Two expeditions into the interior of Southern Australia/Volume two/Chapter seven
VALLEY OF THE MURRAY.
The valley of the Murray, at its entrance, cannot be less than four miles in breadth. The river does not occupy the centre but inclines to either side, according to its windings, and thus the flats are of greater or less extent, according to the distance of the river from the base of the hills. It is to be remarked, that the bottom of the valley is extremely level, and extensively covered with reeds. From the latter circumstance, one would be led to infer that these flats are subject to overflow, and no doubt can exist as to the fact of their being, at least partially, if not wholly, under water at times. A country in a state of nature is, however, so different from one in a state of cultivation, that it is hazardous to give an opinion as to its practical availableness, if I may use such a term. I should, undoubtedly, say the marshes of the Macquarie were frequently covered with water, and that they were wholly unfit for any one purpose whatever. It is evident from the marks of the reeds upon the banks, that the flood covers them occasionally to the depth of three feet, and the reeds are so densely embodied and so close to the river side that the natives cannot walk along it. The reeds are the broad flag–reed (arundo phragmatis), and grow on a stiff earthy loam, without any accompanying vegetation; indeed, they form so solid a mass that the sun cannot penetrate to the ground to nourish vegetation. On the other hand, the valley of the Murray, though covered with reeds in most places, is not so in all. There is no mark upon the reeds by which to judge as to the height of inundation, neither are they of the same kind as those which cover the marshes of the Macquarie. They are the species of round reed of which the South–sea islanders make their arrows, and stand sufficiently open, not only to allow of a passage through, but for the abundant growth of grass among them. Still, I have no doubt that parts of the valley are subject to flood; but, as I have already remarked, I do not know whether these parts are either deeply or frequently covered. Rain must fall simultaneously in the S.E. angle of the island in the inter–tropical regions, and at the heads of all the tributaries of the main stream, ere its effects can be felt in the lower parts of the Murray. If the valley of the Murray is not subject to flood, it has only recently gained a height above the influence of the river, and still retains all the character of flooded land. In either case, however, it contains land that is of the very richest kind—soil that is the pure accumulation of vegetable matter, and is as black as ebony. If its hundreds of thousands of acres were practically available, I should not hesitate to pronounce it one of the richest spots of equal extent on earth, and highly favoured in other respects. How far it is available remains to be proved; and an opinion upon either side would be hazardous, although that of its liability to flood would, most probably, be nearest to truth. It is, however, certain that any part of the valley would require much labour before it could be brought under cultivation, and that even its most available spots would require almost as much trouble to clear them as the forest tract, for nothing is more difficult to destroy than reeds. Breaking the sod would, naturally, raise the level of the ground, and lateral drains would, most probably, carry off all floods, but then the latter, at least, is the operation of an advanced stage of husbandry only. I would, however, observe that there are many parts of the valley decidedly above the reach of flood. I have, in the above observations, been particularly alluding to the lowest and broadest portions of it. I trust I shall be understood as not wishing to over–rate this discovery on the one hand, or on the other, to include its whole extent in one sweeping clause of condemnation.
On the 14th, the wind still continued to blow fresh from the N.W. It moderated at noon, and assisted us beyond measure. We passed our first encampment, but did not see any natives.
CORDIALITY OF THE NATIVES.
On the 15th, the wind was variable at daylight, and a dense fog was on the river. As the sun rose, it was dissipated and a light breeze sprung up from W.S.W. We ran up the stream with a free sheet for six hours, when we stopped for a short time to get the kettle boiled. Four natives joined us, but with the exception of the lowest tribe upon the right bank, we had not seen any number. We were extremely liberal to this tribe, in consequence of the satisfaction they evinced at our return. We had alarmed them much on our passage down the river by firing at a snake that was swimming across it. We, at first, attempted to kill it with the boat–hook, but the animal dived at our approach, and appeared again at a considerable distance. Another such dive would have ensured his escape, but a shot effectually checked him, and as the natives evinced considerable alarm, we held him up, to show them the object of our proceedings. On our return, they seemed to have forgotten their fright, and received us with every demonstration of joy. The different receptions we met with from different tribes are difficult to be accounted for.
The country appeared to rise before us, and looked more hilly to the N.W. than I had supposed it to be. Several fine valleys branched off from the main one to the westward, and, however barren the heights that confined them were, I am inclined to think, that the distant interior is fertile. The marks of kangaroos were numerous, and the absence of the natives would indicate that they have other and better means of subsisting in the back country than what the river affords.
In the evening, we again ran on for two hours and a half, and reached the first of the cliffs.
On the 16th, we were again fortunate in the wind, and pressed up the river as long as day–light continued. At the termination of our journey, we found ourselves a day’s journey in advance. This inspirited the men, and they began to forget the labours they had gone through, as well as those that were before them.
On the 17th, we again commenced pulling, the wind being at north, and contrary. It did not, however, remain in that quarter long, but backed at noon to the S.W., so that we were enabled to make a good day’s journey, and rather gained than lost ground.
REMARKABLE CLIFF—GEOLOGICAL REMARKS.
Having left the undulating hills, at the mouth of the valley behind us, we passed cliff after cliff of fossil formation: they had a uniform appearance as to the substance of which they were composed, and varied but little in colour. Having already examined them, we thought it unnecessary to give them any further special attention, since it was improbable we should find anything new. In turning an angle of the river, however, a broad reach stretched away before us. An alluvial flat extended to our left, and a high line of cliffs, that differed in no visible respect from those we had already passed, rose over the opposite side of the river. The cliffs faced the W.N.W., and as the sun declined, his beams struck full upon them. As we shot past, we were quite dazzled with the burst of light that flashed upon us, and which gave to the whole face of the cliff the appearance of a splendid mirror. The effect was of course momentary; for as soon as we had passed the angle of refraction, there was nothing unusual in its appearance. On a nearer approach, however, it appeared again as if studded with stars. We had already determined on examining it more closely, and this second peculiarity still further excited our curiosity. On landing, we found the whole cliff to be a mass of selenite, in which the various shells already noticed were plentifully embedded, as in ice. The features of the cliff differed from any we had previously remarked. Large masses, or blocks of square or oblong shape, had fallen to its base, and its surface was hard, whereas the face of the majority of the other cliffs was soft from the effect of the atmosphere; and the rock was entirely free from every other substance, excepting the shells of which it was composed. We of course collected some good specimens, although they added very considerably to the weight of our cargo.
The morning of the 18th was calm and cloudless. The wind, of which there was but little, came from the north, and was as usual warm. We availed ourselves of a favourable spot to haul our boat on shore under one of the cliffs upon the proper left of the river, and cleaned her well both inside and out.
LABORIOUS ASCENT OF THE BOAT.
The breezes that had so much assisted as from the lake upwards, had now lost their influence, or failed to reach to the distance we had gained. Calms succeeded them, and obliged us to labour continually at the oars. We lost ground fast, and it was astonishing to remark how soon the men’s spirits drooped again under their first efforts. They fancied the boat pulled heavily, and that her bottom was foul; but such was not the case. The current was not so strong as when we passed down, since the river had evidently fallen more than a foot, and was so shallow in several places, that we were obliged to haul the boat over them. On these occasions we were necessarily obliged to get out of her into the water, and had afterwards to sit still and to allow the sun to dry our clothes upon us. The unemployed consequently envied those at the oars, as they sat shivering in their dripping clothes. I was aware that it was more from imagination than reality, that the men fancied the boat was unusually heavy, but I hesitated not in humouring them, and rather entered into their ideas than otherwise, and endeavoured to persuade them that she pulled the lighter for the cleaning we gave her.
A tribe of natives joined us, and we had the additional trouble of guarding our stores. They were, however, very quiet, and as we had broken up our casks, on leaving the coast, we were enabled to be liberal in our presents of iron hoop, which they eagerly received. We calculated that we should reach the principal junction in about fifteen days from this place.
The natives left us to pursue our solitary journey as soon as the boat was reloaded. Not one of them had the curiosity to follow us, nor did they appear to think it necessary that we should be attended by envoys. We stopped for the night upon the left bank; and close to a burial–ground that differed from any I had ever seen. It must have been used many years, from the number of bones that were found in the bank, but there were no other indications of such a place either by mounds or by marks on the trees. The fact, therefore, is a singular one. I have thought that some battle might have been fought near the place, but I can hardly think one of their battles could have been so destructive.
IMPEDED BY SHOALS.
We had now only to make the best of our journey, rising at dawn, and pulling to seven and often to nine o’clock. I allowed the men an hour from half–past eleven to half–past twelve, to take their bread and water. This was our only fare, if I except an occasional wild duck; but these birds were extremely difficult to kill, and it cost us so much time, that we seldom endeavoured to procure any. Our dogs had been of no great use, and were now too weak to have run after anything if they had seen either kangaroos or emus; and for the fish, the men loathed them, and were either too indifferent or too much fatigued to set the night–lines. Shoals frequently impeded us as we proceeded up the river, and we passed some rapids that called for our whole strength to stem. A light wind assisted us on two or three of these occasions, and I never failed hoisting the sail at every fitting opportunity. In some parts the river was extremely shallow, and the sand–banks of amazing size; and the annoyance of dragging the boat over these occasional bars, was very great. We passed several tribes of blacks on the 19th and 20th; but did not stop to communicate with them.
I believe I have already mentioned that shortly after we first entered the Murray, flocks of a new paroquet passed over our heads, apparently emigrating to the N.W. They always kept too high to be fired at, but on our return, hereabouts, we succeeded in killing one. It made a good addition to our scanty stock of subjects of natural history. It is impossible to conceive how few of the feathered tribe frequent these distant and lonely regions. The common white cockatoo is the most numerous, and there are also a few pigeons; but other birds descend only for water, and are soon again upon the wing. Our botanical specimens were as scanty as our zoological, indeed the expedition may, as regards these two particulars, almost be said to have been unproductive.
COMPILATION OF THE CHART.
When we came down the river, I thought it advisable to lay its course down as precisely as circumstances would permit: for for this purpose I had a large compass always before me, and a sheet of foolscap paper. As soon as we passed an angle of the river, I took the bearings of the reach before us, and as we proceeded down it, marked off the description of country, and any remarkable feature. The consequence was, that I laid down every bend of the Murray River, from the Morumbidgee downwards. Its creeks, its tributaries, its flats, its valleys, and its cliffs, and, as far as I possibly could do, the nature of the distant interior. This chart was, of course, erroneous in many particulars, since I had to judge the length of the reaches of the river, and the extent of its angles, but I corrected it on the scale of the miles of latitude we made during the day, which brought out an approximate truth at all events. The hurried nature of our journey would not allow me to do more; and it will be remembered that my observations were all siderial, by reason that the sextant would not embrace the sun in his almost vertical position at noon. Admitting, however, the imperfection of this chart, it was of inconceivable value and comfort to us on our return, for, by a reference to it, we discovered our place upon the river, and our distance from our several encampments. And we should often have stopped short of them had not the chart shown us that a few reaches more would bring us to the desired spots. It cheered the men to know where they were, and gave them conversation. To myself it was very satisfactory, as it enabled me to prepare for our meetings with the larger tribes, and to steer clear of obstacles in the more difficult navigation of some parts of the stream.
On the 21st, by dint of great labour we reached our camp of the 2nd February, from which it will be remembered the Murray took up a southerly course, and from which we likewise obtained a first view of the coast ranges. The journey to the sea and back again, had consequently occupied us twenty days. From this point we turned our boat’s head homewards; we made it, therefore, a fixed position among the stages into which we divided our journey. Our attention was now directed to the junction of the principal tributary, which we hoped to reach in twelve days, and anticipated a close to our labours on the Murray in eight days more from that stage to the Morumbidgee.
CURRENT OF THE MURRAY.
The current in the Murray from the lake, to within a short distance of this singular turn in it, is weak, since its bed is almost on a level with the lake. The channel, which, at the termination, is somewhat more than the third of a mile across, gradually diminishes in breadth, as the interior is gained, but is nowhere under 300 yards; while its depth averages from eighteen to thirty feet, within a foot of the very bank. The river might, therefore, be navigated by boats of considerable burden, if the lake admitted of the same facility; but I am decidedly of opinion, that the latter is generally shallow, and that it will, in the course of years, be filled up by depositions. It is not, however, an estuary in any sense of the word, since no part of it is exposed at low water, excepting the flats in the channel, and the flat between the lake and the sea.
ACCIDENT TO THE BOAT.
On the 23rd, we stove the boat in for the first time. I had all along anticipated such an accident, from the difficulty of avoiding obstacles, in consequence of the turbid state of the river. Fortunately the boat struck a rotten log. The piece remained in her side, and prevented her filling, which she must, otherwise, inevitably have done, ere we could have reached the shore. As it was, however, we escaped with a little damage to the lower bags of flour only. She was hauled up on a sand bank, and Clayton repaired her in less than two hours, when we reloaded her and pursued our journey. It was impossible to have been more cautious than we were, for I was satisfied as to the fate that would have overtaken the whole of us in the event of our losing the boat, and was proportionably vigilant.
MOLESTED BY THE NATIVES.
At half–past five we came to an island, which looked so inviting, and so quiet, that I determined to land and sleep upon it. We consequently, ran the boat into a little recess, or bay, and pitched the tents; and I anticipated a respite from the presence of any natives, as did the men, who were rejoiced at my having taken up so snug a berth. It happened, however, that a little after sunset, a flight of the new paroquets perched in the lofty trees that grew on the island, to roost; when we immediately commenced the work of death, and succeeded in killing eight or ten. The reports of our guns were heard by some natives up the river, and several came over to us. Although I was annoyed at their having discovered our retreat, they were too few to be troublesome. During the night, however, they were joined by fresh numbers, amounting in all to about eighty, and they were so clamorous, that it was impossible to sleep.
NATIVES BECOME TROUBLESOME.
As the morning broke, Hopkinson came to inform me that it was in vain that the guard endeavoured to prevent them from handling every thing, and from closing in round our camp. I went out, and from what I saw I thought it advisable to double the sentries. M’Leay, who was really tired, being unable to close his eyes amid such a din, got up in ill–humour, and went to see into the cause, and to check it if he could. This, however, was impossible. One man was particularly forward and insolent, at whom M’Leay, rather imprudently, threw a piece of dirt. The savage returned the compliment with as much good will as it had been given, and appeared quite prepared to act on the offensive. At this critical moment my servant came to the tent in which I was washing myself, and stated his fears that we should soon come to blows, as the natives showed every disposition to resist us. On learning what had passed between M’Leay and the savage, I pretended to be equally angry with both, and with some difficulty forced the greater part of the blacks away from the tents. I then directed the men to gather together all the minor articles in the first instance, and then to strike the tents; and, in order to check the natives, I drew a line round the camp, over which I intimated to them they should not pass. Observing, I suppose, that we were on our guard, and that I, whom they well knew to be the chief, was really angry, they crept away one by one, until the island was almost deserted by them. Why they did not attack us, I know not, for they had certainly every disposition to do so, and had their shorter weapons with them, which, in so confined a space as that on which we were, would have been more fatal than their spears
They left us, however; and a flight of red–crested cockatoos happening to settle on a plain near the river, I crossed in the boat in order to shoot one. The plain was upon the proper left bank of the Murray. The natives had passed over to the right. As the one channel was too shallow for the boat, when we again pursued our journey we were obliged to pull round to the left side of the island. A little above it the river makes a bend to the left, and the angle at this bend was occupied by a large shoal, one point of which rested on the upper part of the island, and the other touched the proper right bank of the river. Thus a narrow channel, (not broader indeed than was necessary for the play of our oars,) alone remained for us to pass up against a strong current. On turning round the lower part of the island, we observed that the natives occupied the whole extent of the shoal, and speckled it over like skirmishers. Many of them had their spears, and their attention was evidently directed to us.—As we neared the shoal, the most forward of them pressed close to the edge of the deep water, so much so that our oars struck their legs. Still this did not induce them to retire. I kept my eye on an elderly man who stood one of the most forward, and who motioned to us several times to stop, and at length threw the weapon he carried at the boat. I immediately jumped up and pointed my gun at him to his great apparent alarm. Whether the natives hoped to intimidate us by a show of numbers, or what immediate object they had in view, it is difficult to say; though it was most probably to seize a fitting opportunity to attack us. Seeing, I suppose, that we were not to be checked, they crossed from the shoal to the proper right bank of the river, and disappeared among the reeds that lined it.
TREACHERY OF THE NATIVES.
Shortly after this, eight of the women, whom we had not before noticed, came down to the water side, and gave us the most pressing invitation to land. Indeed they played their part uncommonly well, and tried for some time to allure us by the most unequivocal manifestations of love. Hopkinson however who always had his eyes about him, observed the spears of the men among the reeds. They kept abreast of us as we pulled up the stream, and, no doubt, were anticipating our inability to resist the temptations they had thrown in our way. I was really provoked at their barefaced treachery, and should most undoubtedly have attacked them, had they not precipitately retreated on being warned by the women that I was arming my men, which I had only now done upon seeing such strong manifestations of danger. M’Leay set the example of coolness on this occasion; and I had some doubts whether I was justified in allowing the natives to escape with impunity, considering that if they had wounded any one of us the most melancholy and fatal results would have ensued.
We did not see anything more of the blacks during the rest of the day, but the repeated indications of hostility we perceived as we approached the Darling, made me apprehensive as to the reception we should meet from its numerous population; and I was sorry to observe that the men anticipated danger in passing that promising junction.
Having left the sea breezes behind us, the weather had become oppressive; and as the current was stronger, and rapids more numerous, our labour was proportionably increased. We perspired to an astonishing degree, and gave up our oars after our turn at them, with shirts and clothes as wet as if we had been in the water. Indeed Mulholland and Hopkinson, who worked hard, poured a considerable quantity of perspiration from their shoes after their task. The evil of this was that we were always chilled after rowing, and, of course, suffered more than we should otherwise have done.
RE–PASS THE LINDESAY.
On the 25th we passed the last of the cliffs composing the great fossil bed through which the Murray flows, and entered that low country already described as being immediately above it. On a more attentive examination of the distant interior, my opinion as to its flooded origin was confirmed, more especially in reference to the country to the S.E. On the 30th we passed the mouth of the Lindesay, and from the summit of the sand hills to the north of the Murray overlooked the flat country, through which I conclude it must run, from the line of fires we observed amid the trees, and most probably upon its banks.
We did not fall in with the natives in such numbers as when we passed down to the coast: still they were in sufficient bodies to be troublesome. It would, however, appear that the tribes do not generally frequent the river. They must have a better country back from it, and most probably linger amongst the lagoons and creeks where food is more abundant. The fact is evident from the want of huts upon the banks of the Murray, and the narrowness of the paths along its margin.
RE–PASSED THE RUFUS.
We experienced the most oppressive heat about this time. Calms generally prevailed, and about 3 p.m. the sun’s rays fell upon us with intense effect. The waters of the Murray continued extremely muddy, a circumstance we discovered to be owing to the turbid current of the Rufus, which we passed on the 1st of March. It is, really, singular whence this little stream originates. It will be remembered that I concluded it must have been swollen by rains when we first saw it; yet, after an absence of more than three weeks we found it discharging its waters as muddy as ever into the main stream; and that, too, in such quantities as to discolour its waters to the very lake. The reader will have some idea of the force of the current in both, when I assure him that for nearly fifty yards below the mouth of the Rufus, the waters of the Murray preserve their transparency, and the line between them and the turbid waters of its tributary was as distinctly marked as if drawn by a pencil. Indeed, the higher we advanced, the more did we feel the strength of the current, against which we had to pull.
DIFFICULTIES AT THE RAPIDS.
A little below the Lindesay, a rapid occurs. It was with the utmost difficulty that we stemmed it with the four oars upon the boat, and the exertion of our whole strength. We remained, at one time, perfectly stationary, the force we employed and that of the current being equal. We at length ran up the stream obliquely; but it was evident the men were not adequate to such exertion for any length of time. We pulled that day for eleven successive hours, in order to avoid a tribe of natives who followed us. Hopkinson and Fraser fell asleep at their oars, and even the heavy Clayton appeared to labour.
We again occupied our camp under the first remarkable cliffs of the Murray, a description of which has been given in page 128 of this work. [GEOLOGICAL EXAMINATION.] Their summit, as I have already remarked forms a table land of some elevation. From it the distant interior to the S.S.E. appears very depressed; that to the north undulates more. In neither quarter, however, does any bright foliage meet the eye, to tell that a better soil is under it; but a dark and gloomy vegetation occupies both the near and distant ground, in proof that the sandy sterile tracts, succeeding the river deposits, stretch far away without a change.
A little above our camp of the 28th of January, we fell in with a large tribe of natives, whose anxiety to detain us was remarkable. The wind, however, which, from the time we lost the sea breezes, had hung to the S.E., had changed to the S.W., and we were eagerly availing ourselves of it. It will not he supposed we stopped even for a moment. In truth we pressed on with great success, and did not land to sleep until nine o’clock. As long as the wind blew from the S.W., the days were cool, and the sky overcast even so much so as to threaten rain.
The least circumstance, in our critical situation, naturally raised my apprehensions, and I feared the river would be swollen in the event of any heavy rains in the hilly country; I hoped, however, we should gain the Morumbidgee before such a calamity should happen to us, and it became my object to press for that river without delay.
OBSTACLES TO THE NAVIGATION—DANGEROUS RAPIDS.
Although we had met with frequent rapids in our progress upwards, they had not been of a serious kind, nor such as would affect the navigation of the river. The first direct obstacle of this kind occurs a little above a small tributary that falls into the Murray from the north, between the Rufus and the cliffs we have alluded to. At this place a reef of coarse grit contracts the channel of the river. No force we could have exerted with the oars would have taken us up this rapid; but we accomplished the task easily by means of a rope which we hauled upon, on the same principle that barges are dragged by horses along the canals.
As we neared the junction of the two main streams, the country, on both sides of the river, became low, and its general appearance confirmed the opinion I have already given as to its flooded origin. The clouds that obscured the sky, and had threatened to burst for some time, at length gave way, and we experienced two or three days of heavy rain. In the midst of it we passed the second stage of our journey, and found the spot lately so crowded with inhabitants totally deserted. A little above it we surprised a small tribe in a temporary shelter; but neither our offers nor presents could prevail on any of them to expose themselves to the torrent that was falling. They sat shivering in their bark huts in evident astonishment at our indifference. We threw them some trifling presents and were glad to proceed unattended by any of them.
PERILOUS ASCENT OF THE RAPIDS.
It will he remembered that in passing down the river, the boat was placed in some danger in descending a rapid before we reached the junction of the Murray with the stream supposed by me to be the Darling. We were now gradually approaching the rapid, nor did I well know how we should surmount such an obstacle. Strength to pull up it we had not, and I feared our ropes would not be long enough to reach to the shore over some of the rocks, since it descended in minor declivities to a considerable distance below the principal rapid, in the centre of which the boat had struck. We reached the commencement of these rapids on the 6th, and ascended the first by means of ropes, which were hauled upon by three of the men from the bank; and, as the day was pretty far advanced, we stopped a little above it, that we might attempt the principal rapid before we should be exhausted by previous exertion. It was fortunate that we took such a precaution. The morning of the 7th proved extremely dark, and much rain fell. We commenced our journey in the midst of it, and soon gained the tail of the rapid. Our attempt to pull up it completely failed. The boat, as soon as she entered the ripple, spun round like a toy, and away we went with the stream. As I had anticipated, our ropes were too short; and it only remained for us to get into the water, and haul the boat up by main force. We managed pretty well at first, and drew her alongside a rock to rest a little. We then recommenced our efforts, and had got into the middle of the channel. We were up to our armpits in the water, and only kept our position by means of rocks beside us. The rain was falling, as if we were in a tropical shower, and the force of the current was such, that if we had relaxed for an instant, we should have lost all the ground we had gained. Just at this moment, however, without our being aware of their approach, a large tribe of natives, with their spears, lined the bank, and took us most completely by surprise. At no time during this anxious journey were we ever so completely in their power, or in so defenceless a situation. It rained so hard, that our firelocks would have been of no use, and had they attacked us, we must necessarily have been slaughtered without committing the least execution upon them. Nothing, therefore, remained for us but to continue our exertions. It required only one strong effort to get the boat into still water for a time, but that effort was beyond our strength, and we stood in the stream, powerless and exhausted.
ASSISTED BY THE NATIVES.
The natives, in the meanwhile, resting on their spears, watched us with earnest attention. One of them, who was sitting close to the water, at length called to us, and we immediately recognised the deep voice of him to whose singular interference we were indebted for our escape on the 23rd of January. I desired Hopkinson to swim over to him, and to explain that we wanted assistance. This was given without hesitation; and we at length got under the lea of the rock, which I have already described as being in the centre of the river. The natives launched their bark canoes, the only frail means they possess of crossing the rivers with their children. These canoes are of the simplest construction and rudest materials, being formed of an oblong piece of bark, the ends of which are stuffed with clay, so as to render them impervious to the water. With several of these they now paddled round us with the greatest care, making their spears, about ten feet in length,(which they use at once as poles and paddles,) bend nearly double in the water. We had still the most difficult part of the rapid to ascend, where the rush of water was the strongest, and where the decline of the bed almost amounted to a fall. Here the blacks could be of no use to us. No man could stem the current, supposing it to have been shallow at the place, but it was on the contrary extremely deep. Remaining myself in the boat, I directed all the men to land, after we had crossed the stream, upon a large rock that formed the left buttress as it were to this sluice, and, fastening the rope to the mast instead of her head, they pulled upon it. The unexpected rapidity with which the boat shot up the passage astonished me, and filled the natives with wonder, who testified their admiration of so dextrous a manoeuvre, by a loud shout.
It will, no doubt, have struck the reader as something very remarkable, that the same influential savage to whom we had already been indebted, should have been present on this occasion, and at a moment when we so much needed his assistance. Having surmounted our difficulties, we took leave of this remarkable man, and pursued our journey up the river.
It may be imagined we did not proceed very far; the fact was, we only pushed forward to get rid of the natives, for, however pacific, they were always troublesome, and we were seldom fitted for a trial of temper after the labours of the day were concluded. The men had various occupations in which, when the natives were present, they were constantly interrupted, and whenever the larger tribes slept near us, the utmost vigilance was necessary on the part of the night–guard, which was regularly mounted as soon as the tents were pitched. We had had little else than our flour to subsist on. Hopkinson and Harris endeavoured to supply M’Leay and myself with a wild fowl occasionally, but for themselves, and the other men, nothing could be procured to render their meal more palatable.
GOOD CONDUCT OF THE MEN.
I have omitted to mention one remarkable trait of the good disposition of all the men while on the coast. Our sugar had held out to that point; but it appeared, when we examined the stores, that six pounds alone remained in the cask. This the men positively refused to touch. They said that, divided, it would benefit nobody; that they hoped M’Leay and I would use it, that it would last us for some time, and that they were better able to submit to privations than we were. The feeling did them infinite credit, and the circumstance is not forgotten by me. The little supply the kindness of our men left to us was, however, soon exhausted, and poor M’Leay preferred pure water to the bitter draught that remained. I have been some times unable to refrain from smiling, as I watched the distorted countenances of my humble companions while drinking their tea and eating their damper.
The ducks and swans, seen in such myriads on the lake, seldom appeared on the river, in the first stages of our journey homewards. About the time of which I am writing, however, a few swans occasionally flew over our heads at night, and their silvery note was musically sweet.
From the 10th to the 15th, nothing of moment occurred: we pulled regularly from day–light to dark, not less to avoid the natives than to shorten our journey. Yet, notwithstanding that we moved at an hour when the natives seldom stir, we were rarely without a party of them, who followed us in spite of our efforts to tire them out.
MOLESTED BY NATIVES.
On the 15th, we had about 150 at our camp. Many of them were extremely noisy, and the whole of them very restless. They lay down close to the tents, or around our fire. I entertained some suspicion of them, and when they were apparently asleep, I watched them narrowly. Macnamee was walking up and down with his firelock, and every time he turned his back, one of the natives rose gently up and poised his spear at him, and as soon as he thought Macnamee was about to trim, he dropped as quietly into his place. When I say the native got up, I do not mean that he stood up, but that he raised himself sufficiently for the purpose he had in view. His spear would not, therefore, have gone with much force, but I determined it should not quit his hand, for had I observed any actual attempt to throw it, I should unquestionably have shot him dead upon the spot. The whole of the natives were awake, and it surprised me they did not attempt to plunder us. They rose with the earliest dawn, and crowded round the tents without any hesitation. We, consequently, thought it prudent to start as soon as we had breakfasted.
FRASER IN DANGER.
We had all of us got into the boat, when Fraser remembered he had left his powder–horn on shore. In getting out to fetch it, he had to push through the natives. On his return, when his back was towards them, several natives lifted their spears together, and I was so apprehensive they would have transfixed him, that I called out before I seized my gun; on which they lowered their weapons and ran away. The disposition to commit personal violence was evident from these repeated acts of treachery; and we should doubtless have suffered from it on some occasion or other, had we not been constantly on the alert.
We had been drawing nearer the Morumbidgee every day. This was the last tribe we saw on the Murray; and the following afternoon, to our great joy, we quitted it and turned our boat into the gloomy and narrow channel of its tributary. Our feelings were almost as strong when we re–entered it, as they had been when we were launched from it into that river, on whose waters we had continued for upwards of fifty–five days; during which period, including the sweeps and bends it made, we could not have travelled less than 1500 miles.
Our provisions were now running very short; we had, however, “broken the neck of our journey,” as the men said, and we looked anxiously to gaining the depot; for we were not without hopes that Robert Harris would have pushed forward to it with his supplies. We were quite puzzled on entering the Morumbidgee, how to navigate its diminutive bends and its encumbered channel. I thought poles would have been more convenient than oars; we therefore stopped at an earlier hour than usual to cut some. Calling to mind the robbery practised on us shortly after we left the depot, my mind became uneasy as to Robert Harris’s safety, since I thought it probable, from the sulky disposition of the natives who had visited us there, that he might have been attacked. Thus, when my apprehensions on our own account had partly ceased, my fears became excited with regard to him and his party.
RE–ENTER THE MORUMBIDGEE.
The country, to a considerable distance from the junction on either side the Morumbidgee, is not subject to inundation. Wherever we landed upon its banks, we found the calistemma in full flower, and in the richest profusion. There was, also, an abundance of grass, where before there had been no signs of vegetation, and those spots which we had condemned as barren were now clothed with a green and luxuriant carpet. So difficult is it to judge of a country on a partial and hurried survey, and so differently does it appear at different periods. I was rejoiced to find that the rains had not swollen the river, for I was apprehensive that heavy falls had taken place in the mountains, and was unprepared for so much good fortune.
FEAST ON A SWAN.
The poles we cut were of no great use to us, and we soon laid them aside, and took to our oars. Fortune seemed to favour us exceedingly. The men rallied, and we succeeded in killing a good fat swan, that served as a feast for all. I imagine the absence of mud and weeds of every kind in the Murray, prevents this bird from frequenting its waters.
On the 18th, we found ourselves entering the reedy country, through which we had passed with such doubt and anxiety. Every object elicited some remark from the men, and I was sorry to find they reckoned with certainty on seeing Harris at the depot, as I knew they would be proportionally depressed in spirits if disappointed. However, I promised Clayton a good repast as soon as we should see him.
LOSE ONE OF OUR DOGS.
I had walked out with M’Leay a short distance from the river, and had taken the dogs. They followed us to the camp on our return to it, but the moment they saw us enter the tent, they went off to hunt by themselves. About 10 p.m., one of them, Bob, came to the fire, and appeared very uneasy; he remained, for a short time, and then went away. In about an hour, he returned, and after exhibiting the same restlessness, again withdrew. He returned the third time before morning dawned, but returned alone. The men on the watch were very stupid not to have followed him, for, no doubt, he went to his companion, to whom, most likely, some accident had happened. I tried to make him show, but could not succeed, and, after a long search, reluctantly pursued our journey, leaving poor Sailor to his fate. This was the only misfortune that befell us, and we each of us felt the loss of an animal which had participated in all our dangers and privations. I more especially regretted the circumstance for the sake of the gentleman who gave him to me, and, on account of his superior size and activity.
ENCOUNTER WITH NATIVES.
With the loss of poor Sailor, our misfortunes re–commmenced. I anticipated some trouble hereabouts, for, having succeeded in their hardihood once, I knew the natives would again attempt to rob us, and that we should have some difficulty in keeping them off. As soon as they found out that we were in the river, they came to us, but left us at sunset. This was on the 21st. At nightfall, I desired the watch to keep a good look out, and M’Leay and I went to lie down. We had chosen an elevated bank for our position, and immediately opposite to us there was a small space covered with reeds, under blue–gum trees. About 11, Hopkinson came to the tent to say, that he was sure the blacks were approaching through the reeds. M’Leay and I got up, and, standing on the bank, listened attentively. All we heard was the bark of a native dog apparently, but this was, in fact, a deception on the part of the blacks. We made no noise, in consequence of which they gradually approached, and two or three crept behind the trunk of a tree that had fallen. As I thought they were near enough, George M’Leay, by my desire, fired a charge of small shot at them. They instantly made a precipitate retreat; but, in order the more effectually to alarm them, Hopkinson fired a ball into the reeds, which we distinctly heard cutting its way through them. All was quiet until about three o’clock, when a poor wretch who, most probably, had thrown himself on the ground when the shots were fired, at length mustered courage to get up and effect his escape.
In the morning, the tribe kept aloof, but endeavoured, by the most earnest entreaties, and most pitiable howling, to gain our favour; but I threatened to shoot any that approached, and they consequently kept at a respectful distance, dogging us from tree to tree. It appeared, therefore, that they were determined to keep us in view, no doubt, with the intention of trying what they could do by a second attempt. As they went along, their numbers increased, and towards evening, they amounted to a strong tribe. Still they did not venture near us, and only now and then showed themselves. Our situation at this moment would have been much more awkward in the event of attack, than when we were in the open channel of the Murray; because we were quite at the mercy of the natives if they had closed upon us, and, being directly under the banks, should have received every spear, while it would have been easy for them to have kept out of sight in assailing us.
APPARENT OBSTRUCTION OF THE CHANNEL.
It was near sunset, the men were tired, and I was looking out for a convenient place at which to rest, intending to punish these natives if they provoked me, or annoyed the men. We had not seen any of them for some time, when Hopkinson, who was standing in the bow of the boat, informed me that they had thrown boughs across the river to prevent our passage. I was exceedingly indignant at this, and pushed on, intending to force the barrier. On our nearer approach, a solitary black was observed standing close to the river, and abreast of the impediment which I imagined they had raised to our further progress. I threatened to shoot this man, and pointed to the branches that stretched right across the stream. The poor fellow uttered not a word, but, putting his hand behind him, pulled out a tomahawk from his belt, and held it towards me, by way of claiming our acquaintance; and any anger was soon entirely appeased by discovering that the natives had been merely setting a net across the river which these branches supported. We, consequently, hung back, until they had drawn it, and then passed on.
MANOEUVRES OF THE NATIVES TO ROB THE BOAT AT NIGHT.
The black to whom I had spoken so roughly, cut across a bight of the river, and walking down to the side of the water with a branch in his hand, in mark of confidence, presented me with a fishing net. We were highly pleased at the frank conduct of this black, and a convenient place offering itself, we landed and pitched our tents. Our friend, who was about forty, brought his two wives, and a young man, to us: and at length the other blacks mustered courage to approach; but those who had followed us from the last camp, kept on the other side of the river. On pretence of being different families, they separated into small bodies, and formed a regular cordon round our camp. We foresaw that this was a manoeuvre, but, in hopes that if I forgave the past they would desist from further attempts, M’Leay took great pains in conciliating them, and treated them with great kindness. We gave each family some fire and same presents, and walked together to them by turns, to show that we had equal confidence in all. Our friend had posted himself immediately behind our tents, at twenty yards distance, with his little family, and kept altogether aloof from the other natives. Having made our round of visits, and examined the various modes the women had of netting, M’Leay and I went into our tent.
It happened, fortunately, that my servant, Harris, was the first for sentry. I told him to keep a watchful eye on the natives, and to call me if any thing unusual occurred. We had again chosen a lofty bank for our position; behind us there was a small plain, of about a quarter of a mile in breadth, backed by a wood. I was almost asleep, when my servant came to inform me, that the blacks had, with one accord, made a precipitate retreat, and that not one of them was to be seen at the fires. I impressed the necessity of attention upon him, and he again went to his post. shortly after this, he returned: “Master,” said he, “the natives are coming.” I jumped up, and, taking my gun, followed him, leaving my friend George fast asleep. I would not disturb him, until necessity required, for he had ever shown himself so devoted to duty as to deserve every consideration. Harris led me a little way from the tents, and then stopping, and pointing down the river, said, “There, sir, don’t you see them?” “Not I, indeed, Harris,” I replied, “where do you mean? are you sure you see them?” “Positive, sir,” said he; “stoop and you will see them.” I did so, and saw a black mass in an opening. Convinced that I saw them, I desired Harris to follow me, but not to fire unless I should give the word. The rascals would not stand our charge, however, but retreated as we advanced towards them. We then returned to the tents, and, commending my servant for his vigilance, I once more threw myself on my bed. I had scarcely lain down five minutes, when Harris called out, “The blacks are close to me, sir; shall I fire at them?” “How far are they?” I asked. “Within ten yards, sir.” “Then fire,” said I; and immediately he did so. M’Leay and I jumped up to his assistance. “Well, Harris,” said I, “did you kill your man?” (he is a remarkably good shot.) “No, sir,” said he, “I thought you would repent it, so I fired between the two.” “Where were they, man?” said I. “Close to the boat, sir; and when they heard me, they swam into the river, and dived as soon as I fired between them.” This account was verified by one of them puffing as he rose below us, over whose head I fired a shot. Where the other got to I could not tell. This watchfulness, on our part, however, prevented any further attempts during the night.
I was much pleased at the coolness of my servant, as well as his consideration; and relieving him from his post, desired Hopkinson to take it. I have no doubt that the approach of the natives, in the first instance, was made with a view to draw us off from the camp, while some others might rob the boat. If so, it was a good manoeuvre, and might have succeeded.
NATIVES DESERT THEIR WEAPONS—INGENUOUS CONDUCT OF A NATIVE.
In the morning, we found the natives had left all their ponderous spears at their fires, which were broken up and burnt. We were surprised to find that our friend had left every thing in like manner behind him—his spears, his nets, and his tomahawk; but as he had kept so wholly aloof from the other blacks, I thought it highly improbable that he had joined them, and the men were of opinion that he had retreated across the plain into the wood. On looking in that direction we observed some smoke rising among the trees at a little distance from the outskirts of the plain, and under an impression that I should find the native at the fire with his family, I took his spears and tomahawk, and walked across the plain, unattended into the wood. I had not entered it more than fifty yards when I saw a group of four natives, sitting round a small fire. One of them, as I approached, rose up and met me, and in him I recognised the man for whom I was seeking. When near enough, I stuck the spears upright into the ground. The poor man stood thunderstruck; he spoke not, he moved not, neither did he raise his eyes from the ground. I had kept the tomahawk out of his sight, but I now produced and offered it to him. He gave a short exclamation as his eyes caught sight of it, but he remained otherwise silent before me, and refused to grasp the tomahawk, which accordingly fell to the ground. I had evidently excited the man’s feelings, but it is difficult to say how he was affected. His manner indicated shame and surprise, and the sequel will prove that both these feelings must have possessed him. While we were thus standing together, his two wives came up, to whom, after pointing to the spears and tomahawk, he said something, without, however, looking at me; and they both instantly burst into tears and wept aloud. I was really embarrassed during so unexpected a scene, and to break it, invited the native to the camp, but I motioned with my hand, as I had not my gun with me, that I would shoot any other of the blacks who followed me. He distinctly understood my meaning, and intimated as distinctly to me that they should not follow us; nor did they. We were never again molested by them.
I left him then, and, returning to the camp, told M’Leay my adventure, with which he was highly delighted. My object is this procedure was to convince the natives, generally, that we came not among them to injure or to molest them, as well as to impress them with an idea of our superior intelligence; and I am led to indulge the hope that I succeeded. Certain it is, that an act of justice or of lenity has frequently, if well timed, more weight than the utmost stretch of severity. With savages, more particularly, to exhibit any fear, distrust, or irresolution, will inevitably prove injurious.
But although these adventures were happily not attended with bloodshed, they harassed the men much; and our camp for near a week was more like an outpost picquet than any thing else. This, however, terminated all attempts on the part of the natives. From henceforth none of them followed us on our route.
BREACH THE DEPOT.
At noon, I stopped about a mile short of the depot to take sights. After dinner we pulled on, the men looking earnestly out for their comrades whom they had left there, but none appeared. My little arbour, in which I had written my letters, was destroyed, and the bank on which out tents had stood was wholly deserted. We landed, however, and it was a satisfaction to me to see the homeward track of the drays. The men were sadly disappointed, and poor Clayton, who had anticipated a plentiful meal, was completely chop fallen. M’Leay and I comforted them daily with the hopes of meeting the drays, which I did not think improbable.
Thus, it will appear, that we regained the place from which we started in seventy–seven days, during which, we could not have pulled less than 2000 miles. It is not for me, however, to make any comment, either on the dangers to which we were occasionally exposed, or the toil and privations we continually experienced in the course of this expedition. My duty is, simply to give a plain narrative of facts, which I have done with fidelity, and with as much accuracy as circumstances would permit. Had we found Robert Harris at the depot, I should have considered it unnecessary to trespass longer on the patient reader, but as our return to that post did not relieve us from our difficulties, it remains for me to carry on the narrative of our proceedings to the time when we reached the upper branches of the Morumbidgee.
DISAPPOINTED OF SUPPLIES.
The hopes that had buoyed up the spirits of the men, ceased to operate as soon as they were discovered to have been ill founded. The most gloomy ideas took possession of their minds, and they fancied that we had been neglected, and that Harris had remained in Sydney. It was to no purpose that I explained to them that my instructions did not bind Harris to come beyond Pondebadgery, and that I was confident he was then encamped upon that plain.
We had found the intricate navigation of the Morumbidgee infinitely more distressing than the hard pulling up the open reaches of the Murray, for we were obliged to haul the boat up between numberless trunks of trees, an operation that exhausted the men much more than rowing. The river had fallen below its former level, and rocks and logs were now exposed above the water, over many of which the boat’s keel must have grazed, as we passed down with the current. I really shuddered frequently, at seeing these complicated dangers, and I was at a loss to conceive how we could have escaped them. The planks of our boat were so thin that if she had struck forcibly against any one branch of the hundreds she must have grazed, she would inevitably have been rent asunder from stem to stern.
COMPLETE EXHAUSTION OF THE MEN—ONE LOSES HIS SENSES.
The day after we passed the depot, on our return, we began to experience the effects of the rains that had fallen in the mountains. The Morumbidgee rose upon us six feet in one night, and poured along its turbid waters with proportionate violence. For seventeen days we pulled against them with determined perseverance, but human efforts, under privations such as ours, tend to weaken themselves, and thus it was that the men began to exhibit the effects of severe and unremitting toil. Our daily journeys were short, and the head we made against the stream but trifling. The men lost the proper and muscular jerk with which they once made the waters foam and the oars bend. Their whole bodies swung with an awkward and laboured motion. Their arms appeared to be nerveless; their faces became haggard, their persons emaciated, their spirits wholly sunk; nature was so completely overcome, that from mere exhaustion they frequently fell asleep during their painful and almost ceaseless exertions. It grieved me to the heart to see them in such a state at the close of so perilous a service, and I began to reproach Robert Harris that he did not move down the river to meet us; but, in fact, he was not to blame. I became captious, and found fault where there was no occasion, and lost the equilibrium of my temper in contemplating the condition of my companions. No murmur, however, escaped them, nor did a complaint reach me, that was intended to indicate that they had done all they could do. I frequently heard them in their tent, when they thought I had dropped asleep, complaining of severe pains and of great exhaustion. “I must tell the captain, tomorrow,” some of them would say, “that I can pull no more.” To–marrow came, and they pulled on, as if reluctant to yield to circumstances. Macnamee at length lost his senses. We first observed this from his incoherent conversation, but eventually from manner. He related the most extraordinary tales, and fidgeted about eternally while in the boat. I felt it necessary, therefore, to relieve him from the oars.
Amidst these distresses, M’Leay preserved his good humour, and endeavoured to lighten the task, and to cheer the men as much as possible. His presence at this time was a source of great comfort to me. The uniform kindness with which he had treated his companions, gave him an influence over them now, and it was exerted with the happiest effect.
DESPATCH TWO MEN TO PONDEBADGERY.
On the 8th and 9th of April we had heavy rain, but there was no respite for us. Our provisions were nearly consumed, and would have been wholly exhausted, if we had not been so fortunate as to kill several swans. On the 11th, we gained our camp opposite to Hamilton’s Plains, after a day of severe exertion. Our tents were pitched upon the old ground, and the marks of our cattle were around us. In the evening, the men went out with their guns, and M’Leay and I walked to the rear of the camp, to consult undisturbed as to the moat prudent measures to be adopted, under our embarrassing circumstances. The men were completely sunk. We were still between eighty and ninety miles from Pondebadgery, in a direct line, and nearly treble that distance by water. The task was greater than we could perform, and our provisions were insufficient. In this extremity I thought it best to save the men the mortification of yielding, by abandoning the boat; and on further consideration, I determined on sending Hopkinson and Mulholland, whose devotion, intelligence, and indefatigable spirits, I well knew, forward to the plain.
The joy this intimation spread was universal, Both Hopkinson and Mulholland readily undertook the journey, and I, accordingly, prepared orders for them to start by the earliest dawn. It was not without a feeling of sorrow that I witnessed the departure of these two men, to encounter a fatiguing march. I had no fears as to their gaining the plain, if their reduced state would permit them. On the other hand, I hoped they would fall in with our old friend the black, or that they would meet the drays; and I could not but admire the spirit and energy they both displayed upon the occasion. Their behaviour throughout had been such as to awaken in my breast a feeling of the highest approbation. Their conduct, indeed, exceeded all praise, nor did they hesitate one moment when I called upon them to undertake this last trying duty, after such continued exertion. I am sure the reader will forgive me for bringing under his notice the generous efforts of these two men; by me it can never be forgotten.
ABANDON AND BURN THE BOAT.
Six days had passed since their departure; we remaining encamped. M’Leay and myself had made some short excursions, but without any result worthy of notice. A group of sand–hills rose in the midst of the alluvial deposits, about a quarter of a mile from the tents, that were covered with coarse grasses and banksias. We shot several intertropical birds feeding in the latter, and sucking the honey from their flowers. I had, in the mean time, directed Clayton to make some plant cases of the upper planks of the boat, and then to set fire to her, for she was wholly unserviceable, and I felt a reluctance to leave her like a neglected log on the water. The last ounce of flour had been served out to the men, and the whole of it was consumed on the sixth day from that on which we had abandoned the boat. I had calculated on seeing Hopkinson again in eight days, but as the morrow would see us without food, I thought, as the men had had a little rest it would be better to advance towards relief than to await its arrival.
MEN RETURN WITH SUPPLIES.
On the evening of the 18th, therefore, we buried our specimens and other stores, intending to break up the camp in the morning. A singular bird, which invariably passed it at an hour after sunset, and which, from its heavy flight, appeared to be of unusual size so attracted my notice, that in the evening M’Leay and I crossed the river, in hope to get a shot at it. We had, however, hardly landed on the other side, when a loud shout called us back to witness the return of our comrades.
They were both of them in a state that beggars description. Their knees and ankles were dreadfully swollen, and their limbs so painful, that as soon as they arrived in the camp they sunk under their efforts, but they met us with smiling countenances, and expressed their satisfaction at having arrived so seasonably to our relief. They had, as I had foreseen, found Robert Harris on the plain, which they reached on the evening of the third day. They had started early the next morning on their return with such supplies as they thought we might immediately want. Poor Macnamee had in a great measure recovered, but for same days he was sullen and silent: sight of the drays gave him uncommon satisfaction. Clayton gorged himself; but M’Leay, myself and Fraser could not at first relish the meat that was placed before us.
It was determined to give the bullocks a day of rest, and I availed myself of the serviceable state of the horses to visit some hills about eighteen miles to the northward. I was anxious to gain a view of the distant country to the N.W., and to ascertain the geological character of the hills themselves. M’Leay, Fraser, and myself left the camp early in the morning of the 19th, on our way to them. Crossing the sand hills, we likewise passed a creek, and, from the flooded or alluvial tracks, got on an elevated sandy country, in which we found a beautiful grevillia. From this we passed a barren ridge of quartz–formation, terminating in open box forest. From it we descended and traversed a plain that must, at some periods, be almost impassable. It was covered with acacia pendula, and the soil was a red earth, bare of vegetation in many places. At its extremity we came to some stony ridges, and, descending their northern side, gained the base of the hills. They were more extensive than they appeared to be from our camp; and were about six hundred feet in height, and composed of a conglomerate rock. They were extremely barren, nor did the aspect of the country seem to indicate a favourable change. I was enabled, however, to connect my line of route with the more distant hills between the Morumbidgee and the Lachlan. We returned to the camp at midnight.
MEET WITH THE DRAYS.
On the following morning we left our station before Hamilton’s Plains. We reached Pondebadgery on the 28th, and found Robert Harris, with a plentiful supply of provisions. He had everything extremely regular, and had been anxiously expecting our return, of which he at length wholly despaired. He had been at the plain two months, and intended to have moved down the river immediately, had we not made our appearance when we did.
I had sent M’Leay forward on the 20th with letters to the Governor, whose anxiety was great on our account. I remained for a fortnight on the plain to restore the men, but Hopkinson had so much over–exerted himself that it was with difficulty he crawled along.
In my despatches to the Governor, from the depot, I had suggested the policy of distributing some blankets and other presents to the natives on the Morumbidgee, in order to reward those who had been useful to our party, and in the hope of proving beneficial to settlers in that distant part of the colony. His Excellency was kind enough to accede to my request, and I found ample means for these purposes among the stores that Harris brought from Sydney.
We left Pondebadgery Plain early on the 5th of May, and reached Guise’s Station late in the afternoon. We gained Yass Plains on the 12th, having struck through the mountain passes by a direct line, instead of returning by our old route near Underaliga. As the party was crossing the plains I rode to see Mr. O’Brien, but did not find him at home.
INSTANCE OF CANNIBALISM.
While waiting at his hut, one of the stockmen pointed out two blacks to me at a little distance from us. The one was standing, the other sitting. “That fellow, sir,” said he, “who is sitting down, killed his infant child last night by knocking its head against a stone, after which he threw it on the fire and then devoured it.” I was quite horror struck, and could scarcely believe such a story. I therefore went up to the man and questioned him as to the fact, as well as I could. He did not attempt to deny it, but slunk away in evident consciousness. I then questioned the other that remained, whose excuse for his friend was that the child was sick and would never have grown up, adding he himself did not PELTER (eat) any of it.
Many of my readers may probably doubt this horrid occurrence having taken place, as I have not mentioned any corroborating circumstances. I am myself, however, as firmly persuaded of the truth of what I have stated as if I had seen the savage commit the act; for I talked to his companion who did see him, and who described to me the manner in which he killed the child. Be it as it may, the very mention of such a thing among these people goes to prove that they are capable of such an enormity.
We left Yass Plains on the 14th of May, and reached Sydney by easy stages on the 25th, after an absence of nearly six months.
To most of my readers, the foregoing narrative will appear little else than a succession of adventures. Whilst the expedition was toiling down the rivers, no rich country opened upon the view to reward or to cheer the perseverance of those who composed it, and when, at length, the land of promise lay smiling before them, their strength and their means were too much exhausted to allow of their commencing an examination, of the result of which there could be but little doubt. The expedition returned to Sydney, without any splendid discovery to gild its proceedings; and the labours and dangers it had encountered were considered as nothing more than ordinary occurrences. If I myself had entertained hopes that my researches would have benefited the colony, I was wholly disappointed. There is a barren tract of country lying to the westward of the Blue Mountains that will ever divide the eastern coast from the more central parts of Australia, as completely as if seas actually rolled between them.
In a geographical point of view, however, nothing could have been more satisfactory, excepting an absolute knowledge of the country to the northward between the Murray and the Darling, than the results of the expedition. I have in its proper place stated, as fairly as I could, my reasons for supposing the principal junction (which I consequently left without a name) to be the Darling of my former journey, as well as the various arguments that bore against such a conclusion.
Of course, where there is so much room for doubt, opinions will be various. I shall merely review the subject, in order to connect subsequent events with my previous observations, and to give the reader a full idea of that which struck me to be the case on a close and anxious investigation of the country from mountain to lowland. I returned from the Macquarie with doubts on my mind as to the ultimate direction to which the waters of the Darling river might ultimately flow; for, with regard to every other point, the question was, I considered, wholly decided. But, with regard to that singular stream, I was, from the little knowledge I had obtained, puzzled as to its actual course; and I thought it as likely that it might turn into the heart of the interior, as that it would make to the south. It had not, however, escaped my notice, that the northern rivers turned more abruptly southward (after gaining a certain distance from the base of the ranges) than the more southern streams: near the junction of the Castlereagh with the Darling especially, the number of large creeks joining the first river from the north, led me to conclude that there was at that particular spot a rapid fall of country to the south.
The first thing that strengthened in my mind this half–formed opinion, was the fall of the Lachlan into the Morumbidgee. I had been told that Australia was a basin; that an unbroken range of hills lined its coasts, the internal rivers of which fell into its centre, and contributed to the formation of an inland sea; I was not therefore prepared to find a break in the chain—a gap as it were for the escape of these waters to the coast.
Subsequently to our entrance into the Murray, the remarkable efforts of that river to maintain a southerly course were observed even by the men, and the singular runs it made to the south, when unchecked by high lands, clearly evinced its natural tendency to flow in that direction.
Had we found ourselves at an elevation above the bed of the Darling when we reached the junction of the principal tributary with the Murray, I should still have had doubts on my mind as to the identity of that tributary with the first–mentioned river; but considering the trifling elevation of the Darling above the sea, and that the junction was still less elevated above it, I cannot bring myself to believe that the former alters its course. It is not, however, on this simple geographical principle that I have built my conclusions; other corroborative circumstances have tended also to confirm in my mind the opinion I have already given, not only of the comparatively recent appearance above the ocean of the level country over which I had passed, but that the true dip of the interior is from north to south.
In support of the first of these conclusions, it would appear that a current of water must have swept the vast accumulation of shells, forming the great fossil bank through which the Murray passes from the northern extremity of the continent, to deposit them where they are; and it would further appear from the gradual rise of this bed, on an inclined plain from N.N.E. to S.S.W., that it must in the first instance, have swept along the base of the ranges, but ultimately turned into the above direction by the convexity of the mountains at the S.E. angle of the coast. From the circumstance, moreover, of the summit of the fossil formation being in places covered with oyster shells, the fact of the whole mass having been under water is indisputable, and leads us naturally to the conclusion that the depressed interior beyond it must have been under water at the same time.
It was proved by barometrical admeasurement, that the cataract of the Macquarie was 680 feet above the level of the sea, and, in like manner, it was found that the depot of Mr. Oxley, on the Lachlan, was only 500, there being a still greater fall of country beyond these two points. The maximum height of the fossil bank was 300 feet; and if we suppose a line to be drawn from its top to the eastward, that line would pass over the marshes of the two rivers, and would cut them at a point below which they both gradually diminish. Hence I am brought to conclude that in former times the sea washed the western base of the dividing ranges, at or near the two points whose respective elevations I have given; and that when the mass of land now lying waste and unproductive, became exposed, the rivers, which until then had pursued a regular course to the ocean, having no channel beyond their original termination, overflowed the almost level country into which they now fall; or, filling some extensive concavity, have contributed, by successive depositions, to the formation of those marshes of which so much has been said. I regret extremely, that my defective vision prevents me giving a slight sketch to elucidate whet I fear I have, in words, perhaps, failed in making sufficiently intelligible.
Now, as we know not by what means the changes that have taken place on the earth’s surface have been effected, and can only reason on them from analogy, it is to be feared we shall never arrive at any clear demonstration of the truth of our surmises with regard to geographical changes, whether extensive or local, since the causes which produced them will necessarily have ceased to operate. We cannot refer to the dates when they took place, as we may do in regard to the eruptions of a volcano, or the appearance or disappearance of an island. Such events are of minor importance. Those mighty changes to which I would be understood to allude, can hardly be laid to the account of chemical agency. We can easily comprehend how subterranean fires will occasionally burst forth, and can thus satisfactorily account for earthquake or volcano; but it is not to any clashing of properties, or to any visible causes, that the changes of which I speak can be attributed. They appear rather as the consequences of direct agency, of an invisible power, not as the occasional and fretful workings of nature herself. The marks of that awful catastrophe which so nearly extinguished the human race, are every day becoming more and more visible as geological research proceeds. Thus, in the limestone caves at Wellington Valley, the remains of fossils and exuviae, show that their depths were penetrated by the same searching element that poured into the caverns of Kirkdale and other places. They are as gleams of sunshine falling upon the pages of that sublime and splendid volume, in which the history of the deluge is alone to be found; as if the Almighty intended that His word should stand single and unsupported before mankind: and when we consider that such corroborative testimonies of his wrath, as those I have noticed, were in all probability wholly unknown to those who wrote that sacred book, the discovery of the remains of a past world, must strike those under whose knowledge it may fall with the truth of that awful event, which language has vainly endeavoured to describe and painters to represent.