Oxley's boat had been burnt.
To his surprise, he found the needle affected; and his bearings were all
wrong. I subsequently went up to ascertain the extent of the error
produced, and found it precisely the same as Mr. Hume noticed. When I
placed the compass on the rock, Mount Foster bore from me N. by W., the
true bearing of the one hill from the other being N.N.W. My placing my
notebook under the compass did not alter the effect, nor did the card move
until I raised the instrument a couple of feet above the stone, when it
first became violently agitated, and then settled correctly; and my
bearings of the highest parts of Arbuthnot's Range, and of its centre,
were as follows:
Mount Exmouth to the N ...... N. 86 E.
Centre....................... N. 85 E.
Vernon's Peak................ N. 89 E.
Distance 70 miles.
Having finished my reports and letters, it became necessary to consider
the best point on which to move, and to fix a day for our departure from
Mount Harris. It struck me that having found so important a feature as the
Darling River, the Governor would approve my endeavouring to regain it
more to the southward, in order to trace it down. I, therefore, detached
Mr. Hume to survey the country in that direction, and to ascertain if a
descent upon the Bogen district would be practicable, through which I had
been informed a considerable river forced itself. The report he made on
his return was such as to deter me from that attempt, but he stated that
the country for 30 miles from the Macquarie was well watered, and superior
to any he had passed over during the journey; beyond that distance, it
took up the character of the remote interior, and alternated with plains
and brush, the soil being too sandy to retain water on its surface. He saw
some hills from the extremity of his journey, bearing by compass W.S.W.
We consequently determined to make for the Castlereagh, agreeably to our
instructions. Preparations were made for breaking up the camp, all the
various arrangements in the change of animals were completed, the boat
carriage was exchanged for a dray, and I took Boyle in the place of
Norman, whose timidity in the bush rendered him unfit for service.
CIRCUIT OF THE GREAT MARSHES.
There is a small hill on the opposite side of the river, and immediately
facing Mount Harris, and to the S.E. of it there is a small lagoon, the
head of a creek, by means of which its superfluous waters are carried off.
This creek runs parallel to the river for about ten miles, and enters the
marshes at the S.E. angle. This I ascertained one day in riding to carry
on my survey of the southern extremity of the marshes, and to join my line
of route by making the circuit of that part of them. I found that the
river was turned to its northerly course by a rising ground of forest
land, which checks its further progress westerly. I proceeded round
the S.W. angle, and then, taking a northerly course, got down to the
bottom of the first great marsh, thus completing the circuit of them. I
did not return to the camp until after 10 p.m., having crossed the river
at day-light, nor did we procure any water from the time we left the
stream to the moment of our recrossing it.
Having completed our various arrangements, and closed our letters, we
struck our tents on the morning of the 7th March; we remained, however, to
witness the departure of Riley's party for Wellington Valley, and then
left the Macquarie on an E.N.E. course for Wallis's Ponds, and made them
at about 14 miles. They undoubtedly empty themselves into the marshes, and
are a continuation of that chain of ponds on which I left the party in
Mr. Hume's charge. About a mile from Mount Harris, we passed a small dry
creek, that evidently lays the country under water in the wet seasons.
There was a blue-gum flat to the eastward of it, which we crossed, and
then entered a brush of acacia pendula and box. The soil upon the plain
was an alluvial deposit; that in the brushes was sandy. From the extremity
of the plain, Mount Harris bore, by compass, S.W. by W.; Mount Foster due
west. The scrub through which we were penetrating, at length became so
dense, that we found it impossible to travel in a direct line through it,
and frequent ridges of cypresses growing closely together, turned us
repeatedly from our course. The country at length became clearer, and we
travelled over open forest of box, casuarina, and cypresses, on a sandy
soil; the first predominating. For about two miles before we made the
creek, the country was not heavily timbered, the acacia pendula
succeeding the larger trees. The ground had a good covering of grass upon
it, and there were few of the salsolaceous plants, so abundant on the
western plains, to be found. The rough-gum abounded near the creek, with a
small tree bearing a hard round nut, and we had the luxury of plenty of
We remained stationary on the 8th, in hopes that Riley would have met the
soldier who had been sent back to Wellington Valley, and that he would
have forwarded any letters to us, of which he might have been the bearer.
The day, however, passed over without realizing our expectations; and we
started once more for the interior, and cut ourselves off from all
communication with society.
We made for Morrisset's chain of ponds, and travelled over rich and
extensive plains, divided by plantations of cypress, box, and casuarina,
in the early and latter period of the day. About noon we entered a dense
forest of cypresses, which continued for three miles, when the cypresses
became mixed with casuarina, box, and mountain-gum, a tree we had not
remarked before in so low a situation. We struck upon the creek after a
journey of about 15 miles. It had a sandy bed, and was extremely tortuous
in its course, nor was it until after a considerable search, that we at
length succeeded in finding water, at which a party of natives were
encamped. The moment they saw us, they fled, and left all their utensils,
&c. behind them. Among other things, we found a number of bark troughs,
filled with the gum of the mimosa, and vast quantities of gum made into
cakes upon the ground. From this it would appear these unfortunate
creatures were reduced to the last extremity, and, being unable to procure
any other nourishment, had been obliged to collect this mucilaginous food.
The plains we traversed, were of uniform equality of surface. Water
evidently lodges and continues on them long after a fall of rain, and in
wet seasons they must, I should imagine, be full of quagmires, and almost
On the 10th, we passed through a country that differed in no material
point from that already described. We stopped at 10 a.m. under some brush,
in the centre of a large plain, from which Arbuthnot's range bore S. 84 E.
distant from 50 to 55 miles, and afterwards traversed or rather crossed,
those extensive tracts described by Mr. Evans as being under water and
covered with reeds, in 1817. They now bore a very different appearance,
being firm and dry. The soil was in general good, and covered with forest
grass and a species of oxalia. We did not observe any reeds, or the signs
of inundation, but, as is invariably the case with plains in the interior,
they were of too even surface, as I have so lately remarked, to admit of
the waters running quickly off them; and no doubt, when they became
saturated, many quagmires are formed, that would very much impede the
movements of an expedition.
REACH THE CASTLEREAGH RIVER.
We reached the Castlereagh about 4 p.m., and although its channel could
not have been less than 130 yards in breadth, there was apparently not a
drop of water in it. Its bed consisted of pure sand and reeds; amid the
latter, we found a small pond of 15 yards circumference, after a long
search. There is a considerable dip in the country towards the river, at
about two miles from it; and the intervening brush was full of kangaroo,
which, I fancy, had congregated to a spot where there was abundance of
food for them. The soil covering the space was of the richest quality,
and the timber upon it consisted of box, mountain gum, and the angophora
lanceolata, a tree that is never found except on rich ground.
WANT OF WATER; CHARACTER OF THE COUNTRY.
It appeared that our troubles were to recommence, and that in order to
continue on the Castlereagh, it would be necessary for Mr. Hume and myself
to undertake those fatiguing journeys in search of water that had so
exhausted us already: and after all, it was doubtful how soon we might be
forced back. I had certainly expected that, on our gaining the banks of
the river, we should have had a constant supply of water, but the
circumstance of the Castlereagh having not only ceased to flow, but being
absolutely dry, while it afforded the best and clearest proof of the
severity and continuance of the drought in the interior, at the same time
damped the spirits and ardour of the men. We kept the left bank of the
river as we proceeded down it, and passed two or three larger ponds about
a mile below where we had slept, but there they ceased. The bed of the
river became one of pure sand, nor did there appear to be any chance of
our finding any water in it. I stopped the party at about eight miles, and
desired the men to get their dinners, to give Mr. Hume and myself time to
search for a supply upon the plains. Disappointed to the left, we crossed
the channel of the Castlereagh, and struck over a small plain upon the
right bank, and at the extremity of it, came upon a swamp, from which we
immediately returned for the cattle, and got them unloaded by seven
o'clock. As there was sufficient pasture around us, I proposed to Mr. Hume
on the following day, to leave the party stationary, and to ride down the
river to see how far its present appearances continued. Like the
generality of rivers of the interior, it had, where we struck upon it,
outer banks to confine its waters during floods, and to prevent them from
spreading generally over the country; the space between the two banks
being of the richest soil, and the timber chiefly of the angophora kind.
Flooded-gum overhung the inner banks of the river, or grew upon the many
islands, with casuarina. It became evident, however, that the outer banks
declined in height as we proceeded down the river, nor was it long before
they ceased altogether. As we rode along, we found that the inner ones
were fast decreasing in height also. Riding under a hanging wood of the
angophora, which had ceased for a time, we were induced to break off to
our right, to examine some large flooded-gum trees about a couple of miles
to the N.W. of us. On arriving near them, we were astonished to find that
they concealed a serpentine lagoon that had a belt of reeds round it.
Keeping this lagoon upon our right, we at length came to the head of it,
past which the river sweeps. Crossing the channel of the river, we
continued to ride in an easterly direction to examine the country. In
doing this, we struck on a second branch of the Castlereagh, leading
W. by N. into a plain, which it of course inundates at times, and running
up it, we found its bed at the point of separation, to be considerably
higher than that of the main channel, which still continued of pure
sand--and was stamped all over with the prints of the feet of natives,
kangaroos, emus, and wild dogs, We then turned again to the head of the
lagoon, and took the following bearings of Arbuthnot's range:
Mount Exmouth .......... E. 90 S.
Centre Range ........... E. 35 E.
Vernon's Peak .......... E. 20 S.
From the head of the lagoon, the river appeared to enter a reedy hollow,
shaded by a long line of flooded gum trees, and on proceeding to it, we
found the banks ceased here altogether; and that a very considerable plain
extended both to the right and the left, which cannot fail of being
frequently laid under water.
LAGOONS AND CREEKS OF THE CASTLEREAGH.
On the following morning we moved the party to the lagoon, and, passing
its head, encamped to the north of it; after which we again rode down the
river in search of water. It continued to hold a straight and northerly
course for about five miles, having a plain on either side. The reeds that
had previously covered the channel then suddenly ceased, and the channel,
contracting in breadth, gained in depth: it became extremely serpentine,
and at length lost all the character and appearance of a river. It had
many back channels, as large as the main one, serving to overflow the
neighbouring country. We succeeded in finding a small pond of water in one
of the former, hardly large enough to supply our necessities, but as it
enabled us to push so much further on, we turned towards the lagoon,
making a circuitous journey to the right, across a large plain, bounded to
the north by low acacia brush and box. We struck upon a creek at the
further extremity of the plain, in which there was a tolerably sized pond.
It appeared from the traces of men, that some natives had been there the
day before; but we did not see any of them. The water was extremely muddy
and unfit for use. The lagoon at which we had encamped, was of less
importance than we had imagined.
JOURNEY DOWN THE RIVER.
Whilst Mr. Hume led the party down the river, I rode up its northward
bank, to examine it more closely. I found it to be a serpentine sheet of
about three miles in length, gradually decreasing in depth until it
separated into two small creeks. In following one of them up, I observed
that they re-united at the distance of about two miles, and that the
lagoon was filled from the eastward, and not by the river as I had at
first supposed. The waters at the head of the lagoon were putrid, nor was
there a fish in, or a wild fowl upon it. The only bird we saw was a
beautiful eagle, of the osprey kind, with plumage like a sea gull, which
had a nest in the tree over the tents.
In turning to overtake the party I rode through a great deal of acacia
scrub, and on arriving at the place at which I expected to have overtaken
them, I found they had pushed on.
The Castlereagh, as I rode down it, diminished in size considerably, and
became quite choked up with rushes and brambles. Rough-gum again made its
appearance, with swamp-oak and a miserable acacia scrub outside. The
country on both sides of the river seemed to be an interminable flat, and
the soil of an inferior description.
WRETCHED APPEARANCE OF THE COUNTRY.
I came up with with Mr. Hume about 1 o'clock and we again pushed forward
at 3, and halted for the night without water, the want of which the cattle
did not feel. The river held a general westerly course, and the country in
its neighbourhood became extremely depressed and low. On the following day
we moved forward a distance of not more than nine miles, through a country
on which, at first, the acacia pendula alone was growing on a light
alluvial soil. The river had many back drains, by means of which, in wet
seasons, it inundates the adjacent plains. It was evident, however, that
they had not been flooded for many years; and, notwithstanding that the
country was low, the line of inundation did not appear to be very
extensive, nor were there any reeds growing beyond the immediate banks of
the river. Swamp-oak and rough-gum again prevailed near the stream at our
halting place, and the improvement that had taken place, both in the
country and in the Castlereagh, had induced us to make so short a journey;
for not only was there abundance of the grass for the animals, but large
ponds of water in the river. Some natives had only just preceded us down
it: we came upon their fires that were still smoking; and upon them were
the remains of some fish they had taken, near which they had left a
cumbrous spear. The circumstances cheered us with hopes that an
improvement would take place in the country, and that some new feature
would soon open upon us. In the course of the following day, however,
every favorable change, both in the river and in the country, disappeared.
The latter continued extremely depressed, and in general open, or lightly
covered with acacia pendula; the former dwindled into a mere ditch, choked
up with brambles and reeds, and having only here and there a stagnant pool
of water. We travelled on a N.W. 1/2 W. course for about ten miles, and
again stopped for the night without water. In the course of the afternoon,
we traversed several flats, on which the rough-gum alone was growing.
These flats were evidently subject to flood; and contained an alluvial
They became more frequent as we travelled down the river, and the work was
so heavy for the animals, that I was obliged to keep wide of them, in
doing which we struck upon a creek of large size, coming from the N.E.
and, having crossed, we traversed its right bank to its junction with the
Castlereagh, and stopped close to it at a pond of water, though the feed
for the animals was bad. The country to the left of the river, though
somewhat high, was the same, in essential points, as that to the right.
The Castlereagh seemed to have increased in size below the creek, but
still it had no resemblance to a river. We had not proceeded very far down
its banks, on the 18th, when we crossed a broad footpath leading to it
from the interior. I turned my horse to the left, and struck upon a long
sheet of water, from which I startled a number of pelicans. It was evident
that the natives had recently been in the neighbourhood, but we thought it
probable they might have been a hunting party, who had returned again to
the plains. The whole track we passed over during the day was miserably
poor and bare of vegetation, nor did the appearance of the country to the
N.E. indicate any improvement. We lost the traces of the natives
immediately after crossing their path or beat, and again found the bed of
the river dry, after we had passed the sheet of water to which it led. The
soil was so rotten and yielding, that the team knocked up early; indeed,
it was a matter of surprise to me that they should not have failed before.
The river made somewhat to the westward with little promise of
improvement. The wretched appearance of the country as we penetrated into
it, damped our spirits; we pressed on, however, with difficulty, over
ground that was totally destitute of vegetation. Instead of lofty timber
and a living stream, we wandered along the banks of an insignificant
watercourse, and under trees of stunted size and scanty foliage. We
stopped on the 20th at the angle of a creek, in which there was some dry
grass, in consequence of the animals being almost in a starving state, but
even here they had but little to eat.
A violent thunder-storm passed over us in the afternoon, but it made no
change in the temperature of the air. The weather, although it had been
hot and sultry, had fallen far short of the intense heat we experienced in
crossing the marshes of the Macquarie, when it was such as to melt the
sugar in the canisters, and to destroy all our dogs; and our nights were
now become agreeably cool.
A PARTY OF NATIVES.
We still, however, continued to travel over a dead level, nor was a height
or break visible from the loftiest trees we ascended. A little before we
stopped at the creek, we surprised a party of natives; old men, women, and
children. They were preparing dinners of fish in much larger quantities
than they could have devoured--probably for a part of the tribe that were
absent; but the moment they saw us they fled, and left every thing at our
mercy. On examining the fish, we found them totally different from any in
the Macquarie, and took two of the most perfect to preserve. In the
afternoon one of the men came to inform me that the tribe was coming down
Mr. Hume and I, therefore, went to meet them. They were at this time about
150 yards from the tent, but seeing us advance, they stopped, and forming
two deep, they marched to and fro, to a war song I suppose, crouching with
their spears. We had not, however, any difficulty in communicating with
them, and I shall detail the manner in which this was brought about, in
hopes that it may help to guide others. When the natives saw us advance,
they stopped, and we did the same. Mr. Hume then walked to a tree, and
broke off a short branch. It is singular that this should, even with these
rude people, be a token of peace. As soon as they saw the branch, the
natives laid aside their spears, and two of them advanced about twenty
paces in front of the rest, who sat down. Mr. Hume then went forward and
sat down, when the two natives again advanced and seated themselves close
Now it is evident that a little insight into the customs of every people
is necessary to insure a kindly communication; this, joined with patience
and kindness, will seldom fail with the natives of the interior. It is not
to avoid alarming their natural timidity that a gradual approach is so
necessary. They preserve the same ceremony among themselves. These men,
who were eighteen in number, came with us to the tents, and received such
presents as we had for them. They conducted themselves very quietly, and,
after a short time, left us with every token of friendship.
On the 21st we proceeded down the river on a N.N.W. course, and at about
five miles struck upon a very large creek, apparently coming from
Although the Castlereagh had increased in size, this creek was infinitely
larger; it was, however, perfectly dry. Lofty flooded-gum trees were upon
its banks, and it appeared so much superior to the river that I was
induced to halt the party at the junction, in order to examine it more
closely. Mr. Hume, therefore, rode with me up the right bank. We had not
proceeded very far, when some natives called out to us from the opposite
scrub. Thinking that they belonged to the tribe we had left behind us, we
pointed to the junction, and motioned them to go there, but one of the
party continued to follow and call to us for some time. On our return to
the men, we found that the natives had joined them, and they now gave us
to understand that we were going away from water. This had indeed been
apparent to us. The creek was perfectly dry, as far as we traced it up;
and seemed to have been totally deserted by the natives.
We were about to proceed on our journey, when from twenty to thirty
natives approached us from down the river. We sent two of those who had
been with us to them, and the whole accompanied us for some miles, talking
incessantly to the men, but keeping at a very respectful distance from the
animals. We at length got opposite to their camp, near which there was a
very fine pool of water, and they were earnest in persuading us to stop at
it. We were, however, too anxious to get forward to comply; under the
improved appearance of the river since it had received the creeks from the
eastward, little anticipating what was before us.
The natives did not follow us beyond their own encampment. Within sight of
it, we came upon their armoury, if I may so term it. Numerous spears were
reared against the trees, and heaps of boomerangs were lying on the
ground. The spears were very heavy, and half barbed; and it is singular
that three of them were marked with a broad arrow. We saw the natives
watching us, fearful, I imagine, that we should help ourselves; but I
would not permit any of their weapons to be touched.
EXAMINATION OF CREEKS NEAR THE CASTLEREAGH.
Pursuing our journey, we reached another creek, at about five miles,
similar to the last in appearance and size, and we crossed it repeatedly
during the afternoon. We had been induced to keep along a native path in
the hope that it would have led us to the river by a short cut; but it
eventually led us to this creek, and away from the Castlereagh; for,
notwithstanding that we subsequently changed our course to the S.W., we
failed, as we supposed, again to strike upon the latter, and were obliged
to stop for the night on the banks of what appeared to be a third large
dry creek, which we intersected nearly at right angles.
We travelled through a good deal of brush during the day, nor did the
country change from the miserable and barren character it had assumed for
the last thirty or forty miles. The Castlereagh had so frequently changed,
that both Mr. Hume and myself were puzzled as to the identity of the
creek upon which we had halted. We searched its bed in vain for water,
although it was most capacious. Under an impression that the river was
still to the south, and that we were at a point to which many watercourses
from the high lands tended, I crossed the creek early in the morning, and
held a S.W. course, over an open forest country. At about eight miles, we
came upon a large space over-run by the polygonum junceum, a certain
indication of flooded ground, and of our consequent proximity to some
stream. Accordingly, after pushing through it, we struck upon a small
creek with abundance of water in it. Whether this creek was the
Castlereagh, which it resembled much more than the one we had left in the
morning, was doubtful; but it was a great source of comfort to us to have
so unexpected a supply of water as that which was now at our disposal.
Whatever channel this was, whether a river or a creek, our tracing it down
would lead us in the direction we wished to go, and probably to some
The neighbourhood of the creek was well clothed with vegetation, and the
cattle found good feed; but the only trees near it were rough-gum and
casuarinae; the flooded-gum had again disappeared. The soil of the forest
land over which we journeyed was a light sandy loam; and its timber
consisted chiefly of eucalypti, acacia pendula, and the angophora.
Some natives visited us in the afternoon, and among them, both Mr. Hume
and I recognised one of those we had seen on the Darling. He also knew us
again, but we could not make out from him how far we were from that river.
They stayed with us till sunset, and then went down the creek, leaving
their spears against a tree, for which they said they would return.
On the 23rd we took up a W.N.W. course, and when we again touched on the
creek it was dry. This was at a distance of about five miles from where we
had slept. As the animals had not recovered from their late privations, I
deemed it better to halt the party and to examine the creek for a few
miles below us, that in case it should prove destitute of water, we might
return to that we had left. Mr. Hume accordingly rode down it for about
three miles, without success; and on his rejoining the men, we returned
with them to our last camp, or to within a short distance of it. Wishing
to examine the creek above our position, I requested Mr. Hume to take two
men with him, and to trace it down in search of water, while I should
proceed in the opposite direction. I went from the camp at an early hour,
and as I wandered along the creek, I passed a regular chain of ponds. The
country on both sides of the creek was evidently subject to flood, but
more extensively to the south than to the north. From the creek, I struck
away to my left, and after penetrating through a belt of swamp-oak and
minor shrubs, got on a small plain, which I crossed N.E. and, to my
annoyance, found it covered with rhagodia and salsolae. As I had not
started with the intention of sleeping, I turned to the S.W. a little
before sunset, and reached the tents between ten and eleven. I found
Mr. Hume awaiting me. He informed me that at about nine miles from
where we had turned back with the party, he had struck upon a junction;
and that as the junction was much larger than the channel he had been
tracing, he thought it better to follow it up for a few miles. He found
that it narrowed in width, and that its banks became steep, with a fine
avenue of flooded-gum trees overhanging them. At four miles, he came upon
another junction, and at four miles more, found himself opposite to the
ground on which we had slept on the previous Saturday. From this point he
retraced the channel, but not finding any water for three miles below the
lower junction, he returned to the camp, with a view of prosecuting a
longer journey on the morrow. Mr. Hume had become impressed with an
opinion, that the junction up which we had slept was no other than the
Castlereagh itself; and that our position was on a creek, probably
Morrisset's chain of ponds, flowing into it. As the cattle wanted a few
days' rest, Mr. Hume and I determined to ride, unattended, along our track
to our camp of the 21st, and then to follow the channel upwards, until we
should arrive at the station of the natives, or until we should have
ridden to such a distance as would set our conjectures at rest. In the
morning, however, instead of running upon our old track, we followed that
of Mr. Hume to the junction, giving up our first intention, with a view to
ascertain if there existed any water which we could, by an effort, gain,
below where Mr. Hume had been. The channel was very broad, with a
considerable fall in its bed, and, in appearance, more resembled the slope
of a lawn than the bed of a river. It had two gum-trees in the centre of
its channel, in one of which the floods had left the trunk of a large
tree. We could discover where it narrowed and its banks rose, but, as we
intended to make a closer examination before we left the neighbourhood,
we continued our journey down the principal channel. The ground exhibited
an abundance of pasture in its immediate neighbourhood, but the distant
country was miserably poor and bare. At about three miles, we came upon
the fresh traces of some natives, which led us to the channel again, from
which we had wandered unintentionally. In it we found there had been water
very lately, and it appeared that the natives had dug holes at the bottom
to insure a longer supply. These were now exhausted, but still retained
the appearance of moisture. At a mile and a half beyond these, we were led
to some similar holes, by observing a number of birds flying about them.
The water was too muddy for us to drink, but the horses emptied them
successively. We now kept sufficiently near the channel to insure our
seeing any pool that might still remain in it, but rode for about seven
miles before we again saw water, and even here, although it was a spring,
we were obliged to dig holes, and await their filling, before we could get
sufficient for our use. Having dined, we again pursued our journey, and
almost immediately came upon a long narrow ditch, full of water, and lined
by bulrushes. The creek or river had for some time kept the centre of a
deep alluvial valley, in which there was plenty of food for the cattle,
and which, at this place, was apparently broader than anywhere else. The
situation being favourable, we returned to the camp, and reached it late.
DEPRESSION OF THE MEN.
I do not know whether I was wrong in my conjecture, but I fancied, about
this time, that the men generally were desponding. Whether it was that the
constant fatigue entailed on myself and Mr. Hume, and that our constant
absence, or the consequent exhaustion it produced, had any effect on their
minds, or that they feared the result of our perseverance, is difficult to
say; but certainly, they all had a depression of spirits, and looked, I
thought, altered in appearance; nor did they evince any satisfaction at
our success--at least, not the satisfaction they would have shown at an
earlier period of our journey.
Before moving forward, it remained for us to ascertain if the channel from
the junction was the Castlereagh, or only a creek. The intersection of so
many channels in this neighbourhood, most of them so much alike, made it
essentially necessary that we should satisfy ourselves on this point.
Mr. Hume, therefore, accompanied me, as had at first been intended the
morning of our return to the place at which we had slept. We took fresh
horses, but dispensed with any other attendants, and indeed went wholly
CAMP OF NATIVES.
After following our old track to its termination, we kept up the right
bank of the channel, and at length arrived at the camp of the natives;
thus satisfying ourselves that we had been journeying on the Castlereagh,
and that we were still following it down. By this ride we ascertained that
there was a distance of five-and-forty miles in its bed without a drop of
water. Few of the natives were in the camp. The women avoided us, but not
as if they were under any apprehension. Crossing at the head of the pool,
we again got on our old track, but seeing two or three men coming towards
us we alighted, and, tying our horses to a tree, went to meet them. One
poor fellow had two ducks in his hand, which he had just taken off the
fire; these he offered to us, and on our declining to accept of them, he
called to a boy, who soon appeared with a large trough of honey, of which
we partook. One of the men had an ulcer in the arm, and asked me what he
should do to heal it; indeed, I believe Fraser had promised him some
ointment, but not having any with me, I signified to him that he should
wash it often, and stooping down, made as if I was taking up water in my
hand. The poor fellow mistook me, and, also stooping down, took up a
handful of dust which he threw over the sore. This gave me the trouble of
explaining matters again, and by pointing to the water, I believe I at
length made him understand me.
DRY CHANNEL OF THE RIVER.
These good natured people asked us where we had slept the day we passed,
and when informed of the direction, shook their heads, motioning at the
same time, that we must have been without water. We informed them where
the party was, and asked them to come and see us, but I fancy the distance
was too great, or else we were in the beat of another tribe. On mentioning
these facts to the men, they said that two of the natives had followed us
for some miles, calling out loudly to us, but Mr. Hume and I both being in
front, we did not hear them, although, evidently, they wished to save us
Since the result of our excursion proved that the channel, about which I
had been so doubtful, was the Castlereagh, it necessarily followed, that
the creek at which we were encamped was one of those (most probably
Morrisset's chain of ponds,) which we had already crossed nearer its
source, and which Mr. Hume must have struck upon when endeavouring to gain
the Castlereagh from the marshes of the Macquarie.
A perusal of these sheets will ere this have impressed on the reader's
mind, the peculiarity of that fortune which led us from the Castlereagh to
the creek, at which alone our wants could have been supplied. Had we
wandered down the river, as we undoubtedly should have done had we
recognised it as such, the loss of many of our animals would have been the
inevitable consequence, and very probably a final issue would have been
put to our journey. It is only to those who are placed in situations that
baffle their own exertions or foresight, that the singular guidance of
Providence becomes fully apparent.
NATIVES PERISHING FROM FAMINE.
It would appear that the natives were dying fast, not from any disease,
but from the scarcity of food; and, should the drought continue, it seemed
probable they may became extinct.
The men found the body of a woman covered with leaves near the tents, and
very properly buried it. We made Friday a day of rest for ourselves, as
indeed was necessary; and on the following morning proceeded down the
river, and encamped on a high bank above it, at the base of which, our
cattle both fed and watered.
At this spot one of the largest gum-trees I had ever seen had fallen,
having died for want of moisture; indeed, the state of the vegetable
kingdom was such as to threaten its total extinction, unless a change of
seasons should take place.
It may be worthy of remark that, from our first arrival on the banks of
the Castlereagh, to our arrival at the present camp, we never picked up a
stone, or a pebble, in its bed.
JUNCTION OF THE CASTLEREAGH WITH THE DARLING.
In the hope that we should fall on some detached pond, we pursued our
journey on the 29th. The Castlereagh gave singular proofs of its violence,
as if its waters, confined in the valley, had a difficulty in escaping
from it. We had not travelled two miles, when in crossing, as we imagined,
one of its bights, we found ourselves checked by a broad river. A single
glimpse of it was sufficient to tell us it was the Darling. At a distance
of more than ninety miles nearer its source, this singular river still
preserved its character, so strikingly, that it was impossible not to have
recognised it in a moment. The same steep banks and lofty timber, the same
deep reaches, alive with fish, were here visible as when we left it.
A hope naturally arose to our minds, that if it was unchanged in other
respects, it might have lost the saltness that rendered its waters unfit
for use; but in this we were disappointed--even its waters continued the
same. As it was impossible for us to cross the Darling, I determined on
falling back upon our last encampment, which was at a most Convenient
distance, and of concerting measures there for our future movements. Prior
to doing so, however, I rode to the junction of the Castlereagh with
the Darling, accompanied by Mr. Hume, a distance of about half a mile.
Upon the point formed by the two streams, there were a number of huts,
and on the opposite bank of the Darling, about twenty natives had
collected. We called out to them, but they would not join us.
At the junction, the Castlereagh, with whatever impetuosity it rushes from
its confinement, makes not apparently the least impression on the Darling
River. The latter seemed to loll on, totally heedless of such a tributary.
Perplexity--Trait of honesty in the natives--Excursion on horseback across
the Darling--Forced to return--Desolating effects of the drought--Retreat
towards the colony--Connection between the Macquarie and the Darling--
Return up the banks of the Macquarie--Starving condition of the natives.
On our return to the party, we found them surrounded by the natives, who
were looking with an eye of wonder on the cattle and horses. We pointed
out to them the direction in which we were going, and invited them to
visit us; and nothing appeared to astonish them so much as the management
of the team by a single man. We got back to our position early, and again
fixed ourselves upon it.
It now only remained for us to consider what we should do under
circumstances of certainly more than ordinary perplexity. We had nothing
to hope for from travelling in a southerly direction, while to the E. and
N.E., the state of the country was worse than that by which we had
penetrated to the Darling. It was evident, that the large creeks joining
the Castlereagh in that direction were dry, since the natives not only
intimated this to us, but it was unquestionable that they themselves had
deserted them, and had crowded to such places as still contained a supply
of water. Even in retreating, we could not hope to retrace our steps.
Experience had proved to us, that the dry state of the interior was as
injurious to the movements of an expedition as a too wet season would have
been. Taking everything, therefore, into consideration, I determined on
leaving the party stationary, and on crossing the Darling to the N.W.,
and, if any encouraging feature presented itself, to return for the party,
and persevere in an examination of the distant interior. Such, at least,
appeared to me the most judicious plan: indeed, an attempt to have moved
in any other direction would have been fruitless. And, as the result of
this journey would be decisive, and would either fix or determine our
advance or retreat, I was anxious for Mr. Hume's attendance.
The natives followed to the camp, and in the course of the afternoon, were
joined by their women. The latter however, would not approach nearer than
the top of a little hillock on which they sat. The men did not come round
the tents, but stood in a row at a short distance. At sunset, they gained
a little courage, and wandered about a little more; at length they went
off to the Darling.
HONESTY OF A NATIVE.
It was quite dark, when I heard a native call from the hill on which the
women had been, and I desired Hopkinson to take his firelock and ascertain
what the man wanted. He soon after returned, and brought a blanket, which
he said the man had returned to him. The native was alone, and when he
offered the blanket, kept his spear poised in his right hand; but, seeing
that no violence was intended him, he lowered his weapon, and walked away.
REWARD THE MAN FOR HIS CONDUCT.
I was extremely pleased at this trait of honesty, and determined to reward
it. On inquiry, I found that the men had availed themselves of the day to
wash their blankets and that one of them had been flung over a bush
hanging over the bank of the river, and it was supposed that one of the
natives must have pulled it down with him. In the morning, the tribe went
away from their encampment before day-light as we judged from the cry of
their dogs, than which nothing could be more melancholy; but about eight,
the men made their appearance on the hill occupied by the women the
evening previously, and seemed to be doubtful whether to approach nearer.
I went out to them, and, with a downward motion of my hand, beckoned for
them to come to me: they mistook the signal, but laid all their spears on
the ground, and it was not until after the sign had been reversed that
they stirred or moved towards me. I then got them in a row, and desired
Hopkinson to single out the man who had given him the blanket. It was,
however, with great difficulty that he recognised him, as the man stood
firm and motionless. At length, after walking two or three times along the
line, he stopped before one man, and put his hand on his shoulder, upon
which the manner of the native testified as to the correctness of his
The blanket being produced, I explained to the savage, with Mr. Hume's
assistance, that I was highly pleased with him, and forthwith presented
him with a tomahawk and a clasp-knife. The tribe were perfectly aware of
the reason of my conduct, and all of them seemed highly delighted.
I was happy in having such an opportunity of showing the natives of the
interior that I came among them with a determination to maintain justice
in my communication with them, and to impress them, at the same time, with
a sense of our love of it in them. That they appreciated my apparent
lenity in not calling for the defaulter, I am sure, and I feel perfectly
conscious that I should have failed in my duty had I acted otherwise than
EFFECT OF FIRING A GUN.
Although the natives had shown so good a disposition, as they were
numerous, I thought it as well, since I was about to leave the camp, to
show them that I had a power they little dreamt of about me. I therefore
called for my gun and fired a ball into a tree. The effect of the report
upon the natives, was truly ridiculous. Some stood and stared at me,
others fell down, and others ran away; and it was with some difficulty we
collected them again. At last, however, we did so, and, leaving them to
pick out the ball, mounted our horses and struck away for the Darling.
We crossed the river a little above where we struck it, and then proceeded
N.W. into the interior.
EXCURSION ACROSS THE DARLING.
It is impossible for me to describe the nature of the country over which
we passed, for the first eight miles. We rode through brushes of
polygonum, under rough-gum, without a blade of vegetation, the whole space
being subject to inundation. We then got on small plains of firmer
surface, and red soil, but these soon changed again for the former; and
at 4 p.m. we found ourselves advanced about two miles on a plain that
stretched away before us, and bounded the horizon. It was dismally brown;
a few trees only served to mark the distance. Up one of the highest I sent
Hopkinson, who reported that he could not see the end of it, and that all
around looked blank and desolate. It is a singular fact, that during the
whole day, we had not seen a drop of water or a blade of grass.
DESOLATING EFFECTS OF THE DROUGHT.
To have stopped where we were, would, therefore, have been impossible; to
have advanced, would probably have been ruin. Had there been one favorable
circumstance to have encouraged me with the hope of success, I would have
proceeded. Had we picked up a stone as indicating our approach to high
land, I would have gone on; or had there been a break in the level of the
country, or even a change in the vegetation. But we had left all traces of
the natives far behind us; and this seemed a desert they never
entered--that not even a bird inhabited. I could not encourage a hope of
success, and, therefore, gave up the point; not from want of means, but a
conviction of the inutility of any further efforts. If there is any blame
to be attached to the measure, it is I who am in fault, but none who had
not like me traversed the interior at such a season, would believe the
state of the country over which I had wandered. During the short interval
I had been out, I had seen rivers cease to flow before me, and sheets of
water disappear; and had it not been for a merciful Providence, should,
ere reaching the Darling, have been overwhelmed by misfortune.
I am giving no false picture of the reality. So long had the drought
continued, that the vegetable kingdom was almost annihilated, and minor
vegetation had disappeared. In the creeks, weeds had grown and withered,
and grown again; and young saplings were now rising in their beds,
nourished by the moisture that still remained; but the largest forest
trees were drooping, and many were dead. The emus, with outstretched
necks, gasping for breath, searched the channels of the rivers for water,
in vain; and the native dog, so thin that it could hardly walk, seemed to
implore some merciful hand to despatch it. How the natives subsisted it
was difficult to say, but there was no doubt of the scarcity of food
We arrived in camp at a late hour, and having nothing to detain us longer,
prepared for our retreat in the morning. The natives had remained with the
party during the greater part of the day, and had only left them a short
time prior to our arrival.
When examining the creek on which we had been encamped for some days,
Mr. Hume observed a small junction; and as we knew we were almost
due N. of the marshes of the Macquarie, both of us were anxious to
ascertain whence it originated. To return to Mount Harris, by retracing
our steps up the Castlereagh, would have entailed the severest distress
upon us; we the rather preferred proceeding up this creek, and taking our
chance for a supply of water. We therefore crossed Morrisset's chain of
ponds, and encamped in the angle formed by the junction of the two creeks.
Before we left this position, we were visited by a party of natives,
twelve in number, but not of the Darling tribe. They accompanied us a
short way, and then struck off to the right. At about a mile and a half,
we crossed Mr. Hume's track, leading westerly, which still remained
observable. The creek was, no doubt, the hollow he stated that he crossed
on that excursion, and its appearance certainly justified his opinion of
it. Its bed was choked up with bulrushes or the polygonum, and its banks
were level with the country on either side, or nearly so. We passed over
extremely rich soil the whole day, on a S.W. and by W. course, though the
timber upon it was dwarfish, and principally of the rough-gum kind.
On the 2nd of April, we stopped in order to make some repairs upon the
dray; the wheels of which had failed us. Clayton put in four new spokes,
and we heated the tyres over again, by which means we got it once more
The soil in the creek was of the richest quality, and was found to produce
a dwarf melon, having all the habits and character of the cucumber.
The fruit was not larger than a pigeon's egg, but was extremely sweet.
There were not, however, many ripe, although the runners were covered with
flowers, and had an abundance of fruit upon them. In the morning, we sent
the tinker on horseback up the creek, to ascertain how far the next water
was from us, desiring him to keep the creek upon his right, and to follow
his own track back again. He thought fit, however, considering himself
a good bushman, to wander away to his left, and the consequence was, that
he soon lost himself. It would appear that he doubled and passed through
some thick brush at the back of the camp, and at length found himself at
dark on the banks of a considerable creek. In wandering along it, he
luckily struck upon the natives we had last seen, who, good-naturedly, led
him to the track of the dray, which his horse would not afterwards desert,
and the tinker sneaked into the tent about 3 o'clock in the morning,
having failed in his errand, and made himself the butt of the whole party.
RETURN UP THE CREEK.
The day succeeding this adventure, we moved up the creek, which was, for
the most part, even with the plain. The country continued the same as that
we had passed over from the junction, being subject to flood, and having
patches of bulrushes and reeds upon it. No change took place in the
timber, but the line of acacia pendula, which forms the line of
inundation, approached neater to us; nor was the mark of flood so high on
the trunks of trees as below. We halted, with abominable water, but
excellent food for the animals in the plains behind us. In continuing our
journey, we found several changes take place in the appearance of the
creek and its neighbourhood. The former diminished in size, and at length
separated into two distinct channels, choked up, for the most part, with
dead bulrushes, but having a few green reeds in patches along it. The
flats on either side became slightly timbered, and blue gum was the
prevailing tree. Crossing one of the channels, we observed every
appearance of our near approach to the marshes, the flats being
intersected by many little water-runs, such as we had noticed at the
bottom of them. About noon we struck upon a body of reeds under the wood
of eucalypti, below the second great morass, and keeping a little to our
right to avoid them, fell shortly afterwards into our old track on the
plain, upon which we continued to move, making the best of our way to the
channel which had supplied our wants on our first return from the Darling.
It was now, however, quite dry, and we were obliged to push on further,
to shorten the journey of the morrow.
CONNECTION OF MACQUARIE AND DARLING.
The result of our journey up the creek was particularly satisfactory, both
to myself and Mr. Hume; since it cleared up every doubt that might have
existed regarding the actual termination of the Macquarie, and enabled us
to connect the flow of waters at so interesting and particular a point.
It will be seen by a reference to the chart, that the waters of the
marshes, after trickling through the reeds, form a small creek, which
carries off the superfluous part of them into Morrisset's chain of ponds,
which latter again falls into the Castlereagh, at about eight miles to the
W.N.W. and all three join the Darling in a W. by N. direction, in lat.
30 degrees 52 minutes south and E. lon. 147 degrees 8 minutes at about
90 miles to the N.N.W. of Mount Harris, and about an equal distance to
the E.S.E. of where we struck upon the last-mentioned river. Thus it
is evident that the Darling had considerably neared the eastern ranges,
although it was still more than 150 miles from their base. It was
apparently coming from the N.E., and whether it has its sources in the
mountains behind our distant settlements, or still farther to the
northwards, is a question of curious speculation, although, as I have
already stated, I am of opinion that none but tropical rains could
supply the furious torrent that must sometimes rage in it.
It would be presumptuous to hazard any opinion as to the nature of the
interior to the westward of that remarkable river. Its course is involved
in equal mystery, and it is a matter of equal doubt whether it makes its
way to the south coast, or ultimately exhausts itself in feeding a
succession of swamps, or falls into a large reservoir in the centre of
RETURN TO MOUNT HARRIS.
We reached Mount Harris on the 7th of the month, and moving leisurely up
the banks of the Macquarie, gained Mr. Palmer's first station on the 14th,
and Wellington Valley on the 21st, having been absent from that settlement
four months and two weeks. The waters of the Macquarie had diminished so
much, that its bed was dry for more than half a mile at a stretch, nor did
we observe the least appearance of a current in it, until after we had
ascended the ranges. The lower tribes were actually starving, and brought
their children to us to implore something to eat. The men attempted to
surprise the camp, but I believe they were urged from absolute necessity
to procure subsistence for themselves, and that they intended robbery
rather than personal violence.
DEPLORABLE STATE OF THE COUNTRY.
We left the interior in a still more deplorable state than that in which
we found it; but it is more than probable that under other circumstances,
we should have found it impossible to traverse its distant plains, as it
is certain that unless rain fell in less than three weeks, all
communication with the Darling would have been cut off:
General remarks--Result of the expedition--Previous anticipations--
Mr. Oxley's remarks--Character of the Rivers flowing westerly--
Mr. Cunningham's remarks--Fall of the Macquarie--Mr. Oxley's erroneous
conclusions respecting the character of the interior, naturally inferred
from the state in which he found the country--The marsh of the Macquarie
merely a marsh of the ordinary character--Captain King's observations--
Course of the Darling--Character of the low interior plain--The convict
Barber's report of rivers traversing the interior--Surveyor-General
Mitchell's Report of his recent expedition.
RESULT OF THE EXPEDITION.
Whether the discoveries that have been made during this expedition, will
ultimately prove of advantage to the colony of New South Wales, is a
question that time alone can answer. We have in the meanwhile to regret
that no beneficial consequences will immediately follow them. The further
knowledge that has been gained of the interior is but as a gleam of
sunshine over an extensive landscape. A stronger light has fallen upon the
nearer ground, but the distant horizon is still enveloped in clouds. The
veil has only as it were been withdrawn from the marshes of the Macquarie
to be spread over the channel of the Darling. Unsatisfactory, however, as
the discoveries may as yet be considered in a commercial point of view,
the objects for which the expedition had been fitted out were happily
attained. The marsh it had been directed to examine, was traversed on
every side, and the rivers it had been ordered to trace, were followed
down to their terminations to a distance far beyond where they had ceased
to exist as living streams. To many who may cast their eyes over the
accompanying chart, the extent of newly discovered country may appear
trifling; but when they are told, that there is not a mile of that
ground that was not traversed over and over again, either by Mr. Hume or
by myself, that we wandered over upwards of 600 miles more than the main
body of the expedition, on different occasions, in our constant and
anxious search for water, and that we seldom dismounted from our horses,
until long after sunset, they will acknowledge the difficulties with which
we had to contend, and will make a generous allowance for them; for,
however unsuccessful in some respects the expedition may have been, it
accomplished as much, it is to be hoped, as under such trying
circumstances could have been accomplished. It now only remains for me to
sum up the result of my own observations, and to point out to the reader,
how far the actual state of the interior, has been found to correspond
with the opinions that were entertained of it.
MR. OXLEY'S REMARKS.
I have already stated, in the introduction to this work, that the general
impression on the minds of those best qualified to judge was, that the
western streams discharged themselves into a central shoal sea. Mr. Oxley
thus expresses himself on the subject:--
"July 3rd. Towards morning the storm abated, and at day-light, we
proceeded on our voyage. The main bed of the river was much contracted,
but very deep; the waters spreading to the depth of a foot or eighteen
inches over the banks, but all running on the same point of bearing. We
met with considerable interruptions from fallen timber, which in places
nearly choked up the channel. After going about twenty miles, we lost the
land and trees; the channel of the river, which lay through reeds, and was
from one to three feet deep, ran northerly.--This continued for three or
four miles farther, when, although there had been no previous change in
the breadth, depth, or rapidity of the stream for several miles, and I was
sanguine in my expectations of soon entering the long-sought-for
Australian sea, it all at once eluded our farther pursuit, by spreading on
every point from N.W. to N.E. among the ocean of reeds which surrounded
us, still running with the same rapidity as before. There was no channel
whatever among those reeds, and the depth varied from three to five feet.
This astonishing change (for I cannot call it a termination of the river)
of course left me no alternative but to endeavour to return to some spot
on which we could effect a landing before dark. I estimated, that during
the day, we had gone about twenty-four miles, on nearly the same point of
bearing as yesterday. To assert, positively, that we were on the margin of
the lake, or sea, into which this great body of water is discharged, might
reasonably be deemed a conclusion, which has nothing but conjecture for
its basis. But if an opinion may be permitted to be hazarded from actual
appearances, mine is decidedly in favour of our being in the immediate
vicinity of an inland sea, or lake, most probably a shoal one, and
gradually filling up by numerous depositions from the high lands, left by
the waters which flow into it. It is most singular, that the high lands on
this continent seem to be confined to the sea-coast, and not to extend to
any distance from it."
MR. CUNNINGHAM'S REMARKS.
In a work published at Sydney, containing an account of Mr. Allan
Cunningham's journey towards Moreton Bay, in 1828, the following remarks
occur, from which it is evident Mr. Cunningham entertained Mr. Oxley's
views of the character and nature of the Western interior. Towards the
conclusion of the narrative, the author thus observes:--
"Of the probable character of the distant unexplored interior, into which
it has been ascertained ALL the rivers falling westerly from the dividing
ranges flow, some inference may be drawn from the following data.
"Viewing, between the parallels of 34 degrees and 27 degrees, a vast area
of depressed interior, subjected in seasons of prolonged rains to partial
inundation, by a dispersion of the several waters that flow upon it from
the eastern mountains whence they originate; and bearing in mind at the
same time, that the declension of the country within the above parallels,
as most decidedly shown by the dip of its several rivers, is uniformly
to the N.N.W. and N.W., it would appear very conclusive, that either a
portion of our distant interior is occupied by a lake of considerable
magnitude, or that the confluence of those large streams, the Macquarie,
Castlereagh, Gwydir, and the Dumaresq, with the many minor interfluent
waters, which doubtless takes place upon those low levels, forms one
or more noble rivers, which may flow across the continent by an almost
imperceptible declivity of country to the north of north-west coasts, on
certain parts of which, recent surveys have discovered to us extensive
openings, by which the largest accumulations of waters might escape to the
CHARACTER OF THE RIVERS.
It is the characteristic of the streams falling westerly from the eastern,
or coast ranges, to maintain a breadth of channel and a rapidity of
current more immediately near their sources, that ill accords with their
diminished size, and the sluggish flow of their waters in the more
depressed interior. In truth, neither the Macquarie nor the Castlereagh
can strictly be considered as permanent rivers. The last particularly is
nothing more than a mountain torrent. The Macquarie, although it at length
ceased to run, kept up the appearance of a river to the very marshes; but
the bed of the Castlereagh might have been crossed in many places without
being noticed, nor did its channel contain so much water as was to be
found on the neighbouring plains.
There are two circumstances upon which the magnitude, and velocity of a
river, more immediately depend. The first is the abundance of its sources,
the other the dip of its bed. If a stream has constant fountains at its
head, and numerous tributaries joining it in its course, and flows withal
through a country of gradual descent, such a stream will never fail; but
if the supplies do not exceed the evaporation and absorption, to which
every river is subject, if a river dependant on its head alone, falls
rapidly into a level country, without receiving a single addition to its
waters to assist the first impulse acquired in their descent, it must
necessarily cease to flow at one point or other. Such is the case with the
Lachlan, the Macquarie, the Castlereagh, and the Darling. Whence the
latter originates, still remains to be ascertained; but most undoubtedly
its sources have been influenced by the same drought that has exhausted
the fountains of the three first mentioned streams.
In supporting his opinion of the probable discharge of the interior waters
of Australia upon its north-west coast, Mr. Cunningham thus remarks in the
publication from which I have already made an extract.
"To those remarkable parts of the north-west coast above referred to in
the parallel of 16 degrees south, the Macquarie river, which rises in
lat. 33 degrees, and under the meridian of 150 degrees east, would have a
course of 2045 statute miles throughout, while the elevation of its
source, being 3500 feet above the level of the sea as shown by the
barometer, would give its waters an average descent of twenty inches to
the mile, supposing the bed of the river to be an inclined plane.
"The Gwydir originating in elevated land, lying in 31 degrees south, and
long. 151 degrees east, at a mean height of 3000 feet, would have to flow
2020 miles, its elevated sources giving to each a mean fall of seventeen
"Dumaresq's river falling 2970 feet from granite mountains, in 28 1/4
degrees under the meridian of 152 degrees, would have to pursue its course
for 2969 miles, its average fall being eighteen inches to a mile."
As I have never been upon the banks either of the Gwydir or the Dumaresq,
I cannot speak of those two rivers; but in estimating the sources of the
Macquarie at 3500 feet above the level of the sea, Mr. Cunningham has lost
sight of, or overlooked the fact, that the fall of its bed in the first
two hundred miles, is more than 2800 feet, since the cataract, which is
midway between Wellington Valley and the marshes, was ascertained by
barometrical admeasurement, to be 680 feet only above the ocean. The
country, therefore, through which the Macquarie would have to flow during
the remainder of its course of 1700 miles, in order to gain the
N.W. coast, would not be a gradually inclined plain, but for the most part
a dead level, and the fact of its failure is a sufficient proof in itself
how short the course of a river so circumstanced must necessarily be.
MR. OXLEY'S OPINIONS.
Having conversed frequently with Mr. Oxley on the subject of his
expeditions, I went into the interior prepossessed in favour of his
opinions, nor do I think he could have drawn any other conclusion than
that which he did, from his experience of the terminations of the rivers
whose courses he explored. Had Mr. Oxley advanced forty, or even thirty
miles, farther than he did, to the westward of Mount Harris; nay, had he
proceeded eight miles in the above direction beyond the actual spot from
which he turned back, he would have formed other and very different
opinions of the probable character of the distant interior. But I am aware
that Mr. Oxley performed all that enterprise, and perseverance, and talent
could have performed, and that it would have been impracticable in him to
have attempted to force its marshes in the state in which he found them.
It was from his want of knowledge of their nature and extent, that he
inferred the swampy and inhospitable character of the more remote country,
a state in which subsequent investigation has found it not to be. The
marsh of the Macquarie is nothing more than an ordinary marsh or swamp in
another country. However large a space it covers, it is no more than a
concavity or basin for the reception of the waters of the river itself,
nor has it any influence whatever on the country to the westward of it,
in respect to inundation; the general features of the latter being a
regular alternation of plain and brush. These facts are in themselves
sufficient to give a fresh interest to the interior of the Australian
continent, and to increase its importance.
CAPT. KING'S OPINIONS.
With respect to that part of its coast at which the rivers falling from
the eastern mountains, discharge themselves, it is a question of very
great doubt. It seems that Capt. King, in consequence of some
peculiarities in the currents at its N.W. angle, supports Mr. Cunningham's
opinion as to their probable discharge in that quarter. But I fear the
internal structure of the continent is so low, as to preclude the hopes of
any river reaching from one extremity of it to the other. A variety of
local circumstances, as the contraction of a channel, a shoal sea, or
numerous islands, influence currents generally, but more especially round
so extensive a continent as that of which we are treating; nor does it
strike me that any observations made by Capt. King during his survey, can
be held to bear any connection with the eastern ranges, or their western
waters. It may, however, be said, that as the course of the Darling is
still involved in uncertainty, the question remains undecided; but it
appears to me, the discovery of that river has set aside every conjecture
(founded on previous observation) respecting the main features of the
interior lying to the westward of the Blue Mountains. Both Mr. Oxley and
Mr. Cunningham drew their conclusions from the appearances of the country
they severally explored. The ground on which those theories were built,
has been travelled over, and has not been found to realise them, but
subsequent investigation has discovered to us a river, the dip of whose
bed is to the S.W. We have every reason to believe that the sources of
this river must be far to the northward of the most distant northerly
point to which any survey has been made, as we are certain that it is far
beyond the stretch of vision from the loftiest and most westerly of the
barrier ranges; from which circumstance, it is evident that whatever
disposition the streams descending from those ranges to the westward may
show to hold a N.W. course more immediately at the base, the whole of the
interior streams, from the Macquarie to the Dumaresq, are tributaries to
the principal channel which conveys their united waters at right angles,
if not still more opposite to the direction they were supposed to take,
as far as is yet known.
COURSE OF THE DARLING.
The Darling River must be considered as the boundary line to all inland
discoveries from the eastward. Any judgment or opinion of the interior to
the westward of that stream, would be extremely premature and uncertain.
There is not a single feature over it to guide or to strengthen either the
one or the other.
CHARACTER OF THE WESTERN INTERIOR.
My impression, when travelling the country to the west and N.W. of the
marshes of the Macquarie, was, that I was traversing a country of
comparatively recent formation. The sandy nature of its soil, the great
want of vegetable decay, the salsolaceous character of its plants, the
appearance of its isolated hills and flooded tracts, and its trifling
elevations above the sea, severally contributed to strengthen these
impressions on my mind. My knowledge of the interior is, however, too
limited to justify me in any conclusion with regard to the central parts
of Australia. An ample field is open to enterprise and to ambition, and it
is to be hoped that some more decisive measures will be carried into
effect, both for the sake of the colony and of geography, to fill up the
blank upon the face of the chart of Australia, and remove from us the
reproach of indifference and inaction.
Since the above pages were written, an expedition was undertaken by
Major Mitchell, the Surveyor-General, to ascertain the truth of a report
brought in by a runaway convict of the name of Barber, or Clarke, who had
been at large for five years, at different times, among the natives to
the northward of Port Macquarie. This man stated that a large river,
originating in the high lands near Liverpool Plains, and the mountains to
the north of them, pursued a N.W. course to the sea. His story ran thus:
Having learnt from the natives the existence of this river, he determined
to follow it down, in hopes that he might ultimately be enabled to make
his escape from the colony. He accordingly started from Liverpool Plains,
and kept on a river called the Gnamoi, for some time, which took him N.W.
After a few days' journey, he left this river, traversed the country
northwards, and crossed some lofty ranges. Descending to the N.E. he came
to another large river, the Keindur, which again took him N.W. He
travelled 400 miles down it, when he observed a large stream joining it
upon its left bank, which he supposed to be the Gnamoi. The river he was
upon was broad and navigable. It flowed through a level country with a
dead current and muddy water, and spread into frequent lakes. He found
that it ultimately discharged itself into the sea, but was uncertain at
what distance from its sources. He was positive he never travelled to the
SOUTHWARD OF WEST. He ascended a hill near the sea, and observed an island
in the distance, from which, the natives informed him, a race of
light-coloured men came in large canoes for a scented wood; but having
failed in the immediate object of his journey, he was eventually obliged
MAJOR MITCHELL'S REPORT.
The following official report of Major Mitchell will sufficiently point
out the incorrectness of the preceding statement. It is most probable that
Barber merely told that which he had heard from the natives, and that
having a more than ordinary share of cunning, he made up a story upon
their vague and uncertain accounts, in hopes that it would benefit him,
as in truth it did.
* * * * *
Bullabalakit, on the River Nammoy,
in lat. 30 degrees 38 minutes 21 seconds S.,
long. 149 degrees 30 minutes 20 seconds E.
23d December, 1831.
I have the honour to state, for the information of His Excellency the
Governor, the progress I have made in exploring the course of the interior
waters to the northward of the Colony, with reference to the letter which
I had the honour to address to Col. Lindesay, on this subject, on the
On crossing Liverpool Range my object was to proceed northward, so as to
avoid the plains and head the streams which water them, and avoiding also
the mountain ranges on the east.
I arrived accordingly, by a tolerably straight and level line, at
Walamoul, on Peel's River; this place (a cattle station of Mr. Brown)
being nearly due north from the common pass across Liverpool Range, and
about a mile-and-a-half above the spot where Mr. Oxley crossed this
I found the general course of the Peel below Walamoul to be nearly west;
and after tracing this river downwards twenty-two miles (in direct
distance), I crossed it at an excellent ford, named Wallamburra. I then
traversed the extensive plain of Mulluba; and leaving that of Coonil on
the right, extending far to the north-east, we passed through a favourable
interval of what I considered Hardwicke's Range, the general direction of
this range being two points west of north.
On passing through this gorge, which, from the name of a hill on the south
side, may be named Ydire, I crossed a very extensive tract of flat
country, on which the wood consisted of iron-bark and acacia pendula; this
tract being part of a valley evidently declining to the north-west, which
is bounded on the south by the Liverpool Range, and on the south-west by
the extremities from the same. On the west, at a distance of twenty-two
miles from Hardwicke's Range, there stands a remarkable isolated hill
named Bounalla; and towards the lowest part of the country, and in the
direction in which all the waters tend, there is a rocky peak named
Tangulda. On the north, a low range (named Wowa), branching westerly from
Hardwicke's Range, bounds on that side this extensive basin, which
includes Liverpool Plains. Peel's River is the principal stream, and
receives, in its course, all the waters of these plains below the junction
of Connadilly,--which I take to be York's River, of Oxley.
THE RIVER NAMMOY.
The stream is well known to the natives by the name Nammoy; and six miles
below Tangulda, the low extremities from the surrounding ranges close on
the river, and separate this extensive vale from the unexplored country
which extends beyond to an horizon which is unbroken between W.N.W.
The impracticable appearance of the mountains to the northward, induced me
to proceed thus far to the west; and on examining the country thirty miles
N.E. by N. from Tangulda, I ascended a lofty range extending westward from
the coast chain, and on which the perpendicular sides of masses of
trachyte (a volcanic rock) were opposed to my further progress even with
horses: it was therefore evident that the river supposed to rise about the
latitude of 28 degrees would not be accessible, or at least available to
the Colony, in that direction, and that in the event of the discovery of a
river beyond that range flowing to the northern or north-western shores,
it would become of importance to ascertain whether it was joined by the
Nammoy, the head of this river being so accessible that I have brought my
heavily laden drays to where it is navigable for boats, my present
encampment being on its banks six miles below Tangulda. From this station
I can perceive the western termination of the Trachytic range, and I am
now about to explore the country between it and the Nammoy, and the
further course of this river; and in the event of its continuance in a
favourable direction, I shall fix my depot on its right bank, whence I now
write, and descend the stream in the portable boats.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
T. L. MITCHELL,
The Hon. The Colonial Secretary.
* * * * *
Peel's River, 29th February, 1832.
I have the honour to inform you, for the information of His Excellency the
Governor, that I have reached the left bank of this River with my whole
party on my return from the northern interior, having explored the course
of the river referred to in my letter of 22nd December last, and others
within the 29th parallel of latitude.
There was so much fallen timber in the Nammoy, and its waters were so low,
that the portable boats could not be used on that river with advantage,
and I proceeded by land in a north-west direction, until convinced by its
course turning more to the westward that this river joined the river
Darling. I therefore quitted its banks with the intention of exploring the
country further northward, by moving round the western extremities of the
mountains mentioned in my former letter, and which I have since
distinguished in my map by the name of the Lindesay Range. These mountains
terminate abruptly on the west, and I entered a fine open country at their
base, from whence plains (or rather open ground of gentle undulation)
extended westward as far as could be seen. On turning these mountains I
directed my course northward, and to the eastward of north, into the
country beyond them, in search of the river KINDUR; and I reached a river
flowing westward, the bed of which was deep, broad, and permanent, but in
which there was not then much water.
THE RIVER KARAULA.
The marks of inundation on trees, and on the adjoining high ground, proved
that its floods rose to an extraordinary height; and from the latitude,
and also from the general direction of its course, I considered this to be
the river which Mr. Cunningham named the Gwydir, on crossing it sixty
miles higher, on his route to Moreton Bay. I descended this river, and
explored the country on its left bank for about eighty miles to the
westward, when I found that its general course was somewhat to the
southward of west. This river received no addition from the mountains over
that part of its left bank traversed by me; and the heat being intense,
the stream was at length so reduced that I could step across it. The banks
had become low, and the bed much contracted, being no longer gravelly, but
muddy. I therefore crossed this river and travelled northward, on a
meridian line, until, in the latitude of 29 degrees 2 minutes, I came upon
the largest river I had yet seen. The banks were earthy and broken, the
soil being loose, and the water of a white muddy colour. Trees, washed out
by the roots from the soft soil, filled the bed of this river in many
places. There was abundance of cod-fish of a small size, as well as of the
two other kinds of fish which we had caught in the Peel, the Nammoy, and
the Gwydir. The name of this river, as well as we could make it out from
the natives, was Karaula. Having made fast one tree to top of another tall
tree, I obtained a view of the horizon, which appeared perfectly level,
and I was in hopes that we had at length found a river which would flow to
the northward and avoid the Darling. I accordingly ordered the boat to be
put together, and sent Mr. White with a party some miles down to clear
away any trees in the way. Mr. White came upon a rocky fall, and found
besides the channel so much obstructed by trees, and the course so
tortuous, that I determined to ascertain before embarking upon it, whether
the general course was in the desired direction. Leaving Mr. White with
half the party, I accordingly traced the Karaula downwards, and found that
its course changed to south, a few miles below where I had made it, and
that it was joined by the Gwydir only eight miles below where I had
crossed that river. Immediately below the junction of the Gwydir (which is
in latitude 29 degrees 30 minutes 27 seconds, longitude 148 degrees
13 minutes 20 seconds) the course of the river continues southward of
west, directly towards where Captain Sturt discovered the River Darling;
and I could no longer doubt that this was the same river. I therefore
returned to the party, determined to explore the country further
The results of my progress thus far were sufficient, I considered, to
prove that the division of the waters falling towards the northern and
southern shores of Australia is not, as has been supposed, in the
direction of the Liverpool and Warrabangle range, but extends between Cape
Byron on the eastern shore, towards Dick Hartog's Island on the west; the
greater elongation of this country being between these points, and
intermediate between the lines of its northern and southern coasts. The
basin of the streams I have been upon must be bounded on the north by this
dividing ground or water-shed, and although no rise was perceptible in the
northern horizon, the river was traversed by several rocky dykes, over
which it fell southward; their direction being oblique to the course, and
nearly parallel to this division of the waters. I beg leave to state, that
I should not feel certain on this point without having seen more, were it
not evident from Mr. Cunningham's observations, made on crossing this
division on his way to Moreton Bay. Mr. Cunningham, on crossing the head
of this river, nearly in the same latitude, but much nearer its sources,
found the height of its bed above the sea to be 840 feet; at about
forty-five miles further northward the ground rose to upwards of
1700 feet, but immediately beyond, he reached a river flowing north-west,
the height of which was only 1400 feet above the sea. He had thus crossed
this dividing higher ground, between the parallels of 29 degrees
and 28 degrees. It appears, therefore, that all the interior rivers we
know of to the northward of the Morumbidgee, belong to the basin of the
Karaula; this stream flowing southward, and hence the disappearance of the
Macquarie and other lower rivers may be understood, for all along the
banks of the Karaula, the Gwydir, and the Nammoy, the country, though not
swampy, bears marks of frequent inundation; thus the floods occasioned by
these rivers united, cover the low country, and receive the Macquarie so
that no channel marks its further course.
That a basin may be found to the northward receiving the waters of the
northern part of the coast range in a similar manner is extremely
probable, and that they form a better river, because the angle is more
acute between the high ground, which must bound it on the N.E. and the
watershed on the south. I therefore prepared to cross the Karaula, in
hopes of seeing the head at least of such a river, and to explore the
country two degrees further northward, but moving in a N.W. direction.
My tent was struck, and I had just launched my portable boat for the
purpose of crossing the river, when Mr. Surveyor Finch, whom I had
instructed to bring up a supply of flour, arrived with the distressing
intelligence, that two of his men had been killed by the natives, who had
taken the flour, and were in possession of everything he had brought--all
the cattle, including his horse, being also dispersed or lost. I therefore
determined not to extend my excursion further, as the party were already
on reduced rations, and on the 8th instant I retired from the Karaula,
returning by the marked line, which being cut through thick scrubs in
various places, is now open, forming a tolerably direct line of
communication in a N.W. direction from Sydney, to a river, beyond which
the survey may be extended whenever His Excellency the Governor thinks
The natives had never troubled my party on our advance; indeed I only saw
them when I came upon them by surprise, and then they always ran off.
Their first visit was received at my camp on the Karaula, during my
absence down that river, when they were very friendly, but much disposed
to steal. Various tribes followed us on coming back, but never with any
show of hostility, although moving in tribes of a hundred or more parallel
to our marked line, or in our rear; it was necessary to be ever on our
guard, and to encamp in strong positions only, arranging the drays for
defence during the night: three men were always under arms, and I have
much pleasure in stating, that throughout the whole excursion, and under
circumstances of hardship and privation, the conduct of the men was very
good. I took an armed party to the scene of pillage, and buried the bodies
of the two men, who appeared to have been treacherously murdered while
asleep by the blacks during the absence of Mr. Finch: no natives were to
be found when I visited the spot, although it appeared from columns of
smoke on hills which overlooked if, that they were watching our movements.