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.

March 10

March 10. — At five we were again on our route, every moment expecting to see a break in the line of cliffs along which we had now travelled so far. Alas! they still continued stretching as far as the eye could see to the westward, and as fast as we arrived at one point which had bounded our vision (and beyond which we hoped a change might occur), it was but to be met with the view of another beyond. Distressing and fatal as the continuance of these cliffs might prove to us, there was a grandeur and sublimity in their appearance that was most imposing, and which struck me with admiration. Stretching out before us in lofty unbroken outline, they presented the singular and romantic appearance of massy battlements of masonry, supported by huge buttresses, and glittering in the morning sun which had now risen upon them, and made the scene beautiful even amidst the dangers and anxieties of our situation. It was indeed a rich and gorgeous view for a painter, and I never felt so much regret at my inability to sketch as I did at this moment.

Still we kept moving onwards and still the cliffs continued. Hour after hour passed away, mile after mile was traversed, and yet no change was observable. My anxiety for the party who were to follow behind with the pack-horses became very great; the state of doubt and uncertainty I was in was almost insupportable, and I began to fear that neither sheep nor horses would ever reach the water, even should we suceeed in doing so ourselves, which now appeared to be very doubtful. At noon I considered we had come one hundred and ten miles from the last water, and still the country remained the same. The cliffs indeed appeared to be gradually declining a little in elevation to the westward, but there was nothing to indicate their speedy termination. Our sheep still travelled, but they were getting so tired, and their pace was so slow, that I thought it would be better to leave them behind, and by moving more rapidly with the horses endeavour at least to save their lives. Foreseeing that such a contingency as this might occur, I had given the overseer strict orders to keep the tracks of my horses, that if I should be compelled to abandon the sheep he might find them and bring them on with his party.

Having decided upon this plan we set to work and made a strong high yard of such shrubs as we could find, and in this we shut up the sheep. I then wrote a note for the overseer, directing him to bury the loads of the horses, and hastening on with the animals alone endeavour to save their lives. To attract attention I raised a long stick above the sheep-yard, and tied to it a red handkerchief, which could be seen a long way off. At one we again proceeded, and were able to advance more rapidly than we could whilst the sheep were with us. In a few miles we came to a well-beaten native road, and again our hopes were raised of speedily terminating the anxiety and suspense we were in. Following the road for ten miles it conducted us to where the cliffs receded a little from the sea, leaving a small barren valley between them and the ocean, of low, sandy ground; the road ceased here at a deep rocky gorge of the cliffs, where there was a breach leading down to the valley. There were several deep holes among the rocks where water would be procurable after rains, but they were now all dry. The state of mind in which we passed on may be better imagined than described. We had now been four days without a drop of water for our horses, and we had no longer any for ourselves, whilst there appeared as little probability of our shortly procuring it as there had been two days ago. A break, it is true, had occurred in the line of the cliffs, but this appeared of a very temporary character, for we could see beyond them the valley again abutting upon the ocean.

At dark we were fifteen miles from where we left the sheep, and were again upon a native pathway, which we twice tried to follow down the steep and rugged slopes of the table land into the valley below. We were only, however, fagging our poor horses and bewildering ourselves to no purpose, for we invariably lost all track at the bottom, and I at last became convinced that it was useless to try and trace the natives’ roadway further, since it always appeared to stop at rocky holes where there was no water now. Keeping, therefore, the high ground, we travelled near the top of the cliffs, bounding the sandy valley, but here again a new obstacle impeded our progress. The country, which had heretofore been tolerably open was now become very scrubby, and we found it almost impossible either to keep a straight course, or to make any progress through it in the dark. Still we kept perseveringly onwards, leading our horses and forcing our way through in the best way we could. It was, however, all in vain; we made so little headway, and were so completely exhausting the little strength we had left, that I felt compelled to desist. The poor boy was quite worn out, and could scarcely move. I was myself but little better, and we were both suffering from a parching thirst; under such obstacles labour and perseverance were but thrown away, and I determined to await the day-light. After tying up the horses the boy lay down, and was soon asleep, happy in his ignorance of the dangers which threatened him. I lay down, too, but not to sleep; my own distresses were lost in the apprehensions which I entertained for those who were behind. We were now about one hundred and twenty-eight miles from the last water; we had been four whole days and nights without a drop for our horses, and almost without food also, (for parched as they were they could not feed upon the dry and withered grass we found.) The state the poor animals were in was truly pitiable, what then was likely to be the condition of those that were coming after us, and carrying heavy packs. It was questionable, even, if they would reach the distance we had already attained in safety; and it was clear, that unless I discovered water early in the morning, the whole of our horses must perish, whilst it would be very doubtful if we could succeed even in saving our own lives.

March 11

March 11. — Early this morning we moved on, leading slowly our jaded animals through the scrub. The night had been one of painful suspense and gloomy forebodings; and the day set in dark and cloudy, as if to tantalise us with the hope of rain which was not destined to fall. In a few miles we reached the edge of the cliffs, from which we had a good view of the sandy valley we had been travelling round, but which the thick scrub had prevented our scrutinising sooner. I now noticed some hillocks of bare sand in the midst of it. These I had not seen before, as the only previous point from which they could have been visible had been passed by us in the dark. It now struck me, that the water spoken of by the natives at Yeerkumban-kauwe might be situated among these sand-hills, and that we were going away from instead of approaching it. The bare idea of such a possibility was almost maddening, and as the dreadful thought flashed across my mind I stood for a moment undecided and irresolute as to what I ought to do. We were now many miles past these hills, and if we went back to examine them for water, and did not find it, we could never hope that our horses would be able to return again to search elsewhere; whilst if there was water there, and we did not return, every step we took would but carry us further from it, and lead to our certain destruction.

For a few minutes I carefully scanned the line of coast before me. In the distance beyond a projecting point of the cliffs, I fancied I discerned a low sandy shore, and my mind was made up at once, to advance in the line we were pursuing. After a little while, we again came to a well beaten native pathway, and following this along the summit of the cliffs, were brought by it, in seven miles, to the point where they receded from the sea-shore; as they inclined inland, leaving a low sandy country between them and some high bare sand-hills near the sea. The road now led us down a very rocky steep part of the cliffs, near the angle where they broke away from the beach, but upon reaching the bottom we lost it altogether on the sandy shore; following along by the water’s edge, we felt cooled and refreshed by the sea air, and in one mile and a half from where we had descended the cliffs, we reached the white sand-drifts. Upon turning into these to search for water, we were fortunate enough to strike the very place where the natives had dug little wells; and thus on the fifth day of our sufferings, we were again blessed with abundance of water, — nor could I help considering it as a special instance of the goodness of Providence, that we had passed the sandy valley in the dark, and had thereby been deterred from descending to examine the sand-hills it contained; had we done so, the extra fatigue to our horses and the great length of time it would have taken up, would probably have prevented the horses from ever reaching the water we were now at. It took us about two hours to water the animals, and get a little tea for ourselves, after which the boy laid down to sleep, and I walked round to search for grass. A little grew between the sand-drifts and the cliffs, and though dry and withered, I was most thankful to find it. I then returned to the camp and laid down, but could not sleep, for although relieved myself, my anxiety became but the greater, for the party behind, and the more so, because at present I could do nothing to aid them; it was impossible that either the horses, or ourselves, could go back to meet them without a few hours’ rest, and yet the loss of a few hours might be of the utmost consequence; I determined, however, to return and meet them as early as possible in the morning, and in the mean time, as I knew that the overseer and natives would, when they came, be greatly fatigued, and unable to dig holes to water the horses, I called up the boy, and with his assistance dug two large holes about five feet deep, from which the horses could readily and without delay be watered upon their arrival. As we had only some shells left by the natives to work with, our wells progressed slowly, and we were occupied to a late hour. In the evening we watered the horses, and before laying down ourselves, drove them to the grass I had discovered. For the first time for many nights, I enjoyed a sound and refreshing sleep.