Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 13

Future Plans — Reduce the Number of the Party — Send the Cutter to Adelaide — Report to the Governor — Monotonous Life at Camp — Remove to Another Locality — Geological Character of the Country — Flint Found — Again Attempt to Reach the Head of the Bight — Reach the Sand Hills, and Bury Flour — Friendly Natives — Exhausted State of the Horses — Get The Dray to the Plain — Bury Water — Send Back Dray — Proceed with Pack-Horse — Oppressive Heat — Send Back Pack-HORSE— Reach the Head of the Bight — Surprise Some Natives — Their Kind Behaviour — Yeer-Kumban Kauee — Their Account of the Interior.

December 31

December 31. — We remained in camp to rest the horses, and took the opportunity of carrying up all the water we could, every time the animals went backwards and forwards, to a large cask which had been fixed on the dray. The taste of the water was much worse than when we had been here before, being both salter and more bitter; this, probably, might arise from the well having been dug too deep, or from the tide having been higher than usual, though I did not notice that such had been the case. In the afternoon we buried the three bags of flour we had brought headed up in a cask.

January 1, 1841

January 1, 1841. — This morning I went down with the men to assist in watering the horses, and upon returning to the camp, found my black boy familiarly seated among a party of natives who had come up during our absence. Two of them were natives I had seen to the north-west, and had been among the party whose presence at the plains, on the 5th of December, when I was surrounded by so many difficulties, had proved so annoying to us at the time, and so fatal in its consequences to our horses. They recognised me at once, and apparently described to the other natives, the circumstances under which they had met me, lamenting most pathetically the death of the horses; the dead bodies of which they had probably seen in their route to the water. Upon examining their weapons they shewed us several that were headed with flint, telling us that they procured it to the north-west, thus confirming my previous conjectures as to the existence of flint in that direction. To our inquiries about water, they still persisted that there was none inland, and that it took them five days, from where we were, to travel to that at the head of the Bight. No other, they said, existed in any direction near us, except a small hole to the north-west, among some sand hills, about two miles off; these they pointed out, and offered to go with me and shew me the place where the water was. I accepted the offer, and proceeded to the sand-drifts, accompanied by one of them. On our arrival he shewed me the remains of a large deep hole that had been dug in one of the sandy flats; but in which the water was now inaccessible, from the great quantity of sand that had drifted in and choked it up. By forcing a spear down to a considerable depth, the native brought it out moist, and shewed it me to prove that he had not been deceiving me. I now returned to the camp, more than ever disposed to credit what I had been told relative to the interior. I had never found the natives attempt to hide from us any waters that they knew of, on the contrary, they had always been eager and ready to point them out, frequently accompanying us for miles, through the heat and amongst scrub, to shew us where they were. I had, therefore, no reason to doubt the accuracy of their statements when they informed me that there was none inland! Many different natives, and at considerable intervals of country apart, had all united in the same statement, and as far as I had yet been able to examine so arid a country personally, my own observations tended to confirm the truth of what they had told me.

In the evening several of the natives went down with the men to water the horses, and when there drank a quantity of water that was absolutely incredible, each man taking from three to four quarts, and this in addition to what they got at the camp during the earlier part of the day. Strange that a people who appear to do with so little water, when traversing the deserts, should use it in such excess when the opportunity of indulgence occurs to them, yet such have I frequently observed to be the case, and especially on those occasions where they have least food. It would seem that, accustomed generally to have the stomach distended after meals, they endeavour to produce this effect with water, when deprived of the opportunity of doing so with more solid substances. At night the natives all encamped with us in the plain.

January 2

January 2. — Having watered the horses early, we left the encampment, accompanied by some of the natives, to push once more to the north-west. On the dray we had eighty-five gallons of water; but as we had left all our flour, and some other articles, I hoped we should get on well. The heavy nature of the road, however, again told severely upon the horses: twice we had to unload the dray, and at last, after travelling only fourteen miles, the horses could go no further; I was obliged, therefore, to come to a halt, and decide what was best to be done. There appeared to be a disastrous fatality attending all our movements in this wretched region, which was quite inexplicable. Every time that we had attempted to force a passage through it, we had been baffled and driven back. Twice I had been obliged to abandon our horses before; and on the last of these occasions had incurred a loss of the three best of them; now, after giving them a long period of rest, and respite from labour, and after taking every precaution which prudence or experience could suggest, I had the mortification of finding that we were in the same predicament we had been in before, and with as little prospect of accomplishing our object. Having but little time for deliberation, I at once ordered the overseer and man to take the horses back to the water, and give them two days rest there, and then to rejoin us again on the third, whilst I and the native boy would remain with the dray, until their return. The natives also remained with us for the first night; but finding we still continued in camp, they left on the following morning, which I was sorry for, as I hoped one would have been induced to go with us to the Great Bight.

January 5

On the fifth of January, the overseer and man returned with the horses; but so little had they benefited by their two days rest, that upon being yoked up, and put to the dray, they would not move it. We were obliged, therefore, to unload once more, and lighten the load by burying a cask of water, and giving another to the horses. After this, we succeeded in getting them along, with the remainder, to the undulating plains; and here we halted for the night, after a stage of only seven miles, but one, which, short as it was, had nearly worn out the draught horses. Here we dug a large hole, and buried twenty-two gallons of water, for my own horse, and that of the black boy, on our return; and as I determined to take a man with me, with a pack-horse, nine gallons more were buried apart from the other, for them, so that when the man got his cask of water, he might not disturb ours, or leave traces by which the natives could discover it.

January 6

January 6. — Sending back the dray with the overseer, at the first dawn of day, I and the native boy proceeded to the north-west, accompanied by the man leading a pack-horse with twelve gallons of water. The day turned out hot, and the road was over a very heavy sandy country; but by eleven o’clock we had accomplished a distance of seventeen miles, and had reached the furthest point from which I turned back on the 1st December. I walked alternately with the boy, so as not to oppress the riding horses, but the man walked all the way.

The weather was most intensely hot, a strong wind blowing from the north-east, throwing upon us an oppressive and scorching current of heated air, like the hot blast of a furnace. There was no misunderstanding the nature of the country from which such a wind came; often as I had been annoyed by the heat, I had never experienced any thing like it before. Had anything been wanting to confirm my previous opinion of the arid and desert character of the great mass of the interior of Australia, this wind would have been quite sufficient for that purpose. From those who differ from me in opinion (and some there are who do so whose intelligence and judgment entitle their opinion to great respect), I would ask, could such a wind be be wafted over an inland sea? or could it have passed over the supposed high, and perhaps snowcapped mountains of the interior.

We were all now suffering greatly from the heat; the man who was with me was quite exhausted: under the annoyances of the moment, his spirits failed him, and giving way to his feelings of fatigue and thirst, he lay rolling on the ground, and groaning in despair; all my efforts to rouse him were for a long time in vain, and I could not even induce him to get up to boil a little tea for himself. We had halted about eleven in the midst of a low sandy flat, not far from the sea, thinking, that by a careful examination, we might find a place where water could be procured by digging. There were, however, no trees or bushes near us; and the heat of the sun, and the glare of the sand, were so intolerable, that I was obliged to get up the horses, and compel the man to go on a little further to seek for shelter.

Proceeding one mile towards the sea, we came to a projecting rock upon its shores; and as there was no hope of a better place being found, I tied up my horses near it; the rock was not large enough to protect them entirely from the sun, but by standing close under it, their heads and necks were tolerably shaded. For ourselves, a recess of the rock afforded a delightful retreat, whilst the immediate vicinity of the sea enabled us every now and then to take a run, and plunge amidst its breakers, and again return to the shelter of the cavern. For two or three hours we remained in, under the protection of the rock, without clothes, and occasionally bathing to cool ourselves. The native boy and I derived great advantage from thus dipping in the sea, but it was a long time before I could induce the man to follow our example, either by persuasion or threats; his courage had failed him, and he lay moaning like a child. At last I succeeded in getting him to strip and bathe, and he at once found the benefit of it, becoming in a short time comparatively cool and comfortable. We then each had a little more tea, and afterwards attempted to dig for water among the sand-hills. The sand, however, was so loose, that it ran in faster than we could throw it out, and we were obliged to give up the attempt.

As the afternoon was far advanced, we saddled the horses, and pushed on again for five miles, hoping, but in vain, to find a little grass. At night we halted among the sandy ridges behind the seashore, and after giving the horses four quarts of oats and a bucket of water a-piece, we were obliged to tie them up, there not being a blade of grass anywhere about. The wind at night changed to the south-west, and was very cold, chilling us almost as much as the previous heat had oppressed us. These sudden and excessive changes in temperature induce great susceptibility in the system, and expose the traveller to frequent heats and chills that cannot be otherwise than injurious to the constitution.