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 28

November 28. — This morning I sent away a dray with three horses, carrying seventy gallons of water to assist me in again endeavouring to get round the Bight. As the road was very scrubby, and much impeded by fallen timber, I had previously sent on a man to clear it a little; and about ten o’clock I followed with the native boy. We got tolerably well through the scrub, and encamped in a plain about sixteen miles from the depot, where there was good grass. The weather being cool and showery, our horses would not drink more than a bucket each from the casks.

November 29

November 29. — Having moved on the dray early over rather a heavy road, we took up our quarters under the white sand-drifts, after a stage of nine miles. I then left the boy in charge of the camp, and proceeded myself with the two men, and provided with spades and buckets, to where the overseer had obtained water by digging; the place was about two miles from our camp, between the sand-drifts and the sea, and immediately behind the front ridges of the coast. By enlarging the hole, and sinking a tub bored full of holes, we managed to water the horses, and get a supply for ourselves. In the afternoon an attempt was made to dig a well nearer the camp, but a stratum of rock put an end to our labours.

November 30

November 30. — Sending back one of the men to the depot, I left the native boy to guide the dray, whilst I diverged towards the coast to look for water among the sand-drifts, that were seen occasionally in that direction; in none of them, however, could I obtain a drop. The country travelled over consisted of very heavy sand ridges, covered for the most part with low scrub, and as the stage was a long one (twenty-two miles), I found upon overtaking the dray that the horses were knocked up, and a party of fourteen natives surrounding it, who were making vehement gesticulations to the man not to proceed, and he being only accompanied by a single black boy was greatly alarmed, and did not know what to do; indeed, had I not arrived opportunely, I have no doubt that he would have turned the horses round, and driven back again. Upon coming up with the natives, I saw at once that none of them had been with us before, but at the same time they appeared friendly and well-behaved, making signs for us not to proceed, and pointing to some sand-drifts at the coast which we had passed, implying, as I understood them, that there was water there. We were now in an opening among the scrub, consisting of small grassy undulating plains, and at these I determined to halt for the night, hoping the natives would remain near us, and guide us to water to-morrow. To induce them to do this, after giving the horses each two buckets of water, I gave two gallons among them also, besides some bread. They at once took possession of an elevation a little above our position, and formed their camp for the night. As we were so few in number compared to the natives, we were obliged to keep a watch upon them during the whole night, and they did the same upon us — but at a much less individual inconvenience from their number; they appeared to take the duty in turn — two always being upon guard at once.

December 1

December 1. — After giving the natives some water, and taking breakfast ourselves, we moved on in the direction they wished us to go, followed by the whole party; at two miles they brought us to the sea over a dreadful heavy road, but upon then asking them where the water was, they now told us to our horror, that there was “mukka gaip-pe,” or, no water. The truth was now evident, we had mutually misunderstood one another; they seeing strangers suddenly appear, had taken it for granted they came from the sea, and pointed there, whilst we, intent only upon procuring water, had fancied they had told us we should find it where they pointed; upon reaching the coast both were disappointed — they at not seeing a ship, and we at not finding water.

It was now a difficult matter to decide what to do: our horses were greatly jaded, owing to the hilly and sandy character of the country; our water was reduced to a low ebb in the casks, for relying upon the natives guiding us to more, we had used it improvidently; whilst the very least distance we could be away from the water, at the sand-drifts, was twenty-five miles; if we went back we lost all our previous labour, and could not do so without leaving the dray behind, and if we went forward, it was very problematical whether water could be procured within any distance attainable by our tired horses.

The natives now asserted there was water to the north-west, but that it was a long way off. As they still seemed willing to accompany us, I determined to proceed, and pushed on parallel with the coast behind the front ridges; at nine miles the horses were quite exhausted, and could get no further, so that I was obliged to halt for the night, where a few tufts of withered grass were found under the hummocks.

Our sable friends had gradually dropped off, one or two at a time, until only three remained. These I endeavoured to make friends with, by giving them plenty of water and bread, and after taking a hasty meal, I got them to go with me and the native boy along the coast, to search for water. After going about a mile, they would proceed no further, making signs that they should be very thirsty, and enabling me clearly to comprehend, that there was no water until the head of the Great Bight was rounded. As I did not know exactly, what the actual distance might be, I still hoped I should be able to reach it, and leaving the natives to return, I and the boy pushed on beyond all the sandy hills and cliffs, to the low sandy tract bordering upon the head of the Bight, from which we were about twelve miles distant. The day was hazy, or the cliffs of the Great Bight would have been distinctly visible.

We lost a good deal of time in tracking the foot-steps of a party of native women and children, among some bare sand-drifts, hoping the track would lead to water; but the party seemed to have been rambling about without any fixed object, and all our efforts to find water were in vain; the whole surface of the country, (except where it was hidden by the sand-drifts) was one sheet of limestone crust, and wherever we attempted to dig among the sand-drifts, the rock invariably stopped us.

As it was getting on towards evening, I returned to where I had left the dray, and giving each of the horses one bucket of water and five pints of oats, was obliged to have them tied for the night, myself and the man being too much fatigued to watch them.

December 2

December 2. — We had not moved far upon our return, when one of our most valuable dray-horses became completely overdone with fatigue, and I was obliged to take it out of the team and put in a riding horse, to try, if possible, to reach the plains where the grass was. We just got to the borders of this open patch of country, when the poor animal (a mare) could not be got a yard farther, and we were compelled to halt and decide upon what was best to be done. The water in the cask was nearly all consumed, the mare could not stir, and the other horses were very weak, so that no time was to be lost; I immediately decided upon leaving the man to take care of the mare and the dray, whilst I and the native boy took the other horses back for more water; having measured out to the man, water amounting to a quart per day, during our contemplated absence, I gave all that was left, consisting of about half a bucket full, to the mare, and then accompanied by the boy, pushed steadily back towards the water at the sand hills, distant about twenty-five miles. At dark we arrived there, but the sand had fallen in, and we had to labour hard to clear out the hole again; it was eleven o’clock at night before we could get the horses watered, and we then had to take them a mile and a half before we could get any grass for them. Returning from this duty, we had to collect and carry on our backs for more than a mile, a few bundles of sticks and bushes, to make a little fire for ourselves, near the water, the night being intensely cold. It was past two o’clock in the morning before we could lay down, and then, tired and harassed as we were, it was too cold and damp for us to rest.