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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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On the same day I received a note from the private secretary, stating that the Governor wished to see me, and upon calling on His Excellency I had a long and interesting interview on the subject of the expedition, in the course of which arrangements were proposed and a plan of operations entered into. I found in His Excellency every thing that was kind and obliging. Sincerely desirous to confer a benefit upon the colony over which he presided, he was most anxious that the expedition should be fitted out in as complete and efficient a manner as possible, and to effect this every assistance in his power was most frankly and freely offered. In addition to the sanction and patronage of the government and the contribution of 100 pounds, towards defraying the expenses, His Excellency most kindly offered me the selection of any two horses I pleased, from among those belonging to the police, and stated, that if I wished for the services of any of the men in the public employment they should be permitted to accompany me on the journey. The Colonial cutter, WATERWITCH, was also most liberally offered, and thankfully accepted, to convey a part of the heavy stores and equipment to the head of Spencer’s Gulf, that so far, the difficulties of the land journey to that point, at least, might be lessened.

I was now fairly pledged to the undertaking, and as the winter was rapidly advancing, I became most anxious to get all preparations made as soon as possible to enable me to take advantage of the proper season. On the first of June I commenced the necessary arrangements for organizing my party, and getting ready the equipment required. To assist me in these duties, and to accompany me as a companion in the journey, I engaged Mr. Edward Bate Scott, an active, intelligent and steady young friend, who had already been a voyage with me to Western Australia, and had travelled with me overland from King George’s Sound to Swan River.

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Meetings of the colonists interested in the undertaking were again held on the 2nd and 5th of June, at which subscriptions were entered into for carrying out the object of the expedition; and a brief outline of my plans was given by the Chairman, Captain Sturt, in the following extract from his address.

“The Chairman went on to state, that Mr. Eyre would first proceed to Lake Torrens and examine it, and then penetrate as far inland in a northerly direction as would be found practicable. With regard to an observation which he (the Chairman) had made on Friday evening, regarding this continent having been formerly an archipelago, he stated, that he was of opinion that a considerable space of barren land in all probability existed between this district and what had formerly been the next island. This space was likely to be barren, though of course it would be impossible to say how far it extended. He had every reason to believe, from what he had seen of the Australian continent, that at some distance to the northward, a large tract of barren country would be found, or perhaps a body of water, beyond which, a good country would in all probability exist. The contemplated expedition, he hoped would set supposition at rest—and as the season was most favourable, and Mr. Eyre had had much personal experience in exploring, he had no doubt but the expedition would be successful. The eyes of all the Australasian colonies—nay, he might say of Britain—are on the colonists of South Australia in this matter; and he felt confident that the result would be most beneficial, not only to this Province, but also to New South Wales and the Australian colonies generally—for the success of one settlement is, in a measure, the success of the others.”

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An advertisement, published in the Adelaide Journals of 13th June, shewed the progress that had been made towards collecting subscriptions for the undertaking, and the spirited and zealous manner in which the colonists entered into the project. Up to that date the sum of 541 pounds 17 shillings 5 pence had been collected and paid into the Bank of Australia.

Having now secured the necessary co–operation and assistance, my arrangements proceeded rapidly and unremittingly, whilst the kindness of the Governor, the Committee of colonists, my private friends and the public generally, relieved me of many difficulties and facilitated my preparations in a manner such as I could hardly have hoped or expected. Every one seemed interested in the undertaking, and anxious to promote its success; zeal and energy and spirit were infused among all connected with it, and everything went on prosperously.

In addition to the valuable aid which I received from his Excellency the Governor, I was particularly indebted to Captain Frome the Surveyor–general, Captain Sturt the Assistant–commissioner, and Thomas Gilbert, Esq. the Colonial storekeeper, for unceasing kindness and attention, and for much important assistance rendered to me by the loan of books and instruments, the preparation of charts, and the fitting up of drays, etc. etc.

Captain Frome, too, now laid me under increased obligations by giving up his own servant, Corporal Coles of the Royal Sappers and Miners, upon my expressing a wish to take him with me, and the Governor sanctioning his going.

This man had accompanied Captain Grey in all his expeditions on the North–west coast of New Holland—and had been highly recommended by that traveller; he was a wheelwright by trade, and being a soldier was likely to prove a useful and valuable addition to my party; and I afterwards found him a most obliging, willing and attentive person.

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To the Governor and to the Committee of colonists I owe many thanks, for the very flattering and gratifying confidence they reposed in me, a confidence which left me as unrestricted in my detail of outfit and equipment, as I was unfettered in my plan of operations in the field. This enabled me to avoid unnecessary delays, and to hasten every thing forward as rapidly as possible, so that when requested by the Governor to name a day for my departure I was enabled to fix upon the 18th of June.

Having already done all in their power to forward and assist the equipment and arrangement of the expedition, the Governor and Mrs. Gawler were determined still further to increase the heavy debt of gratitude which I was already under to them, by inviting myself and party to meet the friends of the expedition at Government House on the morning of our departure, that by a public demonstration of interest in our welfare, we might be encouraged in the undertaking upon which we were about to enter—and might be stimulated to brave the perils to which we should shortly be exposed, by a remembrance of the sympathy expressed in our behalf, and the pledge we should come under to the public upon leaving the abode of civilised man, for the unknown and trackless region which lay before us.

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On the 15th of June I attended a meeting of the Committee, and presented for audit the accounts of the expenditure incurred up to that date. On the 16th I had a sale of all my private effects, furniture, etc. by auction, and arranged my affairs in the best way that the very limited time at my disposal would permit.

The 17th found me still with plenty of work to do, as there were many little matters to attend to at the last, which the best exertions could not sooner set aside.

Mr. Scott, who ever since the commencement of our preparations, had been most indefatigable and useful in his exertions, was even still more severely tasked on this day; at night, however, we were all amply rewarded, by seeing every thing completely and satisfactorily arranged—the bustle, confusion, and excitement over, and our drays all loaded, and ready to commence on the morrow a journey of which the length, the difficulty, and the result, were all a problem yet to be solved.

In the short space of seventeen days from the first commencement of our preparations, we had completely organized and fully equipped a party for interior exploration. Every thing had been done in that short time men hired, horses sought out and selected, drays prepared, saddlery, harness, and the thousand little things required on such journeys, purchased, fitted and arranged. In that short time too, the Colonists had subscribed and collected the sum of five hundred pounds towards defraying the expenses, exclusive of the Government contribution of 100 pounds.