June 18.—The party having left Adelaide late in the forenoon, and it being the first day of working the horses, I did not wish to make a long stage; having followed the usual road, therefore, as far as the little Parra, the drays were halted upon that watercourse (after a journey of about twelve miles), and we then proceeded to bivouac for the first time. For the first time too since I had engaged to command the expedition, I had leisure to reflect upon the prospects before me.
During the hurry and bustle of preparation, and in the enthusiasm of departure, my mind was kept constantly on the stretch, and I had no time for calm and cool consideration, but now that all was over and the journey actually commenced, I was again able to collect my thoughts and to turn my most serious and anxious attention to the duty I had undertaken. The last few days had been so fraught with interest and occupation, and the circumstances of our departure this morning, had been so exciting, that when left to my own reflections, the whole appeared to me more like a dream than a reality. The change was so great, the contrast so striking. From the crowded drawing room of civilized life, I had in a few hours been transferred to the solitude and silence of the wilds, and from being but an unit in the mass of a large community, I had suddenly become isolated with regard to the world, which, so far as I was concerned, consisted now only of the few brave men who accompanied me, and who were dependant for their very existence upon the energy and perseverance and prudence with which I might conduct the task assigned to me. With this small, but gallant and faithful band, I was to attempt to penetrate the vast recesses of the interior of Australia, to try to lift up the veil which has hitherto shrouded its mysteries from the researches of the traveller, and to endeavour to plant that flag which has floated proudly in all the known parts of the habitable globe, in the centre of a region as yet unknown, and unvisited save by the savage or the wild beast.
Those only who have been placed in similar circumstances can at all appreciate the feelings which they call forth. The hopes, fears, and anxieties of the leader of an exploring party, must be felt to be understood, when he is about to commence an undertaking which MUST be one of difficulty and danger, and which MAY be of doubtful and even fatal result.
The toil, care, and anxiety devolving upon him are of no ordinary character; everyday removes him further from the pale of civilization and from aid or assistance of any kind—whilst each day too diminishes the strength of his party and the means at his command, and thus renders him less able to provide against or cope with the difficulties that may beset him. A single false step, the least error of judgment, or the slightest act of indiscretion might plunge the expedition into inextricable difficulty or danger, or might defeat altogether the object in view. Great indeed was the responsibility I had undertaken—and most fully did I feel sensible of the many and anxious duties that devolved upon me. The importance and interest attached to the solution of the geographical problem connected with the interior of Australia, would, I well knew, engage the observation of the scientific world. If I were successful, the accomplishment of what I had undertaken would more than repay me in gratification for the toil and hazard of the enterprise—but if otherwise I could not help feeling that, however far the few friends who knew me might give me credit for exertion or perseverance, the world at large would be apt to reason from the result, and to make too little allowance for difficulties and impediments, of the magnitude of which from circumstances they could be but incompetent judges.
With such thoughts as these, and revolving in my mind our future plans, our chances of success or otherwise, it will not be deemed surprising, that notwithstanding the fatigue and care I had gone through during the last fortnight of preparation, sleep should long remain a stranger to my pillow; and when all nature around me was buried in deep repose I alone was waking and anxious.
From former experience in a personal examination of the nature of the country north of the head of Spencer’s Gulf, during the months of May and June, 1839, I had learnt that the farther the advance to the north, the more dreary and desolate the appearance of the country became, and the greater was the difficulty, both of finding and of obtaining access to either water or grass. The interception of the singular basin of Lake Torrens, which I had discovered formed a barrier to the westward, and commencing near the head of Spencer’s Gulf, was connected with it by a narrow channel of mud and water. This lake apparently increased in width as it stretched away to the northward, as far as the eye could reach, when viewed from the farthest point attained by me in 1839, named by Colonel Gawler, Mount Eyre. Dreary as had been the view I then obtained, and cheerless as was the prospect from that elevation, there was one feature in the landscape, which still gave me hope that something might be done in that direction, and had in fact been my principal inducement to select a line nearly north from Spencer’s Gulf, for our route on the present expedition; this feature was the continuation, and the undiminished elevation of the chain of hills forming Flinders range, running nearly parallel with the course of Lake Torrens, and when last seen by me stretching far to the northward and eastward in a broken and picturesque outline.
It was to this chain of hills that I now looked forward as the stepping–stone to the interior. In its continuation were centered all my hopes of success, because in its recesses alone could I hope to obtain water and grass for my party. The desert region I had seen around its base, gave no hope of either, and though the basin of Lake Torrens appeared to be increasing so much in extent to the northward, I had seen nothing to indicate its terminating within any practicable distance, in a deep or navigable water. True the whole of the drainage from Flinders range, as far as was yet known, emptied into its basin, but such was the arid and sandy nature of the region through which it passed, that a great part of the moisture was absorbed, whilst the low level of the basin of the lake, apparently the same as that of the sea itself, forbade even the most distant hope of the water being fresh, should any be found in its bed.
It was in reflections and speculations such as these, that many hours of the night of my first encampment with the party passed away. The kindness of the Governor and our many friends had been so unbounded; their anxiety for our safety and comfort so great; their good wishes for our success so earnest, and their confidence in our exertions, so implicit, that I could not but look forward with apprehension, lest the success of our efforts might not equal what our gratitude desired, and even now I began to be fearful that the high expectations raised by the circumstances of our departure might not be wholly realised.
We had fairly commenced our arduous undertaking, and though the party might appear small for the extent of the exploration contemplated, yet no expedition could have started under more favourable or more cheering auspices; provided with every requisite which experience pointed out as desirable, and with every comfort which excess of kindness could suggest, we left too, with a full sense of the difficulties before us, but with a firm determination to overcome them, if possible. And I express but the sentiments of the whole party when I say, that we felt the events of the day of our departure, and the recollection of the anxiety and interest with which our friends were anticipating our progress, and hoping for our success, would be cherished as our watchword in the hour of danger, and bethe incentive to perseverance and labour, when more than ordinary trials should call for our exertions. The result we were willing to leave in the hands of that Almighty Being whose blessing had been implored upon our undertaking, and to whom we looked for guidance and protection in all our wanderings.