March 28. — AT daylight we moved on, every one walking, even the youngest boy could not ride now, as the horses were so weak and jaded. Soon after leaving the camp, one of them laid down, although the weight upon his back was very light; we were consequently obliged to distribute the few things he carried among the others, and let him follow loose. Our route lay along the beach, as the dense scrub inland prevented us from following any other course; we had, therefore, to go far out of our way, tracing round every point, and following along every bay, whilst the sea-weed frequently obstructed our path, and drove us again to the loose sands, above high water mark, causing extra fatigue to our unfortunate horses. At other times we were forced to go between these banks of sea-weed and the sea, into the sea itself, on which occasions it required our utmost vigilance to prevent the wretched horses from drinking the salt water, which would inevitably have destroyed them. In order to prevent this we were obliged to walk ourselves in the water, on the sea-side of them, one of the party being in advance, leading one horse, another being behind to keep up the rear, and the other three being at intervals along the outside of the line, to keep them from stopping for an instant until the danger was past.
We had scarcely advanced six miles from our last night’s camp when the little Timor pony I had purchased at Port Lincoln broke down completely; for some time it had been weak, and we were obliged to drive it loose, but it was now unable to proceed further, and we were compelled to abandon it to a miserable and certain death, that by pushing on, we might use every exertion in our power to relieve the others, though scarcely daring to hope that we could save even one of them. It was, indeed, a fearful and heart-rending scene to behold the noble animals which had served us so long and so faithfully, suffering the extremity of thirst and hunger, without having it in our power to relieve them. Five days of misery had passed over their heads since the last water had been left, and one hundred and twelve miles of country had been traversed without the possibility of procuring food for them, other than the dry and sapless remains of last year’s grass, and this but rarely to be met with. No rains had fallen to refresh them, and they were reduced to a most pitiable condition, still they travelled onwards, with a spirit and endurance truly surprising. Whenever we halted, they followed us about like dogs wherever we went, appearing to look to us only for aid, and exhibiting that confidence in us which I trust we all reposed in the Almighty, for most truly did we feel, that in His mercy and protection alone our safety could now ever be hoped for.
About ten o’clock the tide became too high for us to keep the beach, and we were compelled to halt for some hours. Our horses were nearly all exhausted, and I dreaded that when we next moved on many of them would be unable to proceed far, and that, one by one, they would all perish, overcome by sufferings which those, who have not witnessed such scenes, can have no conception of. We should then have been entirely dependent upon our own strength and exertions, nearly midway between Adelaide and King George’s Sound, with a fearful country on either side of us, with a very small supply of provisions, and without water.
The position we were in, frequently forced sad forebodings with respect to the future, and though I by no means contemplated with apathy the probable fate that might await us, yet I was never for a moment undecided as to the plan it would be necessary to adopt, in such a desperate extremity — at all hazards, I was determined to proceed onwards.
The country we had already passed through, precluded all hope of our recrossing it without the horses to carry water for us, and without provisions to enable us to endure the dreadful fatigue of forced marches, across the desert. The country before us was, it is true, quite unknown, but it could hardly be worse than that we had traversed, and the chance was that it might be better. We were now pushing on for some sand-hills, marked down in Captain Flinders’ chart at about 126 1/2 degrees of east longitude; I did not expect to procure water until we reached these, but I felt sure we should obtain it on our arrival there. After this point was passed, there appeared to be one more long push without any likelihood of procuring water, as the cliffs again became the boundary of the ocean; but beyond Cape Arid, the change in the character and appearance of the country, as described by Flinders, indicated the existence of a better and more practicable line of country than we had yet fallen in with.
My overseer, however, was now unfortunately beginning to take up an opposite opinion, and though he still went through the duty devolving upon him with assiduity and cheerfulness, it was evident that his mind was ill at ease, and that he had many gloomy anticipations of the future. He fancied there were no sand-hills ahead, that we should never reach any water in that direction, and that there was little hope of saving any of the horses. In this latter idea I rather encouraged him than otherwise, deeming it advisable to contemplate the darker side of the picture, and by accustoming ourselves to look forward to being left entirely dependent upon our own strength and efforts, in some measure to prepare ourselves for such an event, should it unfortunately befal us. In conversing with him upon our prospects, and the position we should be in if we lost all our horses, I regretted extremely to find that his mind was continually occupied with thoughts of returning, and that he seemed to think the only chance of saving our lives, would be to push on to the water ourselves, and then endeavour again to return to Fowler’s Bay, where we had buried a large quantity of provisions. Still it was a gratification to find that the only European with me, did not altogether give way to despondency, and could even calmly contemplate the prospect before us, considering and reasoning upon the plan it might be best to adopt, in the event of our worst forebodings being realized. In discussing these subjects, I carefully avoiding irritating or alarming him, by a declaration of my own opinions and resolutions, rather agreeing with him than otherwise, at the same time, that I pointed out the certain risk that would attend any attempt to go back to Fowler’s Bay, and the probability there was of much less danger attending the effort to advance to King George’s Sound. With respect to the native boys, they appeared to think or care but little about the future; they were not sensible of their danger, and having something still to eat and drink, they played and laughed and joked with each other as much as ever.
Whilst waiting for the tide to fall, to enable us to proceed, the overseer dug a hole, and we buried nearly every thing we had with us, saddles, fire-arms, ammunition, provisions; all things were here abandoned except two guns, the keg with the little water we had left, and a very little flour, tea and sugar. I determined to relieve our horses altogether from every weight (trifling as was the weight of all we had), and by pushing, if possible, on to the water, endeavour to save their lives; after which we could return for the things we had abandoned. Our arrangements being completed, we all bathed in the sea, ate a scanty meal, and again moved onwards at half past two o’clock.
The poor horses started better than could have been expected, but it was soon evident that all were fast failing, and many already quite exhausted. At six miles my favourite mare could no longer keep up with the rest, and we were obliged to let her drop behind. Her foal, now six months old, we got away with some difficulty from her, and kept it with the other horses; at four miles further another of the horses failed, and I had him tied up, in the hope that if we reached water during the evening, I might send back and recover him.
Towards dark we all imagined we saw a long point stretching to the S. W. and backed by high sandy looking cones. We hoped that these might be the sand-hills we were pushing for, and our hearts beat high with hope once more. It, however, soon become too dark to discern anything, and at fourteen miles from where we had halted in the morning, we were again obliged by the tide to encamp for the night, as the country behind the shore was densely scrubby, and quite impracticable as a line of route. It was nine o’clock when we halted, and we were all very tired, and our feet somewhat inflamed, from getting so frequently wet with the salt water, whilst endeavouring to keep the horses from it; there was no grass but the coarse wiry kind that bound the sand together, of this the poor animals cropped a little, as a very heavy dew fell, and served to moisten it. As usual, the overseer and myself kept watch upon the horses at night, whilst the natives enjoyed their undisturbed repose. Two of the boys were young, and none of the three had their frame and muscles sufficiently developed to enable them to undergo the fatigue of walking during the day if deprived of their rest at night; still the duty became very hard upon two persons, where it was of constant occurrence, and superadded to the ordinary day’s labour.