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Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 18

Go Back with a Native — Spear Sting-Rays — Recover the Baggage — Cold Weather — Overseer Reconnoitres the Cliffs — Unfavourable Report — Difference of Opinion As to Best Plans for the Future — Kill a Horse for Food — Injurious Effects From Meat Diet — Native Boys Become Disaffected — They Steal Provisions — Native Boys Desert the Party — They Return Almost Starved — Party Proceed Onwards to the Westward — Cliffs of the Bight — Country Behind Them — Threatening Weather — Murder of the Overseer.

April 20

April 20. — To-day I had all the meat boiled, as I thought it would keep better cooked than raw, we had only a small tin saucepan without a handle, to effect our cooking operations with, and the preparation of the meat therefore occupied the whole of the day. The overseer was again attacked with dysentery. At night the clouds gathered heavily around, and the weather being mild and soft, I fully expected rain; after dark, however, the wind rose high and the threatened storm passed away.

April 21

On the 21st, I was seized again with illness. The overseer continued to be affected also, and we were quite unable to make the necessary preparations for our journey to the westward, which I fully intended to have commenced to-morrow. For several hours we were in the greatest agony, and could neither lie down, sit up, nor stand, except with extreme pain. Towards the afternoon the violence of the symptoms abated a little, but we were exceedingly weak.

April 22

April 22. — Upon weighing the meat this morning, which as usual was left out upon the strings at night, I discovered that four pounds had been stolen by some of the boys, whilst we were sleeping. I had suspected that our stock was diminishing rapidly for a day or two past, and had weighed it overnight that I might ascertain this point, and if it were so, take some means to prevent it for the future. With so little food to depend upon, and where it was so completely in the power of any one of the party, to gratify his own appetite at the expense of the others, during their absence, or when they slept, it became highly necessary to enforce strict honesty towards each other; I was much grieved to find that the meat had been taken by the natives, more particularly as their daily allowance had been so great. We had, moreover, only two days’ supply of the meat left for the party, and being about to commence the long journey before us, it was important to economise our provisions to support us under the fatigue and labours we should then have to undergo.

Having deducted the four pounds stolen during the night, from the daily rations of the three boys, I gave them the remainder, (eight pounds) telling them the reason why their quantity was less to-day than usual, and asking them to point out the thief, who alone should be punished and the others would receive their usual rations. The youngest of the three boys, and the King George’s Sound native, resolutely denied being concerned in the robbery; but the other native doggedly refused to answer any questions about it, only telling me that he and the native from King George’s Sound would leave me and make their way by themselves. I pointed out to them the folly, in fact the impossibility almost, of their succeeding in any attempt of the kind; advised them to remain quietly where they were, and behave well for the future, but concluded by telling them that if they were bent upon going they might do so, as I would not attempt to stop them.

For some time past the two eldest of the boys, both of whom were now nearly grown up to manhood, had been far from obedient in their general conduct. Ever since we had been reduced to a low scale of diet they had been sulky and discontented, never assisting in the routine of the day, or doing what they were requested to do with that cheerfulness and alacrity that they had previously exhibited. Unaccustomed to impose the least restraint upon their appetites or passions, they considered it a hardship to be obliged to walk as long as any horses were left alive, though they saw those horses falling behind and perishing from fatigue; they considered it a hardship, too, to be curtailed in their allowance of food, as long as a mouthful was left unconsumed; and in addition to this, they had imbibed the overseer’s idea that we never should succeed in our attempt to get to the westward, and got daily more dissatisfied at remaining idle in camp, whilst the horses were recruiting.

The excess of animal food they had had at their command for some few days after the horse was killed, made them forget their former scarcity, and in their folly they imagined that they could supply their own wants, and get on better and more rapidly than we did, and they determined to attempt it. Vexed as I had been at finding out they had not scrupled to plunder the small stock of provisions we had left, I was loth to let them leave me foolishly without making an effort to prevent it. One of them had been with me a great length of time, and the other I had brought from his country and his friends, and to both I felt bound by ties of humanity to prevent if possible their taking the rash step they meditated; my remonstrances and expostulations were however in vain, and after getting their breakfasts, they took up some spears they had been carefully preparing for the last two days, and walked sulkily from the camp in a westerly direction. The youngest boy had, it seemed, also been enticed to join them, for he was getting up with the intention of following, when I called him back and detained him in the camp, as he was too young to know what he was doing, and had only been led astray by the others. I had intended to have moved on myself to-day, but the departure of the natives made me change my intention, for I deemed it desirable that they should have at least three or four days start of us. Finding that the single sheep we had left would now be the cause of a good deal of trouble, I had it killed this afternoon, that we might have the full advantage of it whilst we had plenty of water, and might be enabled to hoard our bread a little. We had still a little of the horse-flesh left, and made a point of using it all up before the mutton was allowed to be touched.

April 23

The morning of the 23rd broke cool and cloudy, with showers gathering from seawards; the wind was south-west, and the sky wild and lowering in that direction. During the forenoon light rain fell, but scarcely more than sufficient to moisten the grass; it would, however, probably afford our deserters a drink upon the cliffs. Towards evening the sky cleared, and the weather became frosty.

April 24

On the following day we still remained in camp, hoping for rain; — a single heavy shower would so completely have freed us from the danger of attempting to force a passage through the great extent of arid country before us, that I was unwilling to move on until the very last moment. Our rations were however rapidly disappearing whilst we were idling in camp, the horse-flesh was all consumed, and to-day we had commenced upon the mutton, so that soon we should be compelled to go, whether it rained or not. Month after month however had passed away without any fall of rain, and the season had now arrived when, under ordinary circumstances, much wet might be expected; and though each day, as it passed without gratifying our hopes, but added to our disappointment, yet did every hour we lingered give us a better chance of being relieved by showers in our route round the last cliffs of the Bight. The evening set in mild but close, with the wind at north-east, and I had great hopes that showers would fall.

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