Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 12

Land the Stores and Send the Cutter to Denial Bay — Party Remove to Point Fowler — Leave the Party — Beds Of Lakes — Dense Scrub — Coast Sand Drifts — Fruitless Search for Water — Distress of the Horses — Turn Back — Leave a Horse — Find Water — Rejoin Party — Send for the Horse — Country Around Depot — Take a Dray to the Westward — Wretched Country — Eall in with Natives — Misunderstand Their Signs — They Leave Us — Vain Search for Water — Turn Back — Horse Knocked Up — Go Back for Water — Rejoin the Dray — Commence Return — Search for Water — Dray Surrounded by Natives — Embarrassing Situation — Bury Baggage — Three Horses Abandoned — Reach the Sand Drifts — Unsuccessful Attempts to Save the Horses — Send for Fresh Horses — Search for Water to N. E. — Recover the Dray and Stores — Rejoin the Party at Depot Near Point Fowler — Return of The Cutter.

November 20. — The wind being favourable for the boats landing to-day, I sent the overseer with pack-horses to the west side of Fowler’s Bay, to bring up some flour and other stores for the use of the party; at the same time I wrote to the master of the cutter, to know whether he considered his anchorage, at Fowler’s Bay, perfectly safe. His reply was, that the anchorage was good and secure if he had been provided with a proper cable; but that as he was not, he could not depend upon the vessel being safe; should a heavy swell set in from the southeast. Upon this report, I decided upon landing all the stores from the cutter; and sending her to lay at a secure place on the west side of Denial Bay, until I returned from exploring the country, near the head of the Great Bight. On the 22nd, I gave orders to this effect, at the same time directing the captain to return to Fowler’s Bay by the 11th December, at which time I hoped to have accomplished the journey I contemplated.

On the same day I gave my overseer instructions for his guidance during my absence; and after sending the drays on to the water behind Point Fowler, that they might be nearer to the vessel, I set off on horseback to the westward, accompanied by a native; and taking with us a pack-horse to carry provisions. Crossing for about six miles through scrub, at a west by south course, we entered open grassy plains, among which were many beds of small dried up salt lakes. This description of country continued for about six miles, when we again entered a very dense scrub, and continued in it for eight miles, until we struck the coast. Not finding any indications of water or grass, I pushed up along the beach for three miles further, and was then obliged to encamp without either, as it had become too dark to proceed.

November 23. — Moving along the coast for ten miles, we came to large high drifts of pure white sand, from which some red-winged cockatoos and pigeons flew out, and near which were several native encampments. I now fully hoped to find water; but after a long and anxious examination, was obliged to give up the search. I knew that our only hope of finding water lay in these drifts of sand; but as it was frequently very difficult to find, and never could be procured without digging, (sometimes to a great depth,) I began to fear that our attempt to reach the head of the Bight was almost hopeless. We had no means of digging in the sand to any depth; whilst, from the constant drift, caused by the winds among these bare hills, it was exceedingly disagreeable to remain even for a short time to examine them. The wind was blowing strong, and whirlwinds of sand were circling around us, with a violence which we could scarcely struggle against, and during which we could hardly venture either to open our eyes, or to draw our breath.

Leaving the sand-drifts we travelled behind the coast ridge through a more open but still sandy country, making a long stage to some more high bare sand-drifts, amidst which we again made a long but unsuccessful search for water; at night we encamped near them, and our unfortunate horses were again obliged to be tied up for the second time without either grass or water.

November 24. — Finding that there was little prospect of procuring water a-head, and that our horses were scarcely able to move at all, I felt it necessary to retrace our steps as speedily as possible, to try to save the lives of the animals we had with us. In order that we might effect this and be encumbered by no unnecessary articles, I concealed, and left among some bushes, all our baggage, pack-saddles, etc. After passing about five miles beyond the sand-drifts where I had seen the cockatoos and pigeons, one of the horses became completely exhausted and could not proceed any further; I was necessitated therefore to tie him to a bush and push on with the other two to save them.

When I left my party on the 22nd, I had directed them to remove to some water-holes behind Point Fowler, but, as I had not seen this place myself, I was obliged to steer in the dark in some measure at random, not knowing exactly where they were. The greatest part of our route being through a dense brush, we received many scratches and bruises from the boughs as we led our horses along, to say nothing of the danger we were constantly in of having our eyes put out by branches we could not see, and which frequently brought us to a stand still by painful blows across the face. At last we arrived at the open plains I had crossed on my outward track, and following them down came to two deep holes in the limestone rock, similar to the one behind Point Brown. By descending into these holes we found a little water, and were enabled to give each of the horses three pints; we then pushed on again, hoping to reach the camp, but getting entangled among the scrub, were obliged at midnight to halt until daylight appeared, being almost as much exhausted as the horses, and quite as much in want of water, for we had not tasted the little that had been procured from the hole found in the plains.

November 25. — At the first streak of daylight we moved on, and in one mile and a half reached the camp near Point Fowler, before any of the party were up. We had guessed our course well in the dark last night, and could not have gone more direct had it been daylight. Having called up the party and made them get a hasty breakfast, I hurried off a dray loaded with water, and accompanied by the overseer, one man, and the black boy, to follow up our tracks to where the tired horse had been tied. During my absence I found that every thing but the cart had been landed from the cutter, and safely brought up to the camp, and that as soon as that was on shore she would be ready to go and lie at anchor at Denial Bay.

About noon I was greatly surprised and vexed to see my overseer return driving the loose horses before him. It seemed that whilst feeding around the camp they had observed the dray and other horses going away and had followed upon the tracks, so that the overseer had no alternative but to drive them back to the camp. This was very unfortunate, as it would occasion great delay in reaching the one we had left tied in the scrub. I directed the overseer to hurry back as rapidly as possible, and by travelling all night to endeavour to make up for lost time, for I greatly feared that if not relieved before another day passed away, it would be quite impossible to save the animal alive.

After resting myself a little I walked about to reconnoitre the neighbourhood of our camp, not having seen it before. The situation was at the west side of the upper extreme of Point Fowler, immediately behind the sand-drifts of the coast, which there were high, bare, and of white sand. The water was on the inland side, immediately under the sand-hills, and procured in the greatest abundance and of good quality, by sinking from one to three feet. It was found in a bed of white pipe-clay. To the north-west of us were some open grassy plains, among which our horses and sheep obtained their food, whilst here and there were scattered a few salt swamps or beds of lakes, generally, however, dry. The whole country was of fossil formation, and the borders of the lakes and swamps exhibited indurated masses of marine shells, apparently but a very recent deposit. Further inland the country was crusted on the surface with an oolitic limestone, and for the most part covered by brush; a few open plains being interspersed here and there among the scrubs, as is generally the case in that description of country.

The natives still appeared to be in our neighbourhood, but none had been near us since they first left on the 19th. I would now gladly have got one of them to accompany me to look for water, but none could be found. On the 26th and 27th I was occupied in getting up the cart, some casks, etc. from the cutter, and preparing for another attempt to round the head of the Great Bight. The vessel then sailed for Denial Bay, where she could lie in greater safety, until I required her again.

Early on the 27th the man and black boy returned with the dray from the westward, they had found the horse very weak and much exhausted, but by care and attention he was got a little round, and the overseer had remained to bring him slowly on: he had been four entire days and nights without food or water, and for the first two days and a half of this time had been severely worked. In the evening the overseer came up, driving the jaded animal, somewhat recovered indeed — but miserably reduced in condition.

The party with the dray had taken spades with them to dig for water at the sand hills, where I had seen the pigeons and cockatoos on the 23rd, and at ten feet they had been lucky enough to procure abundance, which although of a brackish quality was usable; from the great depth, however, at which it was obtained, and the precarious nature of the soil, it was very troublesome to get at it.