Charles Sturt.

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

. (page 5 of 18)
Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 5 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

aspect. Occasional groups of cypress showed themselves on narrow sandy
ridges, or partial brushes extended from the river, consisting chiefly
of the acacia pendula, the stenochylus, and the nut I have already
noticed. The soil on which they grew was, if possible, worse than that
of the barren plain which we were traversing; and their colour and
drooping state rendered the desolate landscape still more dreary.

On the 21st, we found the same singular substance (gypsum) embedded in
the bank of the river that had been collected, during the former
expedition, on the banks of the Darling; and hope, which is always
uppermost in the human breast, induced me to think that we were fast
approaching that stream. My observations placed me in 34 degrees 17
minutes 15 seconds S. and 145 degrees of E. longitude.


On the 22nd, my black boy deserted me. I was not surprised at his doing
so, neither did I regret his loss, for he had been of little use under
any circumstances. He was far too cunning for our purpose. I know not
that the term ingratitude can be applied to one in his situation, and
in whose bosom nature had implanted a love of freedom. We learnt from
four blacks, with whom he had spoken, and who came to us in the
afternoon, that he had gone up the river, - as I conjectured, to the
last large tribe we had left, with whom he appeared to become very

A creek coming from the N.N.W. here fell into the Morumbidgee; a proof
that the general decline of country was really to the south, although a
person looking over it would have supposed the contrary.


We started on the 23rd, with the same boundlessness of plain on either
side of us; but in the course of the morning a change took place, both
in soil and productions; and from the red sandy loam, and salsolaceous
plants, amidst which we had been toiling, we got upon a light tenacious
and blistered soil, evidently subject to frequent overflow, and fields
of polygonum junceum, amidst which, both the crested pigeon and the
black quail were numerous. The drays and animals sank so deep in this,
that we were obliged to make for the river, and keep upon its immediate
banks. Still, with all the appearance of far-spread inundation, it
continued undiminished in size, and apparently in the strength of its
current. Its channel was deeper than near the mountains, but its
breadth was about the same.

On the 24th, we were again entangled amidst fields of polygonum,
through which we laboured until after eleven, when we gained a firmer
soil. Some cypresses appeared upon our right, in a dark line, and I
indulged hopes that a change was about to take place in the nature of
the country. We soon, however, got on a light rotten earth, and were
again obliged to make for the river, with the teams completely
exhausted. We had not travelled many miles from our last camp, yet it
struck me, that the river had fallen off in appearance. I examined it
with feelings of intense anxiety, certain, as I was, that the flooded
spaces, over which we had been travelling would, sooner or later, be
succeeded by a country overgrown with reeds. The river evidently
overflowed its banks, on both sides, for many miles, nor had I a doubt
that, at some periods, the space northward, between it and the Lachlan,
presented the appearance of one vast sea. The flats of polygonum
stretched away to the N.W. to an amazing distance, as well as in a
southerly direction, and the very nature of the soil bore testimony to
its flooded origin. But the most unaccountable circumstance to me was,
that it should be entirely destitute of vegetation, with the exception
of the gloomy and leafless bramble I have noticed.

M'Leay, who was always indefatigable in his pursuit after subjects of
natural history, shot a cockatoo, of a new species, hereabouts, having
a singularly shaped upper mandible. It was white, with scarlet down
under the neck feathers, smaller than the common cockatoo, and
remarkable for other peculiarities.


Two or three natives made their appearance at some distance from the
party, but would not approach it until after we had halted. They then
came to the tents, seven in number, and it was evident from their
manner, that their chief or only object was to pilfer anything they
could. We did not, therefore, treat them with much ceremony. They were
an ill-featured race, and it was only by strict watching during the
night that they were prevented from committing theft. Probably from
seeing that we were aware of their intentions, they left us early, and
pointing somewhat to the eastward of north, said they were going to the
Colare, and on being asked how far it was, they signified that they
should sleep there. I had on a former occasion recollected the term
having been made use of by a black, on the Macquarie, when speaking to
me of the Lachlan, and had questioned one of the young men who was with
us at the time, and who seemed more intelligent than his companions,
respecting it. Immediately catching at the word, he had pointed to the
N.N.W., and, making a sweep with his arms raised towards the sky had
intimated, evidently, that a large sheet of water existed in that
direction, in the same manner that another black had done on a former
occasion: on being further questioned, he stated that this communicated
with the Morumbidgee more to the westward, and on my expressing a
desire to go to it, he said we could not do so under four days. We had,
it appeared, by the account of the seven natives, approached within one
day's journey of it, and, as I thought it would be advisable to gain a
little knowledge of the country to the north, I suggested to M'Leay to
ride in that direction, while the party should be at rest, with some
good feed for the cattle that fortune had pointed out to us.


Our horses literally sank up to their knees on parts of the great plain
over which we had in the first instance to pass, and we rode from three
to four miles before we caught sight of a distant wood at its northern
extremity; the view from the river having been for the last two or
three days, as boundless as the ocean. As we approached the wood, two
columns of smoke rose from it, considerably apart, evidently the fires
of natives near water. We made for the central space between them,
having a dead acacia scrub upon our right. On entering the wood, we
found that it contained for the most part, flooded-gum, under which
bulrushes and reeds were mixed together. The whole space seemed liable
to overflow, and we crossed numerous little drains, that intersected
each other in every direction. From the resemblance of the ground to
that at the bottom of the marshes of the Macquarie, I prognosticated to
my companion that we should shortly come upon a creek, and we had not
ridden a quarter of a mile further, when we found ourselves on the
banks of one of considerable size. Crossing it, we proceeded northerly,
until we got on the outskirts of a plain of red sandy soil, covered
with rhagodia alone, and without a tree upon the visible horizon. The
country appeared to be rising before us, but was extremely depressed to
the eastward. After continuing along this plain for some time, I became
convinced from appearances, that we were receding from water, and that
the fires of the natives, which were no longer visible, must have been
on the creek we had crossed, that I judged to be leading W.S.W. from
the opposite quarter. We had undoubtedly struck below to the westward
of the Colare or Lachlan, and the creek was the channel of
communication between it and the Morumbidgee, at least such was the
natural conclusion at which I arrived. Having no further object in
continuing a northerly course, we turned to the S.E., and, after again
passing the creek, struck away for the camp on a S. by W. course, and
passed through a dense brush of cypress and casuarina in our way to it.


Considering our situation as connected with the marshes of the Lachlan,
I cannot but infer that the creek we struck upon during this excursion
serves as a drain to the latter, to conduct its superfluous waters into
the Morumbidgee in times of flood, as those of the Macquarie are
conducted by the creek at the termination of its marshes into
Morrisset's Chain of Ponds. It will be understood that I only surmise
this. I argue from analogy, not from proof. Whether I am correct or
not, my knowledge of the facts I have stated, tended very much to
satisfy my mind as to the LAY of the interior; and to revive my hopes
that the Morumbidgee would not fail us, although there was no
appearance of the country improving.


We started on the 26th, on a course somewhat to the N.W., and traversed
plains of the same wearisome description as those I have already
described. The wheels of the drays sank up to their axle-trees, and the
horses above their fetlocks at every step. The fields of polygonum
spread on every side of us like a dark sea, and the only green object
within range of our vision was the river line of trees. In several
instances, the force of both teams was put to one dray, to extricate it
from the bed into which it had sunk, and the labour was considerably
increased from the nature of the weather. The wind was blowing as if
through a furnace, from the N.N.E., and the dust was flying in clouds,
so as to render it almost suffocating to remain exposed to it. This was
the only occasion upon which we felt the hot winds in the interior. We
were, about noon, endeavouring to gain a point of a wood at which I
expected to come upon the river again, but it was impossible for the
teams to reach it without assistance. I therefore sent M'Leay forward,
with orders to unload the pack animals as soon as he should make the
river, and send them back to help the teams. He had scarcely been
separated from me 20 minutes, when one of the men came galloping back
to inform me that no river was to be found - that the country beyond the
wood was covered with reeds as far as the eye could reach, and that Mr.
M'Leay had sent him back for instructions. This intelligence stunned me
for a moment or two, and I am sure its effect upon the men was very
great. They had unexpectedly arrived at a part of the interior similar
to one they had held in dread, and conjured up a thousand difficulties
and privations. I desired the man to recall Mr. M'Leay; and, after
gaining the wood, moved outside of it at right angles to my former
course, and reached the river, after a day of severe toil and exposure,
at half-past five. The country, indeed, bore every resemblance to that
around the marshes of the Macquarie, but I was too weary to make any
further effort: indeed it was too late for me undertake anything until
the morning.


The circumstances in which we were so unexpectedly placed, occupied my
mind so fully that I could not sleep; and I awaited the return of light
with the utmost anxiety. If we were indeed on the outskirts of marshes
similar to those I had on a former occasion found so much difficulty in
examining, I foresaw that in endeavouring to move round then I should
recede from water, and place the expedition in jeopardy, probably,
without gaining any determinate point, as it would be necessary for me
to advance slowly and with caution. Our provisions, however, being
calculated to last only to a certain period, I was equally reluctant to
delay our operations. My course was, therefore, to be regulated by the
appearance of the country and of the river, which I purposed examining
with the earliest dawn. If the latter should be found to run into a
region of reeds, a boat would be necessary to enable me to ascertain
its direction; but, if ultimately it should be discovered to exhaust
itself, we should have to strike into the interior on a N.W. course, in
search of the Darling. I could not think of putting the whale-boat
together in our then state of uncertainty, and it struck me that a
smaller one could sooner he prepared for the purposes for which I
should require it. These considerations, together with the view I had
taken of the measures I might at last be forced into, determined me, on
rising, to order Clayton to fell a suitable tree, and to prepare a
saw-pit. The labour was of no consideration, and even if eventually the
boat should not be wanted, no injury would arise, and it was better to
take time by the forelock. Having marked a tree preparatory to leaving
the camp, M'Leay and I started at an early hour on an excursion of
deeper interest than any we had as yet undertaken; to examine the
reeds, not only for the purpose of ascertaining their extent, if
possible, but also to guide us in our future measures. We rode for some
miles along the river side, but observed in it no signs, either of
increase or of exhaustion. Its waters, though turbid, were deep, and
its current still rapid. Its banks, too, were lofty, and showed no
evidence of decreasing in height, so as to occasion an overflow of
them, as had been the case with the Macquarie. We got among vast bodies
of reeds, but the plains of the interior were visible beyond them. We
were evidently in a hollow, and the decline of country was plainly to
the southward of west. Every thing tended to strengthen my conviction
that we were still far from the termination of the river. The character
it had borne throughout, and its appearance now so far to the westward,
gave me the most lively hopes that it would make good its way through
the vast level into which it fell, and that its termination would
accord with its promise. Besides, I daily anticipated its junction with
some stream of equal, if not of greater magnitude from the S.E. I was
aware that my resolves must be instant, decisive, and immediately acted
upon, as on firmness and promptitude at this crisis the success of the
expedition depended. About noon I checked my horse, and rather to the
surprise of my companion, intimated to him my intention of returning to
the camp, He naturally asked what I purposed doing. I told him it
appeared to me more than probable that the Morumbidgee would hold good
its course to some fixed point, now that it had reached a meridian
beyond the known rivers of the interior. It was certain, from the
denseness of the reeds, and the breadth of the belts, that the teams
could not be brought any farther, and that, taking every thing into
consideration, I had resolved on a bold and desperate measure, that of
building the whale-boat, and sending home the drays. Our appearance in
camp so suddenly, surprised the men not more than the orders I gave.
They all thought I had struck on some remarkable change of country, and
were anxious to know my ultimate views. It was not my intention
however, immediately to satisfy their curiosity. I had to study their
characters as long as I could, in order to select those best qualified
to accompany me on the desperate adventure for which I was preparing.


The attention both of M'Leay, and myself, was turned to the hasty
building of the whale-boat. A shed was erected, and every necessary
preparation made, and although Clayton had the keel of the small boat
already laid down, and some planks prepared, she was abandoned for the
present, and, after four days more of arduous labour, the whale-boat
was painted and in the water. From her dimensions, it appeared to me
impossible that she would hold all our provisions and stores, for her
after-part had been fitted up as an armoury, which took away
considerably from her capacity of stowage. The small boat would still,
therefore, be necessary, and she was accordingly re-laid, for half the
dimensions of the large boat, and in three days was alongside her
consort in the river. Thus, in seven days we had put together a boat,
twenty-seven feet in length, had felled a tree from the forest, with
which we had built a second of half the size, had painted both, and had
them at a temporary wharf ready for loading. Such would not have been
the case had not our hearts been in the work, as the weather was close
and sultry, and we found it a task of extreme labour. In the intervals
between the hours of work, I prepared my despatches for the Governor,
and when they were closed, it only remained for me to select six hands,
the number I intended should accompany me down the river, and to load
the boats, ere we should once more proceed in the further obedience of
our instructions.


It was impossible that I could do without Clayton, whose perseverance
and industry had mainly contributed to the building of the boats; of
the other prisoners, I chose Mulholland and Macnamee; leaving the rest
in charge of Robert Harris, whose steady conduct had merited my
approbation. My servant, Harris, Hopkinson, and Fraser, of course, made
up the crews. The boats were loaded in the evening of Jan. 6th, as it
had been necessary to give the paint a little time to dry. On the 4th,
I had sent Clayton and Mulholland to the nearest cypress range for a
mast and spar, and on the evening of that day some blacks had visited
us; but they sat on the bank of the river, preserving a most determined
silence; and, at length, left us abruptly, and apparently in great ill
humour. In the disposition of the loads, I placed all the flour, the
tea, and tobacco, in the whaleboat. The meat-casks, still, and
carpenters' tools, were put into the small boat.

As soon as the different arrangements were completed, I collected the
men, and told off those who were to accompany me. I then gave the rest
over in charge to Harris, and, in adverting to their regular conduct
hitherto, trusted they would be equally careful while under his orders.
I then directed the last remaining sheep to be equally divided among
us; and it was determined that, for fear of accidents, Harris should
remain stationary for a week, at the expiration of which time, he would
be at liberty to proceed to Goulburn Plains, there to receive his
instructions from Sydney; while the boats were to proceed at an early
hour of the morning down the river, - whether ever to return again being
a point of the greatest uncertainty.


Embarkation of the party in the boats, and voyage down the
Morumbidgee - The skiff swamped by striking on a sunken tree - Recovery
of boat and its loading - Region of reeds - Dangers of the
navigation - Contraction of the channel - Reach the junction of a large
river - Intercourse with the natives on its banks - Character of the
country below the junction of the rivers - Descent of a dangerous
rapid - Warlike demonstrations of a tribe of natives - Unexpected
deliverance from a conflict with them - Junction of another river - Give
the name of the "Murray" to the principal stream.

The camp was a scene of bustle and confusion long before day-light. The
men whom I had selected to accompany me were in high spirits, and so
eager to commence their labours that they had been unable to sleep, but
busied themselves from the earliest dawn in packing up their various
articles of clothing, &c. We were prevented from taking our departure
so early as I had intended, by rain that fell about six. At a little
after seven, however, the weather cleared up, the morning mists blew
over our heads, and the sun struck upon us with his usual fervour. As
soon as the minor things were stowed away, we bade adieu to Harris and
his party; and shortly after, embarked on the bosom of that stream
along the banks of which we had journeyed for so many miles.

Notwithstanding that we only used two oars, our progress down the river
was rapid. Hopkinson had arranged the loads so well, that all the party
could sit at their ease, and Fraser was posted in the bow of the boat,
with gun in hand, to fire at any new bird or beast that we might
surprise in our silent progress. The little boat, which I shall
henceforward call the skiff, was fastened by a painter to our stern.


As the reader will have collected from what has already fallen under
his notice, the country near the depot was extensively covered with
reeds, beyond which vast plains of polygonum stretched away. From the
bed of the river we could not observe the change that took place in it
as we passed along, so that we found it necessary to land, from time to
time, for the purpose of noting down its general appearance. At about
fifteen miles from the depot, we came upon a large creek-junction from
the N.E., which I did not doubt to be the one M'Leay and I had crossed
on the 25th of December. It was much larger than the creek of the
Macquarie, and was capable of holding a very great body of water,
although evidently too small to contain all that occasionally rushed
from its source. I laid it down as the supposed junction of the
Lachlan, since I could not, against the corroborating facts in my
possession, doubt its originating in the marshes of that river. Should
this, eventually, prove to be the case, the similar termination of the
two streams traced by Mr. Oxley will be a singular feature in the
geography of the interior.


We were just about to land, to prepare our dinner, when two emus swam
across the river ahead of us. This was an additional inducement for us
to land, but we were unfortunately too slow, and the birds escaped us.
We had rushed in to the right bank, and found on ascending it, that the
reeds with which it had hitherto been lined, had partially ceased. A
large plain, similar to those over which we had wandered prior to our
gaining the flooded region, stretched away to a considerable distance
behind us, and was backed by cypresses and brush. The soil of the plain
was a red sandy loam, covered sparingly with salsolae and shrubs; thus
indicating that the country still preserved its barren character, and
that it is the same from north to south. Among the shrubs we found a
tomb that appeared to have been recently constructed. No mound had been
raised over the body, but an oval hollow shed occupied the centre of
the burial place, that was lined with reeds and bound together with
strong net-work. Round this, the usual walks were cut, and the recent
traces of women's feet were visible upon them, but we saw no natives,
although, from the number and size of the paths that led from the
river, in various directions across the plain, I was led to conclude,
that, at certain seasons, it is hereabouts numerously frequented.
Fraser gathered some rushes similar to those used by the natives of the
Darling in the fabrication of their nets, and as they had not before
been observed, we judged them, of course, to be a sign of our near
approach to that river.


As soon as we had taken a hasty dinner, we again embarked, and pursued
our journey. I had hoped, from the appearance of the country to the
north of us, although that to the south gave little indication of any
change, that we should soon clear the reeds; but at somewhat less than
a mile they closed in upon the river, and our frequent examination of
the neighbourhood on either side of it only tended to confirm the fact,
that we were passing through a country subject to great and extensive
inundation. We pulled up at half-past five, and could scarcely find
space enough to pitch our tents.

The Morumbidgee kept a decidedly westerly course during the day. Its
channel was not so tortuous as we expected to have found it, nor did it
offer any obstruction to the passage of the boats. Its banks kept a
general height of eight feet, five of which were of alluvial soil, and
both its depth and its current were considerable. We calculated having
proceeded from 28 to 30 miles, though, perhaps, not more than half that
distance in a direct line. No rain fell during the day, but we
experienced some heavy squalls from the E.S.E.


The second day of our journey from the depot was marked by an accident
that had well nigh obliged us to abandon the further pursuit of the
river, by depriving us of part of our means of carrying it into effect.
We had proceeded, as usual, at an early hour in the morning, and not
long after we started, fell in with the blacks who had visited us last,
and who were now in much better humour than upon that occasion. As they
had their women with them, we pushed in to the bank, and distributed
some presents, after which we dropped quietly down the river. Its

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 5 of 18)