2. Chapter II.


June 18.—THE party having left Adelaide late in the forenoon, and it being the first day of working the horses, I did not wish to make a long stage; having followed the usual road, therefore, as far as the little Parra, the drays were halted upon that watercourse (after a journey of about twelve miles), and we then proceeded to bivouac for the first time. For the first time too since I had engaged to command the expedition, I had leisure to reflect upon the prospects before me.

During the hurry and bustle of preparation,

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and in the enthusiasm of departure, my mind was kept constantly on the stretch, and I had no time for calm and cool consideration, but now that all was over and the journey actually commenced, I was again able to collect my thoughts and to turn my most serious and anxious attention to the duty I had undertaken. The last few days had been so fraught with interest and occupation, and the circumstances of our departure this morning, had been so exciting, that when left to my own reflections, the whole appeared to me more like a dream than a reality. The change was so great, the contrast so striking. From the crowded drawing room of civilized life, I had in a few hours been transferred to the solitude and silence of the wilds, and from being but an unit in the mass of a large community, I had suddenly become isolated with regard to the world, which, so far as I was concerned, consisted now only of the few brave men who accompanied me, and who were dependant for their very existence upon the energy and perseverance and prudence with which I might conduct the task assigned to me. With this small, but gallant and faithful band, I was to attempt to penetrate the vast recesses of the interior of Australia, to try to lift up the veil which has hitherto shrouded its mysteries from the researches of the traveller, and to endeavour to plant that flag which has floated proudly in all the known parts of the habitable globe, in the centre of a region as yet unknown, and unvisited save by the savage or the wild beast.

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Those only who have been placed in similar circumstances can at all appreciate the feelings which they call forth. The hopes, fears, and anxieties of the leader of an exploring party, must be felt to be understood, when he is about to commence an undertaking which must be one of difficulty and danger, and which may be of doubtful and even fatal result.

The toil, care, and anxiety devolving upon him are of no ordinary character; everyday removes him further from the pale of civilization and from aid or assistance of any kind—whilst each day too diminishes the strength of his party and the means at his command, and thus renders him less able to provide against or cope with the difficulties that may beset him. A single false step, the least error of judgment, or the slightest act of indiscretion might plunge the expedition into inextricable difficulty or danger, or might defeat altogether the object in view. Great indeed was the responsibility I had undertaken—and most fully did I feel sensible of the many and anxious duties that devolved upon me. The importance and interest attached to the solution of the geographical problem connected with the interior of Australia, would, I well knew, engage the observation of the scientific world. If I were successful, the accomplishment of what I had undertaken would more than repay me in gratification for the toil and hazard of the enterprise—but if otherwise I could not help feeling that, however far the few friends who knew me might give me credit for exertion or perseverance, the world at large would be apt to reason

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from the result, and to make too little allowance for difficulties and impediments, of the magnitude of which from circumstances they could be but incompetent judges.

With such thoughts as these, and revolving in my mind our future plans, our chances of success or otherwise, it will not be deemed surprising, that notwithstanding the fatigue and care I had gone through during the last fortnight of preparation, sleep should long remain a stranger to my pillow; and when all nature around me was buried in deep repose I alone was waking and anxious.

From former experience in a personal examination of the nature of the country north of the head of Spencer's Gulf, during the months of May and June, 1839, I had learnt that the farther the advance to the north, the more dreary and desolate the appearance of the country became, and the greater was the difficulty, both of finding and of obtaining access to either water or grass. The interception of the singular basin of Lake Torrens, which I had discovered formed a barrier to the westward, and commencing near the head of Spencer's Gulf, was connected with it by a narrow channel of mud and water. This lake apparently increased in width as it stretched away to the northward, as far as the eye could reach, when viewed from the farthest point attained by me in 1839, named by Colonel Gawler, Mount Eyre. Dreary as had been the view I then obtained, and cheerless as was the prospect from

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that elevation, there was one feature in the landscape, which still gave me hope that something might be done in that direction, and had in fact been my principal inducement to select a line nearly north from Spencer's Gulf, for our route on the present expedition; this feature was the continuation, and the undiminished elevation of the chain of hills forming Flinders range, running nearly parallel with the course of Lake Torrens, and when last seen by me stretching far to the northward and eastward in a broken and picturesque outline.

It was to this chain of hills that I now looked forward as the stepping-stone to the interior. In its continuation were centered all my hopes of success, because in its recesses alone could I hope to obtain water and grass for my party. The desert region I had seen around its base, gave no hope of either, and though the basin of Lake Torrens appeared to be increasing so much in extent to the northward, I had seen nothing to indicate its terminating within any practicable distance, in a deep or navigable water. True the whole of the drainage from Flinders range, as far as was yet known, emptied into its basin, but such was the arid and sandy nature of the region through which it passed, that a great part of the moisture was absorbed, whilst the low level of the basin of the lake, apparently the same as that of the sea itself, forbade even the most distant hope of the water being fresh, should any be found in its bed.

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It was in reflections and speculations such as these, that many hours of the night of my first encampment with the party passed away. The kindness of the Governor and our many friends had been so unbounded; their anxiety for our safety and comfort so great; their good wishes for our success so earnest, and their confidence in our exertions, so implicit, that I could not but look forward with apprehension, lest the success of our efforts might not equal what our gratitude desired, and even now I began to be fearful that the high expectations raised by the circumstances of our departure might not be wholly realised.

We had fairly commenced our arduous undertaking, and though the party might appear small for the extent of the exploration contemplated, yet no expedition could have started under more favourable or more cheering auspices; provided with every requisite which experience pointed out as desirable, and with every comfort which excess of kindness could suggest, we left too, with a full sense of the difficulties before us, but with a firm determination to overcome them, if possible. And I express but the sentiments of the whole party when I say, that we felt the events of the day of our departure, and the recollection of the anxiety and interest with which our friends were anticipating our progress, and hoping for our success, would be cherished as our watchword in the hour of danger, and bethe incentive to perseverance and labour, when more than ordinary trials

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should call for our exertions. The result we were willing to leave in the hands of that Almighty Being whose blessing had been implored upon our undertaking, and to whom we looked for guidance and protection in all our wanderings.

June 19.—On mustering the horses this morning it was found, that one or two had been turned loose without hobbles, and being fresh and high fed from the stables, they gave us a great deal of trouble before we could catch them, but at last we succeeded, and the party moved on upon the road to Gawler town, arriving there (12 miles) about noon; at this place we halted for half an hour, at the little Inn to lunch, and this being the last opportunity we should have of entering a house for many months to come, I was anxious to give my men the indulgence. After lunch I again moved on the party for five miles, crossing and encamping upon, a branch of the Parra or Gawler, where we had abundance of good water and grass.

June 20.—Having a long stage before us to-day, I moved on the party very early, leaving all roads, and steering across the bush to my sheep stations upon the Light. We passed through some very fine country, the verdant and beautiful herbage of which, at this season of the year, formed a carpet of rich and luxuriant vegetation. Having crossed the grassy and well wooded ranges which confine the waters of the Light to the westward, we descended to the plain, and reached my head station about sunset, after a

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long and heavy stage of twenty miles—here we were to remain a couple of days to break up the station, as the sheep were sold, and the overseer and one of the men were to join the Expedition party.

The night set in cold and rainy, but towards morning turned to a severe frost; one of the native boys who had been sent a short cut to the station ahead of the drays, lost his road and was out in the cold all night—an unusual circumstance, as a native will generally keep almost as straight a direction through the wilds as a compass will point.

Sunday, June 21.—We remained in camp. The day was cold, the weather boisterous, with showers of rain at intervals, and the barometer falling; our delay enabled me to write letters to my various friends, before finally leaving the occupied parts of the country, I was glad too, to give the horses and men a little rest after the fatigue they had endured yesterday in crossing the country.

June 22.—As we still remained in camp, the day being dark and cloudy with occasional showers, I took the opportunity of having one of the drays boarded close up, and of re-arranging the loads, oiling the fire-arms, and grinding the axes, spades, &c.; we completed our complement of tools, tents, tarpaulins, &c. from those at the station, and had everything arranged on the drays in the most convenient manner, always having in view safety in carriage and facility of access; the best place for

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the fire-arms I found to be at the outside of the sides, the backs, or the fronts, of those drays that were close boarded.

By nailing half a large sheepskin with the wool on in any of these positions, a soft cushion was formed for the fire-arms to rest against, they were then fixed in their places by a loop of leather for the muzzle, and a strap and buckle for the stock; whilst the other half of the sheepskin which hung loose, doubled down in front of the weapons. between them and the wheel, effectually preserving them from both dirt and wet, and at the same time keeping them in a position, where they could be got at in a moment, by simply lifting up the skin and unbuckling the strap; by this means too, all danger or risk was avoided, which usually exists when the fire-arms are put on or off the drays in a loaded state. I have myself formerly seen carbines explode more than once from the cocks catching something, in being pulled out from, or pushed in amidst the load of a dray, independently of the difficulty of getting access to them in cases of sudden emergency; a still better plan than the one I adopted, would probably be to have lockers made for the guns, to hang in similar places, and in a somewhat similar manner to that I have described, but in this case it would be necessary for the lockers to be arranged and fitted at the time the drays or carts were made.

All the time I could spare from directing or

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superintending the loading of the drays, I devoted to writing letters and making arrangements for the regulation of my private affairs, which from the sudden manner in which I had engaged in the exploring expedition, and from the busy and hurried life I had led since the commencement of the preparations, had fallen into some confusion. I was now, however, obliged to content myself with such a disposition of them as the time and circumstances enabled me to make.—I observed the latitude of the station to be 34° 15′ 56″ S.

June 23.—Having got all the party up very early, I broke up the station, and sent one man on horseback into Adelaide with despatches and letters. My overseer and another man were now added to the party, making up our complement in number. Upon re-arranging the loads of the drays yesterday, I had found it inconvenient to have the instruments and tent equipage upon the more heavily loaded drays, and I therefore decided upon taking an extra cart and another horse from the station. This completed our alterations, and the party and equipment stood thus:—

Mr. Eyre.

Mr. Scott, my assistant and companion.

John Baxter, Overseer.

Corporal Coles, R. S. & M.

John Houston, driving a three horse dray.

R. M’Robert, driving a three horse dray.

Neramberein and Cootachah  Aboriginal  boys, to drive the sheep, track, &c.

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We had with us 13 horses and 40 sheep, and our other stores were calculated for about three months; in addition to which we were to have a further supply forwarded to the head of Spencer's Gulf by sea, in the Waterwitch, to await our arrival in that neighbourhood. This would give us the means of remaining out nearly six months, if we found the country practicable, and in that time we might, if no obstacles intervened, easily reach the centre of the Continent and return, or if practicable, cross to Port Essington on the N. W. coast.

About eleven I moved on the party up the Light for 8 miles, and then halted after an easy stage. As the horses were fresh and the men were not yet accustomed to driving them, I was anxious to move quietly on at first, that nothing might be done in a hurry, and every one might gradually settle down to what he had to perform, and that thus by a little care and moderation at first, those evils, which my former travelling had taught me were frequently the result of haste or inexperience, might be avoided. Nothing is more common than to get the withers of horses wrung, or their shoulders and backs galled at the commencement of a journey, and nothing more difficult than to effect a cure of this mischief whilst the animals are in use. By the precaution which I adopted, I succeeded in preventing this, for the present.

As we passed up the valley of the Light, we had some rich and picturesque scenery around us—the

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fertile vale running nearly north and south, backed to the westward by well wooded irregular ranges grassed to their summits, and to the eastward shut in by a dark looking and more heavily timbered range, beyond which rose two peaks of more distant hills, through the centre of the valley the Light took its course, but at present it was only a chain of large ponds unconnected by any stream; and thus, I believe, it remains the greater part of the year, although occasionally swollen to a broad and rapid current.

June 24.—The horses having strayed a little this morning, and given us some trouble to get them, it was rather late when we started; we, however, crossed the low ridges at the head of the Light, and entering upon extensive plains to the north, we descended to a channel, which I took to be the head of a watercourse called the “Gilbert.”

Finding here some tolerably good water and abundance of grass, I halted the party for the night, though we were almost wholly without firewood, an inconvenience that we felt considerably, as the nights now were very cold and frosty. Our stage had been fourteen miles to-day, running at first over low barren ridges, and then crossing rich plains of a loose brown soil, but very heavy for the drays to travel over.

At our camp, a steep bank of the watercourse presented an extensive geological section, but there was

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nothing remarkable in it, the substrata consisting only of a kind of pipe clay.

June 25.—Upon starting this morning we traversed a succession of fine open and very grassy plains, from which we ascended the low ridges forming the division of the waters to the north and south. In the latter direction, we had left the heads of the “Gilbert” and “Wakefield” chains of ponds, whilst in descending in the former we came upon the “Hill,” a fine chain of ponds taking its course through a very extensive and grassy valley, but with little timber of any kind growing near it. On this account I crossed it, and passing on a little farther encamped the party on a branch of the “Hutt,” and within a mile and a half of the main course of that chain of ponds. Our whole route to-day, had been through a fine and valuable grazing district, with grass of an excellent description, and of great luxuriance.

We were now nearly opposite to the most northerly of the out stations, and after seeing the party encamp, I proceeded, accompanied by Mr. Scott, to search for the stations for the purpose of saying good bye to a few more of my friends. We had not long, however, left the encampment when it began to rain and drove us back to the tents, effectually defeating the object with which we had commenced our walk. Heavy rain was apparently falling to the westward of us, and the night set in dark and lowering.

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In some parts of the large plains we had crossed in the morning, I had observed traces of the remains of timber, of a larger growth than any now found in the same vicinity, and even in places where none at present exists. Can these plains of such very great extent, and now so open and exposed, have been once clothed with timber? and if so, by what cause, or process, have they been so completely denuded, as not to leave a single tree within a range of many miles? In my various wanderings in Australia, I have frequently met with very similar appearances; and somewhat analogous to these, are the singular little grassy openings, or plains, which are constantly met with in the midst of the densest Eucalyptus scrub.

Every traveller in those dreary regions has appreciated these, (to him) comparatively speaking, oasises of the desert—for it is in them alone, that he can hope to obtain any food for his jaded horse; without, however, their affording under ordinary circumstances, the prospect of water for himself. Forcing his way through the dense, and apparently interminable scrub, formed by the Eucalyptus dumosa, (which in some situations is known to extend for fully 100 miles), the traveller suddenly emerges into an open plain, sprinkled over with a fine silky grass, varying from a few acres to many thousands in extent, but surrounded on all sides by the dreary scrub he has left.

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In these plains I have constantly traced the remains of decayed scrub—generally of a larger growth than that surrounding them—and occasionally appearing to have grown very densely together. From this it would appear that the face of the country in those low level regions, occupied by the Eucalyptus dumosa, is gradually undergoing a process which is changing it for the better, and in the course of centuries perhaps those parts of Australia which are now barren and worthless, may become rich and fertile districts, for as soon as the scrub is removed grass appears to spring up spontaneously. The plains found interspersed among the dense scrubs may probably have been occasioned by fires, purposely or accidentally lighted by the natives in their wanderings, but I do not think the same explanation would apply to those richer plains where the timber has been of a large growth and the trees in all probability at some distance apart—here fires might burn down a few trees, but would not totally annihilate them over a whole district, extending for many miles in every direction.

June 26.—This morning brought a very heavy fog, through which we literally could not see 100 yards, when the party moved on to the “Hutt” chain of ponds, and then followed that watercourse up to the Broughton river, which was crossed in Lat. 33° 28′ S. At this point the bed of the Broughton is of considerable width, and its channel is occupied by long,

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wide and very deep water holes, connected with one another by a strongly running stream, which seldom or never fails even in the driest seasons. The soil upon its banks however is not valuable, being generally stony and barren, and bearing a sort of prickly grass, (Spinifex). Wild fowl abound on the pools. On a former occasion, when I first discovered the Broughton, I obtained both ducks and swans from its waters, but now I had no time for sporting, being anxious to push on to the “reedy watercourse,” a halting place in my former journey, so as to get over all the rough and hilly ground before nightfall, that we might have a fair start in the morning. I generally preferred, if practicable, to lengthen the stage a little in the vicinity of watercourses or hills, in order to get the worst of the road over whilst the horses worked together and were warm, rather than leave a difficult country to be passed over the first thing in the morning, when, for want of exercise, the teams are chill and stiff, and require to be stimulated before they will work well in unison. Our journey to-day was about twenty miles, and the last five being over a rugged hilly road, it was late in the afternoon when we halted for the night.

“The reedy watercourse,” is a chain of water-holes taking its rise among some grassy and picturesque ranges to the north of us, and trending southerly to a junction with the Broughton. Among the gorges of this range, (which I had previously named

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Campbell's range,)note are many springs of water, and the scenery is as picturesque as the district is fertile. Many of the hills are well rounded, very grassy, and moderately well timbered even to their summits. This is one of the prettiest and most desirable localities for either sheep or cattle, that I have yet seen in the unoccupied parts of South Australia, whilst the distance from Adelaide by land, does not at the most exceed one hundred and twenty miles.note The watercourse near our camp took its course through an open valley, between bare hills on which there was neither tree nor shrub for firewood and we were constantly obliged to go half a mile up a steep hill before we could obtain a few stunted bushes to cook with. As the watercourse approached the Broughton the country became much more abrupt and broken, and after its junction with that river, the stream wound through a succession of barren and precipitous hills, for about fifteen miles, at a general course of south-west; these hills were overrun almost everywhere with prickly grass and had patches of the Eucalyptus dumosa scattered over them at intervals.

Up to the point where it left the hills, there were ponds of water in the bed of the Broughton, but upon leaving them the river changed its direction to the northward, passing through extensive plains and

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retaining a deep wide gravelly channel, but without surface water, the drainage being entirely underground, and the country around comparatively poor and valueless.