Charles Sturt.

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

. (page 9 of 18)
Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 9 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

crowded with cockatoos, that were making their morning's repast on the
berries of the salsolae and rhagodia, with which it was covered.


M'Leay had got safely down the rapid, so that as soon as I joined him,
we proceeded on our journey. We fell in with the tribe we had already
seen, but increased in numbers, and we had hardly left them, when we
found another tribe most anxiously awaiting our arrival. We stayed with
the last for some time, and exhausted our vocabulary, and exerted our
ingenuity to gain some information from them. I directed Hopkinson to
pile up some clay, to enquire if we were near any hills, when two or
three of the blacks caught the meaning, and pointed to the N.W.
Mulholland climbed up a tree in consequence of this, and reported to me
that he saw lofty ranges in the direction to which the blacks pointed;
that there were two apparently, the one stretching to the N.E., the
other to the N.W. He stated their distance to be about forty miles, and
added that he thought he could observe other ranges, through the gap,
which, according to the alignment of two sticks, that I placed
according to Mulholland's directions, bore S. 130 W.

We had landed upon the right bank of the river, and there was a large
lagoon immediately behind us. The current in the river did not run so
strong as it had been. Its banks were much lower, and were generally
covered with reeds. The spaces subject to flood were broader than
heretofore, and the country for more than twenty miles was extremely
depressed. Our view from the highest ground near the camp was very
confined, since we were apparently in a hollow, and were unable to
obtain a second sight of the ranges we had noticed.


Three creeks fell into the Murray hereabouts. One from the north,
another from the N.E., and the third from the south. The two first were
almost choked up with the trunks of trees, but the last had a clear
channel. Our tents stood on ground high above the reach of flood. The
soil was excellent, and the brushes behind us abounded with a new
species of melaleuca.

The heat of the weather, at this time, was extremely oppressive, and
the thermometer was seldom under 100 degrees of Fahr. at noon. The
wind, too, we observed, seldom remained stationary for any length of
time, but made its regular changes every twenty-four hours. In the
morning, it invariably blew from the N.E., at noon it shifted to N.W.,
and as the sun set it flew round to the eastward of south. A few dense
clouds passed over us occasionally, but no rain fell from them.


Our intercourse with the natives had now been constant. We had found
the interior more populous than we had any reason to expect; yet as we
advanced into it, the population appeared to increase. It was
impossible for us to judge of the disposition of the natives during the
short interviews we generally had with them, and our motions were so
rapid that we did not give them time to form any concerted plan of
attack, had they been inclined to attack us. They did not, however,
show any disposition to hostility, but, considering all things, were
quiet and orderly, nor did any instances of theft occur, or, at least,
none fell under my notice. The most loathsome of diseases prevailed
throughout the tribes, nor were the youngest infants exempt from them.
Indeed, so young were some, whose condition was truly disgusting, that
I cannot but suppose they must have been born in a state of disease;
but I am uncertain whether it is fatal or not in its results, though,
most probably it hurries many to a premature grave. How these diseases
originated it is impossible to say. Certainly not from the colony,
since the midland tribes alone were infected. Syphilis raged amongst
them with fearful violence; many had lost their noses, and all the
glandular parts were considerably affected. I distributed some Turner's
cerate to the women, but left Fraser to superintend its application. It
could do no good, of course, but it convinced the natives we intended
well towards them, and, on that account, it was politic to give it,
setting aside any humane feeling.


The country through which we passed on the 28th, was extremely low,
full of lagoons, and thickly inhabited. No change took place in the
river, or in the nature and construction of its banks. We succeeded in
getting a view of the hills we had noticed when with the last tribe,
and found that they bore from us due north, N. 22 E., and S. 130 W.
They looked bare and perpendicular, and appeared to be about twenty
miles from us. I am very uncertain as to the character of these hills,
but still think that they must have been some of the faces of the bold
cliffs that we had frequently passed under. From the size and number of
the huts, and from the great breadth of the foot-paths, we were still
further led to conclude that we were passing through a very populous
district. What the actual number of inhabitants was it is impossible to
say, but we seldom communicated with fewer than 200 daily. They sent
ambassadors forward regularly from one tribe to another, in order to
prepare for our approach, a custom that not only saved us an infinity
of time, but also great personal risk. Indeed, I doubt very much
whether we should ever have pushed so far down the river, had we not
been assisted by the natives themselves. I was particularly careful not
to do anything that would alarm them, or to permit any liberty to be
taken with their women. Our reserve in this respect seemed to excite
their surprise, for they asked sundry questions, by signs and
expressions, as to whether we had any women, and where they were. The
whole tribe generally assembled to receive us, and all, without
exception, were in a complete state of nudity, and really the loathsome
condition and hideous countenances of the women would, I should
imagine, have been a complete antidote to the sexual passion. It is to
be observed, that the women are very inferior in appearance to the men.
The latter are, generally speaking, a clean-limbed and powerful race,
much stouter in the bust than below, but withal, active, and, in some
respects, intelligent; but the women are poor, weak, and emaciated.
This, perhaps, is owing to their poverty and paucity of food, and to
the treatment they receive at the hands of the men; but the latter did
not show any unkindness towards them in our presence.

Although I desired to avoid exciting their alarm, I still made a point
of showing them the effects of a gunshot, by firing at a kite, or any
other bird that happened to be near. My dexterity - for I did not trust
Fraser, who would, ten to one, have missed his mark - was generally
exerted, as I have said, against a kite or a crow; both of which birds
generally accompanied the blacks from place to place to pick up the
remnants of their meals. Yet, I was often surprised at the apparent
indifference with which the natives not only saw the effect of the
shot, but heard the report. I have purposely gone into the centre of a
large assemblage and fired at a bird that has fallen upon their very
heads, without causing a start or an exclamation, without exciting
either their alarm or their curiosity.

Whence this callous feeling proceeded, whether from strength of nerve,
or because they had been informed by our forerunners that we should
show off before them, I know not, but I certainly expected a very
different effect from that which my firing generally produced, although
I occasionally succeeded in scattering them pretty well.


About 11 a.m., we arrived at the junction of a small river with the
Murray, at which a tribe, about 250 in number, had assembled to greet
us. We landed, therefore, for the double purpose of distributing
presents, and of examining the junction, which, coming from the north,
of course, fell into the Murray upon its right bank. Its waters were so
extremely muddy, and its current so rapid, that it must have been
swollen by some late rains. Perhaps, it had its sources in the hills we
had seen; be that as it may, it completely discoloured the waters of
the Murray.

We made it a point never to distribute any presents among the natives
until we had made them all sit, or stand, in a row. Sometimes this was
a troublesome task, but we generally succeeded in gaining our point;
with a little exertion of patience. M'Leay was a famous hand at
ordering the ranks, and would, I am sure, have made a capital
drill-sergeant, not less on account of his temper than of his
perseverance. I called the little tributary I have noticed, the Rufus,
in honour of my friend M'Leay's red head, and I have no doubt, he will
understand the feeling that induced me to give it such a name.


Not many miles below the Rufus, we passed under a lofty cliff upon the
same side with it. It is the first elevation of any consequence that
occurs below the Darling, and not only on that account, but also on
account of the numerous substances of which it is composed, and the
singular formation that is near requires to be particularly noticed.
[See Appendix.] The examination was a task of considerable danger, and
both Fraser and myself had well nigh been buried under a mass of the
cliff that became suddenly detached, and, breaking into thousands of
pieces, went hissing and cracking into the river.


The weather about this time was extremely oppressive and close. Thunder
clouds darkened the sky, but no rain fell. The thermometer was seldom
below 104 at noon, and its range was very trifling. The wind shifted
several times during the twenty-four hours; but these changes had no
effect on the thermometer. It was evident, however, as the sun set on
the evening of the 26th, that the clouds from which thunder had for the
last four or five days disturbed the silence of nature around us, would
not long support their own weight. A little before midnight, it
commenced raining, and both wind and rain continued to increase in
violence until about seven in the morning of the 27th; when the weather

Two or three blacks had accompanied us from the last tribe, and had
lain down near the fire. As the storm increased, however, they got up,
and swimming across the river, left us to ourselves. This was a very
unusual thing, nor can I satisfy myself as to their object, unless it
was to get into shelter, for these people though they wander naked over
the country, and are daily in the water, feel the cold and rain very

Observing the clouds collecting for so many days, I indulged hopes that
we were near high lands, perhaps mountains; but from the loftiest spots
we could see nothing but a level and dark horizon. Anxious to gain as
correct a knowledge of the country as possible we had, in the course of
the day, ascended a sandy ridge that was about a mile from the river.
The view from the summit of this ridge promised to be more extensive
than any we had of late been enabled to obtain; and as far as actual
observation went, we were not disappointed, although in every other
particular, the landscape was one of the most unpromising description.
To the S. and S.E., the country might be said to stretch away in one
unbroken plain, for it was so generally covered with wood that every
inequality was hidden from our observation. To the S.W. the river line
was marked out by a succession of red cliffs, similar to those we had
already passed. To the north, the interior was evidently depressed; it
was overgrown with a low scrub, and seemed to be barren in the extreme.
The elevations upon which we stood were similar to the sand-hills near
the coast, and had not a blade of grass upon them. Yet, notwithstanding
the sterility of the soil, the large white amarillis which grew in such
profusion on the alluvial plains of the Macquarie, was also abundant
here. But it had lost its dazzling whiteness, and had assumed a sickly
yellow colour and its very appearance indicated that it was not in a
congenial soil.


We passed two very considerable junctions, the one coming from the
S.E., the other from the north. Both had currents in them, but the
former was running much stronger than the latter. It falls into the
Murray, almost opposite to the elevations I have been describing, and,
if a judgment can be hazarded from its appearance at its embouchure, it
must, in its higher branches, be a stream of considerable magnitude.
Under this impression, I have called it the Lindesay, as a tribute of
respect to my commanding officer, Colonel Patrick Lindesay of the 39th
regt. I place it in east long. 140 degrees 29 minutes, and in lat. 33
degrees 58 minutes south. Mr. Hume is of opinion that this is the most
southerly of the rivers crossed by him and Mr. Hovel in 1823; but, as I
have already remarked, I apprehend that all the rivers those gentlemen
crossed, had united in one main stream above the junction of the
Morumbidgee, and I think it much more probable that this is a new
river, and that it rises to the westward of Port Phillips, rather than
in the S.E. angle of the coast.


We found the blacks who had deserted us with a tribe at the junction,
but it was weak in point of numbers; as were also two other tribes or
hordes to whom we were introduced in rapid succession. Taken
collectively, they could not have amounted to 230 men, women, and
children. The last of these hordes was exceedingly troublesome, and I
really thought we should have been obliged to quarrel with them.
Whether it was that we were getting impatient, or that our tempers were
soured, I know not, but even M'Leay, whose partiality towards the
natives was excessive at the commencement of our journey, now became
weary of such constant communication as we had kept up with them. Their
sameness of appearance, the disgusting diseases that raged among them,
their abominable filth, the manner in which they pulled us about, and
the impossibility of making them understand us, or of obtaining any
information from them, - for if we could have succeeded in this point,
we should have gladly borne every inconvenience, - all combined to
estrange us from these people and to make their presence disagreeable.
Yet there was an absolute necessity to keep up the chain of
communication, to ensure our own safety, setting aside every other
consideration; but as I had been fortunate in my intercourse with the
natives during the first expedition, so I hoped the present journey
would terminate without the occurrence of any fatal collision between
us. The natives, it is true, were generally quiet; but they crowded
round us frequently without any regard to our remonstrances, laying
hold of the boat to prevent our going away, and I sometimes thought
that had any of them been sufficiently bold to set the example, many of
the tribes would have attempted our capture. Indeed, in several
instances, we were obliged to resort to blows ere we could disengage
ourselves from the crowds around us, and whenever this occurred, it
called forth the most sullen and ferocious scowl - such, probably, as
would be the forerunner of hostility, and would preclude every hope of
mercy at their hands. With each new tribe we were, in some measure,
obliged to submit to an examination, and to be pulled about, and
fingered all over. They generally measured our hands and feet with
their own, counted our fingers, felt our faces, and besmeared our
shirts all over with grease and dirt. This was no very agreeable
ceremony, and a repetition of it was quite revolting, more especially
when we had to meet the grins or frowns of the many with firmness and


The weather had been tempestuous and rainy, for three or four
successive days: on the 28th it cleared up a little. Under any
circumstances, however, we could not have delayed our journey. We had
not proceeded very far when it again commenced to rain and to blow
heavily from the N.W. The river trended to the South. We passed down
several rapids, and observed the marks of recent flood on the trees, to
the height of seven feet. The alluvial flats did not appear to have
been covered, or to be subject to overflow. The timber upon them was
not of a kind that is found on flooded lands, but wherever reeds
prevailed the flooded or blue gum stretched its long white branches
over them. The country to the westward was low and bushy.


The left bank of the Murray was extremely lofty, and occasionally rose
to 100 feet perpendicularly from the water. It is really difficult to
describe the appearance of the banks at this place; so singular were
they in character, and so varied in form. Here they had the most
beautiful columnar regularity, with capitals somewhat resembling the
Corinthian order in configuration; there they showed like falls of
muddy water that had suddenly been petrified; and in another place they
resembled the time-worn battlements of a feudal castle. It will
naturally be asked, of what could these cliffs have been composed to
assume so many different forms? and what could have operated to produce
such unusual appearances? The truth is, they were composed almost
wholly of clay and sand. Wherever the latter had accumulated, or
predominated, the gradual working of water had washed it away, and left
the more compact body, in some places, so delicately hollowed out, that
it seemed rather the work of art than of nature. This singular
formation rested on a coarse grit, that showed itself in slabs.

From the frequent occurrence of rapids I should imagine that we had
fallen considerably, but there was no visible decline of country. The
river swept along, in broad and noble reaches, at the base of the
cliffs. Vast accumulations of sand were in its bed, a satisfactory
proof of the sandy character of the distant interior, if other proof
were wanting.

We did not see so many natives on the 28th as we had been in the habit
of seeing; perhaps in consequence of the boisterous weather. A small
tribe of about sixty had collected to receive us, but we passed on
without taking any notice of them, Nevertheless they deputed two of
their men to follow us, who overtook us just as we stopped for the
purpose of pitching our tents before the clouds should burst, that just
then bore the most threatening appearance. The blacks seemed to be
perfectly aware what kind of a night we should have, and busied
themselves preparing a hut and making a large fire.

The evening proved extremely dark, and towards midnight it blew and
rained fiercely. Towards morning the wind moderated, and the rain
ceased. Still, the sky was overcast, and the clouds were passing
rapidly over us. The wind had, however, changed some points, and from
the N.W. had veered round to the S.S.W.; and the day eventually turned
out cool and pleasant.


We fell in with a large tribe of natives, amounting in all to 270. They
were extremely quiet, and kept away from the boat; in consequence of
which I distributed a great many presents among them. This tribe was
almost the only one that evinced any eagerness to see us. The lame had
managed to hobble along, and the blind were equally anxious to touch
us. There were two or three old men stretched upon the bank, from whom
the last sigh seemed about to depart; yet these poor creatures evinced
an anxiety to see us, and to listen to a description of our appearance,
although it seemed doubtful whether they would be alive twenty-four
hours after we left them. An old woman, a picture of whom would disgust
my readers, made several attempts to embrace me. I managed, however, to
avoid her, and at length got rid of her by handing her over to Fraser,
who was no wise particular as to the object of his attention. This
tribe must have been one of the most numerous on the banks of the
Murray, since we fell in with detached families for many miles below
the place where we had parted from the main body.

I have omitted to mention that, while among them, I fired at a kite and
killed it; yet, though close to me, the blacks did not start or evince
the least surprise. It really is difficult to account for such firmness
of nerve or self-command. It is not so much a matter of surprise that
they were indifferent to its effects, for probably they knew them not,
but it is certainly odd that they should not have been startled by the

The river inclined very much to the southward for some miles below our
last camp; at length it struck against some elevations that turned it
more to the westward. Before we terminated our day's pull it again
changed its direction to the eastward of south. The right bank became
lofty, and the left proportionably depressed.


In consequence of the boisterous weather we had had, we were uncertain
as to our precise situation, even in point of latitude. But I was
perfectly aware that we were considerably to the south of the head of
St. Vincent's Gulf. I began, therefore, to contemplate with some
confidence a speedy termination to our wanderings, or, at least, that
we should soon reach the extreme point to which we could advance. The
sun was at this time out of my reach, since the sextant would not
measure double the altitude. Observations of the stars were, in like
manner, uncertain, in consequence of the boisterous weather we had had,
and the unavoidable agitation of the quicksilver. My last observation
of Antares placed us in latitude 34 degrees 4 minutes; so that we were
still 115 miles from the coast.

We had now been twenty-two days upon the river, and it was uncertain
how long we should be in compassing the distance we had still to run.
Considering all things, we had, as yet, been extremely fortunate; and I
hoped that we should terminate our journey without the occurrence of
any fatal accident. Had the country corresponded with the noble stream
that traversed it, we should have been proportionably elated, but it
was impossible to conceal from ourselves its inhospitable and
unprofitable character, as far as we had, as yet, penetrated. If we
except the partial and alluvial flats on the immediate borders, and in
the neighbourhood of its tributaries and creeks, the Murray might be
said to flow through a barren and sandy interior. The appearance of the
country through which we passed on the 29th, was far from being such as
to encourage us with the hopes of any change for the better. The river
was enclosed, on either side, by the same kind of banks that have
already been described; and it almost appeared as if the plain had been
rent asunder to allow of a passage for its waters. The view of the
distant interior was unsatisfactory. It was, for the most part, covered
with brush, but, at length, cypresses again made their appearance,
although at a considerable distance from us.

The river continued to flow to the southward, a circumstance that gave
me much satisfaction, for I now began to feel some anxiety about the
men. They had borne their fatigues and trials so cheerfully, and had
behaved so well, that I could not but regret the scanty provision that
remained for them. The salt meat being spoiled, it had fallen to the
share of the dogs, so that we had little else than flour to eat. Fish
no one would touch, and of wild fowl there were none to be seen. The
men complained of sore eyes, from the perspiration constantly running
into them, and it was obvious to me that they were much reduced. It
will be borne in mind, that we were now performing the earliest part of
our task, and were going down with the stream. I was sure that on our
return, (For I had no hopes of meeting any vessel on the coast,) we
should have to make every day's journey good against the current; and,
if the men were now beginning to sink, it might well be doubted whether
their strength would hold out. Both M'Leay and myself, therefore,
encouraged any cheerfulness that occasionally broke out among them, and
Frazer enlivened them by sundry tunes that he whistled whilst employed
in skinning birds. I am sure, no galley-slave ever took to his oar with
more reluctance than poor Frazer. He was indefatigable in most things,
but he could not endure the oar.


We did not fall in with any natives on the 30th, neither did we see
those who had preceded us from the last tribe. On the 31st, to my
mortification, the river held so much to the northward, that we undid
almost all our southing. What with its regular turns, and its extensive

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 9 of 18)