Charles Sturt.

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

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were still between eighty and ninety miles from Pondebadgery, in a
direct line, and nearly treble that distance by water. The task was
greater than we could perform, and our provisions were insufficient. In
this extremity I thought it best to save the men the mortification of
yielding, by abandoning the boat; and on further consideration, I
determined on sending Hopkinson and Mulholland, whose devotion,
intelligence, and indefatigable spirits, I well knew, forward to the

The joy this intimation spread was universal, Both Hopkinson and
Mulholland readily undertook the journey, and I, accordingly, prepared
orders for them to start by the earliest dawn. It was not without a
feeling of sorrow that I witnessed the departure of these two men, to
encounter a fatiguing march. I had no fears as to their gaining the
plain, if their reduced state would permit them. On the other hand, I
hoped they would fall in with our old friend the black, or that they
would meet the drays; and I could not but admire the spirit and energy
they both displayed upon the occasion. Their behaviour throughout had
been such as to awaken in my breast a feeling of the highest
approbation. Their conduct, indeed, exceeded all praise, nor did they
hesitate one moment when I called upon them to undertake this last
trying duty, after such continued exertion. I am sure the reader will
forgive me for bringing under his notice the generous efforts of these
two men; by me it can never be forgotten.


Six days had passed since their departure; we remaining encamped.
M'Leay and myself had made some short excursions, but without any
result worthy of notice. A group of sand-hills rose in the midst of the
alluvial deposits, about a quarter of a mile from the tents, that were
covered with coarse grasses and banksias. We shot several intertropical
birds feeding in the latter, and sucking the honey from their flowers.
I had, in the mean time, directed Clayton to make some plant cases of
the upper planks of the boat, and then to set fire to her, for she was
wholly unserviceable, and I felt a reluctance to leave her like a
neglected log on the water. The last ounce of flour had been served out
to the men, and the whole of it was consumed on the sixth day from that
on which we had abandoned the boat. I had calculated on seeing
Hopkinson again in eight days, but as the morrow would see us without
food, I thought, as the men had had a little rest it would be better to
advance towards relief than to await its arrival.


On the evening of the 18th, therefore, we buried our specimens and
other stores, intending to break up the camp in the morning. A singular
bird, which invariably passed it at an hour after sunset, and which,
from its heavy flight, appeared to be of unusual size so attracted my
notice, that in the evening M'Leay and I crossed the river, in hope to
get a shot at it. We had, however, hardly landed on the other side,
when a loud shout called us back to witness the return of our comrades.

They were both of them in a state that beggars description. Their knees
and ankles were dreadfully swollen, and their limbs so painful, that as
soon as they arrived in the camp they sunk under their efforts, but
they met us with smiling countenances, and expressed their satisfaction
at having arrived so seasonably to our relief. They had, as I had
foreseen, found Robert Harris on the plain, which they reached on the
evening of the third day. They had started early the next morning on
their return with such supplies as they thought we might immediately
want. Poor Macnamee had in a great measure recovered, but for some days
he was sullen and silent: sight of the drays gave him uncommon
satisfaction. Clayton gorged himself; but M'Leay, myself and Fraser
could not at first relish the meat that was placed before us.

It was determined to give the bullocks a day of rest, and I availed
myself of the serviceable state of the horses to visit some hills about
eighteen miles to the northward. I was anxious to gain a view of the
distant country to the N.W., and to ascertain the geological character
of the hills themselves. M'Leay, Fraser, and myself left the camp early
in the morning of the 19th, on our way to them. Crossing the sand
hills, we likewise passed a creek, and, from the flooded or alluvial
tracks, got on an elevated sandy country, in which we found a beautiful
grevillia. From this we passed a barren ridge of quartz-formation,
terminating in open box forest. From it we descended and traversed a
plain that must, at some periods, be almost impassable. It was covered
with acacia pendula, and the soil was a red earth, bare of vegetation
in many places. At its extremity we came to some stony ridges, and,
descending their northern side, gained the base of the hills. They were
more extensive than they appeared to be from our camp; and were about
six hundred feet in height, and composed of a conglomerate rock. They
were extremely barren, nor did the aspect of the country seem to
indicate a favourable change. I was enabled, however, to connect my
line of route with the more distant hills between the Morumbidgee and
the Lachlan. We returned to the camp at midnight.


On the following morning we left our station before Hamilton's Plains.
We reached Pondebadgery on the 28th, and found Robert Harris, with a
plentiful supply of provisions. He had everything extremely regular,
and had been anxiously expecting our return, of which he at length
wholly despaired. He had been at the plain two months, and intended to
have moved down the river immediately, had we not made our appearance
when we did.

I had sent M'Leay forward on the 20th with letters to the Governor,
whose anxiety was great on our account. I remained for a fortnight on
the plain to restore the men, but Hopkinson had so much over-exerted
himself that it was with difficulty he crawled along.

In my despatches to the Governor, from the depot, I had suggested the
policy of distributing some blankets and other presents to the natives
on the Morumbidgee, in order to reward those who had been useful to our
party, and in the hope of proving beneficial to settlers in that
distant part of the colony. His Excellency was kind enough to accede to
my request, and I found ample means for these purposes among the stores
that Harris brought from Sydney.

We left Pondebadgery Plain early on the 5th of May, and reached Guise's
Station late in the afternoon. We gained Yass Plains on the 12th,
having struck through the mountain passes by a direct line, instead of
returning by our old route near Underaliga. As the party was crossing
the plains I rode to see Mr. O'Brien, but did not find him at home.


While waiting at his hut, one of the stockmen pointed out two blacks to
me at a little distance from us. The one was standing, the other
sitting. "That fellow, sir," said he, "who is sitting down, killed his
infant child last night by knocking its head against a stone, after
which he threw it on the fire and then devoured it." I was quite horror
struck, and could scarcely believe such a story. I therefore went up to
the man and questioned him as to the fact, as well as I could. He did
not attempt to deny it, but slunk away in evident consciousness. I then
questioned the other that remained, whose excuse for his friend was
that the child was sick and would never have grown up, adding he
himself did not PATTER (eat) any of it.

Many of my readers may probably doubt this horrid occurrence having
taken place, as I have not mentioned any corroborating circumstances. I
am myself, however, as firmly persuaded of the truth of what I have
stated as if I had seen the savage commit the act; for I talked to his
companion who did see him, and who described to me the manner in which
he killed the child. Be it as it may, the very mention of such a thing
among these people goes to prove that they are capable of such an

We left Yass Plains on the 14th of May, and reached Sydney by easy
stages on the 25th, after an absence of nearly six months.

* * * * *


To most of my readers, the foregoing narrative will appear little else
than a succession of adventures. Whilst the expedition was toiling down
the rivers, no rich country opened upon the view to reward or to cheer
the perseverance of those who composed it, and when, at length, the
land of promise lay smiling before them, their strength and their means
were too much exhausted to allow of their commencing an examination, of
the result of which there could be but little doubt. The expedition
returned to Sydney, without any splendid discovery to gild its
proceedings; and the labours and dangers it had encountered were
considered as nothing more than ordinary occurrences. If I myself had
entertained hopes that my researches would have benefited the colony, I
was wholly disappointed. There is a barren tract of country lying to
the westward of the Blue Mountains that will ever divide the eastern
coast from the more central parts of Australia, as completely as if
seas actually rolled between them.


In a geographical point of view, however, nothing could have been more
satisfactory, excepting an absolute knowledge of the country to the
northward between the Murray and the Darling, than the results of the
expedition. I have in its proper place stated, as fairly as I could, my
reasons for supposing the principal junction (which I consequently left
without a name) to be the Darling of my former journey, as well as the
various arguments that bore against such a conclusion.

Of course, where there is so much room for doubt, opinions will be
various. I shall merely review the subject, in order to connect
subsequent events with my previous observations, and to give the reader
a full idea of that which struck me to be the case on a close and
anxious investigation of the country from mountain to lowland. I
returned from the Macquarie with doubts on my mind as to the ultimate
direction to which the waters of the Darling river might ultimately
flow; for, with regard to every other point, the question was, I
considered, wholly decided. But, with regard to that singular stream, I
was, from the little knowledge I had obtained, puzzled as to its actual
course; and I thought it as likely that it might turn into the heart of
the interior, as that it would make to the south. It had not, however,
escaped my notice, that the northern rivers turned more abruptly
southward (after gaining a certain distance from the base of the
ranges) than the more southern streams: near the junction of the
Castlereagh with the Darling especially, the number of large creeks
joining the first river from the north, led me to conclude that there
was at that particular spot a rapid fall of country to the south.

The first thing that strengthened in my mind this half-formed opinion,
was the fall of the Lachlan into the Morumbidgee. I had been told that
Australia was a basin; that an unbroken range of hills lined its
coasts, the internal rivers of which fell into its centre, and
contributed to the formation of an inland sea; I was not therefore
prepared to find a break in the chain - a gap as it were for the escape
of these waters to the coast.

Subsequently to our entrance into the Murray, the remarkable efforts of
that river to maintain a southerly course were observed even by the
men, and the singular runs it made to the south, when unchecked by high
lands, clearly evinced its natural tendency to flow in that direction.

Had we found ourselves at an elevation above the bed of the Darling
when we reached the junction of the principal tributary with the
Murray, I should still have had doubts on my mind as to the identity of
that tributary with the first-mentioned river; but considering the
trifling elevation of the Darling above the sea, and that the junction
was still less elevated above it, I cannot bring myself to believe that
the former alters its course. It is not, however, on this simple
geographical principle that I have built my conclusions; other
corroborative circumstances have tended also to confirm in my mind the
opinion I have already given, not only of the comparatively recent
appearance above the ocean of the level country over which I had
passed, but that the true dip of the interior is from north to south.

In support of the first of these conclusions, it would appear that a
current of water must have swept the vast accumulation of shells,
forming the great fossil bank through which the Murray passes from the
northern extremity of the continent, to deposit them where they are;
and it would further appear from the gradual rise of this bed, on an
inclined plain from N.N.E. to S.S.W., that it must in the first
instance, have swept along the base of the ranges, but ultimately
turned into the above direction by the convexity of the mountains at
the S.E. angle of the coast. From the circumstance, moreover, of the
summit of the fossil formation being in places covered with oyster
shells, the fact of the whole mass having been under water is
indisputable, and leads us naturally to the conclusion that the
depressed interior beyond it must have been under water at the same

It was proved by barometrical admeasurement, that the cataract of the
Macquarie was 680 feet above the level of the sea, and, in like manner,
it was found that the depot of Mr. Oxley, on the Lachlan, was only 500,
there being a still greater fall of country beyond these two points.
The maximum height of the fossil bank was 300 feet; and if we suppose a
line to be drawn from its top to the eastward, that line would pass
over the marshes of the two rivers, and would cut them at a point below
which they both gradually diminish. Hence I am brought to conclude that
in former times the sea washed the western base of the dividing ranges,
at or near the two points whose respective elevations I have given; and
that when the mass of land now lying waste and unproductive, became
exposed, the rivers, which until then had pursued a regular course to
the ocean, having no channel beyond their original termination,
overflowed the almost level country into which they now fall; or,
filling some extensive concavity, have contributed, by successive
depositions, to the formation of those marshes of which so much has
been said. I regret extremely, that my defective vision prevents me
giving a slight sketch to elucidate whet I fear I have, in words,
perhaps, failed in making sufficiently intelligible.


Now, as we know not by what means the changes that have taken place on
the earth's surface have been effected, and can only reason on them
from analogy, it is to be feared we shall never arrive at any clear
demonstration of the truth of our surmises with regard to geographical
changes, whether extensive or local, since the causes which produced
them will necessarily have ceased to operate. We cannot refer to the
dates when they took place, as we may do in regard to the eruptions of
a volcano, or the appearance or disappearance of an island. Such events
are of minor importance. Those mighty changes to which I would be
understood to allude, can hardly be laid to the account of chemical
agency. We can easily comprehend how subterranean fires will
occasionally burst forth, and can thus satisfactorily account for
earthquake or volcano; but it is not to any clashing of properties, or
to any visible causes, that the changes of which I speak can be
attributed. They appear rather as the consequences of direct agency, of
an invisible power, not as the occasional and fretful workings of
nature herself. The marks of that awful catastrophe which so nearly
extinguished the human race, are every day becoming more and more
visible as geological research proceeds. Thus, in the limestone caves
at Wellington Valley, the remains of fossils and exuviae, show that
their depths were penetrated by the same searching element that poured
into the caverns of Kirkdale and other places. They are as gleams of
sunshine falling upon the pages of that sublime and splendid volume, in
which the history of the deluge is alone to be found; as if the
Almighty intended that His word should stand single and unsupported
before mankind: and when we consider that such corroborative
testimonies of his wrath, as those I have noticed, were in all
probability wholly unknown to those who wrote that sacred book, the
discovery of the remains of a past world, must strike those under whose
knowledge it may fall with the truth of that awful event, which
language has vainly endeavoured to describe and painters to represent.


Environs of the lake Alexandrina - Appointment of Capt. Barker to make a
further survey of the coast near Encounter Bay - Narrative of his
proceedings - Mount Lofty, Mount Barker, and beautiful country
adjacent - Australian salmon - Survey of the coast - Outlet of lake to the
sea - Circumstances that led to the slaughter of Capt. Barker by the
natives - His character - Features of this part of the country and
capabilities of its coasts - Its adaptation for colonization - Suggestions
for the furtherance of future Expeditions.


The foregoing narrative will have given the reader some idea of the
state in which the last expedition reached the bottom of that extensive
and magnificent basin which receives the waters of the Murray. The men
were, indeed, so exhausted, in strength, and their provisions so much
reduced by the time they gained the coast, that I doubted much, whether
either would hold out to such place as we might hope for relief. Yet,
reduced as the whole of us were from previous exertion, beset as our
homeward path was by difficulty and danger, and involved as our
eventual safety was in obscurity and doubt, I could not but deplore the
necessity that obliged me to re-cross the Lake Alexandrina (as I had
named it in honour of the heir apparent to the British crown), and to
relinquish the examination of its western shores. We were borne over
its ruffled and agitated surface with such rapidity, that I had
scarcely time to view it as we passed; but, cursory as my glance was, I
could not but think I was leaving behind me the fullest reward of our
toil, in a country that would ultimately render our discoveries
valuable, and benefit the colony for whose interests we were engaged.
Hurried, I would repeat, as my view of it was, my eye never fell on a
country of more promising aspect, or of more favourable position, than
that which occupies the space between the lake and the ranges of St.
Vincent's Gulf, and, continuing northerly from Mount Barker, stretches
away, without any visible boundary.

It appeared to me that, unless nature had deviated from her usual laws,
this tract of country could not but be fertile, situated as it was to
receive the mountain deposits on the one hand, and those of the lake
upon the other.


In my report to the Colonial Government, however, I did not feel myself
justified in stating, to their full extent, opinions that were founded
on probability and conjecture alone. But, although I was guarded in
this particular, I strongly recommended a further examination of the
coast, from the most eastern point of Encounter Bay, to the head St.
Vincent's Gulf, to ascertain if any other than the known channel
existed among the sand-hills of the former, or if, as I had every
reason to hope from the great extent of water to the N.W., there was a
practicable communication with the lake from the other; and I ventured
to predict, that a closer survey of the interjacent country, would be
attended with the most beneficial results; nor have I a doubt that the
promontory of Cape Jervis would ere this have been settled, had Captain
Barker lived to complete his official reports.


The governor, General Darling, whose multifarious duties might well
have excused him from paying attention to distant objects, hesitated
not a moment when he thought the interests of the colony, whose welfare
he so zealously promoted, appeared to be concerned; and he determined
to avail himself of the services of Captain Collet Barker, of the 39th
regiment, who was about to be recalled from King George's Sound, in
order to satisfy himself as to the correctness of my views.

Captain Barker had not long before been removed from Port Raffles, on
the northern coast, where he had had much intercourse with the natives,
and had frequently trusted himself wholly in their hands. It was not,
however, merely on account of his conciliating manners, and knowledge
of the temper and habits of the natives, that he was particularly
fitted for the duty upon which it was the governor's pleasure to employ
him. He was, in addition, a man of great energy of character, and of
much and various information.

Orders having reached Sydney, directing the establishment belonging to
New South Wales to be withdrawn, prior to the occupation of King
George's Sound by the government of Western Australia, the ISABELLA
schooner was sent to receive the troops and prisoners on board; and
Captain Barker was directed, as soon as he should have handed over the
settlement to Captain Stirling, to proceed to Cape Jervis, from which
point it was thought he could best carry on a survey not only of the
coast but also of the interior.

This excellent and zealous officer sailed from King George's Sound, on
the 10th of April, 1831, and arrived off Cape Jervis on the 13th. He
was attended by Doctor Davies, one of the assistant surgeons of his
regiment, and by Mr. Kent, of the Commissariat. It is to the latter
gentleman that the public are indebted for the greater part of the
following details; he having attended Captain Barker closely during the
whole of this short but disastrous excursion, and made notes as copious
as they are interesting. At the time the ISABELLA arrived off Cape
Jervis, the weather was clear and favourable. Captain Barker
consequently stood into St. Vincent's Gulf, keeping, as near as
practicable, to the eastern shore, in soundings that varied from six to
ten fathoms, upon sand and mud. His immediate object was to ascertain
if there was any communication with the lake Alexandrina from the gulf.
He ascended to lat. 34 degrees 40 minutes where he fully satisfied
himself that no channel did exist between them. He found, however, that
the ranges behind Cape Jervis terminated abruptly at Mount Lofty, in
lat. 34 degrees 56 minutes, and, that a flat and wooded country
succeeded to the N. and N.E. The shore of the gulf tended more to the
N.N.W., and mud flats and mangrove swamps prevailed along it.


Mr. Kent informs me, that they landed for the first time on the 15th,
but that they returned almost immediately to the vessel. On the 17th,
Captain Barker again landed, with the intention of remaining on shore
for two or three days. He was accompanied by Mr. Kent, his servant
Mills, and two soldiers. The boat went to the place at which they had
before landed, as they thought they had discovered a small river with a
bar entrance. They crossed the bar, and ascertained that it was a
narrow inlet, of four miles in length, that terminated at the base of
the ranges. The party were quite delighted with the aspect of the
country on either side of the inlet, and with the bold and romantic
scenery behind them. The former bore the appearance of natural meadows,
lightly timbered, and covered with a variety of grasses. The soil was
observed to be a rich, fat, chocolate coloured earth, probably the
decomposition of the deep blue limestone, that showed itself along the
coast hereabouts. On the other hand, a rocky glen made a cleft in the
ranges at the head of the inlet; and they were supplied with abundance
of fresh water which remained in the deeper pools that had been filled
by the torrents during late rains. The whole neighbourhood was so
inviting that the party slept at the head of the inlet.


In the morning, Captain Barker proceeded to ascend Mount Lofty,
accompanied by Mr. Kent and his servant, leaving the two soldiers at
the bivouac, at which he directed them to remain until his return. Mr.
Kent says they kept the ridge all the way, and rose above the sea by a
gradual ascent. The rock-formation of the lower ranges appeared to be
an argillaceous schist; the sides and summit of the ranges were covered

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 15 of 18)