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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 15

The 15th was another cold day, with the wind at south-west, and we could neither set the lines, nor spear sting-ray, whilst the supply we had before obtained was now nearly exhausted. One of the horses was taken ill, and unable to rise, from the effects of the cold; his limbs were cramped and stiff, and apparently unable to sustain the weight of his body. After plucking dry grass, and making a bed for him, placing a breakwind of boughs round, and making a fire near him, we left him for the night.

Late in the evening, the overseer and boy returned from the westward, and reported, that the cliffs were sixteen miles away; that they had dug for water, but that none could be found, and that there was hardly a blade of grass any where, whilst the whole region around was becoming densely scrubby; through much of which we should have to pass before we reached the cliffs. Altogether, the overseer seemed quite discouraged by the appearance of the country, and to dread the idea of moving on in that direction, often saying, that he wished he was back, and that he thought he could retrace his steps to Fowler’s Bay, where a supply of provisions had been buried. I was vexed at these remarks, because I felt that I could not coincide in them, and because I knew that when the moment for decision came, my past experience, and the strong reasons which had produced in my own mind quite a different conviction, would compel me to act in opposition to the wishes of the only European with me, and he a person, too, whom I sincerely respected for the fidelity and devotion with which he had followed me through all my wanderings. I was afraid, too, that the native boys, hearing his remarks, and perceiving that he had no confidence in our future movements, would catch up the same idea, and that, in addition to the other difficulties and anxieties I had to cope with, would be the still more frightful one of disaffection and discontent. Another subject of uneasiness arose from the nature of our diet; — for some few days we had all been using a good deal of the sting-ray fish, and though at first we had found it palatable, either from confining ourselves too exclusively to it, or from eating too much, it had latterly disagreed with us. The overseer declared it made him ill and weak, and that he could do nothing whilst living upon it. The boys said the same; and yet we had nothing else to supply its place, and the small quantity of flour left would not admit of our using more than was barely necessary to sustain life. At this time we had hardly any fish left, and the whole party were ravenously hungry. In this dilemma, I determined to have the sick horse killed for food. It was impossible he could ever recover, and by depriving him of life a few hours sooner than the natural course of events would have done, we should be enabled to get a supply of food to last us over a few days more, by which time I hoped we might again be able to venture on, and attempt another push to the westward.

April 16

Early on the morning of the 16th, I sent the overseer to kill the unfortunate horse, which was still alive, but unable to rise from the ground, having never moved from the place where he had first been found lying yesterday morning. The miserable animal was in the most wretched state possible, thin and emaciated by dreadful and long continued sufferings, and labouring under some complaint, that in a very few hours at the farthest, must have terminated its life.

After a great portion of the meat had been cut off from the carcase, in thin slices, they were dipped in salt water and hung up upon strings to dry in the sun. I could not bring myself to eat any to-day, so horrible and revolting did it appear to me, but the overseer made a hearty dinner, and the native boys gorged themselves to excess, remaining the whole afternoon by the carcase, where they made a fire, cutting off and roasting such portions as had been left. They looked like ravenous wolves about their prey, and when they returned to the camp at night, they were loaded with as much cooked meat as they could carry, and which they were continually eating during the night; I made a meal upon some of the sting-ray that was still left, but it made me dreadfully sick, and I was obliged to lie down, seriously ill.

April 17

April 17. — Being rather better to-day, I was obliged to overcome my repugnance to the disagreeable food we were compelled to resort to, and the ice once broken, I found that although it was far from being palatable, I could gradually reconcile myself to it. The boys after breakfast again went down to the carcase, and spent the whole day roasting and eating, and at night they again returned to the camp loaded. We turned all the meat upon the strings and redipped it in sea water again to-day, but the weather was unfavourable for drying it, being cold and damp. Both yesterday and to-day light showers fell sufficient to moisten the grass.

April 18

April 18. — The day being much warmer, many large flies were about, and I was obliged to have a fire kept constantly around the meat, to keep them away by the smoke. I now put the natives upon an allowance of five pounds of flesh each per day, myself and the overseer using about half that quantity.

April 19

On the 19th, I sent out one of the boys to try and get a sting-ray to vary our diet, but he returned unsuccessful. During the forenoon I was seized with a violent attack of dysentery, accompanied with diabetes, from which I suffered extremely. The overseer was affected also, but in a less violent degree. The origin of this complaint was plainly traceable to the food we had used for the last day or two; it rendered us both incapable of the least exertion of any kind, whilst the disorder continued, and afterwards left us very languid and weak. In the evening upon examining the meat, a great deal of it was found to be getting putrid, or fly-blown, and we were obliged to pick it over, and throw what was tainted away.