Charles Sturt.

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

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general depth had been such as to offer few obstructions to our
progress, but about an hour after we left the natives, the skiff struck
upon a sunken log, and immediately filling, went down in about twelve
feet of water, The length of the painter prevented any strain upon the
whale-boat, but the consequence of so serious an accident at once
flashed upon our minds. That we should suffer considerably, we could
not doubt, but our object was to get the skiff up with the least
possible delay, to prevent the fresh water from mixing with the brine,
in the casks of meat. Some short time, however, necessarily elapsed
before we could effect this, and when at last the skiff was hauled
ashore, we found that we were too late to prevent the mischief that we
had anticipated. All the things had been fastened in the boat, but
either from the shock, or the force of the current, one of the pork
casks, the head of the still, and the greater part of the carpenter's
tools, had been thrown out of her. As the success of the expedition
might probably depend upon the complete state of the still, I
determined to use every effort for its recovery: but I was truly at a
loss how to find it; for the waters of the river were extremely turbid.
In this dilemma, the blacks would have been of the most essential
service, but they were far behind us, so that we had to depend on our
own exertions alone. I directed the whale-boat to be moored over the
place where the accident had happened, and then used the oars on either
side of her, to feel along the bottom of the river, in hopes that by
these means we should strike upon the articles we had lost. However
unlikely such a measure was to prove successful, we recovered in the
course of the afternoon, every thing but the still-head, and a cask of
paint. Whenever the oar struck against the substance that appeared, by
its sound or feel to belong to us, it was immediately pushed into the
sand, and the upper end of the oar being held by two men, another
descended by it to the bottom of the river, remaining under water as
long as he could, to ascertain what was immediately within arm's length
of him. This work was, as may be imagined, most laborious, and the men
at length became much exhausted. They would not, however, give up the
search for the still head, more especially after M'Leay, in diving, had
descended upon it. Had he, by ascertaining his position, left it to us
to heave it up, our labours would soon have ended; but, in his anxiety
for its recovery, he tried to bring it up, when finding it too heavy,
he let it go, and the current again swept it away.

At sunset, we were obliged to relinquish our task, the men complaining
of violent head-aches, which the nature of the day increased. Thinking
our own efforts would be unavailing, I directed two of the men to go up
the river for the blacks, at day-light in the morning, and set the
reeds on fire to attract their notice. The day had been cloudy and
sultry in the afternoon, the clouds collecting in the N.E.: we heard
the distant thunder, and expected to have been deluged with rain. None,
however, fell, although we were anxious for moisture to change the
oppressive state of the atmosphere. The fire I had kindled raged behind
us, and threw dense columns of smoke into the sky, that cast over the
landscape a shade of the most dismal gloom. We were not in a humour to
admire the picturesque, but soon betook ourselves to rest, and after
such a day of labour as that we had undergone, I dispensed with the
night guard.


In the morning we resumed our search for the still head, which
Hopkinson at length fortunately struck with his oar. It had been swept
considerably below the place at which M'Leay had dived, or we should
most probably have found it sooner. With its recovery, all our fatigues
were at once forgotten, and I ordered the breakfast to be got ready
preparatory to our reloading the skiff. Fraser and Mulholland, who had
left the camp at daylight, had not yet returned. I was sitting in the
tent, when Macnamee came to inform me that one of the frying-pans was
missing, which had been in use the evening previous, for that he
himself had placed it on the stump of a tree, and he therefore supposed
a native dog had run away with it. Soon after this, another loss was
reported to me, and it was at last discovered that an extensive robbery
had been committed upon us during the night, and that, in addition to
the frying-pan, three cutlasses, and five tomahawks, with the pea of
the steelyards, had been carried away. I was extremely surprised at
this instance of daring in the natives, and determined, if possible, to
punish it. About ten, Fraser and Mulholland returned with two blacks.
Fraser told me he saw several natives on our side of the river, as he
was returning, to whom those who were with him spoke, and I felt
convinced from their manner and hesitation, that they were aware of the
trick that had been played upon us. However, as Fraser had promised
them a tomahawk to induce them to accompany him, I fulfilled the


Leaving this unlucky spot, we made good about sixteen miles during the
afternoon. The river maintained its breadth and depth nor were the
reeds continuous upon its banks. We passed several plains that were
considerably elevated above the alluvial deposits, and the general
appearance of the country induced me strongly to hope that we should
shortly get out of the region of reeds, or the great flooded concavity
on which we had fixed our depot; but the sameness of vegetation, and
the seemingly diminutive size of the timber in the distance, argued
against any change for the better in the soil of the interior. Having
taken the precaution of shortening the painter of the skiff, we found
less difficulty in steering her clear of obstacles, and made rapid
progress down the Morumbidgee during the first cool and refreshing
hours of the morning. The channel of the river became somewhat less
contracted, but still retained sufficient depth for larger boats than
ours, and preserved a general westerly course. Although no decline of
country was visible to the eye, the current in places ran very strong.
It is impossible for me to convey to the reader's mind an idea of the
nature of the country through which we passed. On this day the
favourable appearances, noticed yesterday, ceased almost as soon as we
embarked. On the 10th, reeds lined the banks of the river on both
sides, without any break, and waved like gloomy streamers over its
turbid waters; while the trees stood leafless and sapless in the midst
of them. Wherever we landed, the same view presented itself - a waving
expanse of reeds, and a country as flat as it is possible to imagine
one. The eye could seldom penetrate beyond three quarters of a mile,
and the labour of walking through the reeds was immense; but within our
observation all was green and cheerless. The morning had been extremely
cold, with a thick haze at E.S.E. About 2 p.m. it came on to rain
heavily, so that we did not stir after that hour.


I had remarked that the Morumbidgee was not, from the depot downwards,
so broad or so fine a river as it certainly is at the foot of the
mountain ranges, where it gains the level country. The observations of
the last two days had impressed upon my mind an idea that it was
rapidly falling off, and I began to dread that it would finally
terminate in one of those fatal marshes in which the Macquarie and the
Lachlan exhaust themselves. My hope of a more favourable issue was
considerably damped by the general appearance of the surrounding
country; and from the circumstance of our not having as yet passed a
single tributary. As we proceeded down the river, its channel gradually
contracted, and immense trees that had been swept down it by floods,
rendered the navigation dangerous and intricate. Its waters became so
turbid, that it was impossible to see objects in it, notwithstanding
the utmost diligence on the part of the men.

About noon, we fell in with a large tribe of natives, but had great
difficulty in bringing them to visit us. If they had HEARD of white
men, we were evidently the first they had ever SEEN. They approached us
in the most cautious manner, and were unable to subdue their fears as
long as they remained with us. Collectively, these people could not
have amounted to less than one hundred and twenty in number.


As we pushed off from the bank, after having stayed with them about
half an hour, the whaleboat struck with such violence on a sunken log,
that she immediately leaked on her starboard side. Fortunately she was
going slowly at the time, or she would most probably have received some
more serious injury. One of the men was employed during the remainder
of the afternoon in bailing her out, and we stopped sooner than we
should otherwise have done, in order to ascertain the extent of damage,
and to repair it. The reeds terminated on both sides of the river some
time before we pulled up, and the country round the camp was more
elevated than usual, and bore the appearance of open forest pasture
land, the timber upon it being a dwarf species of box, and the soil a
light tenacious earth.


About a mile below our encampment of the 12th, we at length came upon a
considerable creek-junction from the S.E. Below it, the river increased
both in breadth and depth; banks were lofty and perpendicular, and even
the lowest levels were but partially covered with reeds. We met with
fewer obstructions in consequence, and pursued our journey with
restored confidence. Towards evening a great change also took place in
the aspect of the country, which no longer bore general marks of
inundation. The level of the interior was broken by a small hill to the
right of the stream, but the view from its summit rather damped than
encouraged my hopes of any improvement. The country was covered with
wood and brush, and the line of the horizon was unbroken by the least
swell. We were on an apparently boundless flat, without any fixed point
on which to direct our movements, nor was there a single object for the
eye to rest upon, beyond the dark and gloomy wood that surrounded us on
every side.

Soon after passing this hill, the whale-boat struck upon a line of
sunken rocks, but fortunately escaped without injury. Mulholland, who
was standing in the bow, was thrown out of her, head foremost, and got
a good soaking, but soon recovered himself. The composition of the rock
was iron-stone, and it is the first formation that occurs westward of
the dividing range. We noticed a few cypresses in the distance, but the
general timber was dwarf-box, or flooded-gum, and a few of the acacia
longa scattered at great distances. In verifying our position by some
lunars, we found ourselves in 142 degrees 46 minutes 30 seconds of east
long., and in lat. 35 degrees 25 minutes 15 seconds S. the mean
variation of the compass being 4 degrees 10 minutes E. it appearing
that we were decreasing the variation as we proceeded westward.

On the 13th, we passed the first running stream that joins the
Morumbidgee, in a course of more than 340 miles. It came from the S.E.,
and made a visible impression on the river at the junction, although in
tracing it up, it appeared to be insignificant in itself. The
circumstance of these tributaries all occurring on the left, evidenced
the level nature of the country to the north. In the afternoon, we
passed a dry creek also from the S.E. which must at times throw a vast
supply of water into the river, since for many miles below, the latter
preserved a breadth of 200 feet, and averaged from 12 to 20 feet in
depth, with banks of from 15 to 18 feet in height. Yet, notwithstanding
its general equality of depth, several rapids occurred, down which the
boats were hurried with great velocity. The body of water in the river
continued undiminished, notwithstanding its increased breadth of
channel; for which reason I should imagine that it is fed by springs,
independently of other supplies. Some few cypresses were again
observed, and the character of the distant country resembled, in every
particular, that of the interior between the Macquarie and the Darling.
The general appearance of the Morumbidgee, from the moment of our
starting on the 13th, to a late hour in the afternoon, had been such as
to encourage my hopes of ultimate success in tracing it down; but about
three o'clock we came to one of those unaccountable and mortifying
changes which had already so frequently excited my apprehension. Its
channel again suddenly contracted, and became almost blocked up with
huge trees, that must have found their way into it down the creeks or
junctions we had lately passed. The rapidity of the current increasing
at the same time, rendered the navigation perplexing and dangerous. We
passed reach after reach, presenting the same difficulties, and were at
length obliged to pull up at 5 p.m., having a scene of confusion and
danger before us that I did not dare to encounter with the evening's
light; for I had not only observed that the men's eye-sight failed them
as the sun descended, and that they mistook shadows for objects under
water, and VICE-VERSA, but the channel had become so narrow that,
although the banks were not of increased height, we were involved in
comparative darkness, under a close arch of trees, and a danger was
hardly seen ere we were hurried past it, almost without the possibility
of avoiding it. The reach at the head of which we stopped, was crowded
with the trunks of trees, the branches of which crossed each other in
every direction, nor could I hope, after a minute examination of the
channel, to succeed in taking the boats safely down so intricate a


We rose in the morning with feelings of apprehension, and uncertainty;
and, indeed, with great doubts on our minds whether we were not thus
early destined to witness the wreck, and the defeat of the expedition.
The men got slowly and cautiously into the boat, and placed themselves
so as to leave no part of her undefended. Hopkinson stood at the bow,
ready with poles to turn her head from anything upon which she might be
drifting. Thus prepared, we allowed her to go with the stream. By
extreme care and attention on the part of the men we passed this
formidable barrier. Hopkinson in particular exerted himself, and more
than once leapt from the boat upon apparently rotten logs of wood, that
I should not have judged capable of bearing his weight, the more
effectually to save the boat. It might have been imagined that where
such a quantity of timber had accumulated, a clearer channel would have
been found below, but such was not the case. In every reach we had to
encounter fresh difficulties. In some places huge trees lay athwart the
stream, under whose arched branches we were obliged to pass; but,
generally speaking, they had been carried, roots foremost, by the
current, and, therefore, presented so many points to receive us, that,
at the rate at which we were going, had we struck full upon any one of
them, it would have gone through and through the boat. About noon we
stopped to repair, or rather to take down the remains of our awning,
which had been torn away; and to breathe a moment from the state of
apprehension and anxiety in which our minds had been kept during the
morning. About one, we again started. The men looked anxiously out
ahead; for the singular change in the river had impressed on them an
idea, that we were approaching its termination, or near some adventure.
On a sudden, the river took a general southern direction, but, in its
tortuous course, swept round to every point of the compass with the
greatest irregularity. We were carried at a fearful rate down its
gloomy and contracted banks, and, in such a moment of excitement, had
little time to pay attention to the country through which we were
passing. It was, however, observed, that chalybeate-springs were
numerous close to the water's edge. At 3 p.m., Hopkinson called out
that we were approaching a junction, and in less than a minute
afterwards, we were hurried into a broad and noble river.


It is impossible for me to describe the effect of so instantaneous a
change of circumstances upon us. The boats were allowed to drift along
at pleasure, and such was the force with which we had been shot out of
the Morumbidgee, that we were carried nearly to the bank opposite its
embouchure, whilst we continued to gaze in silent astonishment on the
capacious channel we had entered; and when we looked for that by which
we had been led into it, we could hardly believe that the insignificant
gap that presented itself to us was, indeed, the termination of the
beautiful and noble stream, whose course we had thus successfully
followed. I can only compare the relief we experienced to that which
the seaman feels on weathering the rock upon which he expected his
vessel would have struck - to the calm which succeeds moments of
feverish anxiety, when the dread of danger is succeeded by the
certainty of escape.

To myself personally, the discovery of this river was a circumstance of
a particularly gratifying nature, since it not only confirmed the
justness of my opinion as to the ultimate fate of the Morumbidgee, and
bore me out in the apparently rash and hasty step I had taken at the
depot, but assured me of ultimate success in the duty I had to perform.
We had got on the high road, as it were, either to the south coast, or
to some important outlet; and the appearance of the river itself was
such as to justify our most sanguine expectations. I could not doubt
its being the great channel of the streams from the S.E. angle of the
island. Mr. Hume had mentioned to me that he crossed three very
considerable streams, when employed with Mr. Hovell in 1823 in
penetrating towards Port Phillips, to which the names of the Goulburn,
the Hume, and the Ovens, had been given; and as I was 300 miles from
the track these gentlemen had pursued, I considered it more than
probable that those rivers must already have formed a junction above
me, more especially when I reflected that the convexity of the
mountains to the S.E. would necessarily direct the waters falling
inwards from them to a common centre.

We entered the new river at right angles, and, as I have remarked, at
the point of junction the channel of the Morumbidgee had narrowed so as
to bear all the appearance of an ordinary creek. In breadth it did not
exceed fifty feet, and if, instead of having passed down it, I had been
making my way up the principal streams, I should little have dreamt
that so dark and gloomy an outlet concealed a river that would lead me
to the haunts of civilized man, and whose fountains rose amidst
snow-clad mountains. Such, however, is the characteristic of the
streams falling to the westward of the coast ranges. Descending into a
low and level interior, and depending on their immediate springs for
existence, they fall off, as they increase their distance from the base
of the mountains in which they rise, and in their lower branches give
little results of the promise they had previously made.

The opinion I have expressed, and which is founded on my personal
experience, that the rivers crossed by Messrs. Hovell and Hume had
already united above me, was strengthened by the capacity of the stream
we had just discovered. It had a medium width of 350 feet, with a depth
of from twelve to twenty. Its reaches were from half to three-quarters
of a mile in length, and the views upon it were splendid. Of course, as
the Morumbidgee entered it from the north, its first reach must have
been E. and W., and it was so, as nearly as possible; but it took us a
little to the southward of the latter point, in a distance of about
eight miles that we pulled down it in the course of the afternoon. We
then landed and pitched our tents for the night. Its transparent waters
were running over a sandy bed at the rate of two-and-a-half knots an
hour, and its banks, although averaging eighteen feet in height, were
evidently subject to floods.


We had not seen any natives since falling in with the last tribe on the
Morumbidgee. A cessation had, therefore, taken place in our
communication with them, in re-establishing which I anticipated
considerable difficulty. It appeared singular that we should not have
fallen in with any for several successive days, more especially at the
junction of the two rivers, as in similar situations they generally
have an establishment. In examining the country back from the stream, I
did not observe any large paths, but it was evident that fires had made
extensive ravages in the neighbourhood, so that the country was,
perhaps, only temporarily deserted. Macnamee, who had wandered a little
from the tents, declared that he had seen about a dozen natives round a
fire, from whom (if he really did see them) he very precipitately fled,
but I was inclined to discredit his story, because in our journey on
the following day, we did not see even a casual wanderer.


The river maintained its character, and raised our hopes to the highest
pitch. Its breadth varied from 160 to 200 yards; and only in one place,
where a reef of iron-stone stretched nearly across from the left bank,
so as to contract the channel near the right and to form a considerable
rapid, was there any apparent obstruction to our navigation. I was
sorry, however, to remark that the breadth of alluvial soil between its
outer and inner banks was very inconsiderable, and that the upper
levels were poor and sandy. Blue-gum generally occupied the former,
while the usual productions of the plains still predominated upon the
latter, and showed that the distant interior had not yet undergone any
favourable change. We experienced strong breezes from the north, but
the range of the thermometer was high, and the weather rather
oppressive than otherwise. On the night of the 16th, we had a strong
wind from the N.W., but it moderated with day-light, and shifted to the
E.N.E., and the day was favourable and cool. Our progress was in every
way satisfactory, and if any change had taken place in the river, it
was that the banks had increased in height, in many places to thirty
feet, the soil being a red loam, and the surface much above the reach
of floods. The bank opposite to the one that was so elevated, was
proportionably low, and, in general, not only heavily timbered, but
covered with reeds, and backed by a chain of ponds at the base of the
outer embankment.


About 4 p.m., some natives were observed running by the river side
behind us, but on our turning the boat's head towards the shore, they
ran away. It was evident that they had no idea what we were, and, from
their timidity, feeling assured that it would be impossible to bring
them to a parley, we continued onwards till our usual hour of stopping,
when we pitched our tents on the left bank for the night, it being the
one opposite to that on which the natives had appeared. We conjectured
that their curiosity would lead them to follow us, which they very
shortly did; for we had scarcely made ourselves comfortable when we
heard their wild notes through the woods as they advanced towards the
river; and their breaking into view with their spears and shields, and
painted and prepared as they were for battle, was extremely fine. They
stood threatening us, and making a great noise, for a considerable
time, but, finding that we took no notice of them, they, at length,
became quiet. I then walked to some little distance from the party, and
taking a branch in my hand, as a sign of peace, beckoned them to swim
to our side of the river, which, after some time, two or three of them
did. But they approached me with great caution, hesitating at every
step. They soon, however, gained confidence, and were ultimately joined
by all the males of their tribe. I gave the FIRST who swam the river a
tomahawk (making this a rule in order to encourage them) with which he
was highly delighted. I shortly afterwards placed them all in a row and
fired a gun before them: they were quite unprepared for such an
explosion, and after standing stupified and motionless for a moment or
two, they simultaneously took to their heels, to our great amusement. I
succeeded, however, in calling them back, and they regained their
confidence so much, that sixteen of them remained with us all night,

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 6 of 18)