Australian Access Federation

You are here: Home Corpora Corpus of Oz Early English 2-037 (Raw)

2-037 (Raw)

Item metadata
author,male,Sturt, Charles,34 addressee
Narrative Discourse
Word Count :
Plaint Text :
Private Written
Fitzpatrick, 1958
Document metadata

2-037-raw.txt — 21 KB

File contents

THE expedition of which we have just detailed the proceedings was so far satisfactory in its results, that it not only set at rest the hypothesis of the existence of an internal shoal sea in southern Australia, and ascertained the actual termination of the rivers it had been directed to trace, but also added very largely to our knowledge of the country considerably to the westward of former discoveries. [91] And although no land had been traversed of a fertile description of sufficient extent to invite the settler, the fact of a large river such as the Darling lying at the back of our almost intertropical settlements, gave a fresh importance to the distant interior. It was evident that this river was the chief drain for carrying off the waters falling westerly from the eastern coast, and as its course indicated a decline of country diametrically opposite to that which had been calculated upon, it became an object of great importance to ascertain its further direction. Had not the saline quality of its waters been accounted for, by the known existence of brine springs in its bed, it would have been natural to have supposed that it communicated with some mediterranean sea; but, under existing circumstances, it remained to be proved whether this river held on a due south course, or whether it ultimately turned westerly, and ran into the heart of the interior. In order fully to determine this point, it would be necessary to regain its banks, so far below, the parallel to which it had been traced as to leave no doubt of its identity; but it was difficult to fix upon a plan for approaching that central stream without suffering from the want of water, since it could hardly be expected that the Lachlan would afford such means, as it was reasonable to presume that its termination was very similar to that of the Macquarie. The attention of the government was, consequently, fixed upon the Morumbidgee, a river stated to be of considerable size and of impetuous current. Receiving its supplies from the lofty ranges behind Mount Dromedary, it promised to hold a longer course than those rivers which, depending on periodical rains alone for existence, had been found so soon to exhaust themselves. [...] 
A wish to contribute to the public good led me to undertake those journeys which have cost me so much. The same feeling actuates me in recording their results; and I have the satisfaction to know, that my path among a large and savage population was a bloodless one; and that my intercourse with them was such as to lessen the danger to future adventurers upon such hazardous enterprizes, and to give them hope where I had so often despaired. [92] Something more powerful, than human foresight or human prudence, appeared to avert the calamities and dangers with which I and my companions were so frequently threatened; and had it not been for the guidance and protection we received from the Providence of that good and all-wise Being to whose care we committed ourselves, we should, ere this, have ceased to rank among the number of His earthly creatures.
[Nov. 10, 1829] The morning on which I left Sydney a second time, under such doubtful circumstances, was perfectly serene and clear. I found myself at 5 a.m. of that delightful morning leading my horses through the gates of those barracks whose precincts I might never again enter, and whose inmates I might never again behold assembled in military array. Yet, although the chance of misfortune flashed across my mind, I was never lighter at heart, or more joyous in spirit. It appeared to me that the stillness and harmony of nature influenced my feelings on the occasion, and my mind forgot the storms of life, as nature at that moment seemed to have forgotten the tempests that sometimes agitate her. 
At a quarter before 7 the party filed through the turnpike-gate, and thus commenced its journey with the greatest regularity. I have the scene, even at this distance of time, vividly impressed upon my mind, and I have no doubt the kind friend who was near me on the occasion, bears it as strongly on his recollection. My servant Harris, who had shared my wanderings and had continued in my service for eighteen years, led the advance, with his companion Hopkinson. Nearly abreast of them the eccentric Fraser stalked along wholly lost in thought. The two former had laid aside their military habits, and had substituted the broad brimmed hat and the bushman's dress in their place, but it was impossible to guess how Fraser intended to protect himself from the heat or the damp, so little were his habiliments suited for the occasion. [93] He had his gun over his shoulder, and his double shot belt as full as it could be of shot, although there was not a chance of his expending a grain during the day. Some dogs Mr. Maxwell had kindly sent me followed close at his heels, as if they knew his interest in them, and they really seemed as if they were aware that they were about to exchange their late confinement for the freedom of the woods. The whole of these formed a kind of advanced guard. At some distance in the rear the drays moved slowly along, on one of which rode the black boy mentioned in my former volume, and behind them followed the pack animals. Robert Harris, whom I had appointed to superintend the animals generally, kept his place near the horses, and the heavy Clayton, my carpenter, brought up the rear. [...]
I had been more anxious to gain the banks of the Morumbidgee on this occasion, than I had been on a former one to gain those of the Macquarie, for although I could not hope to see the Morumbidgee all that it had been described to me, yet I felt that on its first appearance I should in some measure ground my anticipations of ultimate success. When I arrived on the banks of the Macquarie, it had almost ceased to flow, and its current was so gentle as to be scarcely perceptible. Instead, however, of a river in such a state of exhaustion, I now looked down upon a stream, whose current it would have been difficult to breast, and whose waters, foaming among rocks, or circling in eddies, gave early promise of a reckless course. It must have been somewhat below its ordinary level, and averaged a breadth of about 8o feet. Its waters were hard and transparent, and its bed was composed of mountain debris, and large fragments of rock.
We were now far beyond the acknowledged limits of the located parts of the colony, and Mr. Whaby's station was the last at which we could expect even the casual supply of milk or other trifling relief. Yet, although the prospect of so soon leaving even the outskirts of civilization, and being wholly thrown on our own resources, was so near, it never for a moment weighed upon the minds of the men. The novelty of the scenery, and the beauty of the river on which they were journeying, excited in them the liveliest anticipations of success. [94] The facility with which we had hitherto pushed forward blinded them to future difficulties, nor could there be a more cheerful spectacle than that which the camp daily afforded. The animals browzing in the distance, and the men talking over their pipes of the probable adventures they might encounter. The loads had by this time settled properly, and our provisions proved of the very best quality, so that no possible improvement could have been made for the better.
One of the blacks being anxious to get an opossum out of a dead tree, every branch of which was hollow, asked for a tomahawk, with which he cut a hole in the trunk above where he thought the animal lay concealed. He found however, that he had cut too low, and that it had run higher up. This made it necessary to smoke it out; he accordingly got some dry grass, and having kindled a fire, stuffed it into the hole he had cut. A raging fire soon kindled in the tree, where the draft was great, and dense columns of smoke issued from the end of each branch as thick as that from the chimney of a steam engine. The shell of the tree was so thin that I thought it would soon be burnt through, and that the tree would fall; but the black had no such fears, and, ascending to the highest branch, he watched anxiously for the poor little wretch he had thus surrounded with dangers and devoted to destruction; and no sooner did it appear, half singed and half roasted, than he seized upon it and threw it down to us with an air of triumph. The effect of the scene in so lonely a forest, was very fine. The roaring of the fire in the tree, the fearless attitude of the savage, and the associations which his colour and appearance, enveloped as he was in smoke, called up, were singular, and still dwell on my recollection. We had not long left the tree, when it fell with a tremendous crash, and was, when we next passed that way, a mere heap of ashes. [...]
[Dec. 10, 1829] The Morumbidgee appeared, on examination, to have increased in breadth, and continued to rise gradually. It is certainly a noble stream, very different from those I had already traced to their termination. The old black informed me that there was another large river flowing to the southward of west, to which the Morumbidgee was as a creek, and that we could gain it in four days. [95] He stated that its waters were good, but that its banks were not peopled. That such a feature existed where he laid it down,. I thought extremely probable, because it was only natural to expect that other streams descended from the mountains in the S.E. of the island, as well as that on which we were travelling. The question was, whether either of them held on an uninterrupted course to some reservoir, or whether they fell short of the coast and exhausted themselves in marshes. Considering the concave direction of the mountains to the S.E. I even at this time hoped that the rivers falling into the interior would unite sooner or later, and contribute to the formation of an important and navigable stream. Of the fate of the Morumbidgee, the old black could give no account. It seemed probable, therefore, that we were far from its termination [...]
[Dec. 16, 1829] We journeyed due west over plains of great extent. The soil upon them was soft and yielding, in some places being a kind of light earth covered with rhagodiae, in others a red tenacious clay, overrun by the misembrianthemum and salsolae. Nothing could exceed the apparent barrenness of these plains, or the cheerlessness of the landscape. We had left all high lands behind us, and were now on an extensive plain, bounded in the distance by low trees or by dark lines of cypresses. The lofty gum-trees on the river followed its windings, and, as we opened the points, they appeared, from the peculiar effect of a mirage, as bold promontories jutting into the ocean, having literally the blue tint of distance. This mirage floated in a light tremulous vapour on the ground, and not only deceived us with regard to the extent of the plains, and the appearance of objects, but hid the trees, in fact, from our view altogether; so that, in moving, as we imagined, upon the very point or angle of the river, we found as we neared it, that the trees stretched much further into the plain, and were obliged to alter our course to round them. The heated state of the atmosphere, and the sandy nature of the country could alone have caused a mirage so striking in its effects, as this, - exceeding considerably similar appearances noticed during the first expedition. [96] The travelling was so heavy, that I was obliged to make a short day's journey, and when we struck the river for the purpose of halting, it had fallen off very much in appearance, and was evidently much contracted, with low banks and a sandy bed. It was difficult to account for this sudden change, but when I gazed on the extent of level country before me, I began to dread that this hitherto beautiful stream would ultimately disappoint us. [...]
[17 Dec. 1829] Our route during the day, was over as melancholy a tract as ever was travelled. The plains to the N. and N.W. bounded the horizon; not a tree of any kind was visible upon them. It was equally open to the S, and it appeared as if the river was decoying us into a desert, there to leave us in difficulty and in distress. The very mirage had the effect of boundlessness in it, by blending objects in one general hue; or, playing on the ground, it cheated us with an appearance of water, and on arriving at the spot, we found a continuation of the same scorching plain, over which we were moving, instead of the stream we had hoped for.
The cattle about this time began to suffer, and, anxious as I was to push on, I was obliged to shorten my journeys, according to circumstances. Amidst the desolation around us, the river kept alive our hopes. If it traversed deserts, it might reach fertile lands, and it was to the issue of the journey that we had to look for success. It here, however, evidently overflowed its banks more extensively than heretofore, and broad belts of reeds were visible on either side of it, on which the animals exclusively subsisted.
[18 Dec. 1829] It is impossible for me to describe the kind of country we were now traversing, or the dreariness of the view it presented. The plains were still open to the horizon, but here and there a stunted gum-tree, or a gloomy cypress, seemed placed by nature as mourners over the surrounding desolation. Neither beast nor bird inhabited these lonely and inhospitable regions, over which the silence of the grave seemed to reign. We had not, for days past, seen a blade of grass, so that the animals could not have been in very good condition. We pushed on, however, sixteen miles, in consequence of the coolness of the weather. [97]
We observed little change in the river in that distance, excepting that it had taken up a muddy bottom, and lost all the sand that used to fill it. The soil and productions on the plains continued unchanged in every respect. From this time to the 22nd, the country presented the same aspect Occasional groups of cypress shewed themselves on narrow sandy ridges, or partial brushes extended from the river, consisting chiefly of the acacia pendula, the stenochylus, and the nut I have already noticed. The soil on which they grew was, if possible, worse than that of the barren plain which we were traversing; and their colour and drooping state rendered the desolate landscape still more dreary.
[26th Dec. 1829] We started on the 26th, on a course somewhat to the N.W, and traversed plains of the same wearisome description as those I have already described. The wheels of the drays sank up to their axle-trees, and the horses above their fetlocks at every step. The fields of polygonum spread on every side of us like a dark sea, and the only green object within range of our vision was the river line of trees. In several instances, the force of both teams was put to one dray, to extricate it from the bed into which it had sunk, and the labour was considerably increased from, the nature of the weather. The wind was blowing as if through a furnace, from the N.N.E, abd the dust was flying in clouds, so as to render it almost suffocating to remain exposed to it. This was the only occasion upon which we felt the hot winds in the interior. We were, about noon, endeavouring to gain a point of a wood at which I expected to come upon the river again, but it was impossible for the teams to reach it without assistance. I therefore sent M'Leay forward, with orders to unload the pack animals as soon as he should make the river, and send them back to help the teams. He had scarcely been separated from me 20 minutes, when one of the men came galloping back to inform me that no river was to be found - that the country beyond the wood was covered with reeds as far as the eye could reach, and that Mr. M'Leay had sent him back for instructions. This intelligence stunned me for a moment or two, and I am sure its effect upon the men was very great. They had unexpectedly arrived at a part of the interior similar to one they had held in dread, and conjured up a thousand difficulties and privations. [98] I desired the man to recall Mr. M'Leay; and, after gaining the wood, moved outside of it at right angles to my former course, and reached the river, after a day of severe toil and exposure, at half-past five. The country, indeed, bore every resemblance to that around the marshes of the Macquarie, but I was too weary to make any further effort: indeed it was too late for me to undertake anything until morning.
The circumstances In which we were so unexpectedly placed, occupied my mind so fully that I could not sleep; and I awaited the return of light with the utmost anxiety. If we were indeed on the outskirts of marshes similar to those I had on a former occasion found so much difficulty in examining, I foresaw that in endeavouring to move round them I should recede from water, and place the expedition in jeopardy, probably, without gaining any determinate point, as it would be necessary for me to advance slowly and with caution. Our provisions, however, being calculated to last only to a certain period, I was equally reluctant to delay our operations. My course was, therefore, to be regulated by the appearance of the country and of the river, which I purposed examining with the earliest dawn. If the latter should be found to run into a region of reeds, a boat would be necessary to enable me to ascertain its direction; but, if ultimately it should be discovered to exhaust itself, we should have to strike into the interior on a N.W. course, in search of the Darling.
[28 Dec. 1829] M'Leay and I started at an early hour on an excursion of deeper interest than any we had as yet undertaken; to examine the reeds, not only for the purpose of ascertaining their extent, if possible, but also to guide us in our future measures. We rode for some miles along the river side, but observed in it no signs, either of increase or of exhaustion. Its waters, though turbid, were deep, and its current still rapid. Its banks, too, were lofty, and showed no. evidence of decreasing in height, so as to occasion an overflow of them, as had been the case with the Macquarie. We got among vast bodies of reeds, but the plains of the interior were visible beyond them. We were evidently in a hollow, and the decline of country was plainly to the southward of west. [99] Everything tended to strengthen my conviction that we were still far from the termination of the river. The character it had borne throughout, and its appearance now so far to the westward, gave me the most lively hopes that it would make good its way through the vast level into which it fell, and that its termination would accord with its promise. Besides, I daily anticipated its junction with some stream of equal, if not of greater magnitude from the S.E. I was aware that my resolves must be instant, decisive, and immediately acted upon, as on firmness and promptitude at this crisis the success of the expedition depended. About noon I checked my horse, and rather to the surprise of my companion, intimated to him my intention of returning to the camp. He naturally asked what I purposed doing. I told him it appeared to me more than probable that the Morumbidgee would hold good its course to some fixed point, now that it had reached a meridian beyond the known rivers of the interior. It was certain, from the denseness of the reeds, and the breadth of the belts, that the teams could not be brought any farther, and that, taking every thing into consideration, I had resolved on a bold and desperate measure, that of building the whale-boat, and sending home the drays. Our appearance in camp so suddenly, surprised the men not more than the orders I gave. They all thought I had struck on some remarkable change of country, and were anxious to know my ultimate views. It was not my intention however, immediately to satisfy their curiosity. I had to study their characters as long as I could, in order to select those best qualified to accompany me on the desperate adventure for which I was preparing.
The attention both of M'Leay, and myself, was turned to the hasty building of the whale-boat. A shed was erected, and every necessary preparation made, and although Clayton had the keel of the small boat already laid down, and some planks prepared, she was abandoned for the present, and, after four days more of arduous labour, the whale-boat was painted and in the water. From her dimensions, it appeared to me impossible that she would hold all our provisions and stores, for her after-part had been fitted up as an armoury, which took away considerably from her capacity of stowage. [100] The small boat would still, therefore, be necessary, and she was accordingly re-laid, for half the dimensions of the large boat, and in three days was alongside her consort in the river. Thus, in seven days we had put together a boat, twenty-seven feet in length, had felled a tree from the forest, with which we had built a second of half the size, had painted both, and had them at a temporary wharf ready for loading. Such would not have been the case had not our hearts been in the work, as the weather was close and sultry, and we found it a task of extreme labour. In the intervals between the hours of work, I prepared my despatches for the Governor, and when they were closed, it only remained for me to select six hands, the number I intended should accompany me down the river, and to load the boats, ere we should once more proceed in the further obedience of our instructions [...]