Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 15

Return of Mr. Scott in the Hero — Mr. Scott Again Sails for Adelaide — Commence Journey to the Westward — Opportune Arrival at the Sand-Hills — Large Flies — Take on the Sheep — Leave the Overseer with the Horses — Reach Yeerkumban Kauwe — Joined by the Overseer — Tormenting Flies Again — Move on with the Sheep — Leave Overseer to Follow With the Horses — Character of Country Along the Bight — Scenery of the Cliffs — Leave the Sheep — Anxiety About Water — Reach the Termination of the Cliffs — Find Water.

February 24. — THIS being the day I had appointed to enter upon the arduous task before me, I had the party up at a very early hour. Our loads were all arranged for each of the horses; our blankets and coats were all packed up, and we were in the act of burying in a hole under ground the few stores we could not take with us, when to our surprise a shot was heard in the direction of Fowler’s Bay, and shortly after a second; we then observed two people in the distance following up the dray tracks leading to the depot. Imagining that some whaler had anchored in the bay, and being anxious to prevent our underground store from being noticed, we hastily spread the tarpaulins over the hole, so that what we were about could not be observed, and then fired shots in reply.

As the parties we had seen gradually approached nearer I recognised one of them with the telescope as being Mr. Germain, the master of the Hero ; the other I could not make out at first from his being enveloped in heavy pilot clothes; a little time however enabled me to distinguish under this guise my young friend Mr. Scott, and I went anxiously to meet him, and learn what had brought him back. Our greeting over, he informed me that the Governor had sent him back with letters to me, and desired me to return in the Hero to Adelaide. As Mr. Scott had not brought the letters up, I walked down with him after luncheon, and went on board the cutter, where I received many friendly letters, all urging me to return and give up the attempt I meditated to the westward, and which every one appeared to consider as little less than madness. From the Governor I received a kind letter to the same effect, offering to assist me in any further attempts I might wish to make round Lake Torrens, or to explore the Northern Interior, and placing absolutely at my disposal, within the colony, the services of the Hero , to enable me either to take my party back overland, or to follow out any examinations I might wish to make from the coast northerly. As a further inducement, and with a view to lessen the feelings of disappointment I might experience at the unsuccessful termination of an expedition from which such great results had been expected, the assistant commissioner had been instructed to write to me officially, communicating the approbation of His Excellency and of the Colonists of the way in which I had discharged the trust confided to me, and directing me to relinquish all further attempts to the westward, and to return in the Hero to Adelaide.

Added to the numerous letters I received, were many friendly messages to the same effect, sent to me through Mr. Scott. I felt deeply sensible of the lively interest expressed in my welfare, and most grateful for the kind feeling manifested towards me on the part of the Governor and the Colonists; it was with much pain and regret, therefore, that I found myself unable to comply with their requests, and felt compelled by duty to adopt a course at variance with their wishes. When I first broke up my party and sent Mr. Scott back to Adelaide, on the 31st January, 1841, I had well and maturely considered the step I felt myself called upon to adopt; after giving my best and serious attention to the arguments of my friends, and carefully reconsidering the subject now, I saw nothing to induce me to change the opinion I had then arrived at.

It will be remembered, that in stating the origin and commencement of the Northern expedition, it was remarked, that a previously contemplated expedition to the Westward, was made to give way to it, and that I had myself been principally instrumental in changing the direction of public attention from the one to the other; it will be remembered also, what publicity had been given to our departure, how great was the interest felt in the progress of our labours, and how sanguine were the expectations formed as to the results; alas, how signally had these hopes been dashed to the ground, after the toils, anxieties, and privations of eight months, neither useful nor valuable discoveries had been made; hemmed in by an impracticable desert, or the bed of an impassable lake, I had been baffled and defeated in every direction, and to have returned now, would have been, to have rendered of no avail the great expenses that had been incurred in the outfit of the expedition, to have thrown away the only opportunity presented to me of making some amends for past failure, and of endeavouring to justify the confidence that had been reposed in me, by carrying through the exploration which had been originally contemplated to the westward, now it was no longer possible to accomplish that to the north, for which it had given place; I considered myself in duty and in honour bound, not to turn back from this attempt, as long as there was the remotest possibility of success, without any regard to considerations of a personal or private nature. Under these feelings, therefore, I resolved to remain only another day in depot, to reply to the letters I had received, and return my best thanks to the many friends who had expressed such kind interest on my behalf.

February 25. — Having finished my letters, and buried all the spare stores, I sent the native boys away early with the sheep, that they might travel more slowly than we should do with the horses. About two we loaded the pack animals, and wishing Mr. Scott a final adieu, set off upon our route. The party consisted of myself, the overseer, three native boys, nine horses, one Timor pony, one foal, born at Streaky Bay, and six sheep; our flour which was buried at the sand-hills to the north-west, was calculated for nine weeks, at an allowance of six pounds of flour each weekly, with a proportionate quantity of tea and sugar. The long rest our horses had enjoyed, and the large supply of oats and bran we had received for them, had brought them round wonderfully, they were now in good condition, and strong, and could not have commenced the journey under more favourable circumstances, had it been the winter instead of the summer season.

Two of the native boys having gone on early in the morning with the sheep, there remained only myself, the overseer, and one native, to manage ten horses, and we were consequently obliged to drive some of the pack-horses loose; at first they went well and quietly, but something having unluckily startled one of them, he frightened the others, and four out of the number set off at full gallop, and never stopped for five miles, by which time they had got rid of all their loads except the saddles. Sending the black boy back to the depot with the four horses that had not got away, I and the overseer went on horseback after the others, picking up the baggage they had been carrying, scattered about in every direction; luckily no great damage was done, and at sunset we were all assembled again at the depot, and the animals reloaded. Leaving a short note for Mr. Scott, who had gone on board the cutter, we again recommenced our journey, and, travelling for five miles, halted at the well in the plains. I intended to have made a long stage, but the night set in so dark that I did not like to venture amongst the scrub with the pack-horses now they were so fresh, and where, if they did get frightened and gallop off, they would cause us much greater trouble and delay than they had done in the daytime.

February 26. — Moving on very early, we arrived at the grassy plain under the sand-hills, a little after three in the afternoon, just in time to save the gun and clothes of the black boys, which they had imprudently left there whilst they took the sheep to water, a mile and a half away. At the very instant of our arrival, a native was prowling about the camp, and would, doubtless, soon have carried off every thing. Upon examining the place at which we had buried our flour on the 31st December, and upon which we were now dependent for our supply, I found that we had only just arrived in time to save it from the depredations of the natives; it seems, that having found where the cask containing it was buried, and being unable, from its weight, to get it out of the ground, they had broken a square hole in one of the staves (by what means I could not discover), and though, as yet, every thing was safe and uninjured inside, I have no doubt, that, had we been one day later in coming, they would have enlarged the opening in the cask, and scattered or destroyed the contents, and we should have then had the unpleasant and laborious task of returning to that we had buried at Fowler’s Bay for a fresh supply. A bucket, which we had also left buried, was broken to pieces, a two gallon keg carried off, and a twenty-five gallon cask full of water had been dug up, and the water drank or emptied, so that we were very fortunate in arriving when we did to prevent further loss.

The black boys, who had gone a-head with the sheep, returned soon after our arrival, tired and hungry, having only had one meal since they left us on the 25th. They had been over the sandhills to fetch water, and were now coming to try and find the flour which they knew we had left buried at these plains. After dark, accompanied by the overseer, I took the horses down to the water, but the sand had slipped in, and we could not get them watered to-night.

February 27. — Sending the overseer and two boys down with the horses to the well this morning, I and the other boy set to work, and dug out the cask with the flour, which we then weighed out, and subdivided into packages of fifty pounds each, for the convenience of carrying. The native I had seen about the camp, on our approach, yesterday, had returned, and slept near us at night; but upon inquiring from him this morning, where our two-gallon keg was, he took the very earliest opportunity of decamping, being probably afraid that we should charge him with the robbery, or punish him for it. The natives, generally, are a strange and singular race of people, and their customs and habits are often quite inexplicable to us. Sometimes, in barely passing through a country, we have them gathering from all quarters, and surrounding us, anxious and curious to observe our persons, or actions; at other times, we may remain in camp for weeks together without seeing a single native, though many may be in the neighbourhood; when they do come, too, they usually depart as suddenly as their visit had been unexpected. Among all who had come under my observation, hitherto, along this coast, I found that every male had undergone the singular ceremony I have described as prevailing in the Port Lincoln peninsula; each, too, had the cartilage of the nose perforated, but none had lost the front teeth, nor did I see any (with one exception) having scars raised on the back, breast, or arms, as is frequently the case with many tribes in Australia.

For the last few days, the weather had been tolerably cool, and we had not been much troubled with musquitoes; instead, however, we were persecuted severely by a very large greyish kind of horsefly, with a huge proboscis for sucking up the blood. These pests were in great numbers, and proved a sad annoyance, lighting upon us in every direction, and inflicting very irritating wounds even through clothes of considerable thickness.

February 28. — As we had a long distance to travel to the next water, and the sheep could not keep pace with the horses, I left the overseer and two natives to bring the latter after us, whilst I and the younger boy set off with the sheep. At fifteen miles, we passed the place where the nine-gallon keg of water had been buried on the 5th January. Upon digging it up, and taking out the bung, the water appeared discoloured and offensive in smell. It was still clear, however, and the sheep drank hastily of it, and we did the same ourselves, but the horses would not touch it. Leaving the cask out in the air with the bung out that it might sweeten a little against the overseer came up, we went on with the sheep to the undulating plains, arriving there between ten and eleven at night. After hobbling the horses, and making a brush-yard for the sheep, we laid down, tired with the labours of the day.