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

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occupations in which, when the natives were present, they were
constantly interrupted, and whenever the larger tribes slept near us,
the utmost vigilance was necessary on the part of the night-guard,
which was regularly mounted as soon as the tents were pitched. We had
had little else than our flour to subsist on. Hopkinson and Harris
endeavoured to supply M'Leay and myself with a wild fowl occasionally,
but for themselves, and the other men, nothing could be procured to
render their meal more palatable.


I have omitted to mention one remarkable trait of the good disposition
of all the men while on the coast. Our sugar had held out to that
point; but it appeared, when we examined the stores, that six pounds
alone remained in the cask. This the men positively refused to touch.
They said that, divided, it would benefit nobody; that they hoped
M'Leay and I would use it, that it would last us for some time, and
that they were better able to submit to privations than we were. The
feeling did them infinite credit, and the circumstance is not forgotten
by me. The little supply the kindness of our men left to us was,
however, soon exhausted, and poor M'Leay preferred pure water to the
bitter draught that remained. I have been some times unable to refrain
from smiling, as I watched the distorted countenances of my humble
companions while drinking their tea and eating their damper.

The ducks and swans, seen in such myriads on the lake, seldom appeared
on the river, in the first stages of our journey homewards. About the
time of which I am writing, however, a few swans occasionally flew over
our heads at night, and their silvery note was musically sweet.

From the 10th to the 15th, nothing of moment occurred: we pulled
regularly from day-light to dark, not less to avoid the natives than to
shorten our journey. Yet, notwithstanding that we moved at an hour when
the natives seldom stir, we were rarely without a party of them, who
followed us in spite of our efforts to tire them out.


On the 15th, we had about 150 at our camp. Many of them were extremely
noisy, and the whole of them very restless. They lay down close to the
tents, or around our fire. I entertained some suspicion of them, and
when they were apparently asleep, I watched them narrowly. Macnamee was
walking up and down with his firelock, and every time he turned his
back, one of the natives rose gently up and poised his spear at him,
and as soon as he thought Macnamee was about to turn, he dropped as
quietly into his place. When I say the native got up, I do not mean
that he stood up, but that he raised himself sufficiently for the
purpose he had in view. His spear would not, therefore, have gone with
much force, but I determined it should not quit his hand, for had I
observed any actual attempt to throw it, I should unquestionably have
shot him dead upon the spot. The whole of the natives were awake, and
it surprised me they did not attempt to plunder us. They rose with the
earliest dawn, and crowded round the tents without any hesitation. We,
consequently, thought it prudent to start as soon as we had breakfasted.


We had all of us got into the boat, when Fraser remembered he had left
his powder-horn on shore. In getting out to fetch it, he had to push
through the natives. On his return, when his back was towards them,
several natives lifted their spears together, and I was so apprehensive
they would have transfixed him, that I called out before I seized my
gun; on which they lowered their weapons and ran away. The disposition
to commit personal violence was evident from these repeated acts of
treachery; and we should doubtless have suffered from it on some
occasion or other, had we not been constantly on the alert.

We had been drawing nearer the Morumbidgee every day. This was the last
tribe we saw on the Murray; and the following afternoon, to our great
joy, we quitted it and turned our boat into the gloomy and narrow
channel of its tributary. Our feelings were almost as strong when we
re-entered it, as they had been when we were launched from it into that
river, on whose waters we had continued for upwards of fifty-five days;
during which period, including the sweeps and bends it made, we could
not have travelled less than 1500 miles.

Our provisions were now running very short; we had, however, "broken
the neck of our journey," as the men said, and we looked anxiously to
gaining the depot; for we were not without hopes that Robert Harris
would have pushed forward to it with his supplies. We were quite
puzzled on entering the Morumbidgee, how to navigate its diminutive
bends and its encumbered channel. I thought poles would have been more
convenient than oars; we therefore stopped at an earlier hour than
usual to cut some. Calling to mind the robbery practised on us shortly
after we left the depot, my mind became uneasy as to Robert Harris's
safety, since I thought it probable, from the sulky disposition of the
natives who had visited us there, that he might have been attacked.
Thus, when my apprehensions on our own account had partly ceased, my
fears became excited with regard to him and his party.


The country, to a considerable distance from the junction on either
side the Morumbidgee, is not subject to inundation. Wherever we landed
upon its banks, we found the calistemma in full flower, and in the
richest profusion. There was, also, an abundance of grass, where before
there had been no signs of vegetation, and those spots which we had
condemned as barren were now clothed with a green and luxuriant carpet.
So difficult is it to judge of a country on a partial and hurried
survey, and so differently does it appear at different periods. I was
rejoiced to find that the rains had not swollen the river, for I was
apprehensive that heavy falls had taken place in the mountains, and was
unprepared for so much good fortune.


The poles we cut were of no great use to us, and we soon laid them
aside, and took to our oars. Fortune seemed to favour us exceedingly.
The men rallied, and we succeeded in killing a good fat swan, that
served as a feast for all. I imagine the absence of mud and weeds of
every kind in the Murray, prevents this bird from frequenting its

On the 18th, we found ourselves entering the reedy country, through
which we had passed with such doubt and anxiety. Every object elicited
some remark from the men, and I was sorry to find they reckoned with
certainty on seeing Harris at the depot, as I knew they would be
proportionally depressed in spirits if disappointed. However, I
promised Clayton a good repast as soon as we should see him.


I had walked out with M'Leay a short distance from the river, and had
taken the dogs. They followed us to the camp on our return to it, but
the moment they saw us enter the tent, they went off to hunt by
themselves. About 10 p.m., one of them, Bob, came to the fire, and
appeared very uneasy; he remained, for a short time, and then went
away. In about an hour, he returned, and after exhibiting the same
restlessness, again withdrew. He returned the third time before morning
dawned, but returned alone. The men on the watch were very stupid not
to have followed him, for, no doubt, he went to his companion, to whom,
most likely, some accident had happened. I tried to make him show, but
could not succeed, and, after a long search, reluctantly pursued our
journey, leaving poor Sailor to his fate. This was the only misfortune
that befell us, and we each of us felt the loss of an animal which had
participated in all our dangers and privations. I more especially
regretted the circumstance for the sake of the gentleman who gave him
to me, and, on account of his superior size and activity.


With the loss of poor Sailor, our misfortunes re-commenced. I
anticipated some trouble hereabouts, for, having succeeded in their
hardihood once, I knew the natives would again attempt to rob us, and
that we should have some difficulty in keeping them off. As soon as
they found out that we were in the river, they came to us, but left us
at sunset. This was on the 21st. At nightfall, I desired the watch to
keep a good look out, and M'Leay and I went to lie down. We had chosen
an elevated bank for our position, and immediately opposite to us there
was a small space covered with reeds, under blue-gum trees. About 11,
Hopkinson came to the tent to say, that he was sure the blacks were
approaching through the reeds. M'Leay and I got up, and, standing on
the bank, listened attentively. All we heard was the bark of a native
dog apparently, but this was, in fact, a deception on the part of the
blacks. We made no noise, in consequence of which they gradually
approached, and two or three crept behind the trunk of a tree that had
fallen. As I thought they were near enough, George M'Leay, by my
desire, fired a charge of small shot at them. They instantly made a
precipitate retreat; but, in order the more effectually to alarm them,
Hopkinson fired a ball into the reeds, which we distinctly heard
cutting its way through them. All was quiet until about three o'clock,
when a poor wretch who, most probably, had thrown himself on the ground
when the shots were fired, at length mustered courage to get up and
effect his escape.

In the morning, the tribe kept aloof, but endeavoured, by the most
earnest entreaties, and most pitiable howling, to gain our favour; but
I threatened to shoot any that approached, and they consequently kept
at a respectful distance, dogging us from tree to tree. It appeared,
therefore, that they were determined to keep us in view, no doubt, with
the intention of trying what they could do by a second attempt. As they
went along, their numbers increased, and towards evening, they amounted
to a strong tribe. Still they did not venture near us, and only now and
then showed themselves. Our situation at this moment would have been
much more awkward in the event of attack, than when we were in the open
channel of the Murray; because we were quite at the mercy of the
natives if they had closed upon us, and, being directly under the
banks, should have received every spear, while it would have been easy
for them to have kept out of sight in assailing us.


It was near sunset, the men were tired, and I was looking out for a
convenient place at which to rest, intending to punish these natives if
they provoked me, or annoyed the men. We had not seen any of them for
some time, when Hopkinson, who was standing in the bow of the boat,
informed me that they had thrown boughs across the river to prevent our
passage. I was exceedingly indignant at this, and pushed on, intending
to force the barrier. On our nearer approach, a solitary black was
observed standing close to the river, and abreast of the impediment
which I imagined they had raised to our further progress. I threatened
to shoot this man, and pointed to the branches that stretched right
across the stream. The poor fellow uttered not a word, but, putting his
hand behind him, pulled out a tomahawk from his belt, and held it
towards me, by way of claiming our acquaintance; and any anger was soon
entirely appeased by discovering that the natives had been merely
setting a net across the river which these branches supported. We,
consequently, hung back, until they had drawn it, and then passed on.


The black to whom I had spoken so roughly, cut across a bight of the
river, and walking down to the side of the water with a branch in his
hand, in mark of confidence, presented me with a fishing net. We were
highly pleased at the frank conduct of this black, and a convenient
place offering itself, we landed and pitched our tents. Our friend, who
was about forty, brought his two wives, and a young man, to us: and at
length the other blacks mustered courage to approach; but those who had
followed us from the last camp, kept on the other side of the river. On
pretence of being different families, they separated into small bodies,
and formed a regular cordon round our camp. We foresaw that this was a
manoeuvre, but, in hopes that if I forgave the past they would desist
from further attempts, M'Leay took great pains in conciliating them,
and treated them with great kindness. We gave each family some fire and
same presents, and walked together to them by turns, to show that we
had equal confidence in all. Our friend had posted himself immediately
behind our tents, at twenty yards distance, with his little family, and
kept altogether aloof from the other natives. Having made our round of
visits, and examined the various modes the women had of netting, M'Leay
and I went into our tent.

It happened, fortunately, that my servant, Harris, was the first for
sentry. I told him to keep a watchful eye on the natives, and to call
me if any thing unusual occurred. We had again chosen a lofty bank for
our position; behind us there was a small plain, of about a quarter of
a mile in breadth, backed by a wood. I was almost asleep, when my
servant came to inform me, that the blacks had, with one accord, made a
precipitate retreat, and that not one of them was to be seen at the
fires. I impressed the necessity of attention upon him, and he again
went to his post. Shortly after this, he returned: "Master," said he,
"the natives are coming." I jumped up, and, taking my gun, followed
him, leaving my friend George fast asleep. I would not disturb him,
until necessity required, for he had ever shown himself so devoted to
duty as to deserve every consideration. Harris led me a little way from
the tents, and then stopping, and pointing down the river, said,
"There, sir, don't you see them?" "Not I, indeed, Harris," I replied,
"where do you mean? are you sure you see them?" "Positive, sir," said
he; "stoop and you will see them." I did so, and saw a black mass in an
opening. Convinced that I saw them, I desired Harris to follow me, but
not to fire unless I should give the word. The rascals would not stand
our charge, however, but retreated as we advanced towards them. We then
returned to the tents, and, commending my servant for his vigilance, I
once more threw myself on my bed. I had scarcely lain down five
minutes, when Harris called out, "The blacks are close to me, sir;
shall I fire at them?" "How far are they?" I asked. "Within ten yards,
sir." "Then fire," said I; and immediately he did so. M'Leay and I
jumped up to his assistance. "Well, Harris," said I, "did you kill your
man?" (he is a remarkably good shot.) "No, sir," said he, "I thought
you would repent it, so I fired between the two." "Where were they,
man?" said I. "Close to the boat, sir; and when they heard me, they
swam into the river, and dived as soon as I fired between them." This
account was verified by one of them puffing as he rose below us, over
whose head I fired a shot. Where the other got to I could not tell.
This watchfulness, on our part, however, prevented any further attempts
during the night.

I was much pleased at the coolness of my servant, as well as his
consideration; and relieving him from his post, desired Hopkinson to
take it. I have no doubt that the approach of the natives, in the first
instance, was made with a view to draw us off from the camp, while some
others might rob the boat. If so, it was a good manoeuvre, and might
have succeeded.


In the morning, we found the natives had left all their ponderous
spears at their fires, which were broken up and burnt. We were
surprised to find that our friend had left every thing in like manner
behind him - his spears, his nets, and his tomahawk; but as he had kept
so wholly aloof from the other blacks, I thought it highly improbable
that he had joined them, and the men were of opinion that he had
retreated across the plain into the wood. On looking in that direction
we observed some smoke rising among the trees at a little distance from
the outskirts of the plain, and under an impression that I should find
the native at the fire with his family, I took his spears and tomahawk,
and walked across the plain, unattended into the wood. I had not
entered it more than fifty yards when I saw a group of four natives,
sitting round a small fire. One of them, as I approached, rose up and
met me, and in him I recognised the man for whom I was seeking. When
near enough, I stuck the spears upright into the ground. The poor man
stood thunderstruck; he spoke not, he moved not, neither did he raise
his eyes from the ground. I had kept the tomahawk out of his sight, but
I now produced and offered it to him. He gave a short exclamation as
his eyes caught sight of it, but he remained otherwise silent before
me, and refused to grasp the tomahawk, which accordingly fell to the
ground. I had evidently excited the man's feelings, but it is difficult
to say how he was affected. His manner indicated shame and surprise,
and the sequel will prove that both these feelings must have possessed
him. While we were thus standing together, his two wives came up, to
whom, after pointing to the spears and tomahawk, he said something,
without, however, looking at me; and they both instantly burst into
tears and wept aloud. I was really embarrassed during so unexpected a
scene, and to break it, invited the native to the camp, but I motioned
with my hand, as I had not my gun with me, that I would shoot any other
of the blacks who followed me. He distinctly understood my meaning, and
intimated as distinctly to me that they should not follow us; nor did
they. We were never again molested by them.

I left him then, and, returning to the camp, told M'Leay my adventure,
with which he was highly delighted. My object is this procedure was to
convince the natives, generally, that we came not among them to injure
or to molest them, as well as to impress them with an idea of our
superior intelligence; and I am led to indulge the hope that I
succeeded. Certain it is, that an act of justice or of lenity has
frequently, if well timed, more weight than the utmost stretch of
severity. With savages, more particularly, to exhibit any fear,
distrust, or irresolution, will inevitably prove injurious.

But although these adventures were happily not attended with bloodshed,
they harassed the men much; and our camp for near a week was more like
an outpost picquet than any thing else. This, however, terminated all
attempts on the part of the natives. From henceforth none of them
followed us on our route.


At noon, I stopped about a mile short of the depot to take sights.
After dinner we pulled on, the men looking earnestly out for their
comrades whom they had left there, but none appeared. My little arbour,
in which I had written my letters, was destroyed, and the bank on which
out tents had stood was wholly deserted. We landed, however, and it was
a satisfaction to me to see the homeward track of the drays. The men
were sadly disappointed, and poor Clayton, who had anticipated a
plentiful meal, was completely chop fallen. M'Leay and I comforted them
daily with the hopes of meeting the drays, which I did not think

Thus, it will appear, that we regained the place from which we started
in seventy-seven days, during which, we could not have pulled less than
2000 miles. It is not for me, however, to make any comment, either on
the dangers to which we were occasionally exposed, or the toil and
privations we continually experienced in the course of this expedition.
My duty is, simply to give a plain narrative of facts, which I have
done with fidelity, and with as much accuracy as circumstances would
permit. Had we found Robert Harris at the depot, I should have
considered it unnecessary to trespass longer on the patient reader, but
as our return to that post did not relieve us from our difficulties, it
remains for me to carry on the narrative of our proceedings to the time
when we reached the upper branches of the Morumbidgee.


The hopes that had buoyed up the spirits of the men, ceased to operate
as soon as they were discovered to have been ill founded. The most
gloomy ideas took possession of their minds, and they fancied that we
had been neglected, and that Harris had remained in Sydney. It was to
no purpose that I explained to them that my instructions did not bind
Harris to come beyond Pondebadgery, and that I was confident he was
then encamped upon that plain.

We had found the intricate navigation of the Morumbidgee infinitely
more distressing than the hard pulling up the open reaches of the
Murray, for we were obliged to haul the boat up between numberless
trunks of trees, an operation that exhausted the men much more than
rowing. The river had fallen below its former level, and rocks and logs
were now exposed above the water, over many of which the boat's keel
must have grazed, as we passed down with the current. I really
shuddered frequently, at seeing these complicated dangers, and I was at
a loss to conceive how we could have escaped them. The planks of our
boat were so thin that if she had struck forcibly against any one
branch of the hundreds she must have grazed, she would inevitably have
been rent asunder from stem to stern.


The day after we passed the depot, on our return, we began to
experience the effects of the rains that had fallen in the mountains.
The Morumbidgee rose upon us six feet in one night, and poured along
its turbid waters with proportionate violence. For seventeen days we
pulled against them with determined perseverance, but human efforts,
under privations such as ours, tend to weaken themselves, and thus it
was that the men began to exhibit the effects of severe and unremitting
toil. Our daily journeys were short, and the head we made against the
stream but trifling. The men lost the proper and muscular jerk with
which they once made the waters foam and the oars bend. Their whole
bodies swung with an awkward and laboured motion. Their arms appeared
to be nerveless; their faces became haggard, their persons emaciated,
their spirits wholly sunk; nature was so completely overcome, that from
mere exhaustion they frequently fell asleep during their painful and
almost ceaseless exertions. It grieved me to the heart to see them in
such a state at the close of so perilous a service, and I began to
reproach Robert Harris that he did not move down the river to meet us;
but, in fact, he was not to blame. I became captious, and found fault
where there was no occasion, and lost the equilibrium of my temper in
contemplating the condition of my companions. No murmur, however,
escaped them, nor did a complaint reach me, that was intended to
indicate that they had done all they could do. I frequently heard them
in their tent, when they thought I had dropped asleep, complaining of
severe pains and of great exhaustion. "I must tell the captain,
to-morrow," some of them would say, "that I can pull no more."
To-morrow came, and they pulled on, as if reluctant to yield to
circumstances. Macnamee at length lost his senses. We first observed
this from his incoherent conversation, but eventually from manner. He
related the most extraordinary tales, and fidgeted about eternally
while in the boat. I felt it necessary, therefore, to relieve him from
the oars.

Amidst these distresses, M'Leay preserved his good humour, and
endeavoured to lighten the task, and to cheer the men as much as
possible. His presence at this time was a source of great comfort to
me. The uniform kindness with which he had treated his companions, gave
him an influence over them now, and it was exerted with the happiest


On the 8th and 9th of April we had heavy rain, but there was no respite
for us. Our provisions were nearly consumed, and would have been wholly
exhausted, if we had not been so fortunate as to kill several swans. On
the 11th, we gained our camp opposite to Hamilton's Plains, after a day
of severe exertion. Our tents were pitched upon the old ground, and the
marks of our cattle were around us. In the evening, the men went out
with their guns, and M'Leay and I walked to the rear of the camp, to
consult undisturbed as to the moat prudent measures to be adopted,
under our embarrassing circumstances. The men were completely sunk. We

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 14 of 18)