Charles Sturt.

Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 online

. (page 10 of 18)
Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 10 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

sweeps, the Murray covers treble the ground, at a moderate computation,
that it would occupy in a direct course; and we had a practical
instance of the truth of this in the course of the afternoon, when we
found our friends ready to introduce us to a large assemblage of
natives. On asking them how they had passed us, they pointed directly
east to the spot at which we had parted. By crossing from one angle of
the river to the other, they had performed in little more than half a
day, a journey which it had taken us two long days to accomplish. After
our usual distribution of presents, we pushed away from the bank;
though not without some difficulty, in consequence of the obstinacy of
the natives in wishing to detain us; and I was exceedingly vexed to
find, while we were yet in sight of them, that we had proceeded down a
shallow channel on one side of an island instead of the further and
deeper one; so that the boat ultimately grounded. A crowd of the blacks
rushed into the water, and surrounded us on every side. Some came to
assist us, others, under a pretence of assisting, pulled against us,
and I was at length obliged to repel them by threats. A good many of
them were very much disposed to annoy us, and, after the boat was in
deep water, some of them became quite infuriated, because we would not
return. Had we been within distance, they would assuredly have hurled
their spears at us. Thirteen of them followed us to our resting place.
They kept rather apart from us, and kindled their fire in a little
hollow about fifty paces to our right; nor did they venture to approach
the tents unless we called to them, so that by their quiet and
unobtrusive conduct they made up in some measure for the unruly
proceedings of others of their tribe.

We had now arrived at a point at which I hoped to gain some information
from the natives, respecting the sea. It was to no purpose, however,
that I questioned these stupid people. They understood perfectly, by my
pointing to the sky, and by other signs, that I was inquiring about
large waters, but they could not, or would not, give any information on
the subject.


As we proceeded down the river, its current became weaker, and its
channel somewhat deeper. Our attention was called to a remarkable
change in the geology of the country, as well as to an apparent
alteration in the natural productions. The cliffs of sand and clay
ceased, and were succeeded by a fossil formation of the most singular
description. At first, it did not exceed a foot in height above the
water, but it gradually rose, like an inclined plane, and resembled in
colour, and in appearance, the skulls of men piled one upon the other.
The constant rippling of the water against the rock had washed out the
softer parts, and made hollows and cavities, that gave the whole
formation the precise appearance of a catacomb. On examination, we
discovered it to be a compact bed of shells, composed of a common
description of marine shell from two to three inches in length,
apparently a species of turritella.


At about nine miles from the commencement of this formation, it rose to
the height of more than 150 feet; the country became undulating, and a
partial change took place in its vegetation. We stopped at an early
hour, to examine some cliffs, which rising perpendicularly from the
water, were different in character and substance from any we had as yet
seen. They approached a dirty yellow-ochre in colour, that became
brighter in hue as it rose, and, instead of being perforated, were
compact and hard. The waters of the river had, however, made horizontal
lines upon their fronts, which distinctly marked the rise and fall of
the river, as the strength or depth of the grooves distinctly indicated
the levels it generally kept. It did not appear from these lines, that
the floods ever rose more than four feet above the then level of the
stream, or that they continued for any length of time. On breaking off
pieces of the rock, we ascertained that it was composed of one solid
mass of sea-shells, of various kinds, of which the species first
mentioned formed the lowest part.

It rained a good deal during the night, but the morning turned out
remarkably fine. The day was pleasant, for however inconvenient in some
respects the frequent showers had been, they had cooled the air, and
consequently prevented our feeling the heat so much as we should
otherwise have done, in the close and narrow glen we had now entered.

Among the natives who followed us from the last tribe, there was an old
man, who took an uncommon fancy or attachment to Hopkinson, and who
promised, when we separated, to join us again in the course of the day.


As we proceeded down the river we found that it was confined in a glen,
whose extreme breadth was not more than half-a-mile. The hills that
rose on either side of it were of pretty equal height. The alluvial
flats were extremely small, and the boldest cliffs separated them from
each other. The flats were lightly wooded, and were for the most part
covered with reeds or polygonum. They were not much elevated above the
waters of the river, and had every appearance of being frequently
inundated. At noon we pulled up to dine, upon the left bank, under some
hills, which were from 200 to 250 feet in height. While the men were
preparing our tea, (for we had only that to boil,) M'Leay and I
ascended the hills. The brush was so thick upon them, that we could not
obtain a view of the distant interior. Their summits were covered with
oyster-shells, in such abundance as entirely to preclude the idea of
their having been brought to such a position by the natives. They were
in every stage of petrification.

In the course of the afternoon the old man joined us, and got into the
boat. As far as we could understand from his signs, we were at no great
distance from some remarkable change or other. The river had been
making to the N.W., from the commencement of the fossil formation, and
it appeared as if it was inclined to keep that direction. The old man
pointed to the N.W., and then placed his hand on the side of his head
to indicate, as I understood him, that we should sleep to the N.W. of
where we then were; but his second motion was not so intelligible, for
he pointed due south, as if to indicate that such would be our future
course; and he concluded his information, such as it was, by describing
the roaring of the sea, and the height of the waves. It was evident
this old man had been upon the coast, and we were therefore highly
delighted at the prospect thus held out to us of reaching it.


A little below the hills under which we had stopped, the country again
assumed a level. A line of cliffs, of from two to three hundred feet in
height, flanked the river, first on one side and then on the other,
varying in length from a quarter of a mile to a mile. They rose
perpendicularly from the water, and were of a bright yellow colour,
rendered still more vivid occasionally by the sun shining full upon
them. The summits of these cliffs were as even as if they had been
built by an architect; and from their very edge, the country back from
the stream was of an uniform level, and was partly plain, and partly
clothed by brush. The soil upon this plateau, or table land, was sandy,
and it was as barren and unproductive as the worst of the country we
had passed through. On the other hand, the alluvial flats on the river
increased in size, and were less subject to flood; and the river lost
much of its sandy bed, and its current was greatly diminished in


It blew so fresh, during the greater part of the day, from the
westward, that we had great difficulty in pulling against the breeze.
The determined N.W. course the river kept, made me doubt the
correctness of the story of the little old black; yet there was an
openness of manner about him, and a clearness of description, that did
not appear like fabrication. He pointed to the S.S.W. when he left us,
as the direction in which he would again join us, thus confirming,
without any apparent intention, what he had stated with regard to the
southerly course the river was about to take. Among the natives who
were with him, there was another man of very different manners and
appearance. Our friend was small in stature, had piercing grey eyes,
and was as quick as lightning in his movements The other was tall, and
grey headed; anxious, yet unobtrusive; and confident, without the least
mixture of boldness. The study of the human character on many occasions
similar to this, during our intercourse with these people, rude and
uncivilized as they were, was not only pleasing, but instructive. We
found that the individuals of a tribe partook of one general character,
and that the whole of the tribe were either decidedly quiet, or as
decidedly disorderly. The whole of the blacks left us when we started,
but we had not gone very far, when the individual I have described
brought his family, consisting of about fifteen persons. We were going
down a part of the river in which there was a very slight fall. The
natives were posted under some blue-gum trees, upon the right bank, and
there was a broad shoal of sand immediately to our left. They walked
over to this shoal, to receive some little presents, but did not follow
when we continued our journey.


During the whole of the day the river ran to the N.W. We stopped for
the night under some cliffs, similar to those we had already passed,
but somewhat higher. From their summit, mountains were visible to the
N.W., but at a great distance from us. I doubted not that they were at
the head of the southern gulfs; or of one of them, at all events. Our
observations placed us in 34 degrees 08 minutes south of lat., and in
long. 139 degrees 41 minutes 15 seconds; we were consequently nearly
seventy miles from Spencer's Gulf, in a direct line, and I should have
given that as the distance the hills appeared to be from us. They bore
as follows: -

Lofty round mountain, S. 127 degrees W.
Mountain scarcely visible, S. 128 degrees W.
Northern extremity of a broken range, S. 102 degrees W.
Southern extremity scarcely visible, S. 58 degrees W.

The country between the river and these ranges appeared to be very low,
and darkly wooded: that to the N.E. was more open. The summit of the
cliff did not form any table-land, but it dipped almost immediately to
the westward, and the country, although, as I have already remarked, it
was depressed, and undulated.

I walked to some distance from the river, across a valley, and started
several kangaroos; but I was quite alone, and could not, therefore,
secure one of them. Had the dogs been near, we should have had a fine
feast. The soil of the interior still continued sandy, but there was a
kind of short grass mixed with the salsolaceous plants upon it, that
indicated, as I thought, a change for the better in the vegetation; and
the circumstance of there being kangaroos in the valleys to the
westward was also a favourable sign.


Beneath the cliffs hereabouts, the river was extremely broad and deep.
My servant thought it a good place for fishing and accordingly set a
night-line, one end of which he fastened to the bough of a tree. During
the night, being on guard, he saw a small tortoise floating on the
water, so near that he struck it a violent blow with a large stick,
upon which it dived: to his surprise, however, in the morning, he found
that it had taken the bait, and was fast to the line. On examining it,
the shell proved to be cracked, so that the blow must have been a
severe one. It was the largest we had ever seen, and made an excellent
dish. The flesh was beautifully white, nor could anything, especially
under our circumstances, have been more tempting than it was when
cooked; yet M'Leay would not partake of it.

The prevailing wind was, at this time, from the S.W. It blew heavily
all day, but moderated towards the evening.

I was very anxious, at starting on the 3rd, as to the course the river
would take, since it would prove whether the little old man had played
us false or not. From the cliffs under which we had slept, it held a
direct N.W. course for two or three miles. It then turned suddenly to
the S.E., and gradually came round to E.N.E., so that after two hours
pulling, we found ourselves just opposite to the spot from which we had
started, the neck of land that separated the channels not being more
than 200 yards across. I have before noticed a bend similar to this,
which the Murray makes, a little above the junction of the supposed
Darling with it.


It may appear strange to some of my readers, that I should have laid
down the windings of the river so minutely. It may therefore be
necessary for me to state that every bend of it was laid down by
compass, and that the bearings of the angles as they opened were
regularly marked by me, so that not a single winding or curve of the
Murray is omitted in the large chart. The length of some of the reaches
may be erroneous, but their direction is strictly correct. I always had
a sheet of paper and the compass before me, and not only marked down
the river line, but also the description of country nearest; its most
minute changes, its cliffs, its flats, the kind of country back from
it, its lagoons, the places at which the tribes assembled, its
junctions, tributaries and creeks, together with our several positions,
were all regularly noted, so that on our return up the river we had no
difficulty in ascertaining upon what part of it we were, by a reference
to the chart; and it proved of infinite service to us, since we were
enabled to judge of our distance from our several camps, as we gained
them day by day with the current against us; and we should often have
stopped short of them, weary and exhausted, had we not known that two
or three reaches more would terminate our labour for the day.


From the spot last spoken of, the river held on a due south course for
the remainder of the day; and at the same time changed its character.
It lost its sandy bed and its current together, and became deep, still,
and turbid, with a muddy bottom. It increased considerably in breadth,
and stretched away before us in magnificent reaches of from three to
six miles in length. The cliffs under which we passed towered above us,
like maritime cliffs, and the water dashed against their base like the
waves of the sea. They became brighter and brighter in colour, looking
like dead gold in the sun's rays; and formed an unbroken wall of a mile
or two in length. The natives on their summits showed as small as
crows; and the cockatoos, the eagles, and other birds, were as specks
above us; the former made the valley reverberate with their harsh and
discordant notes. The reader may form some idea of the height of these
cliffs, when informed that the king of the feathered race made them his
sanctuary. They were continuous on both sides of the river, but
retired, more or less, from it, according to the extent of the alluvial
flats. The river held a serpentine course down the valley through which
it passed, striking the precipices alternately on each side.

The soil on the flats was better, and less mixed with sand than it had
been, but the flats were generally covered with reeds, though certainly
not wholly subject to flood at any time. The polygonum still prevailed
upon them in places, and the blue-gum tree alone occupied their
outskirts. From the several elevations we ascended, the country to the
N.W. appeared undulating and well wooded; that to the eastward, seemed
to be brushy and low. Certainly there was a great difference in the
country, both to the eastward and to the westward. We had frequent
views of the mountains we had seen, or, I should have said, of a
continuation of them. They bore nearly west from us at a very great
distance all day.

We fell in with several tribes, but did not see our old friend,
although, from the inquiries we made, it was evident he was well known
among them. It would disgust my readers were I to describe the
miserable state of disease and infirmity to which these tribes were
reduced. Leprosy of the most loathsome description, the most violent
cutaneous eruptions, and glandular affections, absolutely raged through
the whole of them; yet we could not escape from the persecuting
examination of our persons that curiosity prompted them in some measure
to insist upon.


The old man, whose information had proved strictly correct, joined us
again on the 4th, and his joy at being received into the boat was
unbounded, as well as the pleasure he expressed at again meeting
Hopkinson. He had been on a long journey, it would appear, for he had
not then reached his tribe. As we approached their haunt, he landed and
preceded us to collect them. We were, of course, more than usually
liberal to so old a friend, and we were really sorry to part with him.

Soon after leaving his tribe, which occupied the left bank of the
river, and was very weak in point of numbers, we fell in with a very
strong tribe upon the right bank. They numbered 211 in all. We lay off
the bank, in order to escape their importunities; a measure that by no
means satisfied them. The women appeared to be very prolific; but, as a
race, these people are not to be compared with the natives of the
mountains, or of the upper branches of the Murray.

We passed some beautiful scenery in the course of the day. The river
preserved a direct southerly course, and could not in any place have
been less than 400 yards in breadth. The cliffs still continued, and
varied perpetually in form; at one time presenting a perpendicular wall
to the view, at others, they overhung the stream, in huge fragments.
All were composed of a mass of shells of various kinds; a fact which
will call for further observation and remark.


Many circumstances at this time tended to confirm our hopes that the
sea could not be very far from us, or that we should not be long in
gaining it. Some sea-gulls flew over our heads, at which Fraser was
about to shoot, had I not prevented him, for I hailed them as the
messengers of glad tidings, and thought they ill deserved such a fate.
It blew very hard from the S.W., during the whole of the day, and we
found it extremely laborious pulling against the heavy and short sea
that came rolling up the broad and open reaches of the Murray at this

Four of the blacks, from the last tribe, followed us, and slept at the
fires; but they were suspicious and timid, and appeared to be very glad
when morning dawned. Our fires were always so much larger than those
made by themselves, that, they fancied, perhaps, we were going to roast
them. Our dogs, likewise, gave them great uneasiness; for although so
fond of the native brute, they feared ours, from their size. We
generally tied them to the boat, therefore, to prevent a recurrence of
theft, so that they were not altogether useless.


Improvement in the aspect of the country - Increase of the river - Strong
westerly gales - Chronometer broken - A healthier tribe of
natives - Termination of the Murray in a large lake - Its extent and
environs - Passage across it - Hostile appearance of the
natives - Beautiful scenery - Channel from the lake to the sea at
Encounter Bay - Reach the beach - Large flocks of water fowl - Curious
refraction - State of provisions - Embarrassing situation - Inspection of
the channel to the ocean - Weak condition of the men - Difficulties of
the return.


It now appeared that the Murray had taken a permanent southerly course;
indeed, it might strictly be said that it ran away to the south. As we
proceeded down it, the valley expanded to the width of two miles; the
alluvial flats became proportionably larger; and a small lake generally
occupied their centre. They were extensively covered with reeds and
grass, for which reason, notwithstanding that they were little elevated
above the level of the stream, I do not think they are subject to
overflow. Parts of them may be laid under water, but certainly not the
whole. The rains at the head of the Murray, and its tributaries, must
be unusually severe to prolong their effects to this distant region,
and the flats bordering it appear, by successive depositions, to have
only just gained a height above the further influence of the floods.
Should this prove to be the case, the valley may be decidedly laid down
as a most desirable spot, whether we regard the richness of its soil,
its rock formation, its locality, or the extreme facility of water
communication along it. It must not, however, be forgotten or
concealed, that the summits of the cliffs by which the valley is
enclosed, have not a corresponding soil. On the contrary, many of the
productions common to the plains of the interior still existed upon
them, and they were decidedly barren; but as we measured the reaches of
the river, the cliffs ceased, and gave place to undulating hills, that
were very different in appearance from the country we had previously
noted down. It would have been impossible for the most tasteful
individual to have laid out pleasure ground to more advantage, than
Nature had done in planting and disposing the various groups of trees
along the spine, and upon the sides of the elevations that confined the
river, and bounded the low ground that intervened between it and their
base. Still, however, the soil upon these elevations was sandy, and
coarse, but the large oat-grass was abundant upon them, which yielded
pasture at least as good as that in the broken country between
Underaliga and Morumbidgee.

We had now gained a distance of at least sixty miles from that angle of
the Murray at which it reaches its extreme west. The general aspect of
the country to our right was beautiful, and several valleys branched
away into the interior upon that side which had a most promising
appearance, and seemed to abound with kangaroos, as the traces of them
were numerous, and the dogs succeeded in killing one, which, to our
great mortification, we could not find.

While, however, the country to the westward had so much to recommend
it, the hills to our left became extremely bare. It was evident that
the right was the sheltered side of the valley. The few trees on the
opposite side bent over to the N.E., as if under the influence of some
prevailing wind.


We experienced at this time a succession of gales from the S.W.,
against which we, on several occasions, found it useless to contend:
the waves on the river being heavy and short; and the boat, driving her
prow into them, sent the spray over us and soon wet us through. Indeed,
it is difficult for the reader to imagine the heavy swell that rolled
up the river, which had increased in breadth to the third of a mile,
and in the length of its reaches to eight or ten. I was satisfied that
we were not only navigating this river at a particularly stormy,
perhaps THE stormy, season; but also, that the influence of the S.W.
wind is felt even as far in the interior as to the supposed Darling; in
consequence of the uniform build of the huts, and the circumstance of
their not only facing the N.E., but also being almost invariably
erected under the lee of some bush.

The weather, under the influence of the wind we experienced, was cool
and pleasant, although the thermometer stood at a medium height of 86
degrees; but we found it very distressing to pull against the heavy
breezes that swept up the valley, and bent the reeds so as almost to
make them kiss the stream.

We communicated on the 6th and 7th with several large tribes of
natives, whose manners were on the whole quiet and inoffensive. They
distinctly informed us, that we were fast approaching the sea, and,
from what I could understand, we were nearer to it than the coast line
of Encounter Bay made us. We had placed sticks to ascertain if there
was any rise or fall of tide, but the troubled state of the river
prevented our experiments from being satisfactory. By selecting a
place, however, that was sheltered from the effects of the wind, we
ascertained that there was an apparent rise of about eight inches.


It blew a heavy gale during the whole of the 7th; and we laboured in
vain at the oar. The gusts that swept the bosom of the water, and the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 10 of 18)