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 1

March 1. — Travelling through the plains for a mile, we came to our former encampment, where we had left some stores, and a large cask of water; the latter had dried up to about two quarts, and was very horrible, both in smell and flavour; but still we were glad to take it, for, calculating upon finding an abundance in this cask, we had imprudently brought but little with us. After breakfast, I dug up some of the provisions buried here; and leaving a note for the overseer, proceeded onwards with the boy, and the sheep, for twenty-four miles. The stage was a long one, and over heavy ground, so that the sheep began to get tired, as we did ourselves also, one of us being always obliged to walk whilst the other was riding. We had two horses with us, but required one exclusively to carry our coats, blankets, and provisions, the other one we rode in turn.

March 2

March 2. — A hot day, with the wind north-east. Between eleven and twelve we arrived at the first water, at the head of the Bight, and had a long and arduous task to get the sheep and horses watered, no natives being here to help us now, and the sand rushing in as fast as we could throw it out. By great exertion we effected our object, and then getting some tea, and leaving a note to tell the overseer not to halt at this difficult watering-place, if he could possibly avoid it, we pushed on again, and took up our position at Yeerkumban kauwe, in time to dig holes, and water the sheep, before dark.

March 3

March 3. — Having got up and watered the horses and sheep, I sent the boy out to tend them at grass, whilst I commenced digging two large holes to water the pack-horses, that there might be no delay when the overseer came up with them. I had nothing but a shell to dig with, and, as a very large excavation was required to enable a bucket to be dipped, my occupation was neither a light nor a short one. Having completed my work, I killed a sheep, well knowing the party would be fatigued and hungry, when they came up. About three they made their appearance, and thus, upon the whole, we had very successfully got over this our first push, and were soon very comfortably established at “Yeerkumban kauwe.” The holes I had dug enabled us easily and speedily to water the horses, and the sheep I had killed afforded a refreshing meal to the overseer and boys, after their harassing journey. In the afternoon the sand blew about in a most annoying manner, covering us from head to foot, and filling everything we put down, if but for an instant. This sand had been our constant torment for many weeks past; condemned to live among the sand-hills for the sake of procuring water, we were never free from irritation and inconvenience. It floated on the surface of the water, penetrated into our clothes, hair, eyes, and ears, our provisions were covered over with it, and our blankets half buried when we lay down at nights, — it was a perpetual and never-ceasing torment, and as if to increase our miseries we were again afflicted with swarms of large horse-flies, which bit us dreadfully. On the 4th, we remained in camp to rest the horses, and I walked round to reconnoitre. Upon the beach I found the fragments of a wreck, consisting of part of a mast, a tiller wheel, and some copper sheathings, the last sad records of the fate of some unfortunate vessel on this wild and breaker-beaten shore. There was nothing to indicate its size, or name, or the period when the wreck occurred.

No recent traces of natives having been either at Yeerkumban kauwe, or the more distant water, were visible anywhere, and I imagined they might perhaps have made an excursion to the westward. A large flight of red-winged cockatoos were seen today hovering around the sand-hills, and appearing quite disconcerted at finding us in possession of the water; we had not before seen them in the neighbourhood, and I can hardly conjecture where they go to from this place, for generally they are birds fond of water.

Knowing from the accounts of the natives that upon leaving Yeerkumban kauwe, I should have a task before me of no ordinary difficulty to get either the sheep or the horses to the next water, I determined to proceed myself in advance, with the sheep, that by travelling slowly, at the same time that we kept steadily advancing, every chance might be given to them of accomplishing the journey in safety. I was anxious too to precede my party, in order that by finding out where the water was, I might be on the look out for them, to guide them to it, and that thus when in their greatest difficulty, no time should be lost in searching for water. Having given the overseer orders to keep the tracks of my horses, when he had travelled about seventy miles along the coast, I set off on the 7th March, with the youngest of the natives to assist me in driving the sheep, leaving the two elder ones with the overseer, to aid in managing the pack-horses. As before we took two horses with us, one to carry our provisions and water, and the other to ride upon in turn, the boy however, being young, and incapable of much fatigue, the greater portion of the walking naturally fell to my share. The day was cool and favourable, and we accomplished a stage of twenty-four miles; the afternoon became dark and lowering, and I fully expected rain, but towards sunset two or three drops fell, and the clouds cleared away. Our horses fed tolerably upon the little withered grass that we found, but the sheep were too tired to eat, and lay down; we put them therefore into a yard we had made for them for the night.

March 8

March 8. — Having turned the sheep out of the yard three hours before daylight, I was in hopes they would have fed a little before we moved on, but they would not touch such food as we had for them, and at six I was obliged to proceed onwards; the morning was dark and looked like rain, but as was the case yesterday, a drop or two only fell. We made a stage to-day of twenty-six miles, through a level country, generally open, but near the sea covered with a very low dwarf tea-tree, small prickly bushes, and salsolae, and having the surface almost every where sprinkled over with fresh-water shells; further from the coast the plains extending to the north were very extensive, level, and divided by belts of scrub or shrubs. There was no perceptible inclination of the country in any direction, the level land ran to the very borders of the sea, where it abruptly terminated, forming the steep and precipitous cliffs, observed by Captain Flinders, and which it was quite impossible to descend anywhere. The general elevation of this table land, was from three to four hundred feet.

The day turned out fine and clear, and the effect produced by refraction in these vast plains was singular and deceptive: more than once we turned considerably out of our way to examine some large timber, as we thought it to be, to the north of us, but which, upon our approach, proved to be low scrubby bushes. At another time we imagined we saw two natives in the distance, and went towards them as carefully and cautiously as we could; instead, however, of our having seen the heads of natives, as we supposed, above the bushes, it turned out to be only crows. Yet the native boy, whose quickness and accuracy of vision had often before surprised me, was equally deceived with myself. Upon halting in the evening our sheep again were very tired, and refused to eat. The horses too were now beginning to feel the want of water, and fed but little. I therefore sat up and watched them until half past eight, after which I tied them up to some bushes. At one o’clock I again got up and let them loose, hoping they might feed a little better in the cool of the night. The scud was rapidly passing the moon, and I watched for hours the clouds gathering to the south and passing to the north, but no rain fell.

March 9

March 9. — Moving on early we passed through a similar country to that we had before traversed; but there was more of the tea-tree scrub, which made our travelling more difficult and fatiguing. This kind of scrub, which is different from any I had seen before, is a low bush running along the ground, with very thick and crooked roots and branches, and forming a close matted and harassing obstacle to the traveller. The sheep and horses got very tired, from having to lift their legs so high to clear it every step they took. To the westward we found the country rising as we advanced, and the cliffs becoming higher; they now answered fully, where we could obtain a view of any projecting parts, to the description given by Flinders — ”the upper part brown and the lower part white;” but as yet we could not find any place where we could descend to examine them. The lower, or white part, appeared soft and crumbling, and its decay had left the upper, or harder rock, fearfully overhanging the ocean. Upon the summits we again found flints in the greatest abundance lying loosely scattered over the surface.

The day was cloudy and gathering for rain, but none fell. After travelling twenty-five miles we halted for an hour or two to rest the sheep and horses, feeding was out of the question, for they were too much in want of water to attempt to cat the dry and withered grass around us. We now lay down to rest ourselves, and the boy soon fell asleep; I was however feverish and restless, and could not close my eyes. In an hour and a half I arose, got up the horses and saddled them, and then, awaking my companion, we again pushed on by moonlight. At ten miles we crossed a well beaten native pathway, plainly discernible even then, and this we followed down towards the cliffs, fully hoping it would lead to water. Our hopes however had been excited but to render our disappointment the greater, for upon tracing it onwards we found it terminate abruptly at a large circular hole of limestone rock, which would retain a considerable quantity of water after rains, but was now without a single drop. Gloomily turning away we again pushed on for eight miles further, and at three in the morning of the 10th were compelled to halt from downright exhaustion and fatigue. The horses and sheep were knocked up. The poor boy was so tired and sleepy that he could scarcely sit upon his horse, and I found myself actually dosing as I walked: mechanically my legs kept moving forwards, but my eyes were every now and then closed in forgetfulness of all around me, until I was suddenly thrown down by getting entangled amongst the scrub, or aroused by a severe blow across the face from the recoil of a bough after the passage of the boy’s horse. I now judged we had come about ninety-three miles from Yeerkumban-kauwe, and hoped that we could not be very far from water. Having tied up the horses for an hour or two, and without making a fire, or even unrolling our cloaks to cover us, we stretched ourselves on the ground, and were in a few moments fast asleep.

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