Two expeditions into the interior of Southern Australia/Volume one/Chapter six

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Having now had considerable experience in the fitting out and management of expeditions in New South Wales, I cannot refrain from making some few observations on the subject. And without presuming to lay dawn any fixed rules, I shall only refer to those by which I have best succeeded, in hopes that some of my remarks may prove of use to future travellers who may venture to penetrate into the trackless deserts over so small a portion of which I wandered.


The great difficulty of examining the interior of Australia, is that of carrying supplies; for increasing the number of individuals composing an expedition is of no avail, since an additional number of men must necessarily increase the consumption of food. In order to meet this difficulty it has been proposed to establish depots upon which an expedition could fall back to recruit its supplies, and in ordinary cases this plan might answer; but I am decidedly of opinion that no party could long remain stationary in the distant interior without some fatal collision with the natives, which would be attended with the most deplorable consequences; and I do think, considering all things, that the experiment is too dangerous to be tried; for when I reached Mount Harris, on my first retreat from the Darling, I found the party who were awaiting me, with a supply of provisions, under very great alarm, in consequence of the hostile proceedings of the Mount Harris tribe. The men had been obliged to put the camp into a state of defence. The blacks had attempted to surprise them, and would, had I not returned, have combined in some general attack. It appears to me that the most judicious plan would be to send a supply of provisions, with an expedition, to a distant point, under the charge of a minor party. These provisions could replace those already expended, and the animals that carried them could be taken back.


The number of individuals of which the expedition down the banks of the Macquarie was composed, was fourteen: that is to say, myself, Mr. Hume, two soldiers, one free man, and seven prisoners of the crown. The latter behaved, on all occasions, as steadily as it was possible for men to do. Yet the circumstance of the two soldiers being with me increased my confidence in the whole, for I was aware that their example would influence the rest. However well disposed the prisoners of the crown may be, (as in this instance they certainly were,) the beneficial example of steady discipline cannot be denied. I should not have considered myself justified in leaving the camp as I did for a week, and in detaching Mr. Hume at the same time when at the bottom of the marshes, or in making the last effort to maintain our position on the banks of the Darling, if I had not reposed every confidence in the man to whom I entrusted the safety of the camp during my absence.

Experience, therefore, of the value of the two soldiers, whom General Darling was good enough to permit me to take on the strength of the party, fully bears me out in recommending that one man, at least, of general responsibility shall be attached to all future expeditions. The success of an expedition depends so much on the conduct of the persons of whom it is composed, that too much attention cannot be given to the selection even of the most subordinate. Men of active intelligent minds, of persevering habits, and of even temper, should be preferred to mechanics who do not possess these most requisite qualities. On the other hand, it is impossible to do without a good carpenter, however defective he may be in other respects. I was indebted to Mr. Maxwell, the superintendent of Wellington Valley, for some excellent men, both on my first and on my second journey, because he understood the nature of the service for which they were required, and the characters of those whom he recommended. But however well selected the party, or the men rather, might be, I still consider a man of general responsibility necessary for its complete organisation. I would have him somewhat superior to the rest in his station in life. Him I would hold answerable for the immediate discipline of the camp, whilst I was present, and for its safety when absent. The assistant to the leader I would put entirely out of the question. He has other and most important duties to perform. I would rate this man wholly independent of him.


In reference to what I have already said with regard to the natives, it was supposed that they were so little to be apprehended, that when I went on the first occasion into the interior, I applied for a limited number of men only, under an impression that with a few men I could carry provisions equal to a consumption of a greater number, and by this means be enabled to keep the field for a greater length of time. But I do not think it would be safe to penetrate into the distant country with fewer than fifteen men, for although, happily, no rupture has as yet taken place with the natives, yet, there is no security against their treachery, and it is very certain that a slight cause might involve an expedition in inextricable difficulty, and oblige the leader to throw himself on the defensive, when far away from other resources than those with which he should have provided himself, and that, perhaps, when navigating a close and intricate river, with all the dangers and perplexities attendant on such a situation. It is absolutely necessary to establish nightly guards, not only for the security of the camp, but of the cattle, and at the same time to have a force strong enough to maintain an obstinate resistance against any number of savages, where no mercy is to be expected. It will be borne in mind, that there is a wide difference between penetrating into a country in the midst of its population, and landing from ships for the purpose of communication or traffic. Yet, how few voyages of discovery have terminated without bloodshed! Boats while landing are covered by their ships, and have succour within view; but not so parties that go into unknown tracts. They must depend on their immediate resources and individual courage alone.


With regard to the animals, I should recommend an equal number of horses as of bullocks; since it has been found that the latter, though slow, travel better over swampy ground than horses, which, on the other hand, are preferable for expeditious journeys, to which bullocks would never be equal. One of the colonial pack-saddles weighs fifty pounds complete, and is preferable to those sent out from England. This, with a load of 250 lbs. is sufficient for any animal, since it enables the men to place a part of their provisions with the general loads. The difficulty of keeping the backs of the animals free from injury, more especially where any blemish has before existed, is exceedingly great. They should undergo an examination twice a-day, that is, in the morning prior to moving off, and in the afternoon before they are turned out to feed; and measures should then be taken to ease them as circumstances require. I never suffered the saddles to be removed from the backs of the animals under my charge for twenty minutes after the termination of the journey for the day, in order to guard against the effects of the sun; and where the least swelling appeared the saddle was altered and the place dressed. Yet, notwithstanding all this care and attention, several both of the horses and bullocks were at one time in a sad condition, during the first journey,--so much so as almost to paralyse our efforts. It would be advisable that such animals as are entirely free from blemish should be chosen for the service of expeditions, for, with proper management they might he kept in order. The anxiety of mind attendant on a bad state of the animals is really quite embarrassing, for it not only causes a delay in the movements, but a derangement in the loads. Other animals are overburdened, and there is no knowing where the evil will stop.

In addition to the pack-animals, I would recommend the employment of a dray or cart under any practicable circumstances. It serves to carry necessary comforts, gives an expedition greater facility for securing its collections, and is of inconceivable advantage in many other respects.


Constant and most earnest attention should be paid to the issue of provisions, on the discreet management of which so much depends, and the charge of them should be committed to the second in command. The most important articles are flour, tea, sugar, and tobacco. All should be husbanded with extreme care, and weighed from time to time. The flour is best carried in canvass bags, containing 100 pounds each, and should at the termination of each day's journey, be regularly piled up and covered with a tarpaulin. Tea, sugar and tobacco lose considerably in weight, so that it is necessary to estimate for somewhat more than the bare supply. With regard to the salt meat, the best mode of conveying it appears to be in small barrels of equal weight with the bags of flour. Salt pork is better than beef. It should be deprived of all bones and be of the very best quality. I have heard spirits recommended, but I do not approve their use. Tea is much more relished by the men; indeed they could not do well without it. A small quantity of spirits would, however, of course be necessary in the event of its being required.


Mr. Cornelius O'Brien, an enterprising and long-established settler, who has pushed his flocks and herds to the banks of the Morumbidgee, was good enough to present me with eight wethers as I passed his station. It may be some gratification to Mr. O'Brien to know, that they contributed very materially to our comforts, and he will, perhaps, accept my acknowledgements in this place, not only for so liberal a present to myself, but for his attention and kindness to my men as long as they remained in his neighbourhood. It was found that the sheep gave but little additional trouble, requiring only to be penned at night, as much to secure them from the native dogs as to prevent them from straying away. They followed the other animals very quietly, and soon became accustomed to daily movements. They proved a most available stock; no waste attended their slaughter, and they admitted of a necessary and wholesome change of fresh food from the general salt diet, on which the men would otherwise have had to subsist.

The provisions should, if possible, be issued weekly, and their diminution should be so regulated as to give an equal relief to the animals.

For general information i have annexed a list of the supplies I took with me on my first expedition. It may appear long, but the articles were packed in a small compass, and their value immaterial.

As a precautionary measure I should advise, that one of the pack animals be kept apart for the purpose of carrying water. Two casks of equal weight are the best for such a purpose. In long and hot marches, the men experience great relief from having water at hand.


In reference to the natives, I hope sufficient has been said of the manner of communicating with them to prevent the necessity of a repetition here. The great point is not to alarm their natural timidity: to exercise patience in your intercourse with them; to treat them kindly; and to watch them with suspicion, especially at night. Never permit the men to steal away from the camp, but keep them as compact as possible; and at every station so arrange your drays and provisions that they may serve as a defence in case of your being attacked.

The natives appeared to me to be indifferent to our presents, in most cases. Tomahawks, knives, pieces of iron, and different coloured ribbons for the forehead, were most esteemed by them. They will barter and exchange their fish for articles, and readily acquire confidence.

I believe I have now touched on all the more important points: on minor ones no observation I can make will be of use; men must, in many things, be guided by circumstances.

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I may here notice that, in my second expedition, as it was anticipated that I should require adequate provision for water conveyance, at one stage or other of my journey down the Morumbidgee, I was furnished with a whale-boat, the dimensions of which are given below. She was built by Mr. Egan, the master builder of the dock-yard and a native of the colony, and did great credit to his judgment. She carried two tons and a half of provisions, independently of a locker, which I appropriated for the security of the arms, occupying the space between the after-seat and the stern. She was in the first instance put together loosely, her planks and timbers marked, and her ring bolts, &c. fitted. She was then taken to pieces, carefully packed up, and thus conveyed in plank into the interior, to a distance of four hundred and forty miles, without injury. She was admirably adapted for the service, and rose as well as could have been expected over the seas in the lake. It was evident, however, that she would have been much safer if she had had another plank, for she was undoubtedly too low. The following were her dimensions:--

Breadth across 7th timber aft, 5 ft. 1/2 an inch outside. Across 12th timber, 5 ft. 11 1/4 in. Across 17th timber forward, 5 ft. 25 ft. 8 in. in length inside. Curve of the keel No. 1, from the after side of each apron, 3 ft. 3 3/4in. No. 2, from head to head of the dead wood, 13 1/2 in. No. 3, from one end of keel to the other inner side, 3 in. No. 4, round of keel from the toe of each dead wood, 7/8 1/16th. The timbers were marked, beginning from the stern to the bow on the starboard side, and from bow to stern on the larboard.