Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia Complete
Part 6 out of 8
proportionably great. I entertained hopes that the passage was clear, and
that we should shoot down it without interruption; but in this I was
disappointed. The boat struck with the fore-part of her keel on a sunken
rock, and, swinging round as it were on a pivot, presented her bow to the
rapid, while the skiff floated away into the strength of it. We had every
reason to anticipate the loss of our whale-boat, whose build was so light,
that had her side struck the rock, instead of her keel, she would have
been laid open from stem to stern. As it was, however, she remained fixed
in her position, and it only remained for us to get her off the best way
we could. I saw that this could only be done by sending two of the men
with a rope to the upper rock, and getting the boat, by that means, into
the still water, between that and the lower one. We should then have time
to examine the channels, and to decide as to that down which it would be
safest to proceed. My only fear was, that the loss of the weight of the
two men would lighten the boat so much, that she would be precipitated
down the rapid without my having any command over her; but it happened
otherwise. We succeeded in getting her into the still water, and
ultimately took her down the channel under the right bank, without her
sustaining any injury. A few miles below this rapid the river took a
singular bend, and we found, after pulling several miles, that we were
within a stone's throw of a part of the stream we had already
The four natives joined us in the camp, and assisted the men at their
various occupations. The consequence was, that they were treated with more
than ordinary kindness; and Fraser, for his part, in order to gratify
these favoured guests, made great havoc among the feathered race. He
returned after a short ramble with a variety of game, among which were a
crow, a kite, and a laughing jackass (alcedo gigantea,) a species of
king's-fisher, a singular bird, found in every part of Australia. Its cry,
which resembles a chorus of wild spirits, is apt to startle the traveller
who may be in jeopardy, as if laughing and mocking at his misfortune.
It is a harmless bird, and I seldom allowed them to be destroyed, as they
were sure to rouse us with the earliest dawn. To this list of Fraser's
spoils, a duck and a tough old cockatoo, must be added. The whole of these
our friends threw on the fire without the delay of plucking, and snatched
them from that consuming element ere they were well singed, and devoured
them with uncommon relish.
DESERTED NATIVE VILLAGE.
We pitched our tents upon a flat of good and tenacious soil. A brush, in
which there was a new species of melaleuca, backed it, in the thickest
part of which we found a deserted native village. The spot was evidently
chosen for shelter. The huts were large and long, all facing the same
point of the compass, and in every way resembling the huts occupied by the
natives of the Darling. Large flocks of whistling ducks, and other wild
fowl, flew over our heads to the N.W., as if making their way to some
large or favourite waters. My observations placed us in lat. 34 degrees
8 minutes 15 seconds south, and in east long. 141 degrees 9 minutes
42 seconds or nearly so; and I was at a loss to conceive what direction
the river would ultimately take. We were considerably to the N.W. of the
point at which we had entered it, and in referring to the chart, it
appeared, that if the Darling had kept a S.W. course from where the last
expedition left its banks, we ought ere this to have struck upon it,
or have arrived at its junction with the stream on which we were
CONVERSING BY SIGNS.
The natives, in attempting to answer my interrogatories, only perplexed
me more and more. They evidently wished to explain something, by placing a
number of sticks across each other as a kind of diagram of the country. It
was, however, impossible to arrive at their meaning. They undoubtedly
pointed to the westward, or rather to the south of that point, as the
future course of the river; but there was something more that they were
anxious to explain, which I could not comprehend. The poor fellows seemed
quite disappointed, and endeavoured to beat it into Fraser's head with as
little success. I then desired Macnamee to get up into a tree. From the
upper branches of it he said he could see hills; but his account of their
appearance was such that I doubted his story: nevertheless it might have
been correct. He certainly called our attention to a large fire, as if the
country to the N.W. was in flames, so that it appeared we were approaching
the haunts of the natives at last.
It happened that Fraser and Harris were for guard, and they sat up
laughing and talking with the natives long after we retired to rest.
Fraser, to beguile the hours, proposed shaving his sable companions, and
performed that operation with admirable dexterity upon their chief, to his
great delight. I got up at an early hour, and found to my surprise that
the whole of them had deserted us. Harris told me they had risen from the
fire about an hour before, and had crossed the river. I was a little
angry, but supposed they were aware that we were near some tribe, and had
gone on a-head to prepare and collect them.
LARGE CONCOURSE OF NATIVES--THEIR HOSTILE DEMEANOUR.
After breakfast, we proceeded onwards as usual. The river had increased so
much in width that, the wind being fair, I hoisted sail for the first
time, to save the strength of my men as much as possible. Our progress was
consequently rapid. We passed through a country that, from the nature of
its soil and other circumstances, appeared to be intersected by creeks and
lagoons. Vast flights of wild fowl passed over us, but always at a
considerable elevation, while, on the other hand, the paucity of ducks on
the river excited our surprise. Latterly, the trees upon the river, and in
its neighbourhood, had been a tortuous kind of box. The flooded-gum grew
in groups on the spaces subject to inundation, but not on the levels above
the influence of any ordinary rise of the stream. Still they were much
smaller than they were observed to be in the higher branches of the river.
We had proceeded about nine miles, when we were surprised by the
appearance in view, at the termination of a reach, of a long line of
magnificent trees of green and dense foliage. As we sailed down the reach,
we observed a vast concourse of natives under them, and, on a nearer
approach, we not only heard their war-song, if it might so be called, but
remarked that they were painted and armed, as they generally are, prior
to their engaging in deadly conflict. Notwithstanding these outward signs
of hostility, fancying that our four friends were with them, I continued
to steer directly in for the bank on which they were collected. I found,
however, when it was almost too late to turn into the succeeding reach
to our left, that an attempt to land would only be attended with loss of
life. The natives seemed determined to resist it. We approached so near
that they held their spears quivering in their grasp ready to hurl. They
were painted in various ways. Some who had marked their ribs, and thighs,
and faces with a white pigment, looked like skeletons, others were daubed
over with red and yellow ochre, and their bodies shone with the grease
with which they had besmeared themselves. A dead silence prevailed among
the front ranks, but those in the back ground, as well as the women, who
carried supplies of darts, and who appeared to have had a bucket of
whitewash capsized over their heads, were extremely clamorous. As I did
not wish a conflict with these people, I lowered my sail, and putting the
helm to starboard, we passed quietly down the stream in mid channel.
Disappointed in their anticipations, the natives ran along the bank of the
river, endeavouring to secure an aim at us; but, unable to throw with
certainty, in consequence of the onward motion of the boat, they flung
themselves into the most extravagant attitudes, and worked themselves into
a state of frenzy by loud and vehement shouting.
PREPARATIONS FOR CONFLICT--UNEXPECTED INTERFERENCE.
It was with considerable apprehension that I observed the river to be
shoaling fast, more especially as a huge sand-bank, a little below us, and
on the same side on which the natives had gathered, projected nearly a
third-way across the channel. To this sand-bank they ran with tumultuous
uproar, and covered it over in a dense mass. Some of the chiefs advanced
to the water to be nearer their victims, and turned from time to time to
direct their followers. With every pacific disposition, and an extreme
reluctance to take away life, I foresaw that it would be impossible any
longer to avoid an engagement, yet with such fearful numbers against us,
I was doubtful of the result. The spectacle we had witnessed had been one
of the most appalling kind, and sufficient to shake the firmness of most
men; but at that trying moment my little band preserved their temper
coolness, and if any thing could be gleaned from their countenances, it
was that they had determined on an obstinate resistance. I now explained
to them that their only chance of escape depended, or would depend, on
their firmness. I desired that after the first volley had been fired,
M'Leay and three of the men, would attend to the defence of the boat with
bayonets only, while I, Hopkinson, and Harris, would keep up the fire as
being more used to it. I ordered, however, that no shot was to be fired
until after I had discharged both my barrels. I then delivered their arms
to the men, which had as yet been kept in the place appropriated for them,
and at the same time some rounds of loose cartridge. The men assured me
they would follow my instructions, and thus prepared, having already
lowered the sail, we drifted onwards with the current. As we neared the
sand-bank, I stood up and made signs to the natives to desist;
but without success. I took up my gun, therefore, and cocking it,
had already brought it down to a level. A few seconds more would
have closed the life of the nearest of the savages. The distance
was too trifling for me to doubt the fatal effects of the discharge;
for I was determined to take deadly aim, in hopes that the fall of
one man might save the lives of many. But at the very moment, when
my hand was on the trigger, and my eye was along the barrel, my
purpose was checked by M'Leay, who called to me that another party of
blacks had made their appearance upon the left bank of the river. Turning
round, I observed four men at the top of their speed. The foremost of
them as soon as he got a-head of the boat, threw himself from a
considerable height into the water. He struggled across the channel to the
sand-bank, and in an incredibly short space of time stood in front of the
savage, against whom my aim had been directed. Seizing him by the throat,
he pushed backwards, and forcing all who were in the water upon the bank,
he trod its margin with a vehemence and an agitation that were exceedingly
striking. At one moment pointing to the boat, at another shaking his
clenched hand in the faces of the most forward, and stamping with passion
on the sand; his voice, that was at first distinct and clear, was lost in
hoarse murmurs. Two of the four natives remained on the left bank of the
river, but the third followed his leader, (who proved to be the remarkable
savage I have previously noticed) to the scene of action. The reader will
imagine our feelings on this occasion: it is impossible to describe them.
We were so wholly lost in interest at the scene that was passing, that the
boat was allowed to drift at pleasure. For my own part I was overwhelmed
with astonishment, and in truth stunned and confused; so singular, so
unexpected, and so strikingly providential, had been our escape.
JUNCTION OF ANOTHER STREAM--PROVIDENTIAL DELIVERANCE FROM DANGER.
We were again roused to action by the boat suddenly striking upon a shoal,
which reached from one side of the river to the other. To jump out and
push her into deeper water was but the work of a moment with the men, and
it was just as she floated again that our attention was withdrawn to a new
and beautiful stream, coming apparently from the north. The great body of
the natives having posted themselves on the narrow tongue of land formed
by the two rivers, the bold savage who had 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 unnecessary.
NEW RIVER, SUPPOSED TO BE THE DARLING.
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.
HOIST THE UNION JACK.
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
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 he 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
INUNDATED AND ALLUVIAL COUNTRY.
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.
STATE OF PROVISIONS.
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.
DEXTERITY OF NATIVES IN FISHING.
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.
BREAK UP THE SKIFF.
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. winds.
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.
NEW RIVER IDENTIFIED WITH THE DARLING.
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 mind.
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.
CHANGE OF COUNTRY.
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.
INTRODUCED FROM TRIBE TO TRIBE.
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.
RIDGE TO THE SOUTH-EAST.
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 crowded with cockatoos, that were making their morning's
repast on the berries of the salsolae and rhagodia, with which it was
DISTANT RANGES SEEN.
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.
PASS THREE CREEKS.
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
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.
DISEASES OF THE NATIVES.
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
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.
JUNCTION OF THE RUFUS.
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 moderated.
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 acutely.
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
NATIVES BECOME TROUBLESOME.
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.
SINGULAR FORMATION OF THE BANKS.
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.
LARGE TRIBE OF NATIVES--THEIR INDIFFERENCE TO FIRE-ARMS.
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
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 report.
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.
REFLECTIONS ON THE PROGRESS OF THE EXPEDITION.
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.
NATIVES BECOME UNRULY.
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 sweeps, the
Murray covers treble the ground, at a moderate computation, that it would
occupy in a direct course; and we had a practical instance of the truth of
this in the course of the afternoon, when we found our friends ready to
introduce us to a large assemblage of natives. On asking them how they had
passed us, they pointed directly east to the spot at which we had parted.
By crossing from one angle of the river to the other, they had performed
in little more than half a day, a journey which it had taken us two long
days to accomplish. After our usual distribution of presents, we pushed
away from the bank; though not without some difficulty, in consequence of
the obstinacy of the natives in wishing to detain us; and I was
exceedingly vexed to find, while we were yet in sight of them, that we had
proceeded down a shallow channel on one side of an island instead of the
further and deeper one; so that the boat ultimately grounded. A crowd of
the blacks rushed into the water, and surrounded us on every side. Some
came to assist us, others, under a pretence of assisting, pulled against
us, and I was at length obliged to repel them by threats. A good many of
them were very much disposed to annoy us, and, after the boat was in deep
water, some of them became quite infuriated, because we would not return.
Had we been within distance, they would assuredly have hurled their spears
at us. Thirteen of them followed us to our resting place. They kept rather
apart from us, and kindled their fire in a little hollow about fifty paces
to our right; nor did they venture to approach the tents unless we called
to them, so that by their quiet and unobtrusive conduct they made up in
some measure for the unruly proceedings of others of their tribe.
We had now arrived at a point at which I hoped to gain some information
from the natives, respecting the sea. It was to no purpose, however, that
I questioned these stupid people. They understood perfectly, by my
pointing to the sky, and by other signs, that I was inquiring about large
waters, but they could not, or would not, give any information on the
CHANGE IN THE GEOLOGY OF THE COUNTRY.
As we proceeded down the river, its current became weaker, and its channel
somewhat deeper. Our attention was called to a remarkable change in the
geology of the country, as well as to an apparent alteration in the
natural productions. The cliffs of sand and clay ceased, and were
succeeded by a fossil formation of the most singular description. At
first, it did not exceed a foot in height above the water, but it
gradually rose, like an inclined plane, and resembled in colour, and in
appearance, the skulls of men piled one upon the other. The constant
rippling of the water against the rock had washed out the softer parts,
and made hollows and cavities, that gave the whole formation the precise
appearance of a catacomb. On examination, we discovered it to be a compact
bed of shells, composed of a common description of marine shell from two
to three inches in length, apparently a species of turritella.
BANKS OF PETRIFIED SHELLS.
At about nine miles from the commencement of this formation, it rose to
the height of more than 150 feet; the country became undulating, and a
partial change took place in its vegetation. We stopped at an early hour,
to examine some cliffs, which rising perpendicularly from the water, were
different in character and substance from any we had as yet seen. They
approached a dirty yellow-ochre in colour, that became brighter in hue as
it rose, and, instead of being perforated, were compact and hard.
The waters of the river had, however, made horizontal lines upon their
fronts, which distinctly marked the rise and fall of the river, as the
strength or depth of the grooves distinctly indicated the levels it
generally kept. It did not appear from these lines, that the floods ever
rose more than four feet above the then level of the stream, or that they
continued for any length of time. On breaking off pieces of the rock, we
ascertained that it was composed of one solid mass of sea-shells, of
various kinds, of which the species first mentioned formed the lowest
It rained a good deal during the night, but the morning turned out
remarkably fine. The day was pleasant, for however inconvenient in some
respects the frequent showers had been, they had cooled the air, and
consequently prevented our feeling the heat so much as we should otherwise
have done, in the close and narrow glen we had now entered.
Among the natives who followed us from the last tribe, there was an old
man, who took an uncommon fancy or attachment to Hopkinson, and who
promised, when we separated, to join us again in the course of the day.
FACE OF THE COUNTRY.
As we proceeded down the river we found that it was confined in a glen,
whose extreme breadth was not more than half-a-mile. The hills that rose
on either side of it were of pretty equal height. The alluvial flats were
extremely small, and the boldest cliffs separated them from each other.
The flats were lightly wooded, and were for the most part covered with
reeds or polygonum. They were not much elevated above the waters of the
river, and had every appearance of being frequently inundated. At noon we
pulled up to dine, upon the left bank, under some hills, which were from
200 to 250 feet in height. While the men were preparing our tea,
(for we had only that to boil,) M'Leay and I ascended the hills. The brush
was so thick upon them, that we could not obtain a view of the distant
interior. Their summits were covered with oyster-shells, in such abundance
as entirely to preclude the idea of their having been brought to such a
position by the natives. They were in every stage of petrification.
In the course of the afternoon the old man joined us, and got into the
boat. As far as we could understand from his signs, we were at no great
distance from some remarkable change or other. The river had been making
to the N.W., from the commencement of the fossil formation, and it
appeared as if it was inclined to keep that direction. The old man pointed
to the N.W., and then placed his hand on the side of his head to indicate,
as I understood him, that we should sleep to the N.W. of where we then
were; but his second motion was not so intelligible, for he pointed due
south, as if to indicate that such would be our future course; and he
concluded his information, such as it was, by describing the roaring of
the sea, and the height of the waves. It was evident this old man had been
upon the coast, and we were therefore highly delighted at the prospect
thus held out to us of reaching it.
A little below the hills under which we had stopped, the country again
assumed a level. A line of cliffs, of from two to three hundred feet in
height, flanked the river, first on one side and then on the other,
varying in length from a quarter of a mile to a mile. They rose
perpendicularly from the water, and were of a bright yellow colour,
rendered still more vivid occasionally by the sun shining full upon them.
The summits of these cliffs were as even as if they had been built by an
architect; and from their very edge, the country back from the stream was
of an uniform level, and was partly plain, and partly clothed by brush.
The soil upon this plateau, or table land, was sandy, and it was as barren
and unproductive as the worst of the country we had passed through. On the
other hand, the alluvial flats on the river increased in size, and were
less subject to flood; and the river lost much of its sandy bed, and its
current was greatly diminished in strength.
It blew so fresh, during the greater part of the day, from the westward,
that we had great difficulty in pulling against the breeze. The determined
N.W. course the river kept, made me doubt the correctness of the story of
the little old black; yet there was an openness of manner about him, and a
clearness of description, that did not appear like fabrication. He pointed
to the S.S.W. when he left us, as the direction in which he would again
join us, thus confirming, without any apparent intention, what he had
stated with regard to the southerly course the river was about to take.
Among the natives who were with him, there was another man of very
different manners and appearance. Our friend was small in stature, had
piercing grey eyes, and was as quick as lightning in his movements The
other was tall, and grey headed; anxious, yet unobtrusive; and confident,
without the least mixture of boldness. The study of the human character on
many occasions similar to this, during our intercourse with these people,
rude and uncivilized as they were, was not only pleasing, but instructive.
We found that the individuals of a tribe partook of one general character,
and that the whole of the tribe were either decidedly quiet, or as
decidedly disorderly. The whole of the blacks left us when we started,
but we had not gone very far, when the individual I have described brought
his family, consisting of about fifteen persons. We were going down a part
of the river in which there was a very slight fall. The natives were
posted under some blue-gum trees, upon the right bank, and there was a
broad shoal of sand immediately to our left. They walked over to this
shoal, to receive some little presents, but did not follow when we
continued our journey.
During the whole of the day the river ran to the N.W. We stopped for the
night under some cliffs, similar to those we had already passed, but
somewhat higher. From their summit, mountains were visible to the N.W.,
but at a great distance from us. I doubted not that they were at the head
of the southern gulfs; or of one of them, at all events. Our observations
placed us in 34 degrees 08 minutes south of lat., and in long. 139 degrees
41 minutes 15 seconds; we were consequently nearly seventy miles from
Spencer's Gulf, in a direct line, and I should have given that as the
distance the hills appeared to be from us. They bore as follows:--
Lofty round mountain, S. 127 degrees W.
Mountain scarcely visible, S. 128 degrees W.
Northern extremity of a broken range, S. 102 degrees W.
Southern extremity scarcely visible, S. 58 degrees W.
The country between the river and these ranges appeared to be very low,
and darkly wooded: that to the N.E. was more open. The summit of the cliff
did not form any table-land, but it dipped almost immediately to the
westward, and the country, although, as I have already remarked, it was
depressed, and undulated.
I walked to some distance from the river, across a valley, and started
several kangaroos; but I was quite alone, and could not, therefore, secure
one of them. Had the dogs been near, we should have had a fine feast. The
soil of the interior still continued sandy, but there was a kind of short
grass mixed with the salsolaceous plants upon it, that indicated, as I
thought, a change for the better in the vegetation; and the circumstance
of there being kangaroos in the valleys to the westward was also a
FEAST ON A TORTOISE.
Beneath the cliffs hereabouts, the river was extremely broad and deep.
My servant thought it a good place for fishing and accordingly set a
night-line, one end of which he fastened to the bough of a tree. During
the night, being on guard, he saw a small tortoise floating on the water,
so near that he struck it a violent blow with a large stick, upon which it
dived: to his surprise, however, in the morning, he found that it had
taken the bait, and was fast to the line. On examining it, the shell
proved to be cracked, so that the blow must have been a severe one. It was
the largest we had ever seen, and made an excellent dish. The flesh was
beautifully white, nor could anything, especially under our circumstances,
have been more tempting than it was when cooked; yet M'Leay would not
partake of it.
The prevailing wind was, at this time, from the S.W. It blew heavily all
day, but moderated towards the evening
I was very anxious, at starting on the 3rd, as to the course the river
would take, since it would prove whether the little old man had played us
false or not. From the cliffs under which we had slept, it held a direct
N.W. course for two or three miles. It then turned suddenly to the S.E.,
and gradually came round to E.N.E., so that after two hours pulling, we
found ourselves just opposite to the spot from which we had started, the
neck of land that separated the channels not being more than 200 yards
across. I have before noticed a bend similar to this, which the Murray
makes, a little above the junction of the supposed Darling with it.
CHART OF THE RIVER.
It may appear strange to some of my readers, that I should have laid down
the windings of the river so minutely. It may therefore be necessary for
me to state that every bend of it was laid down by compass, and that the
bearings of the angles as they opened were regularly marked by me, so that
not a single winding or curve of the Murray is omitted in the large chart.
The length of some of the reaches may be erroneous, but their direction is
strictly correct. I always had a sheet of paper and the compass before me,
and not only marked down the river line, but also the description of
country nearest; its most minute changes, its cliffs, its flats, the kind
of country back from it, its lagoons, the places at which the tribes
assembled, its junctions, tributaries and creeks, together with our
several positions, were all regularly noted, so that on our return up the
river we had no difficulty in ascertaining upon what part of it we were,
by a reference to the chart; and it proved of infinite service to us,
since we were enabled to judge of our distance from our several camps, as
we gained them day by day with the current against us; and we should often
have stopped short of them, weary and exhausted, had we not known that two
or three reaches more would terminate our labour for the day.
From the spot last spoken of, the river held on a due south course for the
remainder of the day; and at the same time changed its character. It lost
its sandy bed and its current together, and became deep, still, and
turbid, with a muddy bottom. It increased considerably in breadth, and
stretched away before us in magnificent reaches of from three to six miles
in length. The cliffs under which we passed towered above us, like
maritime cliffs, and the water dashed against their base like the waves of
the sea. They became brighter and brighter in colour, looking like dead
gold in the sun's rays; and formed an unbroken wall of a mile or two in
length. The natives on their summits showed as small as crows; and the
cockatoos, the eagles, and other birds, were as specks above us; the
former made the valley reverberate with their harsh and discordant notes.
The reader may form some idea of the height of these cliffs, when informed
that the king of the feathered race made them his sanctuary. They were
continuous on both sides of the river, but retired, more or less, from it,
according to the extent of the alluvial flats. The river held a serpentine
course down the valley through which it passed, striking the precipices
alternately on each side.
The soil on the flats was better, and less mixed with sand than it had
been, but the flats were generally covered with reeds, though certainly
not wholly subject to flood at any time. The polygonum still prevailed
upon them in places, and the blue-gum tree alone occupied their outskirts.
From the several elevations we ascended, the country to the N.W. appeared
undulating and well wooded; that to the eastward, seemed to be brushy and
low. Certainly there was a great difference in the country, both to the
eastward and to the westward. We had frequent views of the mountains we
had seen, or, I should have said, of a continuation of them. They bore
nearly west from us at a very great distance all day.
We fell in with several tribes, but did not see our old friend, although,
from the inquiries we made, it was evident he was well known among them.
It would disgust my readers were I to describe the miserable state of
disease and infirmity to which these tribes were reduced. Leprosy of the
most loathsome description, the most violent cutaneous eruptions, and
glandular affections, absolutely raged through the whole of them; yet we
could not escape from the persecuting examination of our persons that
curiosity prompted them in some measure to insist upon.
REJOINED BY OUR OLD NATIVE GUIDE.
The old man, whose information had proved strictly correct, joined us
again on the 4th, and his joy at being received into the boat was
unbounded, as well as the pleasure he expressed at again meeting
Hopkinson. He had been on a long journey, it would appear, for he had not
then reached his tribe. As we approached their haunt, he landed and
preceded us to collect them. We were, of course, more than usually liberal
to so old a friend, and we were really sorry to part with him.
Soon after leaving his tribe, which occupied the left bank of the river,
and was very weak in point of numbers, we fell in with a very strong tribe
upon the right bank. They numbered 211 in all. We lay off the bank, in
order to escape their importunities; a measure that by no means satisfied
them. The women appeared to be very prolific; but, as a race, these people
are not to be compared with the natives of the mountains, or of the upper
branches of the Murray.
We passed some beautiful scenery in the course of the day. The river
preserved a direct southerly course, and could not in any place have been
less than 400 yards in breadth. The cliffs still continued, and varied
perpetually in form; at one time presenting a perpendicular wall to the
view, at others, they overhung the stream, in huge fragments. All were
composed of a mass of shells of various kinds; a fact which will call for
further observation and remark.
DELAYED BY STRONG WINDS.
Many circumstances at this time tended to confirm our hopes that the sea
could not be very far from us, or that we should not be long in gaining
it. Some sea-gulls flew over our heads, at which Fraser was about to
shoot, had I not prevented him, for I hailed them as the messengers of
glad tidings, and thought they ill deserved such a fate. It blew very hard
from the S.W., during the whole of the day, and we found it extremely
laborious pulling against the heavy and short sea that came rolling up the
broad and open reaches of the Murray at this place.
Four of the blacks, from the last tribe, followed us, and slept at the
fires; but they were suspicious and timid, and appeared to be very glad
when morning dawned. Our fires were always so much larger than those made
by themselves, that, they fancied, perhaps, we were going to roast them.
Our dogs, likewise, gave them great uneasiness; for although so fond of
the native brute, they feared ours, from their size. We generally tied
them to the boat, therefore, to prevent a recurrence of theft, so that
they were not altogether useless.
Improvement in the aspect of the country--Increase of the river--Strong
westerly gales--Chronometer broken--A healthier tribe of natives--
Termination of the Murray in a large lake--Its extent and environs--
Passage across it--Hostile appearance of the natives--Beautiful scenery
--Channel from the lake to the sea at Encounter Bay--Reach the beach--
Large flocks of water fowl--Curious refraction--State of provisions--
Embarrassing situation--Inspection of the channel to the ocean--Weak
condition of the men--Difficulties of the return.
It now appeared that the Murray had taken a permanent southerly course;
indeed, it might strictly be said that it ran away to the south. As we
proceeded down it, the valley expanded to the width of two miles; the
alluvial flats became proportionably larger; and a small lake generally
occupied their centre. They were extensively covered with reeds and grass,
for which reason, notwithstanding that they were little elevated above the
level of the stream, I do not think they are subject to overflow. Parts of
them may be laid under water, but certainly not the whole. The rains at
the head of the Murray, and its tributaries, must be unusually severe to
prolong their effects to this distant region, and the flats bordering it
appear, by successive depositions, to have only just gained a height above
the further influence of the floods. Should this prove to be the case, the
valley may be decidedly laid down as a most desirable spot, whether we
regard the richness of its soil, its rock formation, its locality, or the
extreme facility of water communication along it. It must not, however, be
forgotten or concealed, that the summits of the cliffs by which the valley
is enclosed, have not a corresponding soil. On the contrary, many of the
productions common to the plains of the interior still existed upon them,
and they were decidedly barren; but as we measured the reaches of the
river, the cliffs ceased, and gave place to undulating hills, that were
very different in appearance from the country we had previously noted
down. It would have been impossible for the most tasteful individual to
have laid out pleasure ground to more advantage, than Nature had done in
planting and disposing the various groups of trees along the spine, and
upon the sides of the elevations that confined the river, and bounded the
low ground that intervened between it and their base. Still, however, the
soil upon these elevations was sandy, and coarse, but the large oat-grass
was abundant upon them, which yielded pasture at least as good as that in
the broken country between Underaliga and Morumbidgee.
We had now gained a distance of at least sixty miles from that angle of
the Murray at which it reaches its extreme west. The general aspect of the
country to our right was beautiful, and several valleys branched away into
the interior upon that side which had a most promising appearance, and
seemed to abound with kangaroos, as the traces of them were numerous, and
the dogs succeeded in killing one, which, to our great mortification, we
could not find.
While, however, the country to the westward had so much to recommend it,
the hills to our left became extremely bare. It was evident that the right
was the sheltered side of the valley. The few trees on the opposite side
bent over to the N.E., as if under the influence of some prevailing wind.
We experienced at this time a succession of gales from the S.W., against
which we, on several occasions, found it useless to contend: the waves on
the river being heavy and short; and the boat, driving her prow into them,
sent the spray over us and soon wet us through. Indeed, it is difficult
for the reader to imagine the heavy swell that rolled up the river, which
had increased in breadth to the third of a mile, and in the length of its
reaches to eight or ten. I was satisfied that we were not only navigating
this river at a particularly stormy, perhaps THE stormy, season; but also,
that the influence of the S.W. wind is felt even as far in the interior as
to the supposed Darling; in consequence of the uniform build of the huts,
and the circumstance of their not only facing the N.E., but also being
almost invariably erected under the lee of some bush.
The weather, under the influence of the wind we experienced, was cool and
pleasant, although the thermometer stood at a medium height of 86 degrees;
but we found it very distressing to pull against the heavy breezes that
swept up the valley, and bent the reeds so as almost to make them kiss the
We communicated on the 6th and 7th with several large tribes of natives,
whose manners were on the whole quiet and inoffensive. They distinctly
informed us, that we were fast approaching the sea, and, from what I could
understand, we were nearer to it than the coast line of Encounter Bay made
us. We had placed sticks to ascertain if there was any rise or fall of
tide, but the troubled state of the river prevented our experiments from
being satisfactory. By selecting a place, however, that was sheltered from
the effects of the wind, we ascertained that there was an apparent rise
of about eight inches.
OBLIGED TO TAKE REPOSE.
It blew a heavy gale during the whole of the 7th; and we laboured in vain
at the oar. The gusts that swept the bosom of the water, and the swell
they caused, turned the boat from her course, and prevented us from making
an inch of way. The men were quite exhausted, and, as they had conducted
themselves so well, and had been so patient, I felt myself obliged to
grant them every indulgence consistent with our safety. However precarious
our situation, it would have been vain, with our exhausted strength, to
have contended against the elements. We, therefore, pulled in to the left
bank of the river, and pitched our tents on a little rising ground beyond
the reeds that lined it.
I had been suffering very much front tooth-ache for the last three or four
days, and this day felt the most violent pain from the wind. I was not,
therefore, sorry to get under even the poor shelter our tents afforded.
M'Leay, observing that I was in considerable pain, undertook to wind up
the chronometer; but, not understanding or knowing the instrument, he
unfortunately broke the spring. I shall not forget the anxiety he
expressed, and the regret he felt on the occasion; nor do I think M'Leay
recovered the shock this unlucky accident gave him for two or three days,
or until the novelty of other scenes drove it from his recollection.
We landed close to the haunt of a small tribe of natives, who came to us
with the most perfect confidence, and assisted the men in their
occupations. They were cleaner and more healthy than any tribe we had
seen; and were extremely cheerful, although reserved in some respects.
As a mark of more than usual cleanliness, the women had mats of oval
shape, upon which they sat, made, apparently, of rushes. There was a
young girl among them of a most cheerful disposition. She was about
eighteen, was well made, and really pretty. This girl was married to an
elderly man who had broken his leg, which having united in a bent shape,
the limb was almost useless. I really believe the girl thought we could
cure her husband, from her importunate manner to us. I regretted that I
could do nothing for the man, but to show that I was not inattentive to
her entreaties, I gave him a pair of trousers, and desired Fraser to put
them upon him; but the poor fellow cut so awkward an appearance in them,
that his wife became quite distressed, and Fraser was obliged speedily
to disencumber him from them again.
We could not gain any satisfactory information, as to the termination of
the river, from these people. It was evident that some change was at hand;
but what it was we could not ascertain.
APPEARANCE OF SOME APPROACHING CHANGE.
On the morning of the 9th, we left our fair friend and her lame husband,
and proceeded down the river. The wind had moderated, although it still
blew fresh. We ascended every height as we went along, but could not see
any new feature in the country. Our view to the eastward was very
confined; to the westward the interior was low and dark, and was backed in
the distance by lofty ranges, parallel to which we had been running for
some days. The right bank of the valley was beautifully undulated, but the
left was bleak and bare. The valley had a breadth of from three to four
miles, and the flats were more extensive under the former than under the
latter. They were scarcely two feet above the level of the water, and were
densely covered with reeds. As there was no mark upon the reeds to
indicate the height to which the floods rose, I cannot think that these
flats are ever wholly laid under water; if they are, it cannot be to any
depth: at all events a few small drains would effectually prevent
inundation. The soil upon the hills continued to be much mixed with sand,
and the prevailing trees were cypress and box. Among the minor shrubs and
grass, many common to the east coasts were noticed; and although the bold
cliffs had ceased, the basis of the country still continued of the fossil
formation. At a turn of the stream hereabouts, however, a solitary rock of
coarse red granite rose above the waters, and formed an island in its
centre; but only in this one place was it visible. The rock was composed
principally of quartz and feldspar.
A little below it, we found a large tribe anxiously awaiting our arrival.
They crowded to the margin of the river with great eagerness, and evinced
more surprise at our appearance than any tribe we had seen during the
journey; but we left them very soon, notwithstanding that they importuned
us much to stay.
After pulling a mile or two, we found a clear horizon before us to the
south. The hills still continued upon our left, but we could not see any
elevation over the expanse of reeds to our right. The river inclined to
the left, and swept the base of the hills that still continued on that
side. I consequently landed once more to survey the country.
TERMINATION OF THE MURRAY IN A LARGE LAKE.
I still retained a strong impression on my mind that some change was at
hand, and on this occasion, I was not disappointed; but the view was one
for which I was not altogether prepared. We had, at length, arrived at the
termination of the Murray. Immediately below me was a beautiful lake,
which appeared to be a fitting reservoir for the noble stream that had led
us to it; and which was now ruffled by the breeze that swept over it.
The ranges were more distinctly visible, stretching from south to north,
and were certainly distant forty miles. They had a regular unbroken
outline; declining gradually to the south, but terminating abruptly at a
lofty mountain northerly. I had no doubt on my mind of this being the
Mount Lofty of Captain Flinders; or that the range was that immediately to
the eastward of St. Vincent's Gulf--Since the accident to the chronometer,
we had not made any westing, so that we knew our position as nearly as
possible. Between us and the ranges a beautiful promontory shot into the
lake, being a continuation of the right bank of the Murray. Over this
promontory the waters stretched to the base of the ranges, and formed an
extensive bay. To the N.W. the country was exceedingly low, but distant
peaks were just visible over it. To the S.W. a bold headland showed
itself; beyond which, to the westward, there was a clear and open sea
visible, through a strait formed by this headland and a point projecting
from the opposite shore. To the E. and S.E. the country was low, excepting
the left shore of the lake, which was backed by some minor elevations,
crowned with cypresses. Even while gazing on this fine scene, I could not
but regret that the Murray had thus terminated; for I immediately foresaw
that, in all probability, we should be disappointed in finding any
practicable communication between the lake and the ocean, as it was
evident that the former was not much influenced by tides. The wind had
again increased; it still blew fresh from the S.W. and a heavy sea was
rolling direct into the mouth of the river. I hoped, notwithstanding, that
we should have been enabled to make sail, for which reason we entered the
lake about 2 p.m. The natives had kindled a large fire on a distant point
between us and the further headland, and to gain this point our efforts
were now directed. The waves were, however, too strong, and we were
obliged to make for the eastern shore, until such time as the weather
should moderate. We pitched our tents on a low track of land that
stretched away seemingly for many miles directly behind us to the
eastward. It was of the richest soil, being a black vegetable deposit,
and although now high above the influence, the lake had, it was evident,
once formed a part of its bed. The appearance of the country altogether
encouraged M'Leay and myself to walk out, in order to examine it from some
hills a little to the S.E. of the camp. From them we observed that the
flat extended over about fifty miles, and was bounded by the elevations
that continued easterly from the left bank of the Murray to the north,
and by a line of rising-ground to the south. The whole was lightly wooded,
and covered with grass. The season must have been unusually dry, judging
from the general appearance of the vegetation, and from the circumstance
of the lagoons in the interior being wholly exhausted.
Thirty-three days had now passed over our heads since we left the depot
upon the Morumbidgee, twenty-six of which had been passed upon the Murray.
We had, at length, arrived at the grand reservoir of those waters whose
course and fate had previously been involved in such obscurity. It
remained for us to ascertain whether the extensive sheet of water upon
whose bosom we had embarked, had any practicable communication with the
ocean, and whether the country in the neighbourhood of the coast
corresponded with that immediately behind our camp, or kept up its sandy
and sterile character to the very verge of the sea. As I have already
said, my hopes on the first of these points were considerably damped, but
I could not help anticipating a favourable change in the latter, since its
features had so entirely changed.
DETAINED BY THE WIND.
The greatest difficulty against which we had at present to contend was the
wind; and I dreaded the exertion it would call for, to make head against
it; for the men were so much reduced that I felt convinced they were
inadequate to any violent or prolonged effort. It still blew fresh at
8 p.m., but at that time it began to moderate. It may be imagined that I
listened to its subdued gusts with extreme anxiety. It did not wholly
abate until after 2 a.m., when it gradually declined, and about 3 a light
breeze sprung up from the N. E.
We had again placed sticks to ascertain with more precision the rise of
tide, and found it to be the same as in the river. In the stillness of the
night too we thought we heard the roaring of the sea, but I was myself
uncertain upon the point, as the wind might have caused the sound.
From the top of the hill from which we had obtained our first view of the
lake, I observed the waves breaking upon the distant headland, and
enveloping the cliff in spray; so that, independent of the clearness of
the horizon beyond it, I was further led to conclude that there existed a
great expanse of water to the S.W.; and, as that had been the direction
taken by the river, I thought it probable that by steering at once to the
S.W. down the lake, I should hit the outlet. I, consequently, resolved to
gain the southern extremity of the lake, as that at which it was natural
to expect a communication with the ocean would be found.
At 4 we had a moderate breeze, and it promised to strengthen; we lost no
time therefore in embarking, and with a flowing sheet stretched over to
the W.S.W., and ran along the promontory formed by the right bank of the
Murray. We passed close under its extreme point at nine. The hills had
gradually declined, and we found the point to be a flat, elevated about
thirty feet above the lake. It was separated from the promontory by a
small channel that was choked up with reeds, so that it is more than
probable that the point is insulated at certain periods; whilst in its
stratification it resembled the first cliffs I have described that were
passed below the Darling. It is a remarkable fact in the geology of the
Murray, that such should be the case; and that the formation at each
extremity of the great bank or bed of fossils should be the same.
Thus far, the waters of the lake had continued sweet; but on filling a can
when we were abreast of this point, it was found that they were quite
unpalatable, to say the least of them. The transition from fresh to salt
water was almost immediate, and it was fortunate we made the discovery in
sufficient time to prevent our losing ground. But, as it was, we filled
our casks, and stood on, without for a moment altering our course.
PASSAGE ACROSS THE LAKE--ITS SHALLOWNESS.
It is difficult to give a just description of our passage across the lake.
The boisterous weather we had had seemed to have blown over. A cool and
refreshing breeze was carrying us on at between four and five knots an
hour, and the heavens above us were without a cloud. It almost appeared as
if nature had resisted us in order to try our perseverance, and that she
had yielded in pity to our efforts. The men, relieved for a time from the
oar, stretched themselves at their length in the boat, and commented on
the scenery around them, or ventured their opinions as to that which was
before them. Up to this moment their conduct had been most exemplary; not
a murmur had escaped from them, and they filled the water-casks with the
utmost cheerfulness, even whilst tasting the disagreeable beverage they
would most probably have to subsist on for the next three or four days.
As soon as we had well opened the point, we had a full view of the
splendid bay that, commencing at the western most of the central points,
swept in a beautiful curve under the ranges. No land was visible to the
W.N.W. or to the S.S.W.: in both these quarters the lake was as open as
the ocean. It appeared, therefore, that the land intermediate was an
island. To the north the country was extremely low, and as we increased
our distance from it we lost sight of it altogether. At noon we were
nearly abreast of the eastern headland, or in the centre of the strait to
which I have alluded. At this time there was an open sea from W.N.W. to
N. by E. A meridian altitude gave our latitude 35 degrees 25 minutes.
The land to our left was bold and precipitous; that to the right was low
and wooded; and there was evidently a considerable space between the
shores of the lake and the base of the ranges. The country to the eastward
was hidden from us by the line of cliffs, beyond which from E.S.E. to
W.S.W. there was an open sea. We had kept the lead going from the first,
and I was surprised at the extreme shallowness of the lake in every part,
as we never had six feet upon the line. Its bottom was one of black mud,
and weeds of enormous length were floating on its surface, detached by the
late gales, and which, from the shallowness of the lake, got constantly
entangled with our rudder.
We tried to land on the eastern point, but found the water too shallow,
and were obliged to try the western shore. In passing close under the
head, we observed several natives upon it, who kindled a large fire as
soon as they saw they were noticed, which was answered from every point;
for, in less than ten minutes afterwards, we counted no fewer than
fourteen different fires, the greater number of which were on the side of
SHORES OF THE LAKE.
As we were standing across from one shore to the other, our attention was
drawn to a most singular object. It started suddenly up, as above the
waters to the south, and strikingly resembled an isolated castle. Behind
it, a dense column of smoke rose into the sky, and the effect was most
remarkable. On a nearer approach, the phantom disappeared and a clear and
open sea again presented itself to our view. The fact was, that the
refractive power upon the coast had elevated the sand-hillocks above their
true position, since we satisfactorily ascertained that they alone
separated the lake from the ocean, and that they alone could have produced
the semblance we noticed. It is a singular fact, that this very hillock
was the one which Capt. Barker ascended whilst carrying on the survey of
the south coast, and immediately previous to his tragical death.
It was not without difficulty that we succeeded in landing on the western
shore; but we did, at length, succeed, and prepared our dinners. The shore
was low, but above the reach of all floods; the soil was rich, and
superficially sandy. It was covered with high grasses, and abounded in
kangaroos; within the space of a few yards we found five or six, but they
were immediately lost to us and to the dogs in the luxuriance of the
vegetation amidst which they were feeding.
As soon as we had finished our meal, we once more embarked, and stood
along the shore to the S.W., but the lake was so shoal, that I was every
moment apprehensive we should ground. I ran across, therefore, to the
south, towards a low flat that had just appeared above the line of the
horizon, in hope that, in sounding, we should have found the channel, but
there either was none, or else it was so narrow that we passed over it
between the heaves of the lead. At this time, the western shore was quite
distinct, and the scenery was beautiful.
The flat we were approaching was a mud-flat, and, from its appearance, the
tide was certainly at the ebb. We observed some cradles, or wicker frames,
placed far below high water-mark, that were each guarded by two natives,
who threatened us violently as we approached. In running along the land,
the stench from them plainly indicated what they were which these poor
creatures were so anxiously watching.
We steered a S.W. course, towards some low and wooded hills, passing a
rocky island, and found that we had struck the mouth of a channel running
to the W.S.W. It was about half-a-mile wide, was bounded to the right by
some open flat ground, and to the left by a line of hills of about sixty
or seventy feet in elevation, partly open and partly covered with
WARLIKE DEMEANOUR OF THE NATIVES.
Upon the first of these hills, we observed a large body of natives, who
set up the most terrific yells as we approached. They were fully equipped
for battle and, as we neared the shore, came down to meet us with the most
violent threats. I wished much to communicate with them, and, not without
hopes of quieting them, stood right in with the intention of landing.
I observed, however, that if I did so, I should have to protect myself.
I hauled a little off, and endeavoured, by holding up a branch and a
tomahawk, to gain their confidence, but they were not to be won over by
my show of pacification. An elderly man walked close to the water's edge
unarmed, and, evidently, directed the others. He was followed by seven or
eight of the most daring, who crept into the reeds, with their spears
shipped to throw at us. I, therefore, took up my gun to return their
salute. It then appeared that they were perfectly aware of the weapon I
carried, for the moment they saw it, they dashed out of their hiding place
and retreated to the main body; but the old man, after saying something
to them, walked steadily on, and I, on my part, laid my firelock down
It was now near sunset; and one of the most lovely evenings I had ever
seen. The sun's radiance was yet upon the mountains, but all lower objects
were in shade. The banks of the channel, with the trees and the rocks,
were reflected in the tranquil waters, whose surface was unruffled save by
the thousands of wild fowl that rose before us, and made a noise as of a
multitude clapping hands, in their clumsy efforts to rise from the waters.
Not one of them allowed us to get within shot.
We proceeded about a mile below the hill on which the natives were posted;
some few still following us with violent threats. We landed, however, on a
flat, bounded all round by the continuation of the hills. It was an
admirable position, for, in the centre of it, we could not be taken by
surprise, and, on the other hand, we gave the natives an opportunity of
communicating with us if they would. The full moon rose as we were forming
the camp, and, notwithstanding our vicinity to so noisy a host, the
silence of death was around us, or the stillness of the night was only
broken by the roar of the ocean, now too near to be mistaken for wind,
or by the silvery and melancholy note of the black swans as they passed
over us, to seek for food, no doubt, among the slimy weeds at the head of
the lake. We had been quite delighted with the beauty of the channel,
which was rather more than half-a-mile in width. Numberless mounds, that
seemed to invite civilised man to erect his dwelling upon them, presented
themselves to our view. The country round them was open, yet ornamentally
wooded, and rocks and trees hung or drooped over the waters.
EXTENT OF THE LAKE.
We had in one day gained a position I once feared it would have cost us
infinite labour to have measured. Indeed, had we been obliged to pull
across the lake, unless during a calm, I am convinced the men would have
been wholly exhausted. We had to thank a kind Providence that such was not
the case, since it had extended its mercy to us at so critical a moment.
We had indeed need of all the little strength we had remaining, and could
ill have thrown it away on such an effort as this would have required.
I calculated that we could not have run less than forty-five miles during
the day, a distance that, together with the eight miles we had advanced
the evening previously, would give the length of the lake at fifty-three
We had approached to within twelve miles of the ranges, but had not gained
their southern extremity. From the camp, Mount Barker bore nearly north.
The ranges appeared to run north and south to our position, and then to
bend away to the S.S.W., gradually declining to that point, which I
doubted not terminated in Cape Jervis. The natives kept aloof during the
night, nor did the dogs by a single growl intimate that any had ventured
to approach us. The sound of the surf came gratefully to our ears, for it
told us we were near the goal for which we had so anxiously pushed, and we
all of us promised ourselves a view of the boundless ocean on the morrow.
CHANNEL TO THE SEA--ITS SHALLOWNESS.
As the morning dawned, we saw that the natives had thrown an out-post of
sixteen men across the channel, who were watching our motions; but none
showed themselves on the hills behind us, or on any part of the south
shore. We embarked as soon as we had breakfasted, A fresh breeze was
blowing from the N.E. which took us rapidly down the channel, and our
prospects appeared to be as cheering as the day, for just as we were about
to push from the shore, a seal rose close to the boat, which we all
regarded as a favourable omen. We were, however, shortly stopped by
shoals; it was in vain that we beat across the channel from one side to
the other; it was a continued shoal, and the deepest water appeared to be
under the left bank. The tide, however, had fallen, and exposed broad
flats, over which it was hopeless, under existing circumstances, to haul
the boat. We again landed on the south side of the channel, patiently to
await the high water.
M'Leay, myself, and Fraser, ascended the hills, and went to the opposite
side to ascertain the course of the channel, for immediately above us it
turned south round the hills. We there found that we were on a narrow
tongue of land. The channel was immediately below us, and continued to the
E.S.E. as far as we could trace it. The hills we were upon, were the sandy
hills that always bound a coast that is low, and were covered with
banksias, casuarina and the grass-tree.
To the south of the channel there was a flat, backed by a range of
sand-hummocks, that were covered with low shrubs; and beyond them the sea
was distinctly visible. We could not have been more than two and a half
miles from the beach where we stood.
Notwithstanding the sandy nature of the soil, the fossil formation again
showed itself, not only on these hills, but also on the rocks that were in
A little before high water we again embarked. A seal had been observed
playing about, and we augured well from such an omen. The blacks had been
watching us from the opposite shore, and as soon as we moved, rose to keep
abreast of us. With all our efforts we could not avoid the shoals. We
walked up to our knees in mud and water, to find the least variation in
the depth of the water so as to facilitate our exertions, but it was to no
purpose. We were ultimately obliged to drag the boat over the flats; there
were some of them a quarter of a mile in breadth, knee-deep in mud; but at
length got her into deep water again. The turn of the channel was now
before us, and we had a good run for about four or five miles. We had
completed the bend, and the channel now stretched to the E.S.E. At about
nine miles from us there was a bright sand-hill visible, near which the
channel seemed to turn again to the south; and I doubted not that it
terminated there. It was to no purpose, however, that we tried to gain it.
Shoals again closed in upon us on every side. We dragged the boat over
several, and at last got amongst quicksands. I, therefore, directed our
efforts to hauling the boat over to the south side of the channel, as that
on which we could most satisfactorily ascertain our position. After great
labour we succeeded, and, as evening had closed in, lost no time in
pitching the tents.
BEACH OF ENCOUNTER BAY.
While the men were thus employed, I took Fraser with me, and, accompanied
by M'Leay, crossed the sand-hummocks behind us, and descended to the
sea-shore. I found that we had struck the south coast deep in the bight
of Encounter Bay. We had no time for examination, but returned immediately
to the camp, as I intended to give the men an opportunity to go to the
beach. They accordingly went and bathed, and returned not only highly
delighted at this little act of good nature on my part, but loaded with
cockles, a bed of which they had managed to find among the sand. Clayton
had tied one end of his shirt up, and brought a bag full, and amused
himself with boiling cockles all night long.
If I had previously any hopes of being enabled ultimately to push the boat
over the flats that were before us, a view of the channel at low water,
convinced me of the impracticability of any further attempt. The water was
so low that every shoal was exposed, and many stretched directly from one
side of the channel to the other; and, but for the treacherous nature of
the sand-banks, it would not have been difficult to have walked over dry
footed to the opposite side of it. The channel stretched away to the
E.S.E., to a distance of seven or eight miles, when it appeared to turn
south under a small sand-hill, upon which the rays of the sun fell, as it
was sinking behind us.
CURIOUS EFFECT OF REFRACTION.
There was an innumerable flock of wild-fowl arranged in rows along the
sides of the pools left by the tide, and we were again amused by the
singular effect of the refraction upon them, and the grotesque and
distorted forms they exhibited. Swans, pelicans, ducks, and geese, were
mingled together, and, according to their distance from us, presented
different appearances. Some were exceedingly tall and thin, others were
unnaturally broad. Some appeared reversed, or as if they were standing on
their heads, and the slightest motion, particularly the flapping of their
wings, produced a most ridiculous effect. No doubt, the situation and the
state of the atmosphere were favourable to the effect I have described.
The day had been fine, the evening was beautiful,--but it was the
rarefaction of the air immediately playing on the ground, and not the
haze at sunset that caused what I have noticed. It is distinct from
mirage, although it is difficult to point out the difference. The one,
however, distorts, the other conceals objects, and gives them a false
distance. The one is clear, the other is cloudy. The one raises objects
above their true position, the other does not. The one plays about, the
other is steady; but I cannot hope to give a proper idea either of mirage
or refraction so satisfactorily as I could wish. Many travellers have
dwelt upon their effects, particularly upon those of the former, but few
have attempted to account for them.
Our situation was one of peculiar excitement and interest. To our right
the thunder of the heavy surf, that almost shook the ground beneath us,
broke with increasing roar upon our ears; to our left the voice of the
natives echoed through the brush, and the size of their fires at the
extremity of the channel, seemed to indicate the alarm our appearance had
CRITICAL SITUATION OF THE PARTY.
While the men were enjoying their cockles, a large kettle of which they
had boiled, M'Leay and I were anxiously employed in examining the state of
our provisions, and in ascertaining what still remained. Flour and tea
were the only articles we had left, so that the task was not a difficult
one. It appeared that we had not sufficient of either to last us to
Pondebadgery, at which place we expected to find supplies; and, taking
every thing into consideration, our circumstances were really critical.
The first view of Encounter Bay had convinced me that no vessel would ever
venture into it at a season when the S.W. winds prevailed. It was
impossible that we could remain upon the coast in expectation of the
relief that I doubted not had been hurried off for us; since
disappointment would have sealed our fate at once. In the deep bight in
which we were, I could not hope that any vessel would approach
sufficiently near to be seen by us. Our only chance of attracting notice
would have been by crossing the Ranges to the Gulf St. Vincent, but the
men had not strength to walk, and I hesitated to divide my party in the
presence of a determined and numerous enemy, who closely watched our
motions. Setting aside the generous feelings that had prompted M'Leay to
participate in every danger with me, and who I am persuaded would have
deeply felt a separation, my anxiety not only on his account, but on
account of the men I might leave in charge of the boat, made me averse to
this measure; the chance of any misfortune to them involving in it the
destruction of our boat and the loss of our provisions. My anxiety of mind
would have rendered me unfit for exertion; yet so desirous was I of
examining the ranges and the country at their base, that I should, had our
passage to the salt water been uninterrupted, have determined on coasting
it homewards, or of steering for Launceston; and most assuredly, with my
present experience, I would rather incur the hazards of so desperate a
step, than contend against all the evils that beset us on out homeward
journey. And the reader may rest assured, I was as much without hopes of
our eventual safety, as I was astonished, at the close of our labours, to
find that they had terminated so happily.
INSPECTION OF THE CHANNEL FROM THE LAKE TO THE OCEAN.
Further exertion on the part of the men being out of the question, I
determined to remain no longer on the coast than to enable me to trace the
channel to its actual junction with the sea, and to ascertain the features
of the coast at that important point. I was reluctant to exhaust the
strength of the men in dragging the boat over the numberless flats that
were before us, and made up my mind to walk along the shore until I should
gain the outlet. I at length arranged that M'Leay, I, and Fraser, should
start on this excursion, at the earliest dawn, leaving Harris and
Hopkinson in charge of the camp; for as we were to go towards the position
of the natives, I thought it improbable they would attack the camp without
my being instantly aware of it.
We had, as I have said, intended starting at the earliest dawn, but the
night was so clear and refreshing, and the moon so bright that we
determined to avail ourselves of both, and accordingly left the tents at
3 a.m. I directed Harris to strike them at 8, and to have every thing in
readiness for our departure at that hour. We then commenced our
excursion, and I led my companions rapidly along the shore of Encounter
Bay, after crossing the sand-hills about a mile below the camp. After a
hasty and distressing walk of about seven miles, we found that the
sand-hills terminated, and a low beach spread before us. The day was just
breaking, and at the distance of a mile from us we saw the sand-hill I
have already had occasion to notice, and at about a quarter of a mile from
its base, we were checked by the channel; which, as I rightly conjectured,
being stopped in its easterly course by some rising ground, the tongue of
land on which the blacks were posted, suddenly turns south, and, striking
this sand-hill, immediately enters the sea; and we noticed, in the bight
under the rising ground, that the natives had lit a chain of small fires.
This was, most probably, a detached party watching our movements, as they
could, from where they were posted, see our camp.
At the time we arrived at the end of the channel, the tide had turned, and
was again setting in. The entrance appeared to me to be somewhat less than
a quarter of a mile in breadth. Under the sand-hill on the off side, the
water is deep and the current strong. No doubt, at high tide, a part of
the low beach we had traversed is covered. The mouth of the channel is
defended by a double line of breakers, amidst which, it would be
dangerous to venture, except in calm and summer weather; and the line of
foam is unbroken from one end of Encounter Bay to the other. Thus were our
fears of the impracticability and inutility of the channel of
communication between the lake and the ocean confirmed.
DIFFICULTIES AND DANGERS OF THE RETURN.
I would fain have lingered on my way, to examine, as far as circumstances
would permit, the beautiful country between the lake and the ranges; and
it was with heart-felt sorrow that I yielded to necessity. My men were
indeed very weak from poverty of diet and from great bodily fatigue.
Hopkinson, Mulholland, and Macnamee were miserably reduced. The two
former, especially, had exerted themselves beyond their strength, and
although I am confident they would have obeyed my orders to the last,
I did not feel myself justified, considering the gigantic task we had
before us, to impose additional labour upon them.
It will be borne in mind that our difficulties were just about to
commence, when those of most other travellers have ceased; and that
instead of being assisted by the stream whose course we had followed, we
had now to contend against the united waters of the eastern ranges,
with diminished strength, and, in some measure, with disappointed
Under the most favourable circumstances, it was improbable that the men
would be enabled to pull for many days longer in succession; since they
had not rested upon their oars for a single day, if I except our passage
across the lake, from the moment when we started from the depot; nor was
it possible for me to buoy them up with the hope even of a momentary
cessation from labour. We had calculated the time to which our supply of
provisions would last under the most favourable circumstances, and it was
only in the event of our pulling up against the current, day after day,
the same distance we had compassed with the current in our favour, that we
could hope they would last us as long as we continued in the Murray.
But in the event of floods, or any unforeseen delay, in was impossible
to calculate at what moment we might be driven to extremity.
Independent of these casualties, there were other circumstances of peril
to be taken into consideration. As I have already observed, I foresaw
great danger in again running through the natives. I had every reason to
believe that many of the tribes with which we had communicated on
apparently friendly terms, regretted having allowed us to pass unmolested;
nor was I at all satisfied as to the treatment we might receive from them,
when unattended by the envoys who had once or twice controlled their fury.
Our best security, therefore, against the attacks of the natives was
celerity of movement; and the men themselves seemed to be perfectly aware
of the consequences of delay. Our provisions, moreover, being calculated
to last to a certain point only, the slightest accident, the staving-in
of the boat, or the rise of the river, would inevitably be attended with
calamity. To think of reducing our rations of only three quarters of a
pound of flour per diem, was out of the question, or to hope that the men,
with less sustenance than that, would perform the work necessary to ensure
their safety, would have been unreasonable. It was better that our
provisions should hold out to a place from which we might abandon the boat
with some prospect of reaching by an effort a stock station, or the plain
on which Robert Harris was to await our return, than that they should be
Back to Full Books