Charles Sturt.

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

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so unhesitatingly interfered on our account, was still in hot dispute
with them, and I really feared his generous warmth would have brought
down upon him the vengeance of the tribes. I hesitated, therefore,
whether or not to go to his assistance. It appeared, however, both to
M'Leay and myself, that the tone of the natives had moderated, and the
old and young men having listened to the remonstrances of our friend,
the middle-aged warriors were alone holding out against him. A party of
about seventy blacks were upon the right bank of the newly discovered
river, and I thought that by landing among them, we should make a
diversion in favour of our late guest; and in this I succeeded. If even
they had still meditated violence, they would have to swim a good broad
junction, and that, probably, would cool them, or we at least should
have the advantage of position. I therefore, ran the boat ashore, and
landed with M'Leay amidst the smaller party of natives, wholly unarmed,
and having directed the men to keep at a little distance from the bank.
Fortunately, what I anticipated was brought about by the stratagem to
which I had had recourse. The blacks no sooner observed that we had
landed, than curiosity took place of anger. All wrangling ceased, and
they came swimming over to us like a parcel of seals. Thus, in less
than a quarter of an hour from the moment when it appeared that all
human intervention was at on end, and we were on the point of
commencing a bloody fray, which, independently of its own disastrous
consequences, would have blasted the success of the expedition, we were
peacefully surrounded by the hundreds who had so lately threatened us
with destruction; nor was it until after we had returned to the boat,
and had surveyed the multitude upon the sloping bank above us, that we
became fully aware of the extent of our danger, and of the almost
miraculous intervention of Providence in our favour. There could not
have been less than six hundred natives upon that blackened sward. But
this was not the only occasion upon which the merciful superintendance
of that Providence to which we had humbly committed ourselves, was
strikingly manifested. If these pages fail to convey entertainment or
information, sufficient may at least be gleaned from them to furnish
matter for serious reflection; but to those who have been placed in
situations of danger where human ingenuity availed them not, and where
human foresight was baffled, I feel persuaded that these remarks are


It was my first care to call for our friend, and to express to him, as
well as I could, how much we stood indebted to him, at the same time
that I made him a suitable present; but to the chiefs of the tribes, I
positively refused all gifts, notwithstanding their earnest
solicitations. We next prepared to examine the new river, and turning
the boat's head towards it, endeavoured to pull up the stream. Our
larboard oars touched the right bank, and the current was too strong
for us to conquer it with a pair only; we were, therefore, obliged to
put a second upon her, a movement that excited the astonishment and
admiration of the natives. One old woman seemed in absolute ecstasy, to
whom M'Leay threw an old tin kettle, in recompense for the amusement
she afforded us.


As soon as we got above the entrance of the new river, we found easier
pulling, and proceeded up it for some miles, accompanied by the once
more noisy multitude. The river preserved a breadth of one hundred
yards, and a depth of rather more than twelve feet. Its banks were
sloping and grassy, and were overhung by trees of magnificent size.
Indeed, its appearance was so different from the water-worn banks of
the sister stream, that the men exclaimed, on entering it, that we had
got into an English river. Its appearance certainly almost justified
the expression; for the greenness of its banks was as new to us as the
size of its timber. Its waters, though sweet, were turbid, and had a
taste of vegetable decay, as well as a slight tinge of green. Our
progress was watched by the natives with evident anxiety. They kept
abreast of us, and talked incessantly. At length, however, our course
was checked by a net that stretched right across the stream. I say
checked, because it would have been unfair to have passed over it with
the chance of disappointing the numbers who apparently depended on it
for subsistence that day. The moment was one of intense interest to me.
As the men rested upon their oars, awaiting my further orders, a crowd
of thoughts rushed upon me. The various conjectures I had formed of the
course and importance of the Darling passed across my mind. Were they
indeed realized? An irresistible conviction impressed me that we were
now sailing on the bosom of that very stream from whose banks I had
been twice forced to retire. I directed the Union Jack to be hoisted,
and giving way to our satisfaction, we all stood up in the boat, and
gave three distinct cheers. It was an English feeling, an ebullition,
an overflow, which I am ready to admit that our circumstances and
situation will alone excuse. The eye of every native had been fixed
upon that noble flag, at all times a beautiful object, and to them a
novel one, as it waved over us in the heart of a desert. They had,
until that moment been particularly loquacious, but the sight of that
flag and the sound of our voices hushed the tumult, and while they were
still lost in astonishment, the boat's head was speedily turned, the
sail was sheeted home, both wind and current were in our favour, and we
vanished from them with a rapidity that surprised even ourselves, and
which precluded every hope of the most adventurous among them to keep
up with us.


Character of the country - Damage of provisions - Adroitness of the
natives in catching fish - The skiff broken up - Stream from the
North-East supposed to be the Darling - Change of country in descending
the river - Intercourse with the natives - Prevalence of loathsome
diseases among them - Apparent populousness of the country - Junction of
several small streams - The Rufus, the Lindesay, &c. - Rainy and
tempestuous weather - Curious appearance of the banks - Troublesomeness
of the natives - Inhospitable and desolate aspect of the
country - Condition of the men - Change in the geological character of
the country - The river passes through a valley among hills.

Arrived once more at the junction of the two rivers, and unmolested in
our occupations, we had leisure to examine it more closely. Not having
as yet given a name to our first discovery, when we re-entered its
capacious channel on this occasion, I laid it down as the Murray River,
in compliment to the distinguished officer, Sir George Murray, who then
presided over the colonial department, not only in compliance with the
known wishes of his Excellency General Darling, but also in accordance
with my own feelings as a soldier.

The new river, whether the Darling or an additional discovery, meets
its more southern rival on a N. by E. course; the latter, running
W.S.W. at the confluence, the angle formed by the two rivers, is,
therefore, so small that both may be considered to preserve their
proper course, and neither can be said to be tributary to the other. At
their junction, the Murray spreads its waters over the broad and sandy
shore, upon which our boat grounded, while its more impetuous neighbour
flows through the deep but narrow channel it has worked out for itself,
under the right bank. The strength of their currents must have been
nearly equal, since there was as distinct a line between their
respective waters, to a considerable distance below the junction, as if
a thin board alone separated them. The one half the channel contained
the turbid waters of the northern stream, the other still preserved
their original transparency.


The banks of the Murray did not undergo any immediate change as we
proceeded. We noticed that the country had, at some time, been subject
to extensive inundation, and was, beyond doubt, of alluvial formation.
We passed the mouths of several large creeks that came from the north
and N.W., and the country in those directions seemed to be much
intersected by water-courses; while to the south it was extremely low.
Having descended several minor rapids, I greatly regretted that we had
no barometer to ascertain the actual dip of the interior. I computed,
however, that we were not more than from eighty to ninety feet above
the level of the sea. We found the channel of the Murray much
encumbered with timber, and noticed some banks of sand that were of
unusual size, and equalled the largest accumulations of it on the sea
shore, both in extent and solidity.


We would gladly have fired into the flights of wild fowl that winged
their way over us, for we, about this time, began to feel the
consequences of the disaster that befell us in the Morumbidgee. The
fresh water having got mixed with the brine in the meat casks, the
greater part of our salt provisions had got spoiled, so that we were
obliged to be extremely economical in the expenditure of what remained,
as we knew not to what straits we might be driven. It will naturally be
asked why we did not procure fish? The answer is easy. The men had
caught many in the Morumbidgee, and on our first navigation of the
Murray, but whether it was that they had disagreed with them, or that
their appetites were palled, or that they were too fatigued after the
labour of the day to set the lines, they did not appear to care about
them. The only fish we could take was the common cod or perch; and,
without sauce or butter, it is insipid enough. We occasionally
exchanged pieces of iron-hoop for two other kinds of fish, the one a
bream, the other a barbel, with the natives, and the eagerness with
which they met our advances to barter, is a strong proof of their
natural disposition towards this first step in civilization.


As they threw off all reserve when accompanying us as ambassadors, we
had frequent opportunities of observing their habits. The facility, for
instance, with which they procured fish was really surprising. They
would slip, feet foremost, into the water as they walked along the bank
of the river, as if they had accidentally done so, but, in reality, to
avoid the splash they would necessarily have made if they had plunged
in head foremost. As surely as they then disappeared under the surface
of the water, so surely would they re-appear with a fish writhing upon
the point of their short spears. The very otter scarcely exceeds them
in power over the finny race, and so true is the aim of these savages,
even under water, that all the fish we procured from them were pierced
either close behind the lateral fin, or in the very centre of the head,
It is certain, from their indifference to them, that the natives seldom
eat fish when they can get anything else. Indeed, they seemed more
anxious to take the small turtle, which, sunning themselves on the
trunks or logs of trees over the water, were, nevertheless, extremely
on their guard. A gentle splash alone indicated to us that any thing
had dropped into the water, but the quick eyes and ears of our guides
immediately detected what had occasioned it, and they seldom failed to
take the poor little animal that had so vainly trusted to its own
watchfulness for security. It appeared that the natives did not, from
choice, frequent the Murray; it was evident, therefore, that they had
other and better means of subsistence away from it, and it struck me,
at the time, that the river we had just passed watered a better country
than any through which the Murray had been found to flow.


We encamped rather earlier than usual upon the left bank of the river,
near a broad creek; for as the skiff had been a great drag upon us, I
determined on breaking it up, since there was no probability that we
should ever require the still, which alone remained in her. We,
consequently, burnt the former, to secure her nails and iron work, and
I set Clayton about cutting the copper of the latter into the shape of
crescents, in order to present them to the natives. Some large huts
were observed on the side of the creek, a little above the camp, the
whole of which faced the N.E. This arrangement had previously been
noticed by us, so that I was led to infer that the severest weather
comes from the opposite quarter in this part of the interior. I had not
the least idea, at the time, however, that we should, ere we reached
the termination of our journey, experience the effects of the S.W.

We must have fallen considerably during the day from the level of our
morning's position, for we passed down many reaches where the decline
of country gave an increased velocity to the current of the river.

I had feared, not only in consequence of the unceremonious manner in
which we had left them, but, because I had, in some measure, rejected
the advances of their chiefs, that none of the natives would follow us,
and I regretted the circumstance on account of my men, as well as the
trouble we should necessarily have in conciliating the next tribe. We
had not, however, been long encamped, when seven blacks joined us. I
think they would have passed on if we had not called to them. As it
was, they remained with us but for a short time. We treated them very
kindly, but they were evidently under constraint, and were, no doubt,
glad when they found we did not object to their departing.


I have stated, that I felt satisfied in my own mind, that the beautiful
stream we had passed was no other than the river Darling of my former
journey. The bare assertion, however, is not sufficient to satisfy the
mind of the reader, upon a point of such importance, more especially
when it is considered how remarkable a change the Darling must have
undergone, if this were indeed a continuation of it. I am free to
confess that it required an effort to convince myself, but after due
consideration, I see no reason to alter the opinion I formed at a
moment of peculiar embarrassment. Yet it by no means follows that I
shall convince others, although I am myself convinced. The question is
one of curious speculation, and the consideration of it will lead us to
an interesting conjecture, as to the probable nature of the distant
interior, between the two points. It will be remembered that I was
obliged to relinquish my pursuit of the Darling, in east long. 144
degrees 48 minutes 30 seconds in lat. 30 degrees 17 minutes 30 seconds
south. I place the junction of the Murray and the new river, in long.
140 degrees 56 minutes east, and in south lat. 34 degrees 3 minutes. I
must remark, however, that the lunars I took on this last occasion,
were not satisfactory, and that there is, probably, an error, though
not a material one, in the calculation. Before I measure the distance
between the above points, or make any remarks on the results of my own
observations, I would impress the following facts upon the reader's

I found and left the Darling in a complete state of exhaustion. As a
river it had ceased to flow; the only supply it received was from brine
springs, which, without imparting a current, rendered its waters saline
and useless, and lastly, the fish in it were different from those
inhabiting the other known rivers of the interior. It is true, I did
not procure a perfect specimen of one, but we satisfactorily
ascertained that they were different, inasmuch as they had large and
strong scales, whereas the fish in the western waters have smooth
skins. On the other hand, the waters of the new river were sweet,
although turbid; it had a rapid current in it; and its fish were of the
ordinary kind. In the above particulars, therefore, they differed much
as they could well differ. Yet there were some strong points of
resemblance in the appearance of the rivers themselves, which were more
evident to me than I can hope to make them to the reader. Both were
shaded by trees of the same magnificent dimensions; and the same kind
of huts were erected on the banks of each, inhabited by the same
description, or race, of people, whose weapons, whose implements, and
whose nets corresponded in most respects.

We will now cast our eyes over the chart: and see if the position of
the two rivers upon it, will at all bear out our conclusion that they
are one and the same; and whether the line that would join them is the
one that the Darling would naturally take, in reference to its previous
course. - We shall find that the two points under discussion, bear
almost N.E. and S.W. of each other respectively, the direct line in
which the Darling had been ascertained to flow, as far as it had been
found practicable to trace it. I have already remarked that the
fracture of my barometer prevented my ascertaining the height of the
bed of the Darling above the sea, during the first expedition. A
similar accident caused me equal disappointment on the second; because
one of the most important points upon which I was engaged was to
ascertain the dip of the interior. I believe I stated, in its proper
place, that I did not think the Darling could possibly be 200 feet
above the sea, and as far as my observations bear me out, I should
estimate the bed of the Murray, at its junction with the new river, to
be within 100. It would appear that there is a distance of 300 miles
between the Murray River at this place, and the Darling; a space amply
sufficient for the intervention of a hilly country. No one could have
been more attentive to the features of the interior than I was; nor
could any one have dwelt upon their peculiarities with more earnest
attention. It were hazardous to build up any new theory, however
ingenious it may appear. The conclusions into which I have been led,
are founded on actual observation of the country through which I
passed, and extend not beyond my actual range of vision; unless my
assuming that the decline of the interior to the south has been
satisfactorily established, be considered premature. If not, the
features of the country certainly justify my deductions; and it will be
found that they were still more confirmed by subsequent
observation. - That the Darling should have lost its current in its
upper branches, is not surprising, when the level nature of the country
into which it falls is taken into consideration; neither does it
surprise me that it should be stationary in one place, and flowing in
another; since, if, as in the present instance, there is a great extent
of country between the two points, which may perhaps be of considerable
elevation, the river may receive tributaries, whose waters will of
course follow the general decline of the country. I take it to be so in
the case before us; and am of opinion, that the lower branches of the
Darling are not at all dependent on its sources for a current, or for a
supply of water. I have somewhere observed that it appeared to me the
depressed interior over which I had already travelled, was of
comparatively recent formation. And, by whatever convulsion or change
so extensive a tract became exposed, I cannot but infer, that the
Darling is the main channel by which the last waters of the ocean were
drained off. The bottom of the estuary, for it cannot be called a
valley, being then left exposed, it consequently remains the natural
and proper reservoir for the streams from the eastward, or those
falling easterly from the westward, if any such remain to be discovered.

From the junction of the Morumbidgee to the junction of the new river,
the Murray had held a W.N.W. course. From the last junction it changed
its direction to the S.W., and increased considerably in size. The
country to the south was certainly lower than that to the north; for,
although both banks had features common to each other, the flooded
spaces were much more extensive to our left than to our right.


We started on the morning of the 24th, all the lighter from having got
rid of the skiff, and certainly freer to act in case the natives should
evince a hostile disposition towards us. As we proceeded down the
river, the appearances around us more and more plainly indicated a
change of country. Cypresses were observed in the distance, and the
ground on which they stood was higher than that near the stream; as if
it had again acquired its secondary banks. At length these heights
approached the river so nearly as to form a part of its banks, and to
separate one alluvial flat from another. Their summits were perfectly
level; their soil was a red sandy loam; and their productions, for the
most part, salsolae and misembrianthemum. From this it would appear
that we had passed through a second region, that must at some time have
been under water, and that still retained all the marks of a country
partially subject to flood.


We had, as I have said, passed over this region, and were again hemmed
in by those sandy and sterile tracts upon which the beasts of the field
could obtain neither food nor water. We overtook the seven deputies
some time after we started, but soon lost sight of them again, as they
cut off the sweeps of the river, and shortened their journey as much as
possible. At 2 p.m. we found them with a tribe of their countrymen,
about eighty in number. We pulled in to the bank and remained with them
for a short time, and I now determined to convince the blacks who had
preceded us, that I had not been actuated by any other desire than that
of showing to them that we were not to be intimidated by numbers, when
I refused to make them any presents after their show of hostility. I
now, therefore, gave them several implements, sundry pieces of iron
hoop, and an ornamental badge of copper. When we left the tribe, we
were regularly handed over to their care. The seven men who had
introduced us, went back at the same time that we continued our
journey, and two more belonging to the new tribe, went on a-head to
prepare the the neighbouring tribe to receive us; nor did we see
anything more of them during the day.

We encamped on the left bank of the river, amidst a polygonum scrub, in
which we found a number of the crested pigeon. It was late before the
tents were pitched: as Fraser seldom assisted in that operation, but
strolled out with his gun after he had kindled a fire, so on this
occasion he wandered from the camp in search of novelty, and on his
return, informed me that there was a considerable ridge to the south of
a plain upon which he had been.

I had myself walked out to the S.E., and on ascending a few feet above
the level of the camp, got into a scrub. I was walking quietly through
it, when I heard a rustling noise, and looking in the direction whence
it proceeded, I observed a small kangaroo approaching me. Having a
stick in my hand, and being aware that I was in one of their paths, I
stood still until the animal came close up to me, without apparently
being aware of my presence. I then gave it a blow an the side of the
head, and made it reel to one side, but the stick, being rotten, broke
with the force of the blow, and thus disappointed me of a good meal.

During my absence from the camp, a flight of cockatoos, new to us, but
similar to one that Mr. Hume shot on the Darling, passed over the
tents, and I found M'Leay, with his usual anxiety, trying to get a shot
at them. They had, he told me, descended to water, but they had chosen
a spot so difficult of approach without discovery, that he had found it
impossible to get within shot of them.


There was a considerable rapid just below our position, which I
examined before dark. Not seeing any danger, I requested M'Leay to
proceed down it in the boat as soon as he had breakfasted, and to wait
for me at the bottom of it. As I wished to ascertain the nature and
height of the elevations which Fraser had magnified into something
grand, Fraser and I proceeded to the centre of a large plain,
stretching from the left bank of the river to the southward. It was
bounded to the S.E. by a low scrub; to the S. a thickly wooded ridge
appeared to break the level of the country. It extended from east to
west for four or five miles, and then gradually declined. At its
termination, the country seemed to dip, and a dense fog, as from an
extensive sheet of water, enveloped the landscape. The plain was

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 8 of 18)