Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 1 - Introduction

Origin of the expedition--Contemplated exploration to the westward--Meeting of the colonists, and subscriptions entered into for that purpose--Notes on the unfavourable nature of the country to the westward, and proposal that the northern interior should be examined instead--Make an offer to the governor to conduct such an expedition--Captain Sturt's lecture--Interview with the governor--Arrangement of plans--Preparation of outfit--Cost of expedition--Name a day for departure--Public breakfast and commencement of the undertaking

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Unfortunately, at the time the expedition was undertaken, every thing in South Australia was excessively dear, and the cost of its outfit was therefore much greater in 1840, than it would have been any year since that period; nine horses (including a Timor pony, subsequently procured at Port Lincoln) cost 682 pounds 10 shillings, whilst all other things were proportionably expensive. After the expedition had terminated and the men’s wages and other expenses had been paid, the gross outlay amounted to 1391 pounds 0 shillings 7 pence:—of this

 Amount of Donation from Government was
 100 00 00
 Amount of Subscriptions of the Colonists 582 04 09
 Sale of the Drays and part of the Equipment 28 00 00
 Amount paid by myself 680 15 10
 Total 1391 00 07


In addition to this expenditure, considerable as it was, there were very many things obtained from various sources, which though of great value did not come into the outlay already noted. Among these were two horses supplied by the Government, and three supplied by myself, making with the nine bought for 682 pounds 10 shillings, a total of fourteen horses. The very valuable services of the cutters “HERO” and “WATERWITCH,” were furnished by the Government; who also supplied all our arms and ammunition, with a variety of other stores. From my many friends I received donations of books and instruments, and I was myself enabled to supply from my own resources a portion of the harness, saddlery, tools, and tarpaulins, together with a light cart and a tent.

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June 18.—Calling my party up early, I ordered the horses to be harnessed, and yoked to the drays, at half past nine the whole party, (except the overseer who was at a station up the country) proceeded to Government House, where the drays were halted for the men to partake of a breakfast kindly provided for them by His Excellency and Mrs. Gawler, whilst myself and Mr. Scott joined the very large party invited to meet us in the drawing room.

The following account of the proceedings of the morning, taken from the South Australian Register, of the 20th June, may perhaps be read with interest; at least it will shew the disinterested spirit and enterprising character of the colonists of South Australia, even at this early stage of its history, and especially how much the members of our little party were indebted to the kindness and good feeling of the Governor and colonists, who were anxious to cheer and stimulate us under the difficulties and trails we had to encounter, by their earnest wishes and prayers for our safety and success.

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The arrangements for the expedition into the interior, undertaken by Mr. Eyre, having been completed, His Excellency the Governor and Mrs. Gawler issued cards to a number of the principal colonists and personal friends of Mr. Eyre, to meet him at Government House on the morning of his departure. On Thursday last accordingly (the anniversary of Waterloo, in which His Excellency and the gallant 52nd bore so conspicuous a part) a very large party of ladies and gentlemen assembled. After an elegant DEJEUNER A LA FOURCHETTE, His Excellency the Governor rose and spoke as nearly as we could collect, as follows:—

“We are assembled to promote one of the most important undertakings that remain to be accomplished on the face of the globe—the discovery of the interior of Australia. As Captain Sturt in substance remarked in a recent lecture, of the five great divisions of the earth, Europe is well known; Asia and America have been generally searched out; the portion that remains to be known of Africa is generally unfavourable for Europeans, and probably unfit for colonization; but Australia, our great island continent, with a most favourable climate, still remains unpenetrated, mysterious, and unknown. Without doing injustice to the enterprising attempts of Oxley, Sturt, and Mitchell, I must remark that they were commenced from a very unfavourable point—from the eastern and almost south–eastern extremity of the island—and consequently the great interior still remains untouched by them, the south–eastern corner alone having been investigated. As Captain Sturt some years since declared, this Province is the point from which expeditions to the deep interior should set out. This principle, I know, has been acknowledged by scientific men in Europe; and it is most gratifying to see the spirit with which our Colonists on the present occasion have answered to the claim which their position imposes upon them. Mr. Eyre goes forth this day, to endeavour to plant the British flag—the flag which in the whole world has “braved for a thousand years the battle and the breeze”—on the tropic of Capricorn (as nearly as possible in 135 degrees or 136 degrees of longitude) in the very centre of our island continent. On this day twenty–five years since, commencing almost at this very hour, the British flag braved indeed the battle, and at length floated triumphant in victory on the field of Waterloo. May a similar glorious success attend the present undertaking! Mr. Eyre goes forth to brave a battle of a different kind, but which in the whole, may present dangers equal to those of Waterloo. May triumph crown his efforts, and may the British flag, planted by him in the centre of Australia, wave for another thousand years over the pence and prosperity of the mighty population which immigration is pouring in upon us! Of the immediate results of his journey, no one, indeed, can at present form a solid conjecture. Looking to the dark side, he may traverse a country useless to man; but contemplating the bright side, and remembering that but a few years since Sturt, setting off on an equally mysterious course, laid the foundation for the large community in which we dwell, it is in reason to hope that Mr. Eyre will discover a country which may derive support from us, and increase the prosperity of our Province. I must express my gratification at the manner in which this enterprise, noble, let its results be what they may, has been supported by our colonists at large. It is a greater honor to be at the head of the government of a colony of enlightened and enterprising men, than at that of an empire of enslaved and ignorant beings in the form of men. I count it so. May the zeal which has been exhibited in the colony in the promotion of every good and useful work ever continue. Some ladies of Adelaide have worked a British Union Jack for Mr. Eyre. Captain Sturt will be their representative to present it to him. After that we will adjourn to the opposite rooms to invoke a blessing on the enterprise. All here, and I believe the whole colony, give to Mr. Eyre their best wishes, but to good wishes right–minded men always add fervent prayers. There is an Almighty invisible Being in whose hands are all events—man may propose, but it is for God only to dispose—let us therefore implore his protection.”

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“The Hon. Captain Sturt then received a very handsome Union Jack, neatly worked in silk; and presenting it to Mr. Eyre, spoke nearly as follows:—

“It cannot but be gratifying to me to be selected on such an occasion as this, to perform so prominent a part in a duty the last a community can discharge towards one who, like you, is about to risk your life for its good. I am to deliver to you this flag, in the name of the ladies who made it, with their best wishes for your success, and their earnest prayers for your safety. This noble colour, the ensign of our country, has cheered the brave on many an occasion. It has floated over every shore of the known world, and upon every island of the deep. But you have to perform a very different, and a more difficult duty. You have to carry it to the centre of a mighty continent, there to leave it as a sign to the savage that the footstep of civilized man has penetrated so far. Go forth, then, on your journey, with a full confidence in the goodness of Providence; and may Heaven direct your steps to throw open the fertility of the interior, not only for the benefit of the Province, but of our native country; and may the moment when you unfurl this colour for the purpose for which it was given to you, be as gratifying to you as the present.”

“Mr. Eyre, visibly and deeply affected, returned his warmest thanks, and expressed his sense of the kindness he had received on the present occasion. He hoped to be able to plant the flag he had just received in the centre of this continent. If he failed, he should, he hoped, have the cousciousness of having earnestly endeavoured to succeed. To His Excellency the Governor, his sincere thanks were due for the promptitude with which so much effectual assistance to the expedition had been rendered. Mr. Eyre also begged leave to return his thanks to the Colonists who had so liberally supported the enterprise; and concluded by expressing his trust that, through the blessing of God, he would be enabled to return to them with a favourable report of the country into which he was about to penetrate.

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“The company then returned to the library and drawing–room, where the Colonial Chaplain, the Rev. C. B. Howard, offered up an affecting and appropriate prayer, and at twelve precisely, Mr. Eyre, accompanied by a very large concourse of gentlemen on horseback, left Government House, under the hearty parting cheers of the assembled party.”

Leaving Government House under the hearty cheers of the very large concourse assembled to witness our departure outside the grounds; Mr. Scott, myself, and two native boys (the drays having previously gone on) proceeded on horseback on our route, accompanied by a large body of gentlemen on horseback, and ladies in carriages, desirous of paying us the last kind tribute of friendship by a farewell escort of a few miles.

Departure of the Expedition drawn by G. Hamilton
At first leaving Government House we had moved on at a gentle canter, but were scarcely outside the gates, before the cheering of the people, the waving of hats, and the rush of so many horses, produced an emulation in the noble steeds that almost took from us the control of their pace, as we dashed over the bridge and up the hill in North Adelaide—it was a heart–stirring and inspiriting scene. Carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, our thoughts and feelings were wrought to the highest state of excitement.

The time passed rapidly away, the first few miles were soon travelled over,—then came the halt,—the parting,—the last friendly cheer;—and we were alone in the wilderness. Our hearts were too full for conversation, and we wended on our way slowly and in silence to overtake the advance party.