Charles Sturt.

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

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guarding our stores. They were, however, very quiet, and as we had
broken up our casks, on leaving the coast, we were enabled to be
liberal in our presents of iron hoop, which they eagerly received. We
calculated that we should reach the principal junction in about fifteen
days from this place.


The natives left us to pursue our solitary journey as soon as the boat
was reloaded. Not one of them had the curiosity to follow us, nor did
they appear to think it necessary that we should be attended by envoys.
We stopped for the night upon the left bank; and close to a
burial-ground that differed from any I had ever seen. It must have been
used many years, from the number of bones that were found in the bank,
but there were no other indications of such a place either by mounds or
by marks on the trees. The fact, therefore, is a singular one. I have
thought that some battle might have been fought near the place, but I
can hardly think one of their battles could have been so destructive.


We had now only to make the best of our journey, rising at dawn, and
pulling to seven and often to nine o'clock. I allowed the men an hour
from half-past eleven to half-past twelve, to take their bread and
water. This was our only fare, if I except an occasional wild duck; but
these birds were extremely difficult to kill, and it cost us so much
time, that we seldom endeavoured to procure any. Our dogs had been of
no great use, and were now too weak to have run after anything if they
had seen either kangaroos or emus; and for the fish, the men loathed
them, and were either too indifferent or too much fatigued to set the
night-lines. Shoals frequently impeded us as we proceeded up the river,
and we passed some rapids that called for our whole strength to stem. A
light wind assisted us on two or three of these occasions, and I never
failed hoisting the sail at every fitting opportunity. In some parts
the river was extremely shallow, and the sand-banks of amazing size;
and the annoyance of dragging the boat over these occasional bars, was
very great. We passed several tribes of blacks on the 19th and 20th;
but did not stop to communicate with them.

I believe I have already mentioned that shortly after we first entered
the Murray, flocks of a new paroquet passed over our heads, apparently
emigrating to the N.W. They always kept too high to be fired at, but on
our return, hereabouts, we succeeded in killing one. It made a good
addition to our scanty stock of subjects of natural history. It is
impossible to conceive how few of the feathered tribe frequent these
distant and lonely regions. The common white cockatoo is the most
numerous, and there are also a few pigeons; but other birds descend
only for water, and are soon again upon the wing. Our botanical
specimens were as scanty as our zoological, indeed the expedition may,
as regards these two particulars, almost be said to have been


When we came down the river, I thought it advisable to lay its course
down as precisely as circumstances would permit: for for this purpose I
had a large compass always before me, and a sheet of foolscap paper. As
soon as we passed an angle of the river, I took the bearings of the
reach before us, and as we proceeded down it, marked off the
description of country, and any remarkable feature. The consequence
was, that I laid down every bend of the Murray River, from the
Morumbidgee downwards. Its creeks, its tributaries, its flats, its
valleys, and its cliffs, and, as far as I possibly could do, the nature
of the distant interior. This chart was, of course, erroneous in many
particulars, since I had to judge the length of the reaches of the
river, and the extent of its angles, but I corrected it on the scale of
the miles of latitude we made during the day, which brought out an
approximate truth at all events. The hurried nature of our journey
would not allow me to do more; and it will be remembered that my
observations were all siderial, by reason that the sextant would not
embrace the sun in his almost vertical position at noon. Admitting,
however, the imperfection of this chart, it was of inconceivable value
and comfort to us on our return, for, by a reference to it, we
discovered our place upon the river, and our distance from our several
encampments. And we should often have stopped short of them had not the
chart shown us that a few reaches more would bring us to the desired
spots. It cheered the men to know where they were, and gave them
conversation. To myself it was very satisfactory, as it enabled me to
prepare for our meetings with the larger tribes, and to steer clear of
obstacles in the more difficult navigation of some parts of the stream.

On the 21st, by dint of great labour we reached our camp of the 2nd
February, from which it will be remembered the Murray took up a
southerly course, and from which we likewise obtained a first view of
the coast ranges. The journey to the sea and back again, had
consequently occupied us twenty days. From this point we turned our
boat's head homewards; we made it, therefore, a fixed position among
the stages into which we divided our journey. Our attention was now
directed to the junction of the principal tributary, which we hoped to
reach in twelve days, and anticipated a close to our labours on the
Murray in eight days more from that stage to the Morumbidgee.


The current in the Murray from the lake, to within a short distance of
this singular turn in it, is weak, since its bed is almost on a level
with the lake. The channel, which, at the termination, is somewhat more
than the third of a mile across, gradually diminishes in breadth, as
the interior is gained, but is nowhere under 300 yards; while its depth
averages from eighteen to thirty feet, within a foot of the very bank.
The river might, therefore, be navigated by boats of considerable
burden, if the lake admitted of the same facility; but I am decidedly
of opinion, that the latter is generally shallow, and that it will, in
the course of years, be filled up by depositions. It is not, however,
an estuary in any sense of the word, since no part of it is exposed at
low water, excepting the flats in the channel, and the flat between the
lake and the sea.


On the 23rd, we stove the boat in for the first time. I had all along
anticipated such an accident, from the difficulty of avoiding
obstacles, in consequence of the turbid state of the river. Fortunately
the boat struck a rotten log. The piece remained in her side, and
prevented her filling, which she must, otherwise, inevitably have done,
ere we could have reached the shore. As it was, however, we escaped
with a little damage to the lower bags of flour only. She was hauled up
on a sand bank, and Clayton repaired her in less than two hours, when
we reloaded her and pursued our journey. It was impossible to have been
more cautious than we were, for I was satisfied as to the fate that
would have overtaken the whole of us in the event of our losing the
boat, and was proportionably vigilant.


At half-past five we came to an island, which looked so inviting, and
so quiet, that I determined to land and sleep upon it. We consequently,
ran the boat into a little recess, or bay, and pitched the tents; and I
anticipated a respite from the presence of any natives, as did the men,
who were rejoiced at my having taken up so snug a berth. It happened,
however, that a little after sunset, a flight of the new paroquets
perched in the lofty trees that grew on the island, to roost; when we
immediately commenced the work of death, and succeeded in killing eight
or ten. The reports of our guns were heard by some natives up the
river, and several came over to us. Although I was annoyed at their
having discovered our retreat, they were too few to be troublesome.
During the night, however, they were joined by fresh numbers, amounting
in all to about eighty, and they were so clamorous, that it was
impossible to sleep.


As the morning broke, Hopkinson came to inform me that it was in vain
that the guard endeavoured to prevent them from handling every thing,
and from closing in round our camp. I went out, and from what I saw I
thought it advisable to double the sentries. M'Leay, who was really
tired, being unable to close his eyes amid such a din, got up in
ill-humour, and went to see into the cause, and to check it if he
could. This, however, was impossible. One man was particularly forward
and insolent, at whom M'Leay, rather imprudently, threw a piece of
dirt. The savage returned the compliment with as much good will as it
had been given, and appeared quite prepared to act on the offensive. At
this critical moment my servant came to the tent in which I was washing
myself, and stated his fears that we should soon come to blows, as the
natives showed every disposition to resist us. On learning what had
passed between M'Leay and the savage, I pretended to be equally angry
with both, and with some difficulty forced the greater part of the
blacks away from the tents. I then directed the men to gather together
all the minor articles in the first instance, and then to strike the
tents; and, in order to check the natives, I drew a line round the
camp, over which I intimated to them they should not pass. Observing, I
suppose, that we were on our guard, and that I, whom they well knew to
be the chief, was really angry, they crept away one by one, until the
island was almost deserted by them. Why they did not attack us, I know
not, for they had certainly every disposition to do so, and had their
shorter weapons with them, which, in so confined a space as that on
which we were, would have been more fatal than their spears.

They left us, however; and a flight of red-crested cockatoos happening
to settle on a plain near the river, I crossed in the boat in order to
shoot one. The plain was upon the proper left bank of the Murray. The
natives had passed over to the right. As the one channel was too
shallow for the boat, when we again pursued our journey we were obliged
to pull round to the left side of the island. A little above it the
river makes a bend to the left, and the angle at this bend was occupied
by a large shoal, one point of which rested on the upper part of the
island, and the other touched the proper right bank of the river. Thus
a narrow channel, (not broader indeed than was necessary for the play
of our oars,) alone remained for us to pass up against a strong
current. On turning round the lower part of the island, we observed
that the natives occupied the whole extent of the shoal, and speckled
it over like skirmishers. Many of them had their spears, and their
attention was evidently directed to us. - As we neared the shoal, the
most forward of them pressed close to the edge of the deep water, so
much so that our oars struck their legs. Still this did not induce them
to retire. I kept my eye on an elderly man who stood one of the most
forward, and who motioned to us several times to stop, and at length
threw the weapon he carried at the boat. I immediately jumped up and
pointed my gun at him to his great apparent alarm. Whether the natives
hoped to intimidate us by a show of numbers, or what immediate object
they had in view, it is difficult to say; though it was most probably
to seize a fitting opportunity to attack us. Seeing, I suppose, that we
were not to be checked, they crossed from the shoal to the proper right
bank of the river, and disappeared among the reeds that lined it.


Shortly after this, eight of the women, whom we had not before noticed,
came down to the water side, and gave us the most pressing invitation
to land. Indeed they played their part uncommonly well, and tried for
some time to allure us by the most unequivocal manifestations of love.
Hopkinson however who always had his eyes about him, observed the
spears of the men among the reeds. They kept abreast of us as we pulled
up the stream, and, no doubt, were anticipating our inability to resist
the temptations they had thrown in our way. I was really provoked at
their barefaced treachery, and should most undoubtedly have attacked
them, had they not precipitately retreated on being warned by the women
that I was arming my men, which I had only now done upon seeing such
strong manifestations of danger. M'Leay set the example of coolness on
this occasion; and I had some doubts whether I was justified in
allowing the natives to escape with impunity, considering that if they
had wounded any one of us the most melancholy and fatal results would
have ensued.

We did not see anything more of the blacks during the rest of the day,
but the repeated indications of hostility we perceived as we approached
the Darling, made me apprehensive as to the reception we should meet
from its numerous population; and I was sorry to observe that the men
anticipated danger in passing that promising junction.

Having left the sea breezes behind us, the weather had become
oppressive; and as the current was stronger, and rapids more numerous,
our labour was proportionably increased. We perspired to an astonishing
degree, and gave up our oars after our turn at them, with shirts and
clothes as wet as if we had been in the water. Indeed Mulholland and
Hopkinson, who worked hard, poured a considerable quantity of
perspiration from their shoes after their task. The evil of this was
that we were always chilled after rowing, and, of course, suffered more
than we should otherwise have done.


On the 25th we passed the last of the cliffs composing the great fossil
bed through which the Murray flows, and entered that low country
already described as being immediately above it. On a more attentive
examination of the distant interior, my opinion as to its flooded
origin was confirmed, more especially in reference to the country to
the S.E. On the 30th we passed the mouth of the Lindesay, and from the
summit of the sand hills to the north of the Murray overlooked the flat
country, through which I conclude it must run, from the line of fires
we observed amid the trees, and most probably upon its banks.

We did not fall in with the natives in such numbers as when we passed
down to the coast: still they were in sufficient bodies to be
troublesome. It would, however, appear that the tribes do not generally
frequent the river. They must have a better country back from it, and
most probably linger amongst the lagoons and creeks where food is more
abundant. The fact is evident from the want of huts upon the banks of
the Murray, and the narrowness of the paths along its margin.


We experienced the most oppressive heat about this time. Calms
generally prevailed, and about 3 p.m. the sun's rays fell upon us with
intense effect. The waters of the Murray continued extremely muddy, a
circumstance we discovered to be owing to the turbid current of the
Rufus, which we passed on the 1st of March. It is, really, singular
whence this little stream originates. It will be remembered that I
concluded it must have been swollen by rains when we first saw it; yet,
after an absence of more than three weeks we found it discharging its
waters as muddy as ever into the main stream; and that, too, in such
quantities as to discolour its waters to the very lake. The reader will
have some idea of the force of the current in both, when I assure him
that for nearly fifty yards below the mouth of the Rufus, the waters of
the Murray preserve their transparency, and the line between them and
the turbid waters of its tributary was as distinctly marked as if drawn
by a pencil. Indeed, the higher we advanced, the more did we feel the
strength of the current, against which we had to pull.


A little below the Lindesay, a rapid occurs. It was with the utmost
difficulty that we stemmed it with the four oars upon the boat, and the
exertion of our whole strength. We remained, at one time, perfectly
stationary, the force we employed and that of the current being equal.
We at length ran up the stream obliquely; but it was evident the men
were not adequate to such exertion for any length of time. We pulled
that day for eleven successive hours, in order to avoid a tribe of
natives who followed us. Hopkinson and Fraser fell asleep at their
oars, and even the heavy Clayton appeared to labour.

We again occupied our camp under the first remarkable cliffs of the
Murray, a description of which has been given in page 128 of this work.
[GEOLOGICAL EXAMINATION.] Their summit, as I have already remarked
forms a table land of some elevation. From it the distant interior to
the S.S.E. appears very depressed; that to the north undulates more. In
neither quarter, however, does any bright foliage meet the eye, to tell
that a better soil is under it; but a dark and gloomy vegetation
occupies both the near and distant ground, in proof that the sandy
sterile tracts, succeeding the river deposits, stretch far away without
a change.

A little above our camp of the 28th of January, we fell in with a large
tribe of natives, whose anxiety to detain us was remarkable. The wind,
however, which, from the time we lost the sea breezes, had hung to the
S.E., had changed to the S.W., and we were eagerly availing ourselves
of it. It will not be supposed we stopped even for a moment. In truth
we pressed on with great success, and did not land to sleep until nine
o'clock. As long as the wind blew from the S.W., the days were cool,
and the sky overcast even so much so as to threaten rain.

The least circumstance, in our critical situation, naturally raised my
apprehensions, and I feared the river would be swollen in the event of
any heavy rains in the hilly country; I hoped, however, we should gain
the Morumbidgee before such a calamity should happen to us, and it
became my object to press for that river without delay.


Although we had met with frequent rapids in our progress upwards, they
had not been of a serious kind, nor such as would affect the navigation
of the river. The first direct obstacle of this kind occurs a little
above a small tributary that falls into the Murray from the north,
between the Rufus and the cliffs we have alluded to. At this place a
reef of coarse grit contracts the channel of the river. No force we
could have exerted with the oars would have taken us up this rapid; but
we accomplished the task easily by means of a rope which we hauled
upon, on the same principle that barges are dragged by horses along the

As we neared the junction of the two main streams, the country, on both
sides of the river, became low, and its general appearance confirmed
the opinion I have already given as to its flooded origin. The clouds
that obscured the sky, and had threatened to burst for some time, at
length gave way, and we experienced two or three days of heavy rain. In
the midst of it we passed the second stage of our journey, and found
the spot lately so crowded with inhabitants totally deserted. A little
above it we surprised a small tribe in a temporary shelter; but neither
our offers nor presents could prevail on any of them to expose
themselves to the torrent that was falling. They sat shivering in their
bark huts in evident astonishment at our indifference. We threw them
some trifling presents and were glad to proceed unattended by any of


It will be remembered that in passing down the river, the boat was
placed in some danger in descending a rapid before we reached the
junction of the Murray with the stream supposed by me to be the
Darling. We were now gradually approaching the rapid, nor did I well
know how we should surmount such an obstacle. Strength to pull up it we
had not, and I feared our ropes would not be long enough to reach to
the shore over some of the rocks, since it descended in minor
declivities to a considerable distance below the principal rapid, in
the centre of which the boat had struck. We reached the commencement of
these rapids on the 6th, and ascended the first by means of ropes,
which were hauled upon by three of the men from the bank; and, as the
day was pretty far advanced, we stopped a little above it, that we
might attempt the principal rapid before we should be exhausted by
previous exertion. It was fortunate that we took such a precaution. The
morning of the 7th proved extremely dark, and much rain fell. We
commenced our journey in the midst of it, and soon gained the tail of
the rapid. Our attempt to pull up it completely failed. The boat, as
soon as she entered the ripple, spun round like a toy, and away we went
with the stream. As I had anticipated, our ropes were too short; and it
only remained for us to get into the water, and haul the boat up by
main force. We managed pretty well at first, and drew her alongside a
rock to rest a little. We then recommenced our efforts, and had got
into the middle of the channel. We were up to our armpits in the water,
and only kept our position by means of rocks beside us. The rain was
falling, as if we were in a tropical shower, and the force of the
current was such, that if we had relaxed for an instant, we should have
lost all the ground we had gained. Just at this moment, however,
without our being aware of their approach, a large tribe of natives,
with their spears, lined the bank, and took us most completely by
surprise. At no time during this anxious journey were we ever so
completely in their power, or in so defenceless a situation. It rained
so hard, that our firelocks would have been of no use, and had they
attacked us, we must necessarily have been slaughtered without
committing the least execution upon them. Nothing, therefore, remained
for us but to continue our exertions. It required only one strong
effort to get the boat into still water for a time, but that effort was
beyond our strength, and we stood in the stream, powerless and


The natives, in the meanwhile, resting on their spears, watched us with
earnest attention. One of them, who was sitting close to the water, at
length called to us, and we immediately recognised the deep voice of
him to whose singular interference we were indebted for our escape on
the 23rd of January. I desired Hopkinson to swim over to him, and to
explain that we wanted assistance. This was given without hesitation;
and we at length got under the lea of the rock, which I have already
described as being in the centre of the river. The natives launched
their bark canoes, the only frail means they possess of crossing the
rivers with their children. These canoes are of the simplest
construction and rudest materials, being formed of an oblong piece of
bark, the ends of which are stuffed with clay, so as to render them
impervious to the water. With several of these they now paddled round
us with the greatest care, making their spears, about ten feet in
length,(which they use at once as poles and paddles,) bend nearly
double in the water. We had still the most difficult part of the rapid
to ascend, where the rush of water was the strongest, and where the
decline of the bed almost amounted to a fall. Here the blacks could be
of no use to us. No man could stem the current, supposing it to have
been shallow at the place, but it was on the contrary extremely deep.
Remaining myself in the boat, I directed all the men to land, after we
had crossed the stream, upon a large rock that formed the left buttress
as it were to this sluice, and, fastening the rope to the mast instead
of her head, they pulled upon it. The unexpected rapidity with which
the boat shot up the passage astonished me, and filled the natives with
wonder, who testified their admiration of so dextrous a manoeuvre, by a
loud shout.

It will, no doubt, have struck the reader as something very remarkable,
that the same influential savage to whom we had already been indebted,
should have been present on this occasion, and at a moment when we so
much needed his assistance. Having surmounted our difficulties, we took
leave of this remarkable man, and pursued our journey up the river.

It may be imagined we did not proceed very far; the fact was, we only
pushed forward to get rid of the natives, for, however pacific, they
were always troublesome, and we were seldom fitted for a trial of
temper after the labours of the day were concluded. The men had various

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 13 of 18)