Charles Sturt.

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

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and, as evening had closed in, lost no time in pitching the tents.


While the men were thus employed, I took Fraser with me, and,
accompanied by M'Leay, crossed the sand-hummocks behind us, and
descended to the sea-shore. I found that we had struck the south coast
deep in the bight of Encounter Bay. We had no time for examination, but
returned immediately to the camp, as I intended to give the men an
opportunity to go to the beach. They accordingly went and bathed, and
returned not only highly delighted at this little act of good nature on
my part, but loaded with cockles, a bed of which they had managed to
find among the sand. Clayton had tied one end of his shirt up, and
brought a bag full, and amused himself with boiling cockles all night

If I had previously any hopes of being enabled ultimately to push the
boat over the flats that were before us, a view of the channel at low
water, convinced me of the impracticability of any further attempt. The
water was so low that every shoal was exposed, and many stretched
directly from one side of the channel to the other; and, but for the
treacherous nature of the sand-banks, it would not have been difficult
to have walked over dry footed to the opposite side of it. The channel
stretched away to the E.S.E., to a distance of seven or eight miles,
when it appeared to turn south under a small sand-hill, upon which the
rays of the sun fell, as it was sinking behind us.


There was an innumerable flock of wild-fowl arranged in rows along the
sides of the pools left by the tide, and we were again amused by the
singular effect of the refraction upon them, and the grotesque and
distorted forms they exhibited. Swans, pelicans, ducks, and geese, were
mingled together, and, according to their distance from us, presented
different appearances. Some were exceedingly tall and thin, others were
unnaturally broad. Some appeared reversed, or as if they were standing
on their heads, and the slightest motion, particularly the flapping of
their wings, produced a most ridiculous effect. No doubt, the situation
and the state of the atmosphere were favourable to the effect I have
described. The day had been fine, the evening was beautiful, - but it
was the rarefaction of the air immediately playing on the ground, and
not the haze at sunset that caused what I have noticed. It is distinct
from mirage, although it is difficult to point out the difference. The
one, however, distorts, the other conceals objects, and gives them a
false distance. The one is clear, the other is cloudy. The one raises
objects above their true position, the other does not. The one plays
about, the other is steady; but I cannot hope to give a proper idea
either of mirage or refraction so satisfactorily as I could wish. Many
travellers have dwelt upon their effects, particularly upon those of
the former, but few have attempted to account for them.

Our situation was one of peculiar excitement and interest. To our right
the thunder of the heavy surf, that almost shook the ground beneath us,
broke with increasing roar upon our ears; to our left the voice of the
natives echoed through the brush, and the size of their fires at the
extremity of the channel, seemed to indicate the alarm our appearance
had occasioned.


While the men were enjoying their cockles, a large kettle of which they
had boiled, M'Leay and I were anxiously employed in examining the state
of our provisions, and in ascertaining what still remained. Flour and
tea were the only articles we had left, so that the task was not a
difficult one. It appeared that we had not sufficient of either to last
us to Pondebadgery, at which place we expected to find supplies; and,
taking every thing into consideration, our circumstances were really

The first view of Encounter Bay had convinced me that no vessel would
ever venture into it at a season when the S.W. winds prevailed. It was
impossible that we could remain upon the coast in expectation of the
relief that I doubted not had been hurried off for us; since
disappointment would have sealed our fate at once. In the deep bight in
which we were, I could not hope that any vessel would approach
sufficiently near to be seen by us. Our only chance of attracting
notice would have been by crossing the Ranges to the Gulf St. Vincent,
but the men had not strength to walk, and I hesitated to divide my
party in the presence of a determined and numerous enemy, who closely
watched our motions. Setting aside the generous feelings that had
prompted M'Leay to participate in every danger with me, and who I am
persuaded would have deeply felt a separation, my anxiety not only on
his account, but on account of the men I might leave in charge of the
boat, made me averse to this measure; the chance of any misfortune to
them involving in it the destruction of our boat and the loss of our
provisions. My anxiety of mind would have rendered me unfit for
exertion; yet so desirous was I of examining the ranges and the country
at their base, that I should, had our passage to the salt water been
uninterrupted, have determined on coasting it homewards, or of steering
for Launceston; and most assuredly, with my present experience, I would
rather incur the hazards of so desperate a step, than contend against
all the evils that beset us on out homeward journey. And the reader may
rest assured, I was as much without hopes of our eventual safety, as I
was astonished, at the close of our labours, to find that they had
terminated so happily.


Further exertion on the part of the men being out of the question, I
determined to remain no longer on the coast than to enable me to trace
the channel to its actual junction with the sea, and to ascertain the
features of the coast at that important point. I was reluctant to
exhaust the strength of the men in dragging the boat over the
numberless flats that were before us, and made up my mind to walk along
the shore until I should gain the outlet. I at length arranged that
M'Leay, I, and Fraser, should start on this excursion, at the earliest
dawn, leaving Harris and Hopkinson in charge of the camp; for as we
were to go towards the position of the natives, I thought it improbable
they would attack the camp without my being instantly aware of it.

We had, as I have said, intended starting at the earliest dawn, but the
night was so clear and refreshing, and the moon so bright that we
determined to avail ourselves of both, and accordingly left the tents
at 3 a.m. I directed Harris to strike them at 8, and to have every
thing in readiness for our departure at that hour. We then commenced
our excursion, and I led my companions rapidly along the shore of
Encounter Bay, after crossing the sand-hills about a mile below the
camp. After a hasty and distressing walk of about seven miles, we found
that the sand-hills terminated, and a low beach spread before us. The
day was just breaking, and at the distance of a mile from us we saw the
sand-hill I have already had occasion to notice, and at about a quarter
of a mile from its base, we were checked by the channel; which, as I
rightly conjectured, being stopped in its easterly course by some
rising ground, the tongue of land on which the blacks were posted,
suddenly turns south, and, striking this sand-hill, immediately enters
the sea; and we noticed, in the bight under the rising ground, that the
natives had lit a chain of small fires. This was, most probably, a
detached party watching our movements, as they could, from where they
were posted, see our camp.

At the time we arrived at the end of the channel, the tide had turned,
and was again setting in. The entrance appeared to me to be somewhat
less than a quarter of a mile in breadth. Under the sand-hill on the
off side, the water is deep and the current strong. No doubt, at high
tide, a part of the low beach we had traversed is covered. The mouth of
the channel is defended by a double line of breakers, amidst which, it
would be dangerous to venture, except in calm and summer weather; and
the line of foam is unbroken from one end of Encounter Bay to the
other. Thus were our fears of the impracticability and inutility of the
channel of communication between the lake and the ocean confirmed.


I would fain have lingered on my way, to examine, as far as
circumstances would permit, the beautiful country between the lake and
the ranges; and it was with heart-felt sorrow that I yielded to
necessity. My men were indeed very weak from poverty of diet and from
great bodily fatigue. Hopkinson, Mulholland, and Macnamee were
miserably reduced. The two former, especially, had exerted themselves
beyond their strength, and although I am confident they would have
obeyed my orders to the last, I did not feel myself justified,
considering the gigantic task we had before us, to impose additional
labour upon them.

It will be borne in mind that our difficulties were just about to
commence, when those of most other travellers have ceased; and that
instead of being assisted by the stream whose course we had followed,
we had now to contend against the united waters of the eastern ranges,
with diminished strength, and, in some measure, with disappointed

Under the most favourable circumstances, it was improbable that the men
would be enabled to pull for many days longer in succession; since they
had not rested upon their oars for a single day, if I except our
passage across the lake, from the moment when we started from the
depot; nor was it possible for me to buoy them up with the hope even of
a momentary cessation from labour. We had calculated the time to which
our supply of provisions would last under the most favourable
circumstances, and it was only in the event of our pulling up against
the current, day after day, the same distance we had compassed with the
current in our favour, that we could hope they would last us as long as
we continued in the Murray. But in the event of floods, or any
unforeseen delay, in was impossible to calculate at what moment we
might be driven to extremity.

Independent of these casualties, there were other circumstances of
peril to be taken into consideration. As I have already observed, I
foresaw great danger in again running through the natives. I had every
reason to believe that many of the tribes with which we had
communicated on apparently friendly terms, regretted having allowed us
to pass unmolested; nor was I at all satisfied as to the treatment we
might receive from them, when unattended by the envoys who had once or
twice controlled their fury. Our best security, therefore, against the
attacks of the natives was celerity of movement; and the men themselves
seemed to be perfectly aware of the consequences of delay. Our
provisions, moreover, being calculated to last to a certain point only,
the slightest accident, the staving-in of the boat, or the rise of the
river, would inevitably be attended with calamity. To think of reducing
our rations of only three quarters of a pound of flour per diem, was
out of the question, or to hope that the men, with less sustenance than
that, would perform the work necessary to ensure their safety, would
have been unreasonable. It was better that our provisions should hold
out to a place from which we might abandon the boat with some prospect
of reaching by an effort a stock station, or the plain on which Robert
Harris was to await our return, than that they should be consumed
before the half of our homeward journey should be accomplished. Delay,
therefore, under our circumstances, would have been imprudent and


On the other hand, it was sufficiently evident to me, that the men were
too much exhausted to perform the task that was before them without
assistance, and that it would be necessary both for M'Leay and myself,
to take our share of labour at the oars. The cheerfulness and
satisfaction that my young friend evinced at the opportunity that was
thus afforded him of making himself useful, and of relieving those
under him from some portion of their toil, at the same time that they
increased my sincere esteem for him, were nothing more than what I
expected from one who had endeavoured by every means in his power to
contribute to the success of that enterprise upon which he had
embarked. But although I have said thus much of the exhausted
condition of the men, - and ere these pages are concluded my readers
will feel satisfied as to the truth of my statement - I would by no
means be understood to say that they flagged for a moment, or that
a single murmur escaped them. No reluctance was visible, no complaint
was heard, but there was that in their aspect and appearance which
they could not hide, and which I could not mistake. My object in
dwelling so long upon this subject has been to point out our situation
and our feelings when we re-entered the Murray. The only circumstance
that appeared to be in our favour was the prevalence of the south-west
wind, by which I hoped we should be assisted in running up the first
broad reaches of that river. I could not but acknowledge the bounty
of that Providence, which had favoured us in our passage across
the lake, and I was led to hope that its merciful superintendance
would protect us from evil, and would silently direct us where human
foresight and prudence failed. We re-entered the river on the 13th
under as fair prospects as we would have desired. The gale which had
blown with such violence in the morning gradually abated, and a steady
breeze enabled us to pass our first encampment by availing ourselves
of it as long as day light continued. Both the valley and the river
showed to advantage as we approached them, and the scenery upon our
left (the proper right bank of the Murray) was really beautiful.


Valley of the Murray - Its character and capabilities - Laborious
progress up the river - Accident to the boat - Perilous collision with
the natives - Turbid current of the Rufus - Passage of the
Rapids - Assisted by the natives - Dangerous intercourse with
them - Re-enter the Morumbidgee - Verdant condition of its
banks - Nocturnal encounter with the natives - Interesting manifestation
of feeling in one family - Reach the spot where the party had embarked
on the river - Men begin to fail entirely - Determine to send two men
forward for relief - Their return - Excursion on horseback - Reach
Pondebadgery Plain, and meet the supplies from the colony - Cannibalism
of the natives - Return to Sydney - Concluding remarks.


The valley of the Murray, at its entrance, cannot be less than four
miles in breadth. The river does not occupy the centre but inclines to
either side, according to its windings, and thus the flats are of
greater or less extent, according to the distance of the river from the
base of the hills. It is to be remarked, that the bottom of the valley
is extremely level, and extensively covered with reeds. From the latter
circumstance, one would be led to infer that these flats are subject to
overflow, and no doubt can exist as to the fact of their being, at
least partially, if not wholly, under water at times. A country in a
state of nature is, however, so different from one in a state of
cultivation, that it is hazardous to give an opinion as to its
practical availableness, if I may use such a term. I should,
undoubtedly, say the marshes of the Macquarie were frequently covered
with water, and that they were wholly unfit for any one purpose
whatever. It is evident from the marks of the reeds upon the banks,
that the flood covers them occasionally to the depth of three feet, and
the reeds are so densely embodied and so close to the river side that
the natives cannot walk along it. The reeds are the broad flag-reed
(arundo phragmatis), and grow on a stiff earthy loam, without any
accompanying vegetation; indeed, they form so solid a mass that the sun
cannot penetrate to the ground to nourish vegetation. On the other
hand, the valley of the Murray, though covered with reeds in most
places, is not so in all. There is no mark upon the reeds by which to
judge as to the height of inundation, neither are they of the same kind
as those which cover the marshes of the Macquarie. They are the species
of round reed of which the South-sea islanders make their arrows, and
stand sufficiently open, not only to allow of a passage through, but
for the abundant growth of grass among them. Still, I have no doubt
that parts of the valley are subject to flood; but, as I have already
remarked, I do not know whether these parts are either deeply or
frequently covered. Rain must fall simultaneously in the S.E. angle of
the island in the inter-tropical regions, and at the heads of all the
tributaries of the main stream, ere its effects can be felt in the
lower parts of the Murray. If the valley of the Murray is not subject
to flood, it has only recently gained a height above the influence of
the river, and still retains all the character of flooded land. In
either case, however, it contains land that is of the very richest
kind - soil that is the pure accumulation of vegetable matter, and is as
black as ebony. If its hundreds of thousands of acres were practically
available, I should not hesitate to pronounce it one of the richest
spots of equal extent on earth, and highly favoured in other respects.
How far it is available remains to be proved; and an opinion upon
either side would be hazardous, although that of its liability to flood
would, most probably, be nearest to truth. It is, however, certain that
any part of the valley would require much labour before it could be
brought under cultivation, and that even its most available spots would
require almost as much trouble to clear them as the forest tract, for
nothing is more difficult to destroy than reeds. Breaking the sod
would, naturally, raise the level of the ground, and lateral drains
would, most probably, carry off all floods, but then the latter, at
least, is the operation of an advanced stage of husbandry only. I
would, however, observe that there are many parts of the valley
decidedly above the reach of flood. I have, in the above observations,
been particularly alluding to the lowest and broadest portions of it. I
trust I shall be understood as not wishing to over-rate this discovery
on the one hand, or on the other, to include its whole extent in one
sweeping clause of condemnation.

On the 14th, the wind still continued to blow fresh from the N.W. It
moderated at noon, and assisted us beyond measure. We passed our first
encampment, but did not see any natives.


On the 15th, the wind was variable at daylight, and a dense fog was on
the river. As the sun rose, it was dissipated and a light breeze sprung
up from W.S.W. We ran up the stream with a free sheet for six hours,
when we stopped for a short time to get the kettle boiled. Four natives
joined us, but with the exception of the lowest tribe upon the right
bank, we had not seen any number. We were extremely liberal to this
tribe, in consequence of the satisfaction they evinced at our return.
We had alarmed them much on our passage down the river by firing at a
snake that was swimming across it. We, at first, attempted to kill it
with the boat-hook, but the animal dived at our approach, and appeared
again at a considerable distance. Another such dive would have ensured
his escape, but a shot effectually checked him, and as the natives
evinced considerable alarm, we held him up, to show them the object of
our proceedings. On our return, they seemed to have forgotten their
fright, and received us with every demonstration of joy. The different
receptions we met with from different tribes are difficult to be
accounted for.

The country appeared to rise before us, and looked more hilly to the
N.W. than I had supposed it to be. Several fine valleys branched off
from the main one to the westward, and, however barren the heights that
confined them were, I am inclined to think, that the distant interior
is fertile. The marks of kangaroos were numerous, and the absence of
the natives would indicate that they have other and better means of
subsisting in the back country than what the river affords.

In the evening, we again ran on for two hours and a half, and reached
the first of the cliffs.

On the 16th, we were again fortunate in the wind, and pressed up the
river as long as day-light continued. At the termination of our
journey, we found ourselves a day's journey in advance. This inspirited
the men, and they began to forget the labours they had gone through, as
well as those that were before them.

On the 17th, we again commenced pulling, the wind being at north, and
contrary. It did not, however, remain in that quarter long, but backed
at noon to the S.W., so that we were enabled to make a good day's
journey, and rather gained than lost ground.


Having left the undulating hills, at the mouth of the valley behind us,
we passed cliff after cliff of fossil formation: they had a uniform
appearance as to the substance of which they were composed, and varied
but little in colour. Having already examined them, we thought it
unnecessary to give them any further special attention, since it was
improbable we should find anything new. In turning an angle of the
river, however, a broad reach stretched away before us. An alluvial
flat extended to our left, and a high line of cliffs, that differed in
no visible respect from those we had already passed, rose over the
opposite side of the river. The cliffs faced the W.N.W., and as the sun
declined, his beams struck full upon them. As we shot past, we were
quite dazzled with the burst of light that flashed upon us, and which
gave to the whole face of the cliff the appearance of a splendid
mirror. The effect was of course momentary; for as soon as we had
passed the angle of refraction, there was nothing unusual in its
appearance. On a nearer approach, however, it appeared again as if
studded with stars. We had already determined on examining it more
closely, and this second peculiarity still further excited our
curiosity. On landing, we found the whole cliff to be a mass of
selenite, in which the various shells already noticed were plentifully
embedded, as in ice. The features of the cliff differed from any we had
previously remarked. Large masses, or blocks of square or oblong shape,
had fallen to its base, and its surface was hard, whereas the face of
the majority of the other cliffs was soft from the effect of the
atmosphere; and the rock was entirely free from every other substance,
excepting the shells of which it was composed. We of course collected
some good specimens, although they added very considerably to the
weight of our cargo.

The morning of the 18th was calm and cloudless. The wind, of which
there was but little, came from the north, and was as usual warm. We
availed ourselves of a favourable spot to haul our boat on shore under
one of the cliffs upon the proper left of the river, and cleaned her
well both inside and out.


The breezes that had so much assisted as from the lake upwards, had now
lost their influence, or failed to reach to the distance we had gained.
Calms succeeded them, and obliged us to labour continually at the oars.
We lost ground fast, and it was astonishing to remark how soon the
men's spirits drooped again under their first efforts. They fancied the
boat pulled heavily, and that her bottom was foul; but such was not the
case. The current was not so strong as when we passed down, since the
river had evidently fallen more than a foot, and was so shallow in
several places, that we were obliged to haul the boat over them. On
these occasions we were necessarily obliged to get out of her into the
water, and had afterwards to sit still and to allow the sun to dry our
clothes upon us. The unemployed consequently envied those at the oars,
as they sat shivering in their dripping clothes. I was aware that it
was more from imagination than reality, that the men fancied the boat
was unusually heavy, but I hesitated not in humouring them, and rather
entered into their ideas than otherwise, and endeavoured to persuade
them that she pulled the lighter for the cleaning we gave her.

A tribe of natives joined us, and we had the additional trouble of

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 12 of 18)