The Australian explorers/Chapter 8
SIR THOMAS MITCHELL'S FOUR EXPEDITIONS.
This eminent explorer was a native of Scotland, having been born at Craigend, Stirlingshire, in 1792. He chose the army for his profession, and served under Wellington, in the Peninsular war, from 1808 till its close. His career appears to have been a most creditable one. He had a hand in laying out the famous Torres Vedras lines, which gave a fatal check to the ambition of Napoleon. Mitchell left the service with the rank of Major, receiving also a medal and five clasps. Having emigrated to New South Wales, he was appointed Surveyor-General, an office which had fallen vacant by the death of Mr. John Oxley. Being an active and adventurous man, he threw himself, heart and soul, into the cause of exploration. Mitchell was the most successful of all the explorers, and had the good fortune to open up the magnificent territory which now forms the colony of Victoria. He was the leader of four great expeditions, which shall now be briefly related in the order of their occurrence.
Among the notabilities of the old convict days there are not many who will be longer remembered than George Clarke, better known, in his own time, as "George the Barber." This runaway convict having taken to bushranging; and cattle-stealing as naturally as the duck makes for the water, had also shown himself an adept in the arts which elude the detective. Passing beyond the bounds of settlement, which had now extended 800 miles to the north of Sydney, he fixed his headquarters and erected a stockyard for stolen cattle on the further side of the Liverpool Plains. Here he abjured the last vestige of civilization and associated himself with the aborigines, having become a conformist in the first degree. He doffed every article of clothing, blackened his skin, and even scarified his flesh, in order to appear a naked savage pure and simple. But the compliment does not seem to have been reciprocated. He was successful, indeed, in gaining the hearts of two black gins, who followed him and his fortunes as far as fate would permit; but the sable brotherhood did not take kindly to the intruder. Hearing he was wanted by the police to answer for his cattle-stealing propensities, they lent a hand to the progress of civilization, and delivered up this spurious brother, who was forthwith lodged in Bathurst gaol, Of all the men in the world this runaway convict, who had enjoyed the sweets of liberty, both in the savage and the civilized life, would be the last to brook the restraints of confinement, and it is no surprise to find him casting about for the means of deliverance. The most feasible way of accomplishing his object undoubtedly lay in the plan which his native cunning led him to adopt. Popular excitement was then at fever heat on the exploration of the unknown territory. Sturt had recently returned from an expedition in which he had opened up more than 2,000 miles of country on the lower Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers, and had, consequently, given a great impulse to the exploring enterprise. Now was the time for "George the Barber" to tell his secret from Bathurst gaol. Having passed beyond a range of mountains to the northward of the Liverpool Plains, so his story ran, he had discovered a magnificent river which the natives called the "Kindur." It traversed a splendid country, was itself navigable throughout, and having followed its course on two different occasions, it led him through the heart of Australia to the north coast, without ever turning to the south. Men readily believe what they wish to be true, and such a river as here described was the very thing wanted in order to open up a waterway to Carpentaria. The story accordingly commanded general attention, and most people believed it contained a sufficient degree of verisimilitude to warrant the expense of a special exploring expedition to put it to the proof.
Major Mitchell was now in the place where he would feel the impulse for exploration with all its force, and so fell in most heartily with the popular excitement. Putting the most favourable construction upon the "Barber's" story, and believing that it contained, at least, a substratum of truth, he expressed his readiness to go in search of the "Kindur," provided the Acting-Governor, Sir Patrick Lindsay, would supply the necessary outfit. This request was readily granted, and Major Mitchell left Sydney on the 24th November, 1831, to run a wild-goose chase or make a great discovery. It was not necessary to organize the expedition before starting, as the country was now settled so far to the north, and final arrangements were accordingly postponed till a nearer approach was made to the unknown land. The early part of the journey was pretty much in the style of a pleasure excursion. The would-be explorer of the "Kindur" passed northward to Parramatta, where he was shown, as a great novelty, the first olive-tree planted in the colony. The Hawkesbury was crossed at Wiseman's Ferry, and in due course the Wollombi, a tributary of the Hunter, was reached. Soon after he proceeded to make up his party, which, when completed, consisted of two gentlemen volunteers, named White and Finch, and fifteen convicts, all of whom, the leader avers, were ready to face fire and water in the hope of regaining that liberty which they had forfeited by transgressing the laws of their country. The expedition having been thus organized and supplied with every requisite, moved northward, passing near Muswellbrook, and crossing the Hunter without meeting with anything particularly worthy of notice, until they came upon the burning hill of Wingen, which attracted their attention as a remarkable curiosity. It is not a volcano, but a mountain of coal or shale, on fire underneath, which sends forth volumes of smoke through the rents in its surface. On the 5th of December the ascent of the Liverpool Range was gained and a commanding view of the plains obtained. This fine tract of country had been discovered by Oxley, explore<l by Cunningham, and was now found to be largely occupied by pioneer squatters. The Peel River was struck at Wallamoul, about two miles above the spot where Oxley had first crossed it, and here was found the last station, owned by a squatter of the name of Brown, and containing 1,600 head of cattle. The route of the expedition was now directed towards the lower course of the river, where it becomes known under the native name of the Namoi. The euphonious "Namoi" was music to the ear of Mitchell, for the bushranger had spoken of a river of this name, and was the first to make it known under this designation. The Major was gratified to find this slight confirmation of the story that had brought him so far from home, and hastened to make it known to the authorities in Sydney, that "George the Barber" might have the benefit; and a real benefit it was, for it saved him from the gallows. Having failed to obtain his liberty when his information was acted on, this noted criminal, in his desperation, succeeded in sawing the irons off his feet, and in this way made good his escape from incarceration. But the law has long arms, and the "Barber," being again clutched within their iron grasp, was condemned to suffer the last penalty, from which doom he was saved by the timely arrival of Mitchell's letter.
The terra incognita now was entered upon, and the first object that drew the attention of the explorers was the old stockyard of the bushranger, which, doubtless, was too near a neighbour of Brown's cattle station. About two miles distant the Pic of Tangulda rose to a conspicuous elevation. This was one of the landmarks of the prisoner's tale. The "Kindur" was to be reached by proceeding north-east, over a range of mountains which were visible from this position. Mitchell directed his march accordingly; but, after several days of distressing travel, found the mountains to be impracticable, and was compelled to return to his former camp. Now, for the first time, grave doubts began to fill his mind regarding the truth of the convict's story. No other course being open, he determined on launching a canvas boat and making an effort to sail down the Namoi, to see what fortune had in store for him. The attempt was scarcely well made when it had to be abandoned, on account of snags and shoals in the stream; but the change of position was sufficient to make it apparent that the mountain-chain which could not be crossed might now be turned. This achievement was next successfully accomplished, and Mitchell at length found himself on their northern flanks. These mountains bore the native name of "Nundawar," and, in respect of their outward appearance, had been described sufficiently well l)y the bushranger. But now came the crucial test of his truth or falsehood. According to the same story the "Kindur" was the first river to be reached beyond these mountains, and, one way or other, the question could not now have long to wait for an answer. A river of some kind was the very thing wanted by the explorers, for they had passed through a rugged and waterless country. Were they now, at last, to drop upon the "Kindur?" Such a discovery would have been doubly welcome, for it would have relieved them from present distress, and proved the goal of a journey which, it was hoped, would place the laurel crown on the brow of the Major and sound the trumpet of freedom to his fifteen convict attendants. The 9th of January arrived, and this day was destined to feast the eyes of the weary travellers with the sudden appearance of a noble river, broader and deeper than the Namoi, and one of which Australia might well be proud. Was this the "Kindur" at last? Not for a moment. It flowed in the wrong direction, and lost much of its volume in its downward course; and Mitchell soon satisfied himself that it was nothing else than one of the many tributaries of the Darling. In fact, it had not the merit of an original discovery. This was the Gwydir, which had been crossed long ago by Allan Cunningham. Mitchell turned from it in disgust and made for the north, in the hope of hitting upon some discovery really worthy of the expedition. He was rewarded, in so far that he discovered an important river, called the Karaula by the natives, but now better known as the Macintyre. further exploration proved this stream to be one of the head-waters of the Darling, and, therefore, useless for the purpose of one who was seeking a water-channel to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Mitchell's only hope of retrieving himself now lay in crossing the Darling, and making an inroad upon the interior; but the feasibility of this course was suspended on a doubtful contingency. Fearing his provisions would not hold out so long as would be necessary, he had, before leaving the Peel River, sent Finch back to the Hunter district for fresh supplies, and the future of the expedition depended on this forlorn hope. Finch returned about the time expected, but only to bring a tale of disaster instead of a supply of provisions. All had gone well till they had got beyond the Liverpool Plains, when water began to fail them. Finch had gone on to search the country in advance, and on returning found his party murdered and the camp sacked. This was a crowning calamity. Mitchell, of course, now saw that it would l)e impossible to proceed further, and it was even very doubtful whether they could return in safety. A wet season was setting in, and 200 miles of flooded country lay between them and their homes. Their return, accordingly, was conducted after the manner of a retreating army, and the similitude was all the more striking because they were harassed by hostile tribes of aborigines. But the settled districts were soon reached, and there was no further difficulty in making Port Jackson. It was, indeed, a disappointment to the authorities, as it had been to Mitchell, to find they had been duped by "George the Barber." Yet the expedition had opened up a vast extent of pastoral country, and on the whole was fairly successful as an exploring enterprise.
Major Mitchell, full of enterprise, was again in the held of discovery in 1835. His failure in the affair of the "Kindur" had not discouraged him, and the experience incidentally gained was an excellent preparation for the more arduous work of the future. Public attention had again turned from the north to the westward of the colony, and another attempt was to be made to lift the veil which still shrouded so much of the interior. At the request of the British Government, Mitchell willingly undertook the conduct of an expedition to the Bogan and the Darling, in order to set at rest some geographical problems which were still attached to the course of these rivers.
More than any of the other explorers, Mitchell believed in large and liberally equipped expeditions^ here probably erring by excess, and he resolved that the present should not be deficient in either respect. The party, all told, consisted of twenty-four persons—Major Mitchell as leader, Richard Cunningham, brother to the more celebrated Allan Cunningham, botanist and explorer, a young had been connected with the "Kindur" search. The material resources consisted of two boats, several drays, a good contingent of horses, bullocks, and sheep, together with an ample supply of provisions. The start was made from Parramatta on the 9th of March; but the work of exploration proper did not commence till they reached Buree, a frontier station near Mount Canobolas, about 170 miles from Sydney.of the name of Larmer, and twenty-one convict servants, nine of whom
Having taken his observations from the summit of this mountain, Mitchell fixed his direction on the bearing of 60" west of north, judging he would thus find a practicable route, and strike the Bogan somewhere in its upper course. The result answered his expectation. On the 18th of April he crossed the Goobang, a tributary of the Lachlan, and in two days more the Bogan was reached. Here a most lamentable event occurred, which cast its dark shadow over the whole of their future wanderings. Richard Cunningham, the botanist of the expedition, had been too much in the practice of leaving the party for the "pursuit of flora," and now failed to find his way back to the camp. For a long time no trace of the missing man could be found; but after a most diligent search tracks both of himself and of his horse were observed. These were followed for 70 miles, but to no purpose; distressing suspicions also began to arise, pointing to foul play on the part of the natives. But nothing definite could be arrived at, and after a fortnight's fruitless searching and tracking, the expedition was sorrowfully compelled to hold on its course. Subsequently it was decisively ascertained that Cunningham, ready to perish of hunger and thirst, had sought refuge with the blacks, by four of whom he was savagely murdered in his sleep. A full investigation was made by Captain Zouch, who had been despatched from Sydney on this business. He succeeded in discovering the dead man's bones, which were decently interred, and a suitable monument was erected on the scene of this diabolical murder. Three of the perpetrators of the crime were also arrested; but, through the remissness of the constable in charge, two of them managed to escape.
The explorers still kept the line of the Bogan, moving off and on to its banks according as the want of water, or the desire to cut off an observed elbow, more particularly directed their course. By the 20th of May the expedition had arrived at the Pink Hills, where the best grazing land was met with since the commencement of the journey. From this point Oxley's Table-land, a well-known landmark with former explorers, was plainly visible. On the 25th they were gratified by the discovery of the junction of the Bogan and the Darling rivers. The former of these, though only now brought into prominent notice, had been known to exist for many years past. It was first discovered by Hamilton Hume in connection with Sturt's expedition to the Macquarie, and was then called New Year's Creek. Much later its upper course had been traced by a Mr. Dixon for 67 miles, and the exploration of its whole length was thus completed by Major Mitchell in 1835. The Bogan was found to head from the Hervey Range, and this explorer had the good fortune to discover its termination in the Darling River after a sinuous course of 250 miles. At best it is only a third or fourth-class river; but, as it traverses a tolerably good grazing country, its basin has become fully occupied for squatting purposes.
The junction of these two rivers now became an important landmark for the remainder of the journey, And the place has ever since played a conspicuous part in the opening up and settlement of the back country. The position consists of an elevated plateau overlooking a reach of the river a mile and a half in length, with a hill situated near a sharp turn at the lower end of the reach. Having now travelled 500 miles from Sydney, the whole party were in need of rest, and Mitchell wisely resolved on fixing a permanent depôt here. Intending to leave some of his men while engaged in the exploration of the lower course of the river, he considered it an act of prudence to enclose the depôt with a stockade, as he was not yet sufficiently acquainted with the natives of the Darling to trust them with any degree of confidence. A stockade was accordingly constructed of rough logs, and to this, his first attempt at bush fortification, he gave the name of Fort Bourke, in compliment to the Governor of the colony. Such was the beginning of Bourke, the now famous centre of our back country settlement, and the present terminus of the Great Western Railway of New South Wales.
Two boats, as already noticed, had been brought all the way from Sydney as part of the furniture of the expedition, and the time seemed to have arrived for their being; turned to account. Being found to be in perfect order they were forthwith christened the Discovery and the Resolution, and launched on the feeble current of the Darling. But hope was excited to no purpose. The stream was too low and the channel too much impeded to permit of navigation even with the smallest craft, and the undertaking' was no sooner initiated than it had to be abandoned. The former plan of the expedition had again to be adopted, and the progress on the Darling was very similar to what it had been on the Bogan. The country traversed was found to be inferior as a whole, only moderately valuable for pastoral purposes, and nowhere adapted for agriculture to any considerable extent. The incidents in this part of the march were neither numerous nor striking. The usual privations arising from want of water were hardly known, as the explorers were never far from the banks of a running stream which takes rank among the foremost in Australia. The saltness of the Darling, which proved such an inconvenience to Sturt, was found by Mitchell to exist in a much less degree, which shows that it must have arisen in part from temporary causes.
If Mitchell's narrative is not so rich in thrilling incidents as a sensational reader could have wished, it is especially valuable as a record of the manners and customs of the aborigines of those districts, as they appeared to the eye of this intelligent and observant traveller. Sometimes the description is so life-like that we are almost cheated into the belief of a visible reality, and it is impossible to be indifferent to the exhibition, although the whole race has now well-nigh passed away. The account is very generally the reverse of Captain Sturt's, notwithstanding that both of these eminent explorers must have had in view substantially the same tribes. The judicious reader will scarcely be disposed to agree unreservedly with the Captain when he depicts them as the "most miserable wretches" under the sun; neither will he care to subscribe to the unqualified language of the Major, who describes them as "happy" savages. Truth seldom lies in extremes, and it is to the utmost extreme that these authorities have gone, each in his own way, as determined largely, perhaps, by his idiosyncrasies. But the ethnologist, in particular, will be thankful for the literary photograph of these vanishing tribes which has been preserved in the pages of this journal. The general reader, too, will gladly observe some curious incidents of aboriginal life in the interior of Australia. Mitchell specially notices their adroitness in procuring the wild honey of the bush. With great tact they first attached a piece of light down to the bee, which, on being released, would be sure to make straight for its nest. To discover this secret, the blackfellow engaged in hot pursuit; and, as his eye must be constantly on the tiny insect, there would, of course, be frequent tripping, and many an awkward fall on mother earth, but the excitement was too great to permit of anything short of a serious accident being noticed. Another characteristic of the untutored savages was their unwillingness to recognize the right of a white man to hold property—it was all meum and no tuum with them. For a while Mitchell tried to satisfy them with liberal gifts, but giving only increased the craving for more; and, what was worse, this liberality on the part of the strangers began to be construed as an indication of fear, and then the demands were more impudently pressed than ever, which caused these gifts, very properly, to cease altogether. And now their thieving propensities broke out beyond all bounds. Mitchell, like Apollo when Mercury filched his bow, hardly knew whether to smile at the adroitness of the thief or wax indignant at the loss of his property. The cunning, craft, and success of these barbarians went almost beyond credence. Not only their hands were busy, but their very feet and toes picked up the strangers' tools as they walked over them. This latter practice was considered a real accomplishment, and these savages seemed to have a genuine contempt for the clumsy white-fellows who could not use their "feet fingers." Barring this troublesome propensity, the native tribes did not cause much inconvenience to the expedition until it got as far down the Darling as the Menindie quarter, where a serious embroglio occurred, which occasioned the shedding of aboriginal blood, and compelled the explorers to desist from the further prosecution of their journey. For this untoward event, however, Mitchell was not to blame, and he regretted he had to deal with convicts who were so difficult to control. The local tribes having thus become exasperated, a somewhat hasty retreat had to be made to the central depôt at Bourke, after 300 miles of the Darling had been traversed, and little doubt being left as to the remainder of the course till the junction with the Murray.
The exploration and settlement of Victoria are quite recent events in the history of Australia. Important discoveries had been made on the seaboard by Bass and Flinders in the close of the last and the beginning of the present century; but they had no effect in attracting population. Hume and Ho veil made an overland journey from Lake George to Port Phillip in 1824, and brought to light an enormous extent of fine territory near the southern coast; yet the country remained unvisited by civilization for another ten or twelve years. The original settlers came from Tasmania, and were crowded out of the old rather than attracted to the new home. The first arrival seems to have been Edward Henty, who effected a settlement at Portland Bay in 1834. Next year John Batman, a native of Parramatta, who had latterly resided in Tasmania, crossed Bass' Strait, and fixed his headquarters on Indented Head. He bargained with the natives for 600,000 acres of the best land in exchange for a few blankets, knives, and such-like commodities. He was followed in three months' time by another of the name of Fawkner, who, leaving "King John" in undisputed possession of Indented Head, pitched his tent on the site of the present city of Melbourne.
So much and nothing more was accomplished in the settlement of the premier part of Australia, when Major Mitchell crossed the Murray, and astonished the world by a series of .splendid discoveries in what is now the famous colony of Victoria. The surprise was the more telling on this account, that the revelations resulted from a mere accident, and were aside from the proper object of the expedition. The explorations of Mitchell during the preceding year, which had so largely supplemented the earlier discoveries of Sturt on the Darling, very naturally excited public interest, and created a desire for another expedition. The River Darling was now pretty well known, with the exception of about 200 miles from Menindie to the junction with the Murray; but this latter river was not yet explored higher up than its confluence with the Murrumbidgee. These two objects being now to be prosecuted, instructions were given to Major Mitchell to organize another expedition; and into this project, it is needless to say, the gallant Major entered with his accustomed enthusiasm.
This expedition, numbering twenty-four persons, amply provisioned, and destined to be the most fortunate in the annals of exploration, left the rendezvous near Mount Canobolas, on the outskirts of settlement, on the 17th of March, 1836. The first movement was made towards the old position at the station of Buree, and then the route was followed to the Lachlan. This river, as well as the Murrumbidgee, which was reached on its lower course, had previously been explored, and Mitchell had not much to add that was new or striking. When he conceived he was approaching the junction with the Murray, a depôt was formed beside an excellent sheet of water, to which the name of Lake Stapylton was given. Mitchell now divided his party, and, taking an escort, struck out boldly for the Darling, which was still 100 miles distant. The usual difficulties of this kind of travelling were encountered; but no one knew better how to overcome them than this intrepid explorer. The junction of the two chief rivers of Australia was reached without loss of time—a position which Mitchell says he recognized at once from a drawing of Captain Sturt's. This compliment Sturt duly acknowledged, remarking at the same time that it was the only praise he had ever received from Sir Thomas Mitchell, and he was afraid in this case it was not very well deserved, as the drawing had been made from a verbal description, and by an Edinburgh clergyman who had never visited Australia! The expedition was in great danger here from an exasperated tribe of blacks who kept hanging upon the rear, and only waited for an opportunity to strike a decisive blow. The aspect of matters was so threatening that Mitchell resolved to abandon the Darling, and fall back upon his alternative instructions, which directed him to explore the upper courses of the Murray. But the hostile tribe was now between his own party and the depôt, which was 100 miles away. Their number was rapidly increasing, and their attitude growing more menacing everyday. A conflict could not be much longer averted, and Mitchell, as a military man, was not willing to allow the enemy to choose the most suitable time for the attack. The men under his command appear to have understood his intentions, and, without waiting for orders, fired upon the tribe. Seven were killed, and the multitude dispersed. It was a severe remedy, but also a very effectual one, for this tribe never attempted to cause them further annoyance.
On arriving at Lake Stapylton, Mitchell had the satisfaction of finding that the depôt had been unmolested, a circumstance which relieved his mind from considerable anxiety. The situation of the depôt was ascertained to be about ten miles from the junction of the Murrumbidgee with the Murray. The latter was crossed about a mile higher up, and the united After losing or leaving this creek another was discovered, of still greater importance, to which Mitchell gave the name of the Loddon, from the marked resemblance he thought it possessed to its namesake in the old home. The country consisted of open downs, and was the richest Mitchell had seen since he had left Sydney. The plains were covered with anthistirium, or kangaroo grass, which bent under the breeze like a field of oats. The country was so lightly timbered that the explorers could scarcely find fuel to make a fire at several of their places of encampment. This district also yielded many new and beautiful plants, which greatly enriched the botanical collection. Mitchell next ascended Mount Hope, a peak which he so named because he expected to obtain a view of the southern ocean from its summit. This anticipation was not realized, but he enjoyed the prospect of an unlimited reach of the class of country he had already discovered. Another hill, called the Pyramid, from its peculiar form, afforded also an excellent view, and raised in Mitchell a transport of joy. He could scarcely find words to describe the magnificence of the scene, or express the delight he felt on account of his own good fortune. "The scene," says he, "was different from anything I had ever before witnessed, either in New South Wales, or elsewhere—a land so inviting, and still without inhabitants. As I stood, the first intruder on the sublime solitude of these verdant plains, as yet untouched by flocks or herds, I felt conscious of being the harbinger of many changes there; for our steps would soon be followed by the men and the animals for which it seemed to be prepared." And again—"We had at length discovered a country ready for the immediate reception of civilized man, and lit to become eventually one of the great nations of the earth. Unencumbered with too much wood, yet possessing enough for all purposes; with an exuberant soil under a temperate climate; bounded by the sea-coast and mighty rivers, and watered abundantly by streams from lofty mountains, this highly interesting region lay before me, with all its features new and untouched as they fell from the hands of the Creator. Of this Eden it seemed I was the only Adam; and it was indeed a sort of paradise to me, permitted thus to be the first to explore its mountains and streams—to behold its scenery—to investigate its geological character—and finally, by my survey, to develop those natural advantages all still unknown to the civilized world, but yet certain to become at no distant date of vast importance to a new people." No prophet ever spoke truer words than these.started again with the intention of exploring this interesting but unknown river. From this purpose they were soon diverted by the discovery of an important tributary, which seemed to lead them into a better country than the Murray was likely to do.
Soon after the Loddon, the Avoca and the Avon Water were discovered. These streams irrigated the same kind of country as that which had lately been traversed. This tract was evidently an exception to a rule which prevails throughout Australia. Good land is usually poorly supplied with water, while well-watered country is generally of little account in point of fertility; but here for once was a district which was equally distinguished for the abundance of its streams and the excellence of its soil. The explorers now took a direction more to the eastward, to reach a lofty mountain-chain which appeared to be about 40 miles distant. This range forms a division between the northern and the southern waters, and is really the extremity of the coast range. Mitchell called these the Grampians, from a supposed resemblance to a chain of the same name in the Southern Highlands of Scotland. Taking two of his best men, he next ascended Mount William, a peak which rises 4,500 feet above the sea and is the highest in the group. The weather being unfavourable to the object in view, it was found necessary to spend a miserably cold night upon its summit, and the exposure permanently injured the health of his two companions, who had followed the explorer on three expeditions. An excellent view was obtained at last, and another great landmark, Mount Arapiles, was fixed upon as the next object toward which they were to move. This was a bold and isolated mountain lying westward of the range. Five streams had to be crossed in passing over the intermediate tract, and these were subsequently found to unite and form the Wimmera. It was hoped this important river would lead them to the ocean, but it turned to the northward and flowed into the interior. The tract of country next discovered presented a very singular aspect. The surface, as far as the eye could reach, was studded with lakes, which differed greatly in size, but were circular in form. Their number must have been prodigious; from one point of view no fewer than twenty-seven were counted. Most of these circular lakes were brackish to the taste, and many too salt to be fit for use.
The extremity of the Grampians had now been reached, and the range was being successfully turned, when the explorers saw before them a fine open country, trending away towards the Southern Ocean. The travelling was often heavy on the soft soil, and they had to be satisfied with six miles a day as the average rate of progress; nevertheless, the object in view w^as being steadily accomplished, and no country was ever traversed which was richer in the charming incidents of travel. July the 31st was a red-letter day for Mitchell, for it brought the welcome discovery of a fine river, which led the party to the breakers of the Southern Ocean. Its width was 120 feet, with an average depth of 12 feet, and from first to last it continued to flow through the most picturesque scenery. The discoverer gave it the name of the Glenelg, in compliment to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The track of the expedition kept as closely as possible to the left bank of the river, which with many windings was found to be steadily making southward. One of the most remarkable features of the Glenelg is the number of feeders which it receives from both sides of its basin. These occasionally flowed through deep ravines, which made travelling difficult for the drays. But the scenery is described as being exquisite. Mitchell put the English language on the rack to make it express his conception of the lovely scenes which daily met his eye. Either of the valleys of the Wando or the Wannon might well pass for a modern Tempé. On the 12th of August the Rifle Range was reached, and from one of the heights Mount Gambler, near Cape Northumberland, was plainly seen, and this was accepted as sufficient evidence that the sea could not be very far distant. After receiving another tributary, which was named the Stokes, the river, affected also by the proximity to the ocean, became so much increased in size as to induce Mitchell to launch the boat which had been brought from Sydney. A depôt was accordingly formed at this position which was called Fort O'Hare. Mitchell took two-thirds of his men, and, after a few days' pleasant sail, landed safely at the mouth of the Glenelg.
Before returning to Sydney it was thought advisable to make a short journey to Portland Bay, for the sake of examining the intervening country. In this excursion various streams were discovered and crossed, such as the Crawford, the Fitzroy, and the Surrey; and the prominent peaks, Ellerslie, Clay, and Kincaid, were ascended or sighted. The country generally was swampy in the flats, and poor in the higher grounds, until Portland was reached, where the soil was found to be of the best possible description. Here a great surprise was in store for the explorers. They had stumbled by mere chance on the newly-formed station of Edward Henty, from Tasmania, who generously supplied them with provisions for the homeward journey.
Going still forward, Mitchell kept for a considerable time on the southern fall of the range, in the hope of finding -a pass which would be generally available. Such an opening he was fortunate enough to discover, near the foot of Mount Byng, which he safely passed through, barring an accident to his travelling gear. While this was being repaired, he made an excursion to a prominent height about 30 miles to the south, in the hope of being able to catch a glimpse of Port Phillip, and thus enable him to connect his surveys with this important position. To this height he gave the name of Mount Macedon, and from its summit was able to observe some of the topographical features of what is now the site, or the immediate neighbourhood, of Melbourne, and also white sails or tents, which most likely were the encampments of Batman and Fawkner, who had been in their new home only a few months.
In returning, the Campaspe River was discovered, and other tributaries of the Murray, made known by Hume and Ho^'ell, were crossed without difficulty. The most serious obstacle was the passage of the Murray; but it was passed without accident or mishap, although it was 80 yards in width. Some rugged country had to be encountered before the Murrumbidgee was crossed. But this was the ultimus labor of the expedition, for the settled territory had now been reached. Mitchell accordingly reckoned this outpost the termination of his journey; and it had not been a short one. He had travelled over 2,400 miles of country, and was seven months in the bush. But he had been more fortunate than any of his predecessors; nor, indeed, has his success been eclipsed to this day. For this splendid service he was worthily rewarded with the honour of knighthood from the British Crown.
The good fortune which had followed Sir Thomas Mitchell throughout his three earlier expeditions did not forsake him during this one, which proved to be the last and most arduous of the series. It was his ambition this time to cross the continent and open an overland route to the distant Carpentaria. Of all men living, he was the most likely to accomplish this task. He did not, indeed, attain the desire of his heart, but in all other respects his expedition was eminently successful, and forms a memorable epoch in the history of exploration. The party mustered at the old rendezvous of Buree, in the Western District, which, though no longer the outpost of settlement, was yet a convenient starting-point. Mitchell chose for his second in command Mr. Edmund B. Kennedy, the unfortunate explorer who, several years later, was killed by the blacks when leading a disastrous expedition in Cape York Peninsula. The rest of the party were mostly convicts from Port Jackson, who had volunteered their services in the hope of obtaining their freedom. The little army, consisting of two dozen able-bodied men, amply provisioned, left Buree on the 15th of December, 1845. The old route was followed for a considerable way, and in a short time the Hervey Range, containing the sources of the Bogan, was crossed without serious difficulty. For a long distance westward the country was now occupied by squatters, but many of the outsiders had already succumbed to the hostility of the Darling blacks, who had speared their cattle and otherwise harassed them beyond the limit of human endurance. Ten years had now passed away since Mitchell led his preceding expedition through these parts, and the abortive attempts at settlement were the principal changes observable in the general aspect of the country. One very remarkable minor feature was the appearance of couch-grass and horehound, which had sprung up around the stockyards. Mitchell was quite positive in asserting that no specimen of these plants could have been found in the district before the white men settled there.
The party suffered from want of water till Nyngan was reached, on the 16th January, and then one difficulty was quickly followed by another. Most of the men were seized with eye-blight, and compelled to remain in camp longer than was convenient for the object of the expedition. But they were again on the move as soon as circumstances would permit, the march being now directed towards the Macquarie. Meanwhile an encampment was made on the Canonbar, a tributary of the Bogan. While resting here the saltbush became an object of curiosity, and some interesting experiments were made with this singular plant of the interior plains. The tiny leaves were found to be a tolerable substitute for vegetables after boiling, by which process a yield of pure salt was obtained in the proportion of one ounce to the pound. The condition of the stock also bore witness to the fattening quality of the same plant.
After a few days of eventful travel by way of Sturt's Duck Ponds, the Macquarie River was struck a few miles below Mount Harris, which had been an important landmark for explorers since the time of Oxley. The channel was dry, but the blacks reported a heavy flood as near at hand. Mitchell had often heard of sudden inundations appearing in an arid part of the country, and was anxious to witness so singular a visitation. Late in the still evening there fell upon his ear a dull murmur as of distant thunder, speedily followed by a cracking and crashing of trees, and in a few minutes more the river was overflowing its banks in a wide-spreading flood. The phenomenon is described as being grand in the extreme, and of so improbable a character as scarcely to be credited unless it had been witnessed.
On the 27th the Castlereagh was reached, and the next day the party found themselves on the banks of the Darling. For many miles in both directions the river at this period was studded with pastoral settlements. Having crossed at Warley, near one of the stations, Mitchell now struck out for the Narran, the nearest point of which was reckoned to be about 35 miles distant. The intervening space was found to consist of choice pastoral country, covered with tall kangaroo crass. Commissioner Mitchell, son of the explorer, had previously traversed these parts, and this expedition soon "pulled up" his tracks. The line of the Narran River having thus been already explored, it was traversed as expeditiously as possible, and this part of the journey was over by the beginning of April, when the Balonne (pronounced Baloon) was sighted. Mitchell described it as the finest river he had seen in Australia, with the exception of the Murray. The current was very slight, but the water stretched out in long; and beautiful reaches. The march was once more resumed, and the party moved along the line of this river till St. George's Bridge was reached, where the width expanded to 120 yards. At this point there is a chain of rocks stretching from bank to bank, which has always the appearance, and sometimes the convenience, of a natural bridge. It was this circumstance which led to its being called St. George's Bridge, a name which it still retains in common with the flourishing township that has sprung up in the vicinity.
While enjoying a short interval of repose in this enchanting situation, Mitchell had the pleasure of receiving a despatch from headquarters containing a brief account of Leichhardt's successful journey to Port Essington, Being somewhat jealous of his rival, and, it may be, concerned for his own laurels, he determined on making a redoubled effort to cross the continent and discover a more practicable route than Leichhardt had been able to find. Leaving Kennedy in charge of the depôt at St. George, he took a light party and pushed forward, having given instructions to the rest to follow his tracks when the stock should be sufficiently recruited for travel. One day's march brought the advance party to the junction of another important river, which was afterwards found to be the Maranoa. But they still kept the line of the Balonne as far as the Cogoon, a considerable tributary, which was now followed. This led the explorers into a splendid district, known afterwards as the Fitzroy Downs, near the centre of which the town of Roma now stands. This fine region was studded with isolated mountain-peaks, one of which Mitchell hastened to ascend. The prospect obtained from its summit was magnificent, and the pasture so abundant on this height as to suggest the name of Mount Abundance, which it has ever since retained. At a short distance the three-peaked Bindango, standing near its fellow, Bindeygo, formed most picturesque features in the landscape. It was on Mount Abundance that the first bottle-tree was discovered. This is the strangest product of the Australian forest, and Sir Thomas was disposed to regard it as a lusus naturæ in the vegetable kingdom.
The telescope again brought into view a range of hills, Mitchell, bent on reaching Carpentaria, had for some time been disappointed in not finding the division of the northern waters, and fervently hoped this distant range would prove to be the dividing line. This watershed was to him, through the whole journey, what the horizon is to the traveller—always appearing near and ever receding. Many a weary day did he toil on, sustained by this expectation, but it kept mocking him to the last, and he went to hi.s grave without having crossed the coveted watershed. But for the present he enjoyed the pleasures of hope. Leaving Mount Abundance he soon discovered the Amby, which, being followed, led on to the Maranoa, whose junction with the Balonne he had previously discovered. Here he established another depôt and waited for Kennedy, making in the meantime several short excursions in various directions. Not far from this depôt a squatting station was subsequently formed, and more recently an important town has been built, in both of which the name of Mitchell has been perpetuated. Kennedy having brought up his party in excellent condition, the experiment which had been so successfully made at St. George's Bridge was repeated here—the leader again setting out for the north with a small equipment and a four months' supply of provisions. The natives in this quarter were not disposed to stand on friendly terms with the strangers, and usually kept at a safe distance. One inconvenience only Mitchell regretted. Many interesting natural features were observed, especially mountain-peaks, which he would gladly have made known under the aboriginal names. Failing in this, his favourite custom, he called them after some of the leading men of the time, as Owen, Faraday, Buckland, and P. P. King. As an exception, he named one of the heights Mount Aquarius, in remembrance of a very seasonable supply of water it had furnished for his party. This difficulty now seemed to be overcome for some time by the discovery of the Nive and the Nivelle, important tributaries of a large river. This was the Warrego, which would have been followed had it not persisted in taking a course which would have led them in the opposite direction to Carpentaria.
The country to the northward continued to rise till it reached an elevation of something like 1,500 feet. Being also of a mountainous character, it was fondly hoped that here, at least, would be found the long-sought watershed. This anticipation was rather confirmed by the discovery of a beautiful stream, now called Salvator Rosa, which flowed northward with a clear and musical current. This pleasing delusion lasted only one d&j, for on the morrow the lovely river ended its course in a reedy lake, on the opposite side of which a channel was found, but it contained no water at that time. This is one of the heads of the Nogoa, a river trending too much to the east to suit Sir Thomas's purpose. Other discoveries of streams or watercourses were made soon afterwards, two of the principal being named the Claude and the Balmy Creek. These designations are suggestive of pleasant associations, and, while speaking well for the country, sufficiently prove that the expedition had its share of enjoyment as well as the usual experience of toil and fatigue.
The 21st of July Was rendered memorable by the discovery of the Belyando, a fine river, heading towards the north, and offering a better promise of leading to the Gulf. In this expectation, it was eagerly followed, and in four days conducted the explorers across the Tropic of Capricorn. In many parts the country was excellent, stretching out in splendid downs, which squatters have long since applied to a lucrative purpose, but in other places the axe had to be used to clear a path through the brigalow scrubs. In common with other explorers, Mitchell has noticed that "the Australian rivers have all distinguishing characteristics, which they seem to possess from their source to their termination," The Belyando was no exception. It was found throughout its course to have an unfortunate propensity for splitting into channels, which were often difficult to trace through the thick scrub; but, as a compensation, these branches afforded excellent facilities for storage of water against dry seasons. Many days of persevering travel gave the party a good northing, but, after passing over three and a half degrees of latitude, it began to be evident that the Belyando also was going to deceive them. It had been steadily, and latterly very decisively, making for the east, thus leaving no hope of conducting the expedition to Carpentaria. Mitchell rightly conjectured that it must be the tributary which Leichhardt had seen joining the Suttor, and, with a crushing feeling of disappointment, determined to change his front and return home.
Having still a sufficient store of provisions, ho was unwilling to continue his homeward track, and resolved to follow up a river to the westward, which took its rise in the high ground previously mentioned. It was found to lead through first-class pasture land, and this excursion resulted in opening up a large area of squatting country. Many tributaries were noticed to fall in on either side, particularly the Alice, which came from the north. The main river was followed till it, too, left no hope of leading to the coveted north. Soon after Sir Thomas gave up the search altogether, and set his face in earnest for the settled districts, which he reached, after no long interval, by way of the Mooni River and the Liverpool Plains. Having failed to enter into communication with the aborigines, he was unable to ascertain the native name of the river which had led him so far to the west. It was the last of his great discoveries, and he called it after the name of the Queen, an unfortunate designation, as there is another Victoria River on the west coast. About the same period Captain Sturt was exploring on another part of this river, and gave it the name of Cooper's Creek. The natives called it the Barcoo, and by this name it is now generally known throughout its whole course.