Tracks of McKinlay and party across Australia/Chapter 9
AUSTRALIA TRAVERSED: TROPICAL DISTRICT.
Editor's Introductory Remarks; the Approach to the Sea; Tropical features; the Leichhardt; Aborigines, etc.—April 22nd, etc., Still Cold Weather—23rd, Sarah's Bange—25th, Marchant's Creek—26th, William's Creek—27th Elder's Creek—28th, Poole's Creek; Elephant, McPherson, and Margaret Mounts—30th, Jessie and Jeannie Creeks—May 2nd, William Creek—4th, Davis Creek—6th, The Leichhardt River—8th, Start's Pigeons—12th, Baggage on Fire in Grass-burning; Description of the Leichhardt—18th, Indications of nearing the Sea—19th, 20th, Unable to reach it—21st, Start for return Journey.
"We might expect some enthusiasm in the contents of this chapter, as the party approached the goal of all their exertions, and had the hope of presently emerging upon the northern sea. Our travellers, however, plod on without much troubling the poetry of the occasion. As they descend the Leichhardt, the first of the known gulf streams they have made, they find a gradually increasing rise of the tidal wave, until, on the 18th May, the salt water comes in upon them like a sluice, running through the mangrove creeks. The network of these creeks, and the bog and swamp that appear to fringe the southern shore of Carpentaria, are a sad check to the enthusiasm that might naturally be otherwise called forth upon the successful accomplishment of so great a journey. On the 20th they can reach only within from four to five miles of the sea, and on the 21st they joyfully commence the return to home and the civilized world.
Geographically speaking, we are now within the tropical boundary, but the extra-tropical features still follow us. The weather is fitfully hot and cold, and the nights sometimes bitterly cold, and still there is the ominous spinifex, the sign of a poor soil, such as has not the advantage of regular tropical rains. There are still the marks of great and sudden flooding—the symptoms of a precarious rain supply. At Elder's Creek, for instance, reached on 28th April, there were the marks of a recent great flood, which had left its traces in logs, grass, and rubbish, at a height of thirty or forty feet above the travellers as they lay down to sleep, peaceably enough now, on the sand in the bed of the creek. Tropical indications, however, gradually increase as the party proceed northward. Here they pluck an edible fruit growing on a palm tree, there the dense and substantial vegetation shows it is no longer the creature of a casual shower, and every where the range of the spinifex is gradually narrowed.
The considerable river Leichhardt was struck on 6th May, at a point about one hundred miles from its mouth, where it was a hundred and fifty yards wide between its banks, with a stream about twenty yards in width. Some fifty miles lower down, it presented a more imposing appearance, "its bed," says McKinlay, "vast sheets of stones, and the water in it one hundred and fifty yards wide." Two miles lower down the river goes over a fall fifty or sixty feet in height, and some miles below the fall occurs a sand pit, indicating a tidal influence. Diverging to the westward, on the 13th, a branch of the Albert was met, but its waters proved to be salt, and the party returned to the Leichhardt. The Albert had, at an earlier time, been an object of attention to McKinlay, because the steamer sent round from Melbourne by the Victoria Government the year before had been instructed to lie off that river in readiness with provisions and other assistance for the use of any of the several exploring parties then traversing the country. Latterly, however, this contingent prospect is not alluded to, no doubt from the impression that the long delay in the lake district had brought the party to the Gulf at a date long subsequent to the return of the steamer, as was indeed the case.
The aboriginal population are evidently getting more numerous—another indication of the comparative plenty, and of the permanent supply of water and food of tropical regions. They still keep to the ranges, where they seem busy burning the grass. On the 1st May the party came suddenly upon one of them, who ran off in great flight. It seemed strange that more should not be met with in so fine a country. On the 8th, while in the neighbourhood of the line of trees that marked the course of the Leichhardt, the natives were actively burning the vegetation in all directions. A fuller share of tropical life now clusters around the travellers. Pelicans are abundant; like the kangaroo and other Australian denizens they pervade the entire country. Sturt's pigeons are in such numbers that they are described as vast clouds darkening the ground beneath them. The multitudes of ants and their habitations are alluded to by most Australian travellers. In their migrations these industrious communities leave behind them memorials that may well bear a comparison, after its kind, with a Nineveh or Babylon. Writing on 24th April, McKinlay remarks upon the numerous red-ant hills which the expedition, for the previous hundred and fifty miles of its course, saw upon the slopes and tops of the ranges. Untenanted and going to decay, many were like sharp spires, and all were washed or worn by the rain and weather into some diversity of shape. Again we are with Mr, Davis.
April 22nd. (Camp xl.) Started early this morning. Very cold. Wind from the south. The journey was through a varied country, after crossing a good-sized creek and several smaller ones. The larger one had a fine sand and gravelly bed, with large trees on its banks of quite a new description. Mr. McKinlay, who has been in the colony thirty years or more, has never seen them. They had a short, broad, dark leaf, and saplings growing all round the bottom. We passed a creek to the right. The country here is splendidly grassed up to the ranges, which are some distance off, though we are approaching them fast. Several more well-wooded creeks, sandy bottoms, the last we came to we went down some short distance, and camped at the junction of two creeks, in one of which Palmer found a piece of copper ore. No end of quartz and mica to be seen. Gathered some seeds. Cold roast beef for dinner, hot sirloin, if you please, for supper.
23rd. This morning the horses were not to be found, and when they were, only a part were brought in, the others had gone back on the old tracks, the sheep and bullocks sent ahead, and two men after the horses. The fellows who brought in part of the horses got McKinlay's blessings. It is very vexing, here we are all ready for a start, camels laden, etc., but Mr. McKinlay says we must wait for the horses, and so we did till 12 o'clock, when we unpacked, unsaddled, and turned them out to feed. I don't suppose we shall get away to-day. Dinner over and no horses, one man sent after sheep and bullocks to bring them into camp again; it was a fine day for travelling, but, alas! here is another delay of a day or more. They all came in about sunset. Mr. McKinlay went out on a voyage of discovery, and thus reports the results:—
24th. (Camp xli.) We made but a short stage to-day, the bullocks having taken it into their heads to have a ramble; we did not wait for them though, but left Palmer to bring them in. Distance travelled about ten miles, and Mr. McKinlay being doubtful of finding water farther on, and there being some very good here, we camped.
"I took a horse and went to the nearest hill, about seven miles distant, to observe the course of the main creek, but the day proving warm and misty I did not get so distinct a view as I anticipated; it was extensive enough but indistinct, although the elevation I was on must have been more than three thousand feet from level of the creek, and much higher ranges on to west of it; from top of it portions of the main range appear in the far distance at 347½°; no other eminence round the horizon to 95°; the whole intervening space filled with creeks running in all directions towards the main creek that must be distant from the hill I was on easterly, nearly twenty miles, with an apparent northerly course; this hill is detached from the main mass of range and distant from four to five miles. It and the most of the intervening space between the camp and it is literally one mass of quartz and quartz reefs, mica, etc., and on top of range is a sort of flaggy slate, all apparently having undergone the action of fire—this range I have called Sarah's Range; it bears from camp 320° seven miles; a great deal of spinifex and abrupt creeks between camp and it, not a speck of gold visible, but it appears to have undergone the action of fire; this is another day lost. Such detention makes me quite irritable and fidgetty."
Country passed through to-day very auriferous, plenty of large quartz reefs, and Mr. McKinlay says there is any amount of pipe-clay under the quartz on the hills where he was yesterday; all these are also found in the creeks.
The natives are busy burning away on the ranges some distance west of this, and have been doing so daily ever since we came on the creek. I suppose they are still unaware of our presence, or they would have paid us a visit.
For the last 150 miles at least there have been on the slopes, and on the tops of all the ranges, decaying red-ant hills, not tenanted, but gradually decaying; many of them appearing like sharp spires, and washed in all kinds of shapes by the rain and weather. Perhaps the inhabitants were nomad tribes, and wander about like the other natives. Some of the ant-hills formed quite townships, and were rather curious.
25th. (Camp xlii.) The country passed through to-day was undulating and stony, the quartz-reefs extending all the way on our left, or west of us, as far as the eye could reach. Distance to-day, twenty-one miles, and camped, without water, at the foot of a small stony hill some twenty feet high. Mr. McKinlay went on by himself to look for some, which, on his return, he told us he had found in a fine large creek three miles ahead. We had unpacked and pitched camp, so we had dinner, and then re-packed off for the creek, called "Marchant" by Mr. McKinlay, after W. Marchant, Esq., a friend of his, who has a run called "Mananarie," north of Adelaide. This fine creek, on which we are now camped, is still running, and comes in through the ranges from the west and south. It is heavily timbered with white gum. We lost the marking-chisel to-day from off the camel, by some means, so there will be no more tree-marking. Passed several small creeks on our way, and we also found a good deal of spinifex.
26th. The fine ranges still on our left. Crossed Marchant's Creek, and in ten miles came to a very fine one about 400 yards broad, and water as far as you can see south and west. This creek is called "Williams," after Edward Williams, Esq., North Adelaide. A quantity of small fish in the water-holes, and some very pretty, with fine black stripes, something like a tiger's.
Sunday, 27th. Passed through good and bad country to-day; some magnificent pastoral land. Crossed this creek only three times, and then lowed it for some distance till it went off to the east. At thirteen miles we came to a splendid creek. Lots of water coming from the hills to the west, and running east. This creek is named after Thomas Elder, Esq., of Adelaide, who joined us at Lake Hope.
28th. We had a fine bed of sand last night, which is rather more comfortable, as you can make your nest à la turtle, and curl yourself up snug. There must have been some fearful floods here at times, as, forty feet above us, in the fine gum-trees that edge the creek, is to be seen bush and débris lodged up in the boughs; some trees broken off short thirty feet above their roots. I dare say, from the quantity of stuff lodged in the branches, and the force of the current, some of the large trees are even torn up by the roots. Rather milder than it was yesterday as regards heat. There is another creek joins this just about where we struck it, with plenty of water coming apparently from south-west. Fine pastoral country today on the whole, lightly timbered, and some of it flooded. Crossed several small creeks, and one large one, which Mr. McKinlay called after Mr. Poole, of Willaston, the father of one of my comrades. The governor took horse after getting his dinner (no fear of his going before) to a detached hill two miles away. Mr. McKinlay shall speak for himself:—
"After getting into camp, myself and Middleton went on to the hill in front, and at two and a-quarter miles arrived at it. It is perfectly detached, and stands in the open plain—is very stony, or rather rocky. Open plains to the north and west, as far as yon can discern; to the north-north-east appears dark timber, which I hope to be the main creek, and appears to be bearing to north and west. A couple of isolated hills from fifteen to twenty miles off, bearing respectively, the southern one 251½°, the northern one 254°. The southern one I have called Mount Elephant; the one to the north, Mount McPherson; and the one I am on, Margaret. Another in the distance, bearing 258°."
Sheep and bullocks not in till very late. Had the satisfaction of some emu soup for supper, Mr. McKinlay having shot a very fine one. Distance twenty-five miles.
29th. Left Poole's Creek about 8 a.m. Over some fine undulating and well grassed plains, with small belts of bushes here and there. Some emus were shot to-day, and were left on the plains with a stick stuck up, and a piece of paper with the order in pencil from the governor, "Davis, bring on the emus on the camel."
We do not much like the flesh of the emu; it is so rich, it made some of the crew sick. We camped at a watercourse, to let the sheep and bullocks have something to eat, as they were so late in last night.
30th. More fine country to travel over to-day; nothing but one immense plain. The natives are burning grass to the east-south-east. This is the first real bush-fire we have seen. The emus made us sick; the meat is so oily. They weighed, when ready for the pot, 48 lb., 31 lb., and 33 lb. The smaller ones were better, and they have saved us some sheep, which is a consideration.
We quote from Mr. McKinlay a description of this country:—
"The grass passed over yesterday, although abundant is rank, and not of that sweet description we have before seen, but no doubt excellent for cattle and horses. Just as the animals were being brought in for packing, Davis found, in a small shallow pool, nearly dry, numbers of small nice looking fish of two sorts—longest not more than three and a-half inches; one sort like the cat-fish of the Murray, the other spotted like a salmon. For five miles over timbered plains on a bearing 345°; at three and a half miles, struck a small creek coming from west and south, with plenty of water; and, at five and a quarter miles further, an immense deep creek with water (gum), crossed at right angles from the western banks, which are very precipitous. I have called it the Jessie. At six miles came to and crossed a noble river, now a creek as it is not running, but plenty of water; from 300 to 400 yards broad. At crossing the first, cabbage palm seen on its western bank between this and the last creek; on left of course is a splendid belt of white gums on the dry sound flat. This river, like the other creek, flows from south of west after crossing a northerly and easterly course; I have called it the Joannie, after a young lady friend of mine. At fourteen and a half miles came to a fine lagoon running easterly and westerly; good water in abundance; went round it and camped north-west side, as the natives are firing close by on the south-east side; distance nineteen and a half miles. For some considerable distance back, it has been an open timbered country; plenty of myall and useful white butt gum; drainage, as yet, all to the east and slightly north. I thought the Jeannie bore more north, but it bore off again to the eastward; no game of any kind Been to-day, except a turkey; a great quantity of vines on which grows four or five black fruit, like peas and extremely hard, from every flower, and on which the emu appears to feed much. There were also two other vines or runners, on which grow an oblong fruit about one to one and a half inches long, green like cucumber, but bitter; the other is a round fruit about the size of a walnut, darker in colour than the other, not so abundant, and which the emu seems to exist much on at present. Some seeds of each, and many shrubs, flowers, and fruits before new to me, I have obtained. A number of partially dried lagoons all round this, about three-quarters of a mile long. One is about six feet deep; a very fine sheet of water."
May 1st. (Camp xlviii.) Beautiful May morning, with a fine breeze. Palmer saw a solitary native on the horses' tracks as he was coming up with the bullocks; he "cooeyed" to him, and as soon as blacky descried him he was off like a shot. We have seen but few natives. The country fine, with lots of grass seeds. We crossed a fine dry lagoon, well grassed, in the open timbered land; then struck a creek flowing nearly north, with a fine white sandy bed, but no water. We followed it down some way, and crossed. The bank, where we struck it, was too precipitous to get up on the other side. Here we saw some dead palm-tree leaves. Crossed again in the opposite direction, three miles from where we struck it. Distance to-day, eighteen miles.
2nd. Started early over a beautiful plain, and at three miles from camp crossed a water-course, and at about 6 a.m. crossed another; plenty of water, and then further on a deep narrow creek flowing about north-north-east. Saw small ranges when crossing the creek, on the other side of plains, about south-west. [Here my Journal is so rubbed that I cannot make it out exactly, so I must crib from the governor's a bit, with what parts I can make out in mine here and there, and it continues as bad till the 11th.—J. D.]
Mr. McKinlay says at this date:—
"The large creek when last seen was bearing to west of north, a long distance off; beyond, an open plain. The creek I am now upon divides into several branches just here, which makes this one so small. Shot a new bird—dark grey, large tail, something like a pheasant in its flight; it always starts from the ground, and settles awkwardly on the trees, its tail appearing a nuisance to it; the specimen shot is too much torn for preservation. The days now are very warm, and the nights very agreeable. Short as the time is since they must have had the rain here, it is astonishing how it has dried up in many places. The large creek crossed yesterday I have called the William, after a young friend of mine."
3rd. (Camp l.) Blew pretty fresh this morning. Off early over a large plain, where at the end was some heavy timber, over a stony spinifex range. At about fourteen miles came to a water-course with abundance of water. Numerous courses on either side of us. The principal creek here is dry nearly, the grass quite dry and not so good quality as it has been lately. Any quantity of those beautiful broad leaved shady trees we saw before. Very hot indeed. Distance sixteen miles.
4th. (Camp li.) Very mild this morning. The sheep escaped last night, and half of them are missing. I hope we shall find them. This creek I was going to say is mine; at all events, Mr. McKinlay says it is "Davis." Found the sheep not far off. Went across plains of myall with gums. Crossed a small creek, then two more flowing north, then over good country with a little thick myall forest, then over pretty thickly timbered, well-grassed table-lands and spinifex ridge, ending our journey over fine plains to a creek, the only water seen to-day. Distance, twenty-seven and three-quarter miles! Poor sheep!
5th. (Camp lii.) Nice calm morning with dew, but looks like rain. We heard a native last night making an awful row, but as yet have seen none, though they were pretty near to us yesterday with their fires. This creek has plenty of box on it. We crossed it first thing, then over a plain country, next to a swamp, and afterwards plains with shrubs on them, and belts of timber. We camped at a water-course, rather muddy; but the leader is making a short stage of it to-day to make up for yesterday. The sheep, though well, are not in such condition as they have been. Distance today, thirteen and a half miles.
6th. (Camp liii.) Cloudy this morning. Started early, over plains and small belts of timber. Saw a native at a swamp for water, and two more in the distance, but they made off instanter. Birds of all kinds—cockatoos, parrots, hawks, macaws, curillas, grelas, crows, etc.
At twenty-two and a half miles struck the Leichhardt. Banks too steep to get any water for the animals, but, on following it down, came to a capital place; nice beach for about one mile. The width from bank to bank may be 170 yards. Hodgkinson caught a small fish, and we saw a large one, but he was too knowing. Camped; distance twenty-five miles.
7th. Very sultry, with every appearance of rain. Made an early start down the bed of the river, the water here being only fifteen or twenty yards wide. Crossed it, and followed along the western bank, where it is full of sand and timber, and full 500 yards wide; through some pretty forest-looking lands to a fine lagoon, with plenty of water and good green grass. Crossed two creeks, and came to another lagoon; plenty of water and feed. Then through open forests and plains. Mr. McKinlay, seeing we were not likely to meet with any water, changed his course for the Leichhardt, which we had left some distance away on our right. We arrived at it in about three miles. Crossed it, and camped on some sand. Lots of stones for the last two miles, and plenty on the river bank.
8th. Strong breeze, and all our previous prognostications of rain vanished in that air. We started in good time. First part of the way over stones with spinifex, then over plains with belts and clumps of trees. At about ten miles we halted. As for the Sturt pigeons, I never witnessed such a sight; the enormous flights of them completely darkening the ground as they flew over in flocks from south-east to north-west, though thousands of them remain here. The blacks are burning on the river in all directions, and there are fires also in the direction of the "Albert."
The leader with Middleton rode out to ascertain what sort of country it was between the camp and the coast.
Mr. McKinlay here says:—
"Took Middleton with me to ascertain what kind of country there is between camp and coast. On bearing of 355°, at six miles, came to and crossed a creek, plenty of water, flowing to north-north-east; at sixteen and a half miles struck a creek with heavy box and gum timber, and water where we struck it in small lagoons and side creeks. Camped; natives burning ahead of us, and a little east. A great portion of the country we have come over from camp is inundated, and has now coarse grass and reeds. This creek flows here about north; south of this, it comes more to the north-north-east.
"9th. Middleton and I still out; party in camp. Started on bearing of 40°; wind strong, south; at three and a half miles struck the creek, now a very considerable size, and flowing to the eastward and a little south; followed it for a quarter of a mile, keeping it on the left, on bearing of about 110°, and crossed it at a long grassy flat. In its bed native whirlies between where we first struck it and crossed it; bearing of 40°, long deep reach of water, banks well defined; bearing of 40°, at three quarters of a mile creek, recrossed same on a bed of lava, all rent, abundance of water. At five and a half miles further struck the Leichhardt, its bed vast sheets of stones—rocks and small stones opposite side, lower down; the water in its bed is about or upwards of 150 yards wide. At two miles, bearing of about 210°, struck the river at a stony and rocky fail, and went westward half a mile to avoid the bend. Struck river again at three miles on same course as above; then, at four miles, struck a lagoon to south; then, at four and a half miles, struck the river, water in its full width, now upwards of 250 yards, a splendid-looking place, and lined on its banks with splendid timber of various kinds, with a variety of palms, etc.; then to the southward of south-west for between six and eight miles. But the rugged banks were so intricate that it was impossible to calculate the distance correctly; in a great many places, half a mile from the river banks, the plains drop off precipitously from three to ten feet, and slope off in undermined deep earthy creeks, finishing at last in deep reedy creeks close to the river. Water in nearly all the side creeks, and compelled us to keep out, but sometimes we were caught in them, thinking the timber we were advancing to was a lagoon or belt of timber, and then we were compelled to go round it; then cross a very fine creek running into the river, the same, I believe, we crossed yesterday about six miles from camp on our outward course. From this to our camp I make out about thirteen miles, on a bearing of about 200°. Got to camp about 8 p.m., for the last seven miles guided by a roman candle shot off at the camp. Fireworks are most useful in expeditions of this kind, as in many cases, some of our party have been guided up to camp near midnight."
9th. All of us save the governor and Middleton in camp awaiting their return, and resting and amusing ourselves as best we may.
10th. (Camp lvi.) Beautiful weather, but very cold in the night. Started in good time and order over land subject to frequent inundations, judging from the reeds, etc. Crossed a creek about six miles from camp. Six miles further on, three fine lagoons in succession, all of them containing plenty of water, and at the last we camped where there was excellent feed.
Here Mr. McKinlay says:—
"I forgot to mention that yesterday, on return to camp from first striking in Leichhardt's river, I observed apparently a native firing the grass a short distance on my right. I made towards it and saw one coming steadily towards us, till spying us, retreated at full speed; as I had some fish-hooks and line, I was determined to pull him or her up. Started off and overtook what turned out to be a gin and her piccaninie, and had a load of something which in her retreat she dropped. She screamed and cooed, and set fire to the grass all around us to endeavour to get rid of us, but all to no purpose. I held out to her a fish-hook, but she would not take them to look at even, but busied herself screaming and firing the grass; upon which I got off the horse and approached her. She immediately lifted up her yam-stick in the position the men throw their spears, and prepared to defend herself, until at last she quieted down on observing the fish-hook, and advanced a step or two and took it from me, evidently knowing the use of it. I then gave her a line and another hook, and by signs explained to her that I would return in the direction the day following. She wished me to understand something, holding up four of her fingers, but what she meant I could not guess. I tried to make out from her how far the coast was, making motions as if paddling a canoe, bat could not get any information; as soon as we were clear off, she set to work to make an immense smoke to attract the notice of her people to give them the news. This afternoon three of the party went over east-south-east about three-quarters of a mile to the river and caught about a dozen of fish of small size and three different sorts, and a turtle about a foot long. The river during the day has almost always been in sight from three to six miles off, till crossing the creek when it was not more than one mile off."
11th. (Camp lvii.) Started over some broken slopes in the direction of the river, then over some plains, and crossed a creek running into the river, then into open country, sloping to north-east, with plenty of water on either side. Struck the river again at the falls. Camped on a small creek with running water and beautiful green feed. A bullock was killed, as he objected to go any further. The fish under the falls are numerous, and consist of guard-fish, sword-fish, and sharks. The falls are some fifty or sixty feet high; no current, deep water above and below. Found a tree of the palm species, with good fruit on it.
12th. This is a vile camp, high grass and no shade. The scenery, however, is very pretty, undulating fine grassed country, intersected by small creeks, their courses defined by trees on their banks. The grass is nearly up to one's neck, and it is very hard work to get through it. The men are busy jerking the beast; there won't be much trouble in that, as he has not one ounce of fat on him, and his meat smells rather like musk.
Two of our fellows went to the falls to fish, and succeeded in bringing home some very good ones, black bream, and an excellent firm fish, and some flat-heads, not quite so good, but still very acceptable for a change.
A nice accident happened soon after Mr. McKinlay had left. He had told me to get the grass burned round the camp, so that it might be a little clear; so before he left I had commenced and burnt a good piece, and had finished, as I thought, and the fire all out and secure, the wind at the same time being very still, hardly a breath, when all of a sudden there was such an awful row in the camp, and all of us being a short distance away, we were perfectly astounded. Bang! bang!—fiz! fiz! We ran down as fast as our legs could carry us, and found to our dismay that some fire that had been smouldering had been fanned into a flame, and communicated with the pack saddles (some distance from the clearing), in which was our ammunition, to say nothing of fireworks; so rockets and blue lights were vieing with each other in their praiseworthy endeavours to celebrate our arrival at "The Falls." It might have been worse had we been farther afield, as the packs would inevitably have been destroyed. As it is, every rocket is absent "without leave," which is a great pity in case we should want to signalize the "Victoria," should she be in the Gulf. I hear from the two who went to the Falls (Mr. McKinlay only allows two to go away at a time) that they are very pretty. The fruit tree that grows there is very like a medlar when ripe. Many native tracks about the tree, showing that they are partial to the good things of this land when they are to be found. The pigeons came over the camp by hundreds of thousands to the Leichhardt for water. We knocked over a few, for the beef is positively soft, not tender. What shall we do when we have nothing else?
13th. In camp. Finished the beef. McKinlay and party not returned yet; the camels a long way off this morning—four miles, I should say. They don't seem to like this feed; I wish they would not ramble so. It is not good travelling, in foot very fatiguing; tramping through this high, rough grass is anything but pleasant. This appears to me a very long day, and the breakfast burnt to rags, for which the cook got a blessing or two. After returning with the camels sat down to repair our small stock of clothes and play cards; some went off to fish. I wish I could, but orders from head-quarters prevent me.
14th. Two as usual off early to fish; I wish them luck; the two yesterday only caught a few, and those small. Took a nag and went after the camels, but could not find them anywhere; returned, after some hours' fruitless search, to my dinner, and afterwards Bell and I started again, found yesterday's tracks, but no new ones. We shall be in a nice mess if they are lost; we looked for them till dark, and went on to last camp, but could see no sign of them. We stayed at the old camp all night without supper or blankets; mosquitoes very bad, but when we did get to sleep we forgot all about them.
15th. Up by starlight, and started across country to try and cut their tracks and make a circuit home again. The country covered with small trees, which is much against our seeing the brutes; had it been open plains, we might have seen them a long way off; I am afraid we shall not find them. Saw plenty of turkey, but could not waste time to go after them. After a long round we sighted camp about two o'clock, having had nothing to eat since one o'clock the day before. Just as we came in view of the camp I saw McKinlay on horseback coming up the creek. I reported our loss; he did not say much, as it was no fault of ours, but I dare say that he thought the more. Bell and I rode forty or fifty miles to-day, and crossed any quantity of small creeks and water-courses. Immense tracks of country burned by the natives. We came on a deserted native encampment, where we found the bones of birds and a snake by the ashes of an old fire; there was a "whirlie" there too. I had to set to work after coming in to repair some things for the governor, and did not finish till after 11 p.m.; pleasant that, and I as sleepy as an owl. Mr. McKinlay, Bell, and I have to start in the morning, but before we start let Mr. McKinlay tell in his own words where he has been since he started from us on 12th instant, and what he saw and did down the Leichhardt.
"12th. I started out to-day to examine the country ahead, taking with me Middleton and Poole. At one mile, over plain 5°; changed course to 355°; at five and a half miles struck the river and changed course to 285°; at five-sixths of a mile struck and crossed creek from south to river; at two and five-sixths miles crossed smaller one from same direction; at a quarter of a mile further changed course to 340°; at eleven and three-quarter miles over very bad travelling country, plains subject to much inundation, to a creek running into the river, with splendid water and feed; at twelve and a half miles came to the river, with an immense sand pit opposite; appears to be within the influence of the sea, and is about 600 yards wide, and dry half across. A number of pelicans up some distance; water either brackish a little, or with some other peculiarity about it. Started, for apparently another bend of the river, on bearing of 329 One and three-quarters miles saw a lagoon, on the left, ahead; and, as the horses are tired, will bear for it and turn them out. Course 282° three-quarters of a mile; abundance of water and feed; lots of geese, ibis, ducks, and spoonbills. North three-quarters of a mile from this is the river, about 500 yards wide, treeless on the west bank, and cliffs about twenty to thirty feet high, all round an immense sweep; sandy beach opposite, within the influence of the sea; a rise and fall of four feet observed—and, at high water, a little brackish. Caught a few fish; the only thing we had for supper; would have done well had there been sufficient of them.
"13th. Started, on bearing of 330°, for a distant point like river timber, which turned out to be a small hill or ridge with spinifex; a lagoon on the left at its base; struck it at five miles. At five and a half miles changed course to 355°; at ten miles, first part over firm small stony plains, good country; then, at four miles, crossed a salty timberless creek; and then over a succession of salt swampy flats, with grassy plots intervening. Middleton's mare, "Counterfeit," knocked up, and he had to stay with her. I and Poole went on, on a bearing of 355° still; at two miles came to a mangrove creek; at two and a quarter miles the banks of the Albert River; salt arm, from half to three-quarters of a mile broad. Returned to Middleton, and started back for the Leichhardt River, on bearing of 110°, to camp as soon as we could get water and feed, to endeavour to get the mare back to camp or part of the way. On bearing of 110° for about four miles, first part over salt swamps; passed a long rocky lagoon fall of water, and half a mile long from north to south—and several other smaller ones between that and the river; mangrove banks in all the flat parts. Banks on this side treeless; country much burnt up. Top tide at least five hours earlier than when we camped last night; caught a few fish—in all about enough for one, but had to do for the three of us. Rise and fall of river somewhere about five feet.
"14th. Wind south; was very cloudy during the night and this morning; mosquitoes very troublesome during the night. Bearing homewards, 170° to 215° for the first eight or ten miles, leaving Poole and Middleton to get on to our first camp, till I bring on the party on the morrow. Got to camp myself a little after sundown, and to my disgust found all the camels astray, and Bell and Davis in search of them.
"15th. Start Hodgkinson and Maitland on to Middleton and Poole's camp, with four horses, bedding, and provisions, on such a course, 25½° west of north, as will cut their camp. No tidings of the camels. I went out and hunted about for them till noon, and just as I got to camp Bell and Davis returned, haying camped out all night after them, but saw nothing of them—the ground is so hard they leave so little impression on the ground that it is a difficult thing to trace them; however, they have got bells and hobbles on, and will at once be again sent after, with I hope more success. I am exceedingly annoyed at the detention here, more so as the animals don't do so well here as they have done. Hunted still during the afternoon for them, but without success. All spare hands will start out in search in the morning; it will be the sound of the bells or the sight of them only that will recover them, as track them we cannot in this dry country. Promised the party a treat on arriving within the influence of the sea on the north coast, so had baked some flour kept in reserve and each had a liberal allowance served out to him—that with fresh and excellent mutton, and some salt I brought back from the flats, gave all quite a treat. Sent Poole and Middleton theirs on by Hodgkinson and Maitland, which in their present half-starved condition would be a still greater treat. We would all have been in better spirits had the camels not been absent, but will hunt well for them to-morrow, and trust we may recover them."
When Bell and I arrived in camp we found Hodgkinson and Maitland away down the river with provisions to where Mr. McKinlay had left Middleton and Poole, and started Hodgkinson and Maitland to them with provisions. Fancy our delight on arrival to have three immense junks of bread put into our hands I Mr. McKinlay promised us a treat when we came within the influence of the sea on the north coast, and he kept his word, and we certainly did like to see the bread; but, strange to say, that I sat down, and so did Bell, and quite forgot the bread till we had nearly finished our roast mutton and soup. The governor had brought us some salt from the salt lagoons, and we should have been as jolly as sand-boys had we only got the camels here with us, as it is a sad damper to us now not having found them.
16th. Mr. McKinlay, Bell, and self off early after the camels, but could see nothing of them. A few bushes were bitten, so we still kept on till we arrived at the old camp, where Bell and self had the al fresco turn in, where we had a little lunch, and turned the horses out, and rested a bit for an hour; then off we started across a large plain, when we saw at the distance of half a mile the old female camel walking very quietly towards the south. We then shaped our course, and stopped her, and then we saw the others marching straight ahead. We soon collared them, and turned them on the way to camp, the governor leading. It was a mere chance we found them, for we could not track them; it was just luck, and nothing else.
17th. Started early for the lagoon, some twenty miles distant, where Middleton and Poole had been left, and where Hodgkinson and Maitland had gone with their grub on the 15th.
All the grass around us is one mass of flame, and what was beautiful grass is now nothing—a black desert. Why the natives set it on fire we don't know. It was very warm travelling through this conflagration. The hawks soaring above in hundreds, ready to pounce down on the poor frightened lizards, mice, or any other little animal that escaped from this fearful monster fire. Plenty of water on our road to-day, keeping the Leichhardt on our right all the way, the fine timber on its banks marking well its course.
18th. (Camp lix.) Everything at camp all right. We were all off together this morning. We shall soon strike the Gulf; at any rate we cannot be far off from the sea, as the tide rises some four or five feet here, and perhaps more. We had rather nasty travelling over plains, not a hill to be seen; look where you will, the grass nearly all burnt off the ground; in places the stumps were rather trying to the camels, they being as sharp as spikes. Passed several lagoons on our way, and any number of cockatoos in the trees on the banks, and very pretty they look. There is a great sameness in the country, down this river at least, as far as we have come (over 100 miles). We passed a fine creek, with plenty of water, with game, ducks, etc. A few miles further on we struck a pretty mangrove creek, and further on crossed lots of little rivulets of salt water, running inland with the tide, which was just making, and we saw it coming up quite fast. There seems to be a heavy mangrove swamp ahead of us. We camped on a small lagoon of fresh water, the water all round us being quite salt. The river too is salt. The tide here where we are, for we are within a stone's throw of the river, rises ten or twelve feet, and a ship of 800 tons could be alongside the bank, and take in or unload her cargo with ease. The river has a very pretty and picturesque reach here, and it is some 400 yards wide. Natives burning in every direction, but they are not to be seen. The water lilies are in bloom. There is also a tree with dark green foliage and beautiful yellow blossoms. We caught a small shark and several flat-heads to-day.
19th. This is our sixtieth camp, and I cut MK on a small tree. Mr. McKinlay, Middleton, Poole, Wylde, and Kirby started very early to get to the seashore, but found it quite impossible, on account of the mangrove swamps and swampy flats, for the horses were quite unable to travel; they got up to their bellies in the swamp; killed one; lost three sheep here, and we start on Wednesday.
20th. Mr. McKinlay said that any of us who liked to try on foot to get to the sea could do so, but none of us did, as we all thought if it had been practicable that he would have done it himself. Hodgkinson and Poole were sent off to the salt flats for salt, so that we shall have some for our homeward trip, to relish our hard fare, for I pose we shall have to live on horses, having only two bullocks left, and they will not last us into Port Denison. Mr. McKinlay says he thinks we are about four or five miles from the sea, and he goes by way of Port Denison home, as it is so much shorter than to return to Adelaide.
Many natives on the northern side of river today. McKinlay, by dint of great perseverance, got three of them over to this side, and they were regaled with sheep's head, and decorated with some old boots, and pieces of tartan on their heads. This constituted their sole attire, save a fish-hook stuck in their hair. These natives seem to be of the same caste as those we saw on the lakes, and during the early part of our journey, except that the language was different, they had not the front teeth knocked out, and were scarred on the face and bodies; they were not circumcised either, like our former friends. After getting all they could, they recrossed, and we saw them no more. The governor could not get any information out of them; they did not seem to be able to take their eyes off us and all the traps about the camp. They were too much engaged with their eyes to talk.
Hodgkinson and Poole came back in the afternoon with about fifty pounds of salt. The camels are getting quite lame from having to cross so much burnt stubble.
21st. Hurrah for civilization, home and beauty, good grub, and bottled ale! "We start to-day for Port Denison, where I hope we shall all arrive in safety, and shortly, or we shall eat all the horses. I dare say they are as good as the bullocks; we shall be able to report to our friends what we think of them. We retrace our steps thirty miles to the falls, where we shall cross over to the east. Just as we were starting this morning, the natives were in numbers on the other side of the river, up in the trees, giving us a farewell shout. This is all splendid country about here, the grass nearly up to our necks, with plenty of excellent water in the lagoons which abound here. I wish we had fifty more sheep, so that we could go back straight to Adelaide, from whence we started; but needs must when you know who drives.