Charles Sturt.

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

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with verdure, and the trees upon them were of more than ordinary size.
The view to the eastward was shut out by other ranges, parallel to
those on which they were; below them to the westward, the same pleasing
kind of country that flanked the inlet still continued.


In the course of the day they passed round the head of a deep ravine,
whose smooth and grassy sides presented a beautiful appearance. The
party stood 600 feet above the bed of a small rivulet that occupied the
bottom of the ravine. In some places huge blocks of granite interrupted
its course, in others the waters had worn the rock smooth. The polish
of these rocks was quite beautiful, and the veins of red and white
quartz which traversed them, looked like mosaic work. They did not gain
the top of Mount Lofty, but slept a few miles beyond the ravine. In the
morning they continued their journey, and, crossing Mount Lofty,
descended northerly, to a point from which the range bent away a little
to the N.N.E., and then terminated. The view from this point was much
more extensive than that from Mount Lofty itself. They overlooked a
great part of the gulf, and could distinctly see the mountains at the
head of it to the N.N.W. To the N.W. there was a considerable
indentation in the coast, which had escaped Captain Barker's notice
when examining it. A mountain, very similar to Mount Lofty, bore due
east of them, and appeared to be the termination of its range. They
were separated by a valley of about ten miles in width, the appearance
of which was not favourable. Mr. Kent states to me, that Capt. Barker
observed at the time that he thought it probable I had mistaken this
hill for Mount Lofty, since it shut out the view of the lake from him,
and therefore he naturally concluded, I could not have seen Mount
Lofty. I can readily imagine such an error to have been made by me,
more especially as I remember that at the time I was taking bearings in
the lake, I thought Captain Flinders had not given Mount Lofty, as I
then conceived it to be, its proper position in longitude. Both hills
are in the same parallel of latitude. The mistake on my part is
obvious. I have corrected it in the charts, and have availed myself of
the opportunity thus afforded me of perpetuating, as far as I can, the
name of an inestimable companion in Captain Barker himself.

Immediately below the point on which they stood, Mr. Kent says, a low
undulating country extended to the northward, as far as he could see.
It was partly open, and partly wooded; and was every where covered with
verdure. It continued round to the eastward, and apparently ran down
southerly, at the opposite base of the mount Barker Range. I think
there can be but little doubt that my view from the S.E., that is, from
the lake, extended over the same or a part of the same country. Captain
Barker again slept on the summit of the range, near a large basin that
looked like the mouth of a crater, in which huge fragments of rocks
made a scene of the utmost confusion. These rocks were a coarse grey
granite, of which the higher parts and northern termination of the
Mount Lofty range are evidently formed; for Mr. Kent remarks that it
superseded the schistose formation at the ravine we have noticed - and
that, subsequently, the sides of the hills became more broken, and
valleys, or gullies, more properly speaking, very numerous. Captain
Barker estimated the height of Mount Lofty above the sea at 2,400 feet,
and the distance of its summit from the coast at eleven miles. Mr. Kent
says they were surprised at the size of the trees on the immediate brow
of it; they measured one and found it to be 43 feet in girth. Indeed,
he adds, vegetation did not appear to have suffered either from its
elevated position, or from any prevailing wind. Eucalypti were the
general timber on the ranges; one species of which, resembling strongly
the black butted-gum, was remarkable for a scent peculiar to its bark.


The party rejoined the soldiers on the 21st, and enjoyed the supply of
fish which they had provided for them. The soldiers had amused
themselves by fishing during Captain Barker's absence, and had been
abundantly successful. Among others they had taken a kind of salmon,
which, though inferior in size, resembled in shape, in taste, and in
the colour of its flesh, the salmon of Europe. I fancied that a fish
which I observed with extremely glittering scales, in the mouth of a
seal, when myself on the coast, must have been of this kind; and I have
no doubt that the lake is periodically visited by salmon, and that
these fish retain their habits of entering fresh water at particular
seasons, also in the southern hemisphere.

Immediately behind Cape Jervis, there is a small bay, in which
according to the information of the sealers who frequent Kangaroo
Island, there is good and safe anchorage for seven months in the year,
that is to say, during the prevalence of the E. and N.E. winds.


Captain Barker landed on the 21st on this rocky point at the northern
extremity of this bay. He had, however, previously to this, examined
the indentation in the coast which he had observed from Mount Lofty,
and had ascertained that it was nothing more than an inlet; a spit of
sand, projecting from the shore at right angles with it, concealed the
month of the inlet. They took the boat to examine this point, and
carried six fathoms soundings round the head of the spit to the mouth
of the inlet, when it shoaled to two fathoms, and the landing was
observed to be bad, by reason of mangrove swamps on either side of it.
Mr. Kent, I think, told me that this inlet was from ten to twelve miles
long. Can it be that a current setting out of it at times, has thrown
up the sand-bank that protects its mouth, and that trees, or any other
obstacle, have hidden its further prolongation from Captain Barker's
notice? I have little hope that such is the case, but the remark is not
an idle one.


Between this inlet and the one formerly mentioned, a small and clear
stream was discovered, to which Captain Barker kindly gave my name. On
landing, the party, which consisted of the same persons as the former
one, found themselves in a valley, which opened direct upon the bay. It
was confined to the north from the chief range by a lateral ridge, that
gradually declined towards and terminated at, the rocky point on which
they had landed. The other side of the valley was formed of a
continuation of the main range, which also gradually declined to the
south, and appeared to be connected with the hills at the extremity of
the cape. The valley was from nine to ten miles in length, and from
three to four in breadth. In crossing it, they ascertained that the
lagoon from which the schooner had obtained a supply of water, was
filled by a watercourse that came down its centre. The soil in the
valley was rich, but stony in some parts. There was an abundance of
pasture over the whole, from amongst which they started numerous
kangaroos. The scenery towards the ranges was beautiful and romantic,
and the general appearance of the country such as to delight the whole

Preserving a due east course, Captain Barker passed over the opposite
range of hills, and descended almost immediately into a second valley
that continued to the southwards. Its soil was poor and stony, and it
was covered with low scrub. Crossing it, they ascended the opposite
range, from the summit of which they had a view of Encounter Bay. An
extensive flat stretched from beneath them to the eastward, and was
backed, in the distance, by sand hummocks, and low wooded hills. The
extreme right of the flat rested upon the coast, at a rocky point near
which there were two or three islands. From the left a beautiful valley
opened upon it. A strong and clear rivulet from this valley traversed
the flat obliquely, and fell into the sea at the rocky point, or a
little to the southward of it. The hills forming the opposite side of
the valley had already terminated. Captain Barker, therefore, ascended
to higher ground, and, at length, obtained a view of the Lake
Alexandrina, and the channel of its communication with the sea to the
N.E. He now descended to the flat, and frequently expressed his anxious
wish to Mr. Kent that I had been one of their number to enjoy the
beauty of the scenery around them, and to participate in their labours.
Had fate so ordained it, it is possible the melancholy tragedy that
soon after occurred might have been averted.


At the termination of the flat they found themselves upon the banks of
the channel, and close to the sand hillock under which my tents had
been pitched. From this point they proceeded along the line of
sand-hills to the outlet; from which it would appear that Kangaroo
Island is not visible, but that the distant point which I mistook for
it was the S.E. angle of Cape Jervis. I have remarked, in describing
that part of the coast, that there is a sand-hill to the eastward of
the inlet, under which the tide runs strong, and the water is deep.
Captain Barker judged the breadth of the channel to be a quarter of a
mile, and he expressed a desire to swim across it to the sand-hill to
take bearings, and to ascertain the nature of the strand beyond it to
the eastward.

It unfortunately happened, that he was the only one of the party who
could swim well, in consequence of which his people remonstrated with
him on the danger of making the attempt unattended. Notwithstanding,
however, that he was seriously indisposed, he stripped, and after Mr.
Kent had fastened his compass on his head for him, he plunged into the
water, and with difficulty gained the opposite side; to effect which
took him nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds. His anxious comrades saw
him ascend the hillock, and take several bearings; he then descended
the farther side, and was never seen by them again.


For a considerable time Mr. Kent remained stationary, in momentary
expectation of his return; but at length, taking the two soldiers with
him, he proceeded along the shore in search of wood for a fire. At
about a quarter of a mile, the soldiers stopped and expressed their
wish to return, as their minds misgave them, and they feared that
Captain Barker had met with some accident. While conversing, they heard
a distant shout, or cry, which Mr. Kent thought resembled the call of
the natives, but which the soldiers positively declared to be the voice
of a white man. On their return to their companions, they asked if any
sounds had caught their ears, to which they replied in the negative.
The wind was blowing from the E.S.E., in which direction Captain Barker
had gone; and, to me, the fact of the nearer party not having heard
that which must have been his cries for assistance, is satisfactorily
accounted for, as, being immediately under the hill, the sounds must
have passed over their heads to be heard more distinctly at the
distance at which Mr. Kent and the soldiers stood. It is more than
probable, that while his men were expressing their anxiety about him,
the fearful tragedy was enacting which it has become my painful task to

Evening closed in without any signs of Captain Barker's return, or any
circumstance by which Mr. Kent could confirm his fears that he had
fallen into the hands of the natives. For, whether it was that the
tribe which had shown such decided hostility to me when on the coast
had not observed the party, none made their appearance; and if I except
two, who crossed the channel when Mr. Kent was in search of wood, they
had neither seen nor heard any; and Captain Barker's enterprising
disposition being well known to his men, hopes were still entertained
that he was safe. A large fire was kindled, and the party formed a
silent and anxious group around it. Soon after night-fall, however,
their attention was roused by the sounds of the natives, and it was at
length discovered, that they had lighted a chain of small fires between
the sand-hill Captain Barker had ascended and the opposite side of the
channel, around which their women were chanting their melancholy dirge.
It struck upon the ears of the listeners with an ominous thrill, and
assured them of the certainty of the irreparable loss they had
sustained. All night did those dismal sounds echo along that lonely
shore, but as morning dawned, they ceased, and Mr. Kent and his
companions were again left in anxiety and doubt. They, at length,
thought it most advisable to proceed to the schooner to advise with
Doctor Davies. They traversed the beach with hasty steps, but did not
get on board till the following day. It was then determined to procure
assistance from the sealers on Kangaroo Island, as the only means by
which they could ascertain their leader's fate, and they accordingly
entered American Harbour. For a certain reward, one of the men agreed
to accompany Mr. Kent to the main with a native woman, to communicate
with the tribe that was supposed to have killed him. They landed at or
near the rocky point of Encounter Bay, where they were joined by two
other natives, one of whom was blind. The woman was sent forward for
intelligence, and on her return gave the following details:


It appears that at a very considerable distance from the first
sand-hill, there is another to which Captain Barker must have walked,
for the woman stated that three natives were going to the shore from
their tribe, and that they crossed his tract. Their quick perception
immediately told them it was an unusual impression. They followed upon
it, and saw Captain Barker returning. They hesitated for a long time to
approach him, being fearful of the instrument he carried. At length,
however, they closed upon him. Capt. Barker tried to soothe them, but
finding that they were determined to attack him, he made for the water
from which he could not have been very distant. One of the blacks
immediately threw his spear and struck him in the hip. This did not,
however, stop him. He got among the breakers, when he received the
second spear in the shoulder. On this, turning round, he received a
third full in the breast: with such deadly precision do these savages
cast their weapons. It would appear that the third spear was already on
its flight when Capt. Barker turned, and it is to be hoped, that it was
at once mortal. He fell on his back into the water. The natives then
rushed in, and dragging him out by the legs, seized their spears, and
indicted innumerable wounds upon his body; after which, they threw it
into deep water, and the sea-tide carried it away.


Such, we have every reason to believe, was the untimely fate of this
amiable and talented man. It is a melancholy satisfaction to me thus
publicly to record his worth; instrumental, as I cannot but in some
measure consider my last journey to have been in leading to this fatal
catastrophe. Captain Barker was in disposition, as he was in the close
of his life, in many respects similar to Captain Cook. Mild, affable,
and attentive, he had the esteem and regard of every companion, and the
respect of every one under him. Zealous in the discharge of his public
duties, honourable and just in private life; a lover and a follower of
science; indefatigable and dauntless in his pursuits; a steady friend,
an entertaining companion; charitable, kind-hearted, disinterested, and
sincere - the task is equally difficult to find adequate expressions of
praise or of regret. In him the king lost one of his most valuable
officers, and his regiment one of its most efficient members. Beloved
as he was, the news of his loss struck his numerous friends with
sincere grief, but by none was it more severely felt than by the humble
individual who has endeavoured thus feebly to draw his portrait.

From the same source from which the particulars of his death were
obtained, it was reported that the natives who perpetrated the deed
were influenced by no other motive than curiosity to ascertain if they
had power to kill a white man. But we must be careful in giving credit
to this, for it is much more probable that the cruelties exercised by
the sealers towards the blacks along the south coast, may have
instigated the latter to take vengeance on the innocent as well as on
the guilty. It will be seen, by a reference to the chart, that Captain
Barker, by crossing the channel, threw himself into the very hands of
that tribe which had evinced such determined hostility to myself and my
men. He got into the rear of their strong hold, and was sacrificed to
those feelings of suspicion, and to that desire of revenge, which the
savages never lose sight of until they have been gratified.


It yet remains for me to state that when Mr. Kent returned to the
schooner, after this irreparable loss, he kept to the south of the
place at which he had crossed the first range with Captain Barker, and
travelled through a valley right across the promontory. He thus
discovered that there was a division in the ranges, through which there
was a direct and level road from the little bay on the northern
extremity of which they had last landed in St. Vincent's Gulf, to the
rocky point of Encounter Bay. The importance of this fact will be
better estimated, when it is known that good anchorage is secured to
small vessels inside the island that lies off the point of Encounter
Bay, which is rendered still safer by a horse shoe reef that forms, as
it were, a thick wall to break the swell of the sea. But this anchorage
is not safe for more than five months in the year. Independently of
these points, however, Mr. Kent remarks, that the spit a little to the
north of Mount Lofty would afford good shelter to minor vessels under
its lee. When the nature of the country is taken into consideration,
and the facility of entering that which lies between the ranges and the
Lake Alexandrina, from the south, and of a direct communication with
the lake itself, the want of an extensive harbour will, in some
measure, be compensated for, more especially when it is known that
within four leagues of Cape Jervis, a port little inferior to Port
Jackson, with a safe and broad entrance, exists at Kangaroo Island. The
sealers have given this spot the name of American Harbour. In it, I am
informed, vessels are completely land-locked, and secure from every
wind. Kangaroo Island is not, however, fertile by any means. It abounds
in shallow lakes filled with salt water during high tides, and which,
by evaporation, yield a vast quantity of salt.

I gathered from the sealers that neither the promontory separating St.
Vincent from Spencer's Gulf, nor the neighbourhood of Port Lincoln, are
other than barren and sandy wastes. They all agree in describing Port
Lincoln itself as a magnificent roadstead, but equally agree as to the
sterility of its shores. It appears, therefore, that the promontory of
Cape Jervis owes its superiority to its natural features; in fact, to
the mountains that occupy its centre, to the debris that has been
washed from them, and to the decomposition of the better description of
its rocks. Such is the case at Illawarra, where the mountains approach
the sea; such indeed is the case every where, at a certain distance
from mountain ranges.


From the above account it would appear that a spot has, at length, been
found upon the south coast of New Holland, to which the colonist might
venture with every prospect of success, and in whose valleys the exile
might hope to build for himself and for his family a peaceful and
prosperous home. All who have ever landed upon the eastern shore of St.
Vincent's Gulf, agree as to the richness of its soil, and the abundance
of its pasture. Indeed, if we cast our eyes upon the chart, and examine
the natural features of the country behind Cape Jervis, we shall no
longer wonder at its differing in soil and fertility from the low and
sandy tracks that generally prevail along the shores of Australia.
Without entering largely into the consideration of the more remote
advantages that would, in all human probability, result from the
establishment of a colony, rather than a penal settlement, at St.
Vincent's Gulf, it will be expedient to glance hastily over the
preceding narrative, and, disengaging it from all extraneous matter, to
condense, as much as possible, the information it contains respecting
the country itself; for I have been unable to introduce any passing
remark, lest I should break the thread of an interesting detail.

The country immediately behind Cape Jervis may, strictly speaking, be
termed a promontory, bounded to the west by St. Vincent's Gulf, and to
the east by the lake Alexandrina, and the sandy track separating that
basin from the sea. Supposing a line to be drawn from the parallel of
34 degrees 40 minutes to the eastward, it will strike the Murray river
about 25 miles above the head of the lake, and will clear the ranges,
of which Mount Lofty and Mount Barker are the respective terminations.
This line will cut off a space whose greatest breadth will be 55 miles,
whose length from north to south will be 75, and whose surface exceeds
7 millions of acres; from which if we deduct 2 millions for the
unavailable hills, we shall have 5 millions of acres of land, of rich
soil, upon which no scrub exists, and whose most distant points are
accessible, through a level country on the one hand, and by water on
the other. The southern extremity of the ranges can be turned by that
valley through which Mr. Kent returned to the schooner, after Captain
Barker's death. It is certain, therefore, that this valley not only
secures so grand a point, but also presents a level line of
communication from the small bay immediately to the north of the cape,
to the rocky point of Encounter Bay, at both of which places there is
safe anchorage at different periods of the year.


The only objection that can be raised to the occupation of this spot,
is the want of an available harbour. Yet it admits of great doubt
whether the contiguity of Kangaroo Island to Cape Jervis, (serving as
it does to break the force of the prevailing winds, as also of the
heavy swell that would otherwise roll direct into the bay,) and the
fact of its possessing a safe and commodious harbour, certainly at an
available distance, does not in a great measure remove the objection.
Certain it is that no port, with the exception of that on the shores of
which the capital of Australia is situated, offers half the convenience
of this, although it be detached between three and four leagues from
the main.

On the other hand it would appear, that there is no place from which at
any time the survey of the more central parts of the continent could be
so effectually carried on; for in a country like Australia, where the
chief obstacle to be apprehended in travelling is the want of water,
the facilities afforded by the Murray and its tributaries, are
indisputable; and I have little doubt that the very centre of the
continent might be gained by a judicious and enterprising expedition.
Certainly it is most desirable to ascertain whether the river I have
supposed to be the Darling be really so or not. I have stated my
objection to depots, but I think that if a party commenced its
operations upon the Murray from the junction upwards, and, after
ascertaining the fact of its ultimate course, turned away to the N.W.
up one of the tributaries of the Murray, with a supply of six months'
provisions, the results would be of the most satisfactory kind, and the
features of the country be wholly developed. I cannot, I think,
conclude this work better than by expressing a hope, that the Colonial
Government will direct such measures to be adopted as may be necessary
for the extension of our geographical knowledge in Australia. The
facilities of fitting out expeditions in New South Wales, render the
expenses of little moment, when compared with the importance of the
object in view; and although I am labouring under the effects of former
attempts, yet would I willingly give such assistance as I could to
carry such an object into effect.




Considering the nature of the country over which the first expedition
travelled, it could hardly have been expected that its geological

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 16 of 18)