Tracks of McKinlay and party across Australia/Chapter 1

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Occasion of the Burke Belief Expedition—Start from Adelaide—Incidents and Accidents by the Way—Refractory Camels—Daily Troubles with the Cart—Pastoral Stations and Hospitalities—Buchanan's, James', Marchant's, Jacob's, and Chambers'—Arrival at Blanchewater.

The reader has learned from our Introduction the lamentable mischance that left Burke and his party to perish at Cooper's Creek. The intelligence received in the colonies that Brahe and Wright had left the depot at the Cooper without learning anything of the missing party, excited general concern. The Victoria Government took prompt measures to prosecute a further search; and in order to make this search as complete as possible, expeditions were organized to proceed by both the north and the south. Mr. Alfred Howitt, an experienced Australian explorer, was ordered off at once to Cooper's Creek, while further expeditions were being prepared for a march to commence from the Gulf of Carpentaria. Mr. Walker was fitted out for a journey from Rockhampton, on the eastern coast of Queensland, to the River Albert, at the head of the Gulf, and Mr. Landsborough was despatched from Brisbane in a small brig, the "Firefly," also to the same part of the gulf, where he was to begin a journey towards the south. The government armed steamer, "Victoria," was also sent to hover about the same rendezvous with suitable supplies for rendering assistance to the cause generally.

Howitt, as we have seen, accomplished the object of all this enterprise by finding the unfortunate party in the person of its sole survivor, King, who for between two and three months since the death of his leaders, had been living with the Aborigines of the Cooper, kindly enough cared for, indeed, by the natives, after their rude fashion, but so haggard and emaciated as to be hardly recognizable as a human being. This intelligence arrived too late to prevent the other expeditions, a circumstance the less to be regretted when we consider the important results they accomplished. Walker executed his mission successfully, reaching, on the 7th December, 1861, a depôt formed on the Albert by Landsborough, after detecting the traces of Burke's party at the Flinders, on his way. Landsborough set out from this depot in October, and after proceeding 210 miles in a southerly direction towards the Central Mount Stuart, returned to the depot, apprehending danger to his small party from the Aborigines, and also finding a scarcity of water, as the time (December) was towards the end of the dry season. The country otherwise, however, was of the most promising description. He reached the depôt on the 19th January, 1862, and on the 10th February took his course across Australia by way of the Flinders, guided to this course by the information given by Walker. It was only on reaching the settlements of the Darling, four months afterwards, that he learned the fate of Burke's party.

The Queensland Government co-operated with that of Victoria in forwarding the northern expedition. That of South Australia organized a special "Burke Relief Expedition" of its own. The parliament of the colony promptly voted the necessary funds, and the charge of the party was offered to Mr. John McKinlay. That gentleman being at the time in Melbourne, the offer was made to him through the electric telegraph. It was accepted as quickly as made, and within three weeks, as Mr. Davis tells us, of the parliamentary vote, Mr. McKinlay and his party were already at Kapunda, fifty miles beyond Adelaide, all prepared for the great journey before them. It was not indeed contemplated at starting that they would have to cross the entire of Australia, but they were equipped for that contingency, and their leader having decided further on to accomplish that object, they did accomplish it most creditably, and have proved, continues Davis, that the unsettled parts of the interior, between Blanchewater and Carpentaria consist of something else than a howling desert.

"Started from Adelaide with the camels, etc., on 16th August, 1860," says Mr. McKinlay, in his official journal, "and overtook the remnant of the party, horses, cart, etc., nothing of any particular note occurring on the journey to Blanchewater (Mr. Baker's station) more than ordinary on such journeys." This is all very well in an official document. Not so, however, with Mr. Davis, who finds a world of pleasant incident in the region of the settlements, and a great deal more of hospitality than in the unexplored world beyond. Here are the occurrences en route to Blanchewater, the outside settlement for the time being in the colony's progress, Mr. Davis being narrator.

On the 14th August, 1861, the horses, carts, and six of the "Burke Relief Party," under the command of Mr. John McKinlay, started overland for Gawler, a town some twenty-five miles distant from Adelaide, where they were hospitably received by Mr. R. T. Poole, of the Willaston Hotel, and whose son, Mr. R. Poole, better known as "Bobby," formed one of the party. Nothing could exceed the kindness shown to Mr. McKinlay and his six companions by Mr. and Mrs. Poole, who did everything that could conduce to their comfort and enjoyment—pigeon match in the morning, champagne lunch after, and other little pleasantnesses for the jolly fellows who were there.

16th.—On the 16th Mr. McKinlay and two others of his party started by train with four camels to Kapunda,some twenty-five miles further, where the horses, with the detachment, would be ready to receive him, having preceded him the day before. On arrival at Kapunda, a little incident occurred to one of the crew—a young lady stepped out of the train, who proved to be the idol of his affections. Poor fellow! his look of agony! little did he think he should have to say again the word farewell. But the lady was not to be deprived of her "last fond look," and she pressed to the front at the start in the morning, seeing us all off, and one of us more particularly, with a reciprocal good-bye, and a vigorous agitation of kerchiefs.

An accident happened just now, the cart, after having been packed as full as possible, was found, on its arrival at the "Sir John Franklin Hotel" from the railway terminus, to have its axle bent to that extent that it would not be safe to proceed; so that Mr. McKinlay, with the driver, was obliged to remain to get new axles, wheels, etc., whilst the camels and horses proceeded on to a sheep station some nine miles up country named Anlaby, where the greatest kindness was shown to all by Mr. Buchanan, a fine specimen of the Australian sheep farmers, and a friend of Mr. McKinlay's. Let us here pay a passing mark of respect to him and his excellent wife, and thank them for the hospitality they lavished on us. The worthy host brought forth the "stirrup cup," and long will his fine, open, manly face be remembered by all, as he drank "God speed." May his shadow never be less, and may prosperity ever attend him and his!

At Kapunda we were met by a member of the clerical profession, a wandering preacher, a most curious specimen of the order; his stories were all harmless, only a bore, though he doubtless meant well. He subsequently joined the party at Buchanan's, and then ensued the most charming religious controversy, with one of our party, ever heard—the parson in downright earnest, and his opponent, I must say, very much the reverse. It served to pass away the evening; but as most of those arguments generally end, so this did also, both were, at the close, exactly of the same opinion as they were at the beginning. This parson was somewhat of an oddity.

17th and 18th.—On Sunday afternoon, after we had had a sermon from his reverence, Mr. McKinlay arrived with the cart.

19th.—Monday; started for Tottle Creek; roads very bad indeed, and the cart got bogged up to the axle, causing much delay; and during the detention the camels thought they would have a little fun on their own account, and so they did, for they commenced fighting like fury, till they were separated and tied up. Soon, however, the order was given to start with them and horses, and not wait for the carts; so off they went, got to Tottle Creek, put up at a roadside public house, where bottled porter was the order of the evening, and very acceptable it was.

Here very nearly occurred a sad accident, and had it not been for Mr. McKinlay, who fortunately happened to be standing close by, Mr. Hodgkinson would have been trampled to death by one of the camels, a very spiteful one; he (Mr. Hodgkinson) was hobbling him, when he struck him with his foot with such force as to knock all the wind out of him, and would have proceeded to trample on him had not Mr. McKinlay caught hold of our comrade and pulled him from under the feet of the infuriated beast, the man who had hold of the brute's nose-string pulling the camel round the other way; thus he was saved and soon recovered, and then put on the hobbles in spite of him. This camel was very unruly for a long time, the man in charge of him did not like fondling him as was done with all the others.

20th.—Cart came in about 11 p.m. Up and stirring early, and after packing the animals started for "Gum Creek," one of Mr. Levi's stations, under the management of Mr. Love, a very jolly, good fellow, who tried to make everybody as comfortable as possible, and he succeeded. This was a long stage of twenty miles, and here again the cart got into a mess, and bullocks were obliged to be sent to drag it out of the bog.

21st. Started for Booberowie, a station of Dr. Brown's, where the party had to sleep in the kitchen; this would probably not have happened had the Doctor been at home, but unfortunately he was absent from the station, and the nice little beds they saw through the windows, in which they hoped to have rested their weary limbs, remained untenanted, kitchen table and floor being used instead.

McKinlay went, it was omitted to be mentioned, to the Burra, a small town some few miles to the east of this track, for some odds and ends that had been forgotten; here he joined again, and here the pastor took his final leave of us for the Burra. He is a natural wonder.

22nd. We left this station. A few blessings, not loud but deep, were devoted, to the hospitable or kitchentable beds, to say nothing of the hard floor, and everybody as fatigued in the morning as when he turned in the night before. The cart, of course, soon got bogged, and caused a delay on a plain for several hours; the sun very hot. Here they were overtaken by a good Samaritan, who shared his fine damper, mutton, and tea with them. He instituted quite a pic-nic alongside his cart. Men remained, with the horses and the camels lying down, all jolly and happy.

On the move again as soon as the cart came up, and camped on Mr. James' Run, Kanowie. Did not go up to the house, but for the first time erected tents in a paddock, and all turned in after a good supper. But, alas! man proposes, and God disposes; for all had to turn out almost as soon as they had got between the blankets, to go off after the horses and camels, as there was the greatest row with them possible, as the camels had got amongst the horses and started them off at score. The night too was rather dark, and, dear reader, you may imagine it was no sinecure to go after them, tumbling down holes and over stones, logs, etc. However, after a long hunt, found and brought them all back but one, which we supposed had been beaten by the savage fellows, and thinking discretion the better part of valour, had bolted. Brought back the tidings to McKinlay, who said it could not be helped. All glad enough to turn in again this time, and with more success, as no accident occurred any more that night.

Up early and two or three sent after the missing camel. He was found some eight or ten miles on the road, going quietly along in his hobbles. He was soon caught and brought back. This little freak of (Mr. Cassim) the camel detained us here all day, as he did not arrive at the camp till nearly 4 p.m.

25th. Off in the morning on the road for Maranaric, and camped without tents. The cart, as usual, not up to-night. One of the fellows with a native black went after the camels, just to see where they were, as it was rather scrubby, when the wicked one (Siva) rushed at the two men and made them go for their lives, scrambling over logs and stumps and stones, much to the enjoyment of those in camp, who were watching their eccentric movements. Here it was necessary to walk about four miles to the station for supper—pleasant that after the day's work.

26th. Camels this morning not to be found, the horses and cart proceed without them to the camp at Lower Pekuna, a very nice one, there being an old shepherd's hut close by with a good well of water. Turned off the road some way to camp here on account of the water. Began forth with to demolish the old hut and get logs on the fire, which soon was blazing away in grand style. The pots were quickly on and the supper got ready, to which ample justice was done. The camels did not come in till nearly 9 p.m., the men having been delayed from not finding them for several hours, and from their having had again a good general fight on the road. The two men with them were very nearly done up from fatigue in walking the stage, which was a long one, and running all over the country in the first place to catch these animals. However, a good supper and a sound sleep recruited them, and in the morning they were all right again.

Stayed here all day, Mr. McKinlay trying to buy some bullocks for the cart instead of the horses, the bullocks being more able to tackle the heavy roads. Here all the men took advantage of the spell and fine weather, and a general wash of all the clothes took place.

27th. Off again to-day for Price Morris Place, and camped there on a gentle rise, the weather very cold and wet. Pitched tents and got as cozy as circumstances would permit. This was a very bleak dirty camp. Here Wylde got a tremendous kick on his breast, fortunately rather high, so he did not feel it so much. It was a most wretched night, cold and raining, and the tents all blowing about.

28th. A long day's stage to-day, and after a bad night very trying for all. Nothing of importance occurred to-day, but everything " went merry as the marriage bell."

29th. Start this morning after a good night. And here a new hand in the shape of a native joined the expedition; Frank by name, and not a bad sort of fellow; speaks English well and rides well. He will be of great use. Here at Wirrandery the hostess was very kind to one or two who were in early—tea and cakes, with the invariable damper and mutton of every Australian sheep-station, being the order of the day.

30th. Left here for a very pretty place called Willow Creek. The camp was really picturesque. Did not arrive here till late, and off again very early in the morning. There are some copper mines here, and report speaks well of them. And here another black fellow was added to the store; one of the roughest specimens of the genus homo you would see in a day's march, even in Australia; hair long and matted. The miners had rigged him out with some old clothes much too large for him, and a wild-looking specimen "Jack" presented. The good people at Wirrandery call it eleven miles to Willow Creek; it is twenty-three good English miles, as all tried the distance when in camp. Supper as usual, al fresco.

31st. Left Willow Creek early in the morning for Warcowei, under the superintendence of Mr. John Roe, a jolly good fellow. As usual, the cart in a fix, and could not be extricated; the driver rode into "Warcowie about 4 p.m. for assistance; so immediately some of the party mounted, and rode out for that purpose. The business took a long time to do; it was quite dark when finished, so determined to camp there for the night, and proceed to the station in the morning. Middleton, however, rode in for something to eat and drink, and returned about 8 p.m., when three or four remained in charge of the cart, and Middleton and Davis returned to the station with all the horses, leaving the bullocks. Mr. McKinlay did not accompany the party to the station, as he was away in another direction to buy some bullocks.

Sept. 1st and 2nd. Remained at Warcowie, waiting for McKinlay. Pitched tents and did not trouble the good people at the station any more. McKinlay arrived, and was unsuccessful in his attempt to get more bullocks.

3rd. Again on the move this morning; the horses were not to be found; the camels, however, led the way to Mr. George Marchant's station, Perriwallia. Found him and several neighbours mustering cattle. All hospitality; gave us anything he had. As the camels were in long before the rest, and all the grub was with the horses, and they did not arrive till late at night, after this first arrival I had turned in for the night. Mr. Marchant let McKinlay have what bullocks he required.

4th. Start this morning for another out-station of Mr. Marchant's, Yudnapunda; a long delay on the way occasioned again by the cart. The men with the camels stop several times, and once three or four hours, much to their annoyance; and when they did come up they brought word that one of the camels was to return to the cart with Mr. McKinlay' s blankets, as, horribile dictu, the cart had both shafts broken and could come no further, and Mr. McKinlay had determined to fit it with a pole for bullocks. This, of course, would take some time, as he had to send a considerable distance, to Mr. Frank Marchant's station, Areola, for the iron-work for the cart. Hodgkinson started with the camel, and Davis took on the other three. The devil's own work to get the wild one packed; he kept rolling off his load. Had they not managed to get the "Rarey strap" on him, and so keep him down, he never would have been packed, and very likely some accident would have happened. He is a real varmint. Arrived, however, with the three, after a good deal of trouble, at Yudnapunda hut, where all the horsemen were regaling themselves with mutton and damper. Quickly unloaded, and joined them.

Stopped here till the morning of the 10th, when Mr. McKinlay arrived with the cart all put to rights, and here we first met Mr. Jacobs, of Parallanah, a station some way farther up, and where he has invited the party to call en route.

10th. Off this night to Belcrackna Creek; rather pretty some part of the way; had to sleep for the first time without water; turned in about 10 o'clock, after a long stirring march.

11th. Proceed now to Willielpa, one of Mr. Chambers' stations, over which reigns supreme a certain Mr. Tom Coffin, quite a character in his way, and quite a curiosity to look at, with very long yellow hair, and nose to match. Fell in with a native well on the march, in which was a dead dog, but we drank the water, and thought it splendid. Who was that general of old who said that the river in which hundreds of the enemy were floating about was the best water he ever tasted? Tom produced milk, bread, and butter, things we had not tasted for some time.

12th. The next stage was Chambers' Creek, some twenty-five miles from Tom Coffin's, which we left the following morning for John's Creek; thence to McTaggart's station, passing through Mr. McCullum's on the way.

13th. At Mr. McCullum's station Mr. McKinlay procured the services of a bullock-driver, and bought his team from him. Ned Palmer was the beau ideal of a bullock-driver; hardy, devil-may-care, good-tempered, could swear as none but bullock-drivers can, and a very pleasant little fellow he was during the rest of the journey, and could spin his yarn with the best, and it lost nothing by his telling it. But to return to the track, McTaggart was very hospitable, and welcomed the party heartily.

15th. Made tracks now for Jacob's station, the gentleman last seen at Yudnapunda station. At this station, Parallanah, are many Aborigines about half-tamed. Here you might see a man with a cap on, and nothing else, or perhaps a tailcoat only, the women with a blanket or piece of cloth just thrown over their shoulders. But this is only just at the station; as soon as they arrive at their whirlies, off goes everything, and they appear strictly in a state of nature—unadorned, but whether it may be considered adorned the most in this case, I leave for abler hands to decide. This tribe is ugly in the extreme, and badly made.

Stopped here till the morning of the 20th, making, mending, and repairing, etc.; and about 10 p.m. started on course. To-day Hodgkinson killed a fine kangaroo with Davis's revolver (a very fine weapon by Colt); it was certainly forty yards off. Distance travelled to-day about twenty-two miles.

21st. Arrived at Parabandara. Fine water, which was procured from some rocks above the camp. Left this camp tolerably early, but could not find the camels for some time; Davis found them, and returned just in time to find every pot and pan packed, and the cook oblivious of his existence. Pleasant, with a fourteen miles' stretch before you. I am afraid he made use of some colloquial expletives.

22nd. Now off for Blanchewater. This station is the last, or was last year, where the white man dwells permanently; here also were some of the Aborigines—ugly enough, and of anything but a sweet-smelling savour; the men have their front teeth knocked out, denoting that they have arrived at the age of manhood.

Here are taken in the stores—tobacco, sugar, tea, flour, horseshoes, soap, etc., etc., etc., too numerous to mention, enough for six months. Here Hodgkinson takes his place as second in command, as he appeared shortly after on his charger; it was the general opinion that he should have booked an inside place. Middleton takes his place with the camels. The stores had been sent up to Port Augusta, and thence per bullock dray to Blanchewater. Some of the flour had been spoiled by coming in contact with some paraffine oil. This flour was left behind, and Mr. Dean, the overseer, kindly provided us with some instead.