July 8.—Our horses having strayed this morning I sent the native boy to look for them, but as he did not return in a reasonable time, I got anxious and went after him myself, leaving the saddles and provisions at our sleeping place. In about four miles I met the boy returning with the runaways, which had rambled for several miles, though they had abundance of good feed around the camp; fortunately we found every thing safe when we got back, but if any natives had accidentally passed that way we should probably have lost everything, and been left in very awkward predicament.
This is a risk I have frequently been obliged to incur, and is one of the inconveniences resulting from so small a number as two travelling alone; it it is not always practicable from want of grass to tether the horses, and frequently when they are tethered the ropes break, and occasion the necessity of both individuals leaving the encampment to search for them at the same time.
Moving on to the N. W. by N. we passed over heavy sandy ridges, with barren red plains between, and in one of the latter we found a puddle of rain water, this upon tasting. I found to be rather saline from the nature of the soil upon which it lay, the horses, however, drank it readily, and we put some in a small keg for ourselves. The only vegetation to be seen consisted of a few small stunted trees and shrubs, and even these as we approached the vicinity of the lake disappeared altogether, and gave place to Salsolaceous plants, the country being open and barren in the extreme.
I found Lake Torrens completely girded by a steep sandy ridge, exactly like the sandy ridges bounding the sea shore, no rocks or stones were visible any where, but many saline coasts peeped out in the outer ridge, and upon descending westerly to its basin, I found the dry bed of the lake coated completely over with a crust of salt, forming one unbroken sheet of pure white, and glittering brilliantly in the sun. On stepping upon this I found that it yielded to the foot, and that below the surface the bed of the lake consisted of a soft mud, and the further we advanced to the westward the more boggy it got, so that at last it became quite impossible to proceed, and I was obliged to return to the outer margin of the lake without ascertaining whether there was water on the surface of its bed further west or not.
The extraordinary deception caused by mirage and refraction, arising from the state of the atmosphere in these regions, makes it almost impossible to believe the evidence of one’s own eyesight; but as far as I could judge under these circumstances, it appeared to me that there was water in the bed of the lake at a distance of four or five miles from where I was, and at this point Lake Torrens was about fifteen or twenty miles across, having high land bounding it to the west, seemingly a continuation of the table land at the head of Spencer’s gulf on its western side.
Foiled in the hope of reaching the water, I stood gazing on the dismal prospect before me with feelings of chagrin and gloom. I can hardly say I felt disappointed, for my expectations in this quarter had never been sanguine; but I could not view unmoved, a scene which from its character and extent, I well knew must exercise a great influence over my future plans and hopes: the vast area of the lake was before me interminable as far as the eye could see to the northward, and the country upon its shore, was desolate and forbidding.
It was evident, that I could never hope to take my party across the lake, and it was equally evident, that I should not be able to travel around its shores, from the total absence of all fresh water, grass, or wood, whilst the very saline nature of the soil in the surrounding country, made even the rain water salt, after lying for an hour or two upon the ground. My only chance of success now lay in the non–termination of Flinders range, and in the prospect it held out to me, that by continuing our course along it we might be able to procure grass and water in its recesses, until we were either taken beyond Lake Torrens, or led to some practicable opening to the north.
With a heavy heart I turned towards the mountains, and steering N. E. for ten miles, halted at dark, where there was nothing for our horses to eat or drink, and we were consequently obliged to tie them up for the night. We had still a few oats left and gave each horse three pints. A short time before encamping, I had observed that Lake Torrens was trending more to the eastward, and that when we halted, it was not at any very great distance from us.