CAPTAIN STURT'S THREE EXPEDITIONS.
The next hero that steps to the front is Charles Sturt, captain of the 39th regiment, which was stationed at Sydney in the early days of our history. He stands, beyond all question, in the first rank of Australian explorers. His single compeer. Sir Thomas Mitchell, was more fortunate in discovery, but it may be doubted whether he excelled Captain Sturt in real capability for this work. The future historian will probably decide the rival claims by bracketing the two names as holding a joint first in Australian exploration. Naturally brave, resolute, and patient in labour, Sturt was, moreover, a man of varied culture and extensive scientific acquirements. As an officer in the army he had been accustomed to command, and at no time did he experience any difficulty in managing the several exploring parties under his charge, although they were mostly drawn from the ordinary convict element at Port Jackson. This influence over others may have been due to natural tact even more than to acquired habit, but in either case it proved a valuable qualification, and served him in good stead with the native population as well as with his own men. His heroism often brought him into situations of extreme peril, being sometimes environed with savages well armed and out of all proportion to the number of his own men; but his adroitness never failed to extricate himself and party from the most imminent danger. Scarcely any of our explorers opened up so much of the interior, or so frequently came into contact with savage tribes, and yet his humane disposition preserved him all through his career from shedding the blood of a single individual of that unhappy race which others, with less excuse, have not scrupled to shoot down like dogs. When stooping under the weight of years, with a constitution enfeebled by heroic exertions, and so afflicted with blindness as to be unable to finish his narrative without the aid of an amanuensis, the veteran explorer devoutly thanked God that, amid all his critical encounters and hair-breadth escapes, he had been saved from the necessity of shedding a drop of blood from the veins of the Australian aborigines.
As early as the year 1818 the Macquarie River had been explored as far as practicable by John Oxley, the Surveyor-General. This indefatigable traveller had traced its course into the far interior till it seemed lost and appeared to terminate in a series of swamps, overgrown with dense reeds. All his efforts to proceed further westward proved unavailing, and he turned aside to other work, being under the impression that he had seen all that was visible of the Macquarie. Like some others of his time, Oxley had taken up with the idea of a mediterranean sea which was supposed to cover the interior of Australia; and such being his opinion, it was natural to fancy he had reached its margin in those swamps of seemingly indefinite extent into which the Macquarie poured its flood. During the next ten years Cunningham had pushed as far north as the Darling Downs, while Hume and Hovell had been equally successful in forcing their way south to Port Phillip; but out west no progress was made beyond the goal of Oxley's explorations. But ignorance of the interior hung like a cloud over the settlement, a vague feeling of mystery kept curiosity awake, and a general desire began to be expressed for fresh explorations in that direction. The times, too, which in other respects happened to be signally disastrous, appeared to be just as favourable for such an enterprise. A drought of several years' standing was then devastating the colony; but this misfortune, which brought ruin to the doors of so many settlers, seemed, strangely enough, to be a strong recommendation to start an exploring expedition. It had been Oxley's misfortune to examine the country during an exceptionally wet season, and it was conjectured that floods had laid under water the low-lying country on the further reaches of the Macquarie,^ and thus interposed a temporary obstruction to the westward advance of exploration. But now, after a drought of long standing, it was hoped that the swamps, if not dried up, would at least be so much reduced as to render the much-desired object more likely to be accomplished.
Governor Darling, accordingly, determined on sending out another expedition. In the all-important question of a leader, he was singularly fortunate in selecting Captain Sturt. The latter took as his -associates Mr. Hamilton Hume, who had already gained his own laurels in exploration, Staff-Surgeon M'Leod, two soldiers, and eight convicts. The instructions received from headquarters were, generally, to follow up the discoveries of Oxley, to endeavour to ascertain the "fate" of the Macquarie, and to put forth the utmost effort to penetrate westward to the furthest possible limit.
All the material requisites for the expedition were forwarded to Wellington Valley, which at that time was the outpost of civilization toward the west, and Sturt was instructed to form his depôt at Mount Harris, which had been Oxley's most advanced encampment ten years earlier. All preparations being made, the party left Sydney on the 10th of September, 1828, under the command of Captain Sturt, who •only a week previously had followed the remains of Oxley to the grave. After a few days of uneventful travelling through the settled territory, Wellington Valley was reached, and, by the 10th of December, the explorers were encamped at Mount Harris, the ne plus ultra of their predecessors, and near the supposed termination of the Macquarie River. Although ten years had passed away, traces of the old camp were easily found. From the summit of the mountain a good prospect towards the interior was obtained, and a tolerably favourable impression left on the minds of Sturt and Hume, The marshes were seen to be dried up in some places altogether, and in others very much contracted, and, as the bed of the river continued to be well defined, there did not appear to be much difficulty in pushing the limit of discovery considerably beyond the line at which it had stood for ten years past.
Following the course of the Macquarie for some miles westward, it was found to enter a swamp of considerable size. As the sluggish current was the only clue to lead them through this ambiguous tract of land and water, it was deemed indispensable to keep to the channel at all hazards as it meandered through the marshes. For this purpose Sturt here turned to account a good-sized boat which had, with a wise foresight, been provided among the travelling requisites. But their progress by water proved to be less expeditious than it had been on the land, for the channel wriggled like a snake, and the navigation was provokingly hindered by snags. Gradually the course of the river became better defined, but only to lose itself again in a labyrinth of creeks and marshes. Puzzled and bewildered, with no hope of further progress in the boat, Sturt and Hume resolved to make separate excursions to the right and left, each taking his own complement of followers. Many hardships had to be endured from heat and drought, while the results were not very considerable. Sturt rode over 200 miles of desert country and was much fatigued. The principal discoveries made about this time were Oxley's Table-land and New Year's Creek, mistaken by the explorers for a branch of the Macquarie, but which was in reality the Bogan River. Eventually both sections of the expedition reunited and bravely struck out for the interior, giving defiance to thirst and fatigue, and devoutly wishing for something to turn up. They had not far to go till this desire was realized. At a moment when they were not thinking of it, the foremost of the party found their progress stopped on the bank of one of the principal rivers in Australia. Its ample channel extended to seventy or eighty yards in breadth, and its bosom was covered with wild fowl of every wing. Almost perishing with thirst, both man and beast rushed down the shelving bank, and in a moment were gulping down the water of the welcome stream. Never did travellers meet with so "bitter" a disappointment. "I shall never forget," says Sturt, "the cry of amazement or the look of terror with which they cried out to inform me that the river was so salt as to be unlit to drink." The cup of relief was dashed from their lips, and they were left to the most gloomy reflections on the future supply of this element. They conjectured, not unnaturally, that this saline quality must be derived from near contact with the sea, and anxiously watched for the slightest indications of a rising; or a falling tide, but to no purpose. The cause was afterwards traced to briny springs in the river's banks, which must have been a temporary occurrence, for the same inconvenience is not met with now. The discovery in all other respects was clearly perceived to be of the utmost value, and went far to* annihilate the pet theory of an inland sea, which thus kept receding further and further from human ken. It was already evident that this noble river must play a principal part in the drainage of the western slope of the mountain ranges, and we now know that it forms the backbone of the river system of eastern Australia and the highway of intercolonial commerce. Sturt, therefore, paid Governor Darling no mean compliment in associating his name with this grand discovery and calling it the Darling River.
The expedition now followed the lead of the River Darling for about sixty-six miles. As the country continued to be inhospitable, the blacks troublesome, and the supply of water precarious, it was resolved to proceed no further in that direction. A return was accordingly made to the depôt at Mount Harris, which was reached partly by way of New Year's Creek, or the Bogan River, without any serious mishap being encountered.
Among the secondary instructions given to the expedition was a direction to push northwards, if baffled and driven back from the western interior. They had not failed in that quarter by any means, but as their work there was finished, and a good supply of provisions left, it was thought advisable to attempt a journey to the Castlereagh, which was simply known to exist. In this effort they were again successful. Having travelled by way of Morriset's Ponds, a sufficient supply of water was obtained to help them on to the Castlereagh, where, of course, it was expected to be abundant, seeing that Oxley had been able to cross it after some delay and with much difficulty. But this anticipation was doomed to disappointment. The bed of the river was found to be as dry as dust. The explorers, after a long search, hit upon only one small pool in the sand which yielded but a temporary supply. The Castlereagh was now traced towards its supposed junction with the Darling for the distance of 100 miles, 45 of which were destitute of water. But their perseverance was rewarded with a second view of the Darling, which was struck about 90 miles above the point where the original discovery had been made. The stream here swarmed with fish, but was still salt and unfit to drink. Having crossed over to the further side, a dash was made by a short excursion into the interior, which proved, like the other side, to be a parched wilderness. The state of the country as observed throughout this journey is thus summed up in Sturt's narrative:—"So long had the drought continued that the vegetable kingdom was almost annihilated, and minor vegetation had almost 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 river for water in vain; and the native dog, so thin that it could hardly walk, seemed to implore some friendly hand to despatch it. How the natives subsisted it was difficult to say, but there was no doubt of the scarcity of food amongst them." Surely this was no place to loiter in after the work was fairly accomplished. Contenting themselves with the substantial discoveries already made, the explorers resolved to return to the haunts of civilization. They soon found themselves in the lovely Wellington Valley, from which the expedition had been absent four months and a half. After another journey through the settled districts, each of the weary wanderers reached his home, no one having sustained any injury to life or limb during this long and hazardous enterprise.
Captain Sturt enjoyed but a very limited repose after the fatigues of the Macquarie expedition. He had returned to Sydney about the beginning of May, 1829, and in September of the same year his undying enthusiasm was once more gratified with instructions from headquarters to get ready for a full exploration of the Murrumbidgee. The Macquarie and the Lachlan, terminating their respective courses in miserable swamps, or being believed to do so, had proved delusive guides to the interior of the continent. But the colonists were resolved to know the heart of Australia at all hazards. It was still believed that some river must lead thither, all previous disappointments notwithstanding. The Murrumbidgee alone remained as an untried experiment, and the little that was yet known of this river gave hope of a successful result. It had been first seen by two military officers, Currie and Ovens, on their discovery of the Monaro country in 1828, and in the year following it was crossed with difficulty by Hume and Hovell on their journey to Port Phillip. Here, at last, was a stream something like those of other countries, rising in the Alpine mountain-land, and flowing with a strong and rapid current in that direction to which the eyes of explorers were being so anxiously turned. It was determined, therefore, to equip another expedition, under the command of Captain Sturt, to explore its unknown course, for the purpose of ascertaining whether it emptied itself into an inland sea or found its way to the southern or to the eastern coast. The party, under Sturt's leadership, consisted of Mr. George Macleay, son of the Colonial Treasurer, Mr. Frazer, botanist, and six others. Among other requisites a whaleboat was provided, which eventually proved of the utmost service to the purpose in view.
The expedition left Sydney, in full force and high spirits, on the 8rd November, 1829. Goulburn Plains were reached by the 15th, and on the 25th the Murrumbidgee was struck, not far from Jugiong. The appearance of the stream was quite up to Sturt's expectations, but the rugged country on its banks delayed the passage of the drays, and their progress was not very rapid. In a little time they reached the junction of the Dumot (Tumut) River, which considerably increased the volume of the Murrumbidgee, and this addition was accepted as a good omen. In their course along the river, sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, occasional plains were traversed, extending from 400 to 700 acres in extent, and wholly devoid of timber. Lower down the river one of much larger size was reached, and here the explorers were not sorry to make a short break in the journey. The natives called this plain Pondebadgery. Its size was three and a half by two miles, the soil being rich and the scenery exquisite. On one side was the bend of the river, here 80 yards wide, and a,bounding in fish, one of which was found to weigh 40 pounds. Hamilton Plains were next discovered, and named after a favourite staff-surgeon. The expedition, it was believed, had now come within 2-5 miles of the most southern point attained by Oxley. This notable explorer, having reached the swamps of the Lachlan, and being thus driven to his wits' end, resolved to strike southward and make for the coast, but want of water determined him to return to the Lachlan, after weeks of toilsome travel; whereas, had he only pushed on another 25 miles, the Murrumbidgee would have been discovered, and a new era opened in Australian exploration. Sturt attempted to connect the surveys of Oxley's expedition with his own, but was not successful. As travelling continued to be slow and difficult, it was resolved to launch the boat and build a skiff to convey the provisions. This was accordingly done, some of the party being at the same time sent back to Goulburn with the drays. Seven days having been consumed in these preparations, the remainder of the party boldly committed themselves to the stream. Sturt had a strong presentiment that the Murrumbidgee would join some other river, and hoped to find it navigable for his boat during the remainder of its course. On the following day a serious mishap occurred. The skiff was sunk by a snag, and the provisions, after being much damaged, had to be recovered by diving. The enterprise was a hazardous one at the best. What with rapids at one time and snags at another, their lives on several occasions were in real jeopardy. But the longest lane has its turning, and this tortuous channel also had an end. On the seventh day after taking to the boat the bed of the river became strangely contracted, and the current so powerful that, in place of rowing, all their strength was needed to steady the boat, which was borne along with the swiftness of an arrow, and in another moment shot forth impetuously into the broad reach of the finest river in Australia. "It is impossible for me," says Sturt, "to describe the effect of so instantaneous a change of circumstances upon us. The boats were allowed to drift along at pleasure, and such was the force with which we had been shot out of the Murrumbidgee that we were carried nearly to the bank opposite its embouchure whilst we continued to gaze in silent astonishment on the capacious channel we had entered, and when we looked for that by which we had been led into it we could hardly believe that the insignificant gap that presented itself to us was indeed the termination of the beautiful stream whose course we had thus successfully followed. I can only compare the relief we experienced to that which the seaman feels on weathering the rock upon which he expected that his vessel would have struck, to the calm which succeeds moments of feverish anxiety, when the dread of danger is succeeded by the certainty of escape." This was indeed a noble river. Its width was 350 feet, its depth not less than 12, and its current was running at the rate of two and a half knots an hour. The discoverers believed they had now obtained ample reward for all their toils and trials. This was the same river which had been discovered and crossed by Hume and Hovell where the town of Albury now stands, but between that point, where it had been first seen by civilized man, and the part now visited by Sturt, it had received so many tributaries as to make it a much larger and, in a sense, another river. Sturt called it the Murray, after the Imperial Colonial Secretary, but the original discoverer had named its upper course the Hume in memory of his father. For a time these names were confined to the respective parts of the river; and Dr. Lang censured Count Strzelecki for departing from this usage in his published work. General practice has now deserted the Doctor and followed the Count.
The number and persistent hostility of the aborigines formed a serious obstacle to the progress of this expedition. It was computed that no fewer than 4,000 were met with on the Murray. They were a low type even for Australian savages, and did not give evidence of a single redeeming quality. Addicted to every vice, living in the deepest sink of bestiality, with bodies in many cases rotting with disgusting diseases, they presented a loathsome spectacle, and were avoided whenever possible. Even when not disposed to be openly hostile, their presence at the camp was a terrible nuisance, and they were generally persuaded to leave, or hunted away. Sometimes they would rally their forces, and then prove not only troublesome but really dangerous. Like all savages they were adepts in deceit, and could wait their opportunity when a purpose had to be served. By dint of numbers and strategy together, they nearly .succeeded on one occasion in annihilating the expedition. So long as the river maintained its usual width the boat was tolerably safe in the middle of the channel, for the spears of the savages were nearly harmless when they reached the centre of the stream, but their progress was rapidly approaching a spit which stretched far into the channel, and this position was seen to be occupied by blacks numbering more than fifty to one of Sturt's party. The situation was awfully critical, and in a few minutes more appeared to be positively desperate, for the boat grounded in shoalwater, and the explorers were at the mercy of the savages. Happily at this juncture some other natives. who had previously been friendly to the white men, arrived on the scene, and, through a somewhat barbarous style of intercession, prevailed with their sable fraternity in the interest of Sturt, and the murderous attack was immediately abandoned.
Travel through an unknown country is usually a series of surprises, and it was no ordinary one that was now in store for the explorers. The spit which had threatened to be so disastrous proved to be an embankment silted up by the entrance of another large river into the Murray. Sturt had already been looking out for the junction of the Darling, which he had discovered on the previous expedition; and the question now to be determined was whether this could be the embouchure of the same river. He had struck the Darling at two points only a few months before, and at both places its water had been found too salt to drink; here, however, it was quite fresh; but in all other respects appearances were in favour of this river, and the Darling >Sturt maintained it to be. For years after his decision was disputed, and even ridiculed by an authority of no less weight than Sir Thomas Mitchell. Subsequent exploration finally settled the question in Sturt's favour. The river was and could have been no other but the Darling, and thus another important problem of Australian geography was satisfactorily solved.
Day after day the boat, with its adventurous crew, glided down the united stream of the Murray and the Darling. Sometimes they passed over wide and long reaches, stretching out for many miles, but occasionally, too, much difficulty was experienced in clearing the rapids. For a considerable part of the course the banks were high and steep, but usually picturesque. The country, so far as could be judged from a passing boat, was mostly of the poorest quality, offering scarcely a patch likely to reward the labour of the farmer. In one respect Sturt was the most unfortunate of the explorers. From first to last he hardly ever had the good luck to hit upon a large tract of line country, the Alexandrina district excepted. His mission seemed to be the discovery of deserts, and of these he made known more than enough to give Australia a bad name. Such being Sturt's ill-fortune, it is not surprising to find him indulging in gloomy views regarding the great interior; but even in these forebodings he fell short of Oxley, who was quite a Cassandra in his way. In the introduction to his narrative the Captain tries to account for the predominance of poor land in this outlying region of the world, and is inclined to attribute it to the want of decaying vegetable matter, as the trees seldom shed their leaves, and the little that is supplied from this or other sources being usually destroyed by bush fires. But Australia is not the desert land which Sturt imagined,or even portrayed, as will be seen further on. Its richest lands were yet locked up, and this same explorer was unconsciously preparing the key by which they were to be opened to private enterprise and the public benefit. Between the entrance of the Darling and what is now known as the Great Bend an important tributary was observed to fall in from either side. The one from the north Sturt called the Rufus, in honour of Mr. George Macleay, the second on the expedition. Probably the reader fails to perceive the point of the compliment. It lies just here: Mr. Macleay possessed a splendid head of red hair, and rufus being the Latin for red, down it went for the name of the river. The Captain, notwithstanding his sombre tinge, must have had a quiet vein of humour in his composition. The other tributary was called the Lindsay, after a gentleman of that name who was then Acting-Governor of the colony. On gaining the lower reaches of the Murray it was observed to widen rapidly, and at the 85° 15' of S. latitude expanded into a magnificent lake 60 miles long and 50 in width, which was named Alexandrina, in honour of the young princess, who soon after became Queen Victoria. When the far end of the lake had been reached, persistent but unavailing attempts were made to get the boat to sea. Before leaving Sydney it had been arranged to send a small vessel to St. Vincent Gulf to wait for the expedition, that being the most likely quarter for it to turn up if its course should be directed towards the southern coast. The appointed rendezvous was not far off, and the explorers had every reason to strive to reach it; but it was to no purpose that they wearied themselves in the effort. The narrow and tortuous channel which connected Lake Alexandrina with Encounter Bay was impracticable even for a boat. It was, therefore, necessary to return by the way they had come. This was an awfully serious matter. They had now been 32 days in the boat, during which one-half of the provisions had been consumed. If the depôt on the Murrumbidgee was to be reached on the remaining moiety, it could only be by rowing up the river in the same period of time they had taken to glide down the current. This appeared to be scarcely possible, but all their strength was put forth, and they displayed such pluck and perseverance as shed enduring lustre on the heroism of Australian exploration. "Our journeys," writes Sturt, "were short, and the head we made against the stream but trifling. The men had lost the proper and muscular jerk with which they once made the waters foam and the oars bend. Their whole bodies swung with an awkward and laboured motion. Their arms appeared to be nerveless, and their faces became haggard, their persons emaciated, their spirits wholly sank—nature was so completely overcome that, from mere exhaustion, they frequently fell asleep during their painful and almost unceasing exertions. I became captious, and found fault where there was no occasion, and lost the equilibrium of my temper in contemplating the condition of my companions. No murmur, however, escaped them, nor did any complaint reach me that was intended to indicate that they had done all they could do. I frequently heard them in their tent, when they thought I had dropped asleep, complaining of severe pains and of great exhaustion. 'I must tell the Captain to-morrow,' some of them would say, 'that I can pull no more!' To-morrow came, and they pulled on, as if reluctant to yield to circumstances. Macnamee at last lost his senses. We first observed this from his incoherent conversation, but eventually from his manner. He related the most extraordinary tales, and fidgetted about eternally in the boat." In such a plight did they reach the depôt on the Murrumbidgee. Altogether 88 days were spent in the boat, and the distance travelled could not have been less than 4,000 miles. The rest of the journey was performed by easy stages, the party arriving in Sydney on the 25th of May, after an absence of almost seven months.
The discovery of a rich territory on Lake Alexandrina, was made in 1880, and before another decade had passed away the settlement of South Australia was established in this promising region. By a singular fatality, Sturt, as an explorer, had the infelicity of stumbling continually upon deserts, or on tracts only a shade better; but the termination of the Murray, which he had navigated so courageously, brought him to the borders of an ample area of the richest land in Australia. In these circumstances it was natural for him to evince a special fondness for the locality which had been the most fortunate, as it was also the latest, of his discoveries. The retired explorer accordingly settled down with his family in this chosen haunt, with the intention of making his permanent home in the young colony of South Australia. He received a civil appointment as Surveyor-General, which enabled him to live in comparative quiet and comfort, and he was highly respected for his great services to Australia in general. After so many years of retirement, probably no one expected to hear anything further of Charles Sturt as an explorer. It could not, therefore, fail to produce a feeling of surprise when it became known that after fourteen years' repose he had sought and obtained from Lord Stanley the necessary requisites for another expedition into the interior. He had again become fired with his old ambition, and was now covetous of the honour of being the first European to plant his foot on the centre of Australia. All things being in readiness for this heroic undertaking, Sturt left Adelaide on the 10th of August, 1844, with a party of fourteen men, amply provisioned. He chose the route of the Darling and Murray rivers, which he proposed to follow till the outskirts of civilization were reached. The Murray was struck at "Murrundi," the residence at that time of another noted explorer, Mr. E. J. Eyre, who had recently accomplished his adventurous journey round the Great Australian Bight, and the river valley was thereafter traversed as far as the junction of the Williorara, a locality better known now under the name of the Laidley Ponds. This place was becoming known to overlanders, and it was hoped it might prove a suitable site for the first depôt; but this expectation was hardly justified by personal inspection, and it became evident that the expedition must proceed at once into the interior. Sturt accordingly gathered his party around him, and, having engaged in appropriate devotional exercises, in which he committed himself and his men to the watchful care of Almighty God, launched bravely forth into the perils of the wilderness. Some distance ahead a mountain chain was visible, to which the name of Stanley, or Barrier Range, was afterwards given. The march was at first directed towards these heights, in the hope that a river might be discovered on the opposite fall which would lead into the interior. Here again expectation was doomed to disappointment, and the expedition was forced to proceed along the range, where water alone was to be found. Gradually the mountains sank into the plains to the northward, and it was resolved to strike out for the centre from this point, taking the risk of obtaining a sufficient supply of water at tolerable intervals. The country traversed in this direction proved to be cheerless and sterile in the extreme, and the journey was tedious and trying to a corresponding degree. Nevertheless, the party pressed forward, doing their best to deserve success. But it was to no purpose. The country became still more inhospitable, and water utterly failed. It was evident that the object of the expedition could not be reached by this route, and Sturt, wearied in body and chafed in spirit, was compelled to retreat to the mountains on his outward track. This was his first repulse from the centre of Australia.
A return was made to the depôt, which had fortunately been established not far from the range, in a lovely oasis in the desert. No reader of the narrative of the expedition can soon forget the strange incidents of this depôt in the Rocky Glen, which unexpectedly became the prison-house of the whole party for six months. The supply of water here was good and abundant, though not inexhaustible; and this advantage was of supreme importance, as a drought of unparalleled severity was fast closing in upon the expedition. Being wearied and worn out by the toilsome journey to the northward, Sturt resolved to give his men a brief breathing time in this favoured spot; and when this temporary repose was ended he found, to his consternation, that his retreat was cut off, while it was equally impossible to advance. Here is his own description of the heat and misery they had to undergo:—"The tubes of the thermometer burst, the bullocks pawed the ground to get a cooler footing, the men's shoes were scorched as if by fire, their finger nails were brittle as glass; the lead dropped from the pencil, the ink dried in the pen, as Sturt wrote up his daily journal; the drays almost fell to pieces, the screws loosened in their boxes, the horn handles of the instruments and their combs split, the wool on the sheep and their own hair ceased to grow." Many persistent efforts were made on every side to find a way of escape; but all to no purpose, for the drought had closed them in as effectually as a besieging army. There was no help for it but to make the best of their misfortune until rain came to the rescue. Fortunately they had sufficient feed and plenty of water for their live stock, and for such mercies they were truly thankful. As the summer advanced it was found necessary to seek a partial refuge from the scorching rays of the sun in an underground chamber, which had been constructed for this purpose. The imprisonment had, at the same time, a few negative advantages. For one thing, the completeness of their isolation formed a sufficient safeguard against the assaults of the barbarous tribes of the interior; for the same calamity which prevented the one party from getting away equally prohibited the other from approaching this oasis in the desert. During the six months' detention only one blackfellow had been able to put in an appearance, and not till reduced to the last extremity of hunger and thirst. The poor emaciated creature was prevailed upon to remain for the present; but, having free access to the explorers' mutton, he grew tolerably fat in the course of a fortnight, when, with the usual gratitude of the barbarian, he turned his back upon his benefactors and took the way that pleased him best. The accounts of the interior which Sturt received from this and other aborigines he had previously encountered were disheartening in the extreme, and it was impossible to abstain from gloomy forebodings during this period of enforced incarceration. But whether they were to have any more travelling or not was becoming more and more a matter of bare probability. The herbage of the valley had become reduced to mere dust, and the water had diminished so ominously as to make it apparent that, unless rain fell within a month, the party would certainly find their graves in the Rocky Glen, as one of them had already done. But the future had better things in store, and did not longer withhold them. In one of those sudden changes so characteristic of the Australian climate the sky assumed its curtain of clouds and burst in a storm of rain, which deluged the valley. The roar of the rushing water, Sturt avers, was the sweetest music that ever fell upon his ear. That welcome thunderstorm was the key which opened the door of the prison and gave liberty to the captives.
This happy release was followed by a period of successful travelling—not, indeed, void of difficulty, but yet without much of stirring incident. Another <lep6t was formed, which is well known under the name of the Park. Having enjoyed a short breathing time here, the expedition again proceeded eastward, and touched on the northern extremity of Lake Torrens. A survey of this part having been made, in accordance with special instructions, they returned to the Park Depôt, which was reached just twelve months after Sturt had left Adelaide. As time was thus rapidly passing away, he now resolved to put forth all his strength in a bold effort to reach the summit of his ambition and place his foot on the centre of Australia. Wishing to have as little encumbrance as possible, he divided his party, and, having picked three of the best men, started for the goal of his weary journeys, leaving the remainder in the depôt. Day after day this forlorn hope toiled on. Plain succeeded plain over a dreary expanse of interminable country, redeemed only by a series of parallel watercourses, which afforded a sufficient supply of that indispensable element. One important creek was crossed, but had to be abandoned, as it headed in a wrong direction. Happily, a sufficient compensation was found in the discovery of another creek, which they called the Eyre, after the adventurous explorer; and this godsend in the wilderness they were able to follow for a long distance. It was after they were compelled to leave it that they entered upon the stern realities of travel in the untrodden interior. The country now assumed an aspect so sterile and forbidding as to place it out of comparison with anything which Sturt, the discoverer of deserts, had previously witnessed. For a space of 20 miles nothing was found but a series of sand-ridges succeeding one another with the monotonous regularity of the waves of the sea. The fatigue which had to be endured in crossing this inhospitable tract was indescribable. It greatly weakened the strength of the party, and it was only the hope of soon meeting a change of country which lured them on. Nor was this expectation doomed to disappointment, for a change they met with at a moment's notice. All of a sudden the jaded explorers found a stony desert springing up beneath their feet and stretching away as far as the eye could reach, while it included within its ghastly embrace more than half the horizon. The suddenness of the appearance of this spectre of desolation struck them mute with surprise and horror. One of Sturt's attendants was the first to break the silence, which he did by raising his hands and exclaiming—"Good heavens! did ever man see such country?" Probably he never did. It is worse even than the African Sahara. It is beyond the power of words to describe it as it stands in its lone and dread reality. Sturt's Stony Desert is one unbroken expanse of desolation, a wilderness of red ferruginous sandstone, undergoing perpetual disintegration, constituting a natural ruin on a gigantic scale, without a single redeeming feature. Barrenness has marked this region for her own, and will ever hold it as a special possession. No life can subsist within its borders; the foot of the savage is not upon its wastes, and the whole region is still and silent as the grave. Such is the dark picture as drawn by the explorer himself. Happily a better acquaintance has led to a more favourable opinion; though the land of spinifex, it produces other vegetation of nutritive and even fattening properties. The Stony Desert proper consists of many patches, but probably none will be found to be very extensive. The stout hearts of the explorers quailed but for a moment. Be the consequence what it might, they determined to go forward, and the first night found them encamped in the desert without a drop of water. Their only hope of safety consisted in expeditious travel out of this scene of desolation. It was found to extend 50 miles, and when the party reached the other side, they were in a condition which can be more easily conceived than described. Here again they entered upon a similar belt of sand-ridges such as they had found Hanking the Stony Desert on the other side. These, unhappily, were succeeded by another region of sand, utterly destitute of water. Their sufferings, which had formerly been great, were now intolerable. It became apparent that further progress was impracticable, and it was just a question whether retreat was possible—certainly it could not remain so much longer with such heat and drought as were then prevailing. The necessity of retreat was thus forced upon them, but it was a very painful one. They had now travelled more than 400 miles from the depôt (and such travelling!) and could they only have advanced another 150 miles they would have pitched their camp in the centre of Australia, the darling object of so many heroic sacrifices. Their reluctance to yield to this last dictate of necessity was extreme. A member of the expedition has pictured Sturt as he sat on one of the sand dunes with his face buried in his hands for a whole hour, while the struggle was going on in his own mind. It was not in nature, indeed, to yield without a mighty conflict. But inexorable necessity had to be obeyed notwithstanding, and thus valuable lives were saved. This was his second repulse from the centre of Australia. Nothing is more admirable in the character of Sturt than his magnanimity under adversity. However keenly he may have felt his disappointment, his mind retained its accustomed tranquillity, and during the retreat he went on laying down the bearings of his route for the guidance of others who might follow and obtain the palm he had been compelled to resign. He reached the depôt, where he had left the remainder of his party, on the 2nd October, 1845, having been absent seven weeks and travelled more than 800 miles.
After a short period of rest and refreshment this chivalrous explorer, who amid all his heavy misfortunes was certainly tenax propositi, to the surprise and regret of his party conceived the design of making one more attempt to reach the centre of Australia. He now determined on trying the line of the creek he had formerly discovered, and now called after Strzelecki, in the hope of its giving him sufficient northing to bring him within a practicable distance of the object for which the expedition had been sent. Strzelecki's Creek was found to answer his purpose so long as it lasted, and at its termination led to the discovery of another of much greater importance. To this new river Sturt gave the name of Cooper's Creek, after a distinguished South Australian judge. Unfortunately it flowed nearly east and west, and, therefore, had to be abandoned in the prosecution of a northern route. Leaving the plains which extended for some distance from the banks of Cooper's Creek, Sturt again encountered the ominous sand-ridges of which he had had sufficient experience on the former journey, and these being traversed, his hard fate again landed him on the edge of the Stony Desert. His destiny seemed ever mocking him with deserts, but this was the last he ever discovered. Having swept the unvarying horizon long and patiently with his telescope, and finding no break in the terrible monotony, he turned back for the third and last time from the effort to accomplish the dream of his life. After so many magnanimous sacrifices, he finally and for ever waived the palm of reaching the centre of the continent, which, sixteen years later, was won by a member of the same expedition, Mr. J. M'Douall Stuart, whose march to the coveted spot reads in comparison like a holiday excursion. The party now fell back upon Cooper's Creek, which was traced upwards for a considerable distance. It is a remarkable circumstance that Sir Thomas Mitchell was exploring its upper waters about the same time. But nothing could be more diverse than the two descriptions of the same stream. Mitchell's is quite couleur de rose, and Sturt's has probably been tinged with the effect of his own misfortunes. While the one gave it the name of Cooper's Creek, as already noticed, the other called it the Victoria, after the Queen. This was most unfortunate, as there is another Victoria River on the west coast. However, both designations are now generally superseded by the native name of Barcoo.
It is unnecessary to enter into details respecting the homeward expedition. The outward track was followed as closely as possible to Laidley Ponds, and thence to Adelaide. The water was rapidly drying up, and the retreat had to be conducted like the forced marches of an army. The men were nearly all ill, more or less, and some of them, being unable to walk, had to be carried long distances. Latterly, the leader of the expedition seems to have been the chief sufferer. Long exposure to the glaring reflection of the sun on the sandy wastes had ruined his eyesight, and not long afterwards he became permanently blind. Even now his constitution was completely shattered, and he had to be laid on a bed of leaves and conveyed from the interior in a cart, from which sufferings he never fully recovered. Such was Charles Sturt, after fifteen months' wanderings in the deserts of our country; and henceforth this heroic and much-enduring man disappeared from the stage of Australian history, of which he had been long a distinguished ornament. He retired on a pension of £600 from the South Australian Legislature, and died at Cheltenham in 1869.