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Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 4

Make arrangements for getting up stores from the waterwitch—Leave the party—Salt watercourse—Mount Eyre—Aspect of the country—Lake Torrens—Return towards the hills—Native female—Saline character of the country—Mount Deception—Reach the eastern hills—Large watercourses—Water hole in a rock—Grassy but hilly country—Running stream—Ascend a range—Return homewards—Decay of trees in the watercourses—Shoot a kangaroo—Arrive at the depot—Bury stores—Make preparations for leaving—Send despatches to the vessel.

July 20

July 20.—To–day I kept behind some of the low front hills, passing through some extensive valleys between them and the main range; and as I found abundance of water lying in pools upon the plains, I did not make for the hills at all.

Before sunset, I got a shot at a kangaroo with my rifle, which, though severely wounded, gave me a long chase before I could capture it; this furnished us with a welcome and luxurious repast. We had been so long living upon nothing but the bush baked bread, called damper (so named, I imagine, from its heavy, sodden character), with the exception of the one or two occasions upon which the native boy had added an opossum to our fare, that we were delighted to obtain a supply of animal food for a change; and the boy, to shew how he appreciated our good luck, ate several pounds of it for his supper. Our horses were equally fortunate with ourselves, for we obtained both good grass and water for them.

July 21

July 21.—Taking with us the best part of what was left of the kangaroo, we crossed a stony ridge to the S. W., and at four miles struck a watercourse with a large pool of water in its bed, and well adapted for a halting place for the party on their route to the north: we had not seen this in our outward course, having kept further to the westward in the plains. From the water–hole, Mount Eyre bore W. 30 degrees S. distant five miles.

Upon leaving this pool I pushed on as rapidly as I could, being anxious to rejoin my party; and after a hard and fatiguing ride of forty miles, arrived at the depot under Mount Arden, late in the day, having been absent sixteen days. I had been anxiously expected, and was cordially welcomed by the whole party, who were getting sadly tired of inactivity, and especially by my young friend Mr. Scott, whose eager and ardent disposition rendered him quite uneasy under the confinement and restraint of a depot encampment; he would gladly have shared with me the difficulties and hazards of exploring the country in advance, but from the very embarrassing nature of the undertaking, I did not think it right to take more than a single native with me, as every addition to the number of a party, on such occasions, only tends to increase the difficulty and anxiety of the task.

Having rested a little, and made innumerable inquiries, I was very much gratified to find that the whole party were in good health, and that every thing had been conducted in a satisfactory manner during my absence. No one had been idle, and every thing that I could have wished, had been properly arranged. The stores had been safely brought up from the WATERWITCH, including a barometer kindly sent by the Governor, and a large packet of English letters, at any time a highly valued prize, and not the less so now that they were received 200 miles in the interior, amidst the labours and anxieties of an exploring expedition.

During my absence all the harness, hobbles, tents, tarpaulins, etc. had been fully repaired; and according to my instructions, a large deep hole had been dug in the slope of the hill, to bury a portion of the stores in, that if compelled by circumstances to return from the north, we might still have supplies to fall back upon. Mr. Scott had employed his time in collecting botanical and geological specimens, and had already made a very fair commencement for our collections in both these departments of science. He had also regularly kept the meteorological journal, registering the observations three times in each day.

July 22

July 22.—After breakfast I had all the stores reweighed, and examined the supplies sent us in the WATERWITCH, which consisted chiefly of flour, biscuit, sugar, tea, salt pork, soap, tobacco, salt, canvas, etc. besides many little luxuries which the kindness of the Governor, and the consideration of our many friends had added to the list.

The men during my absence, having been living entirely upon salt pork, to economize the sheep, were glad to receive the kangaroo which I brought home with me.

Having inspected the stores, the whole party were put upon their travelling rations, and the first week’s allowance was issued to each, consisting of ten pounds of meat, seven pounds of biscuit or flour, a quarter of a pound of tea, a pound and a half of sugar, a quarter of a pound of soap, and the same quantity of tobacco.

Provisions of different kinds were then weighed out, headed up in casks, and buried in the hole dug by the men during my absence, to wait our return, if ever it should be our lot to reach the place again. The remainder were all properly packed up, and the drays loaded and arranged for moving on.

After satisfactorily concluding all the preparations for leaving the depot, I employed myself busily in writing letters and despatches until a very late hour of the night, as it was the last opportunity I should have for a long time, of reporting our prospects and progress, or of thanking the Governor and our numerous friends, for the many attentions we had experienced.

I had hardly retired to rest before I was suddenly seized with a violent attack of illness, arising probably from cold and over–exertion, now that a return to my party had removed the stimulus to activity, and permitted a reaction in the system to take place.

July 23

July 23.—This morning I felt weak, and still very ill, and it was with great difficulty I could manage to close my letters, and give the necessary instructions to the overseer, whom I sent down to the head of Spencer’s Gulf, with orders to the master of the cutter to sail for Adelaide, and to report what he had seen at the salt inlets in the east side of Spencer’s Gulf, which I had directed him to examine in the boats whilst I was absent exploring to the north. His reply was, that there was water enough for a ship to lie within one mile of the shore, that there was a tolerable landing place, but that he had found no fresh water. The men were employed during the day making a new tarpaulin from the canvas sent up in the WATERWITCH. The following is a copy of the Report sent to the Governor, and to the Chairman of the Committee for promoting the expedition.

Letter to the Govenor - July 22nd, 1840

“Depot, near Mount Arden, July 22nd, 1840.

“Sir,—I have the honour to acquaint you for the information of His Excellency the Governor, and of the colonists interested in the northern expedition, with the progress made up to the present date.

“I arrived here with my party all well, on the 3rd July instant, and on the 6th I proceeded, accompanied by one of my native boys, on horseback, to reconnoitre Lake Torrens and the country to the north of the depot, leaving the party in camp to rest the horses and enable the overseer to get up, from the head of Spencer’s Gulf, the supplies kindly sent by His Excellency the Governor in the WATERWITCH—her arrival having been signalised the evening previous to my leaving. I arrived on the shores of Lake Torrens the third day after leaving the depot, and have ascertained that it is a basin of considerable magnitude, extending certainly over a space varying in width from 15 to 20 miles, and with a length of from 40 to 50, from its southern extremity, to the most northerly part of it, visible from a high summit in Flinders range, (about ninety miles north of Mount Arden). The lake is girded with an outer ridge of sand, covered with salsolaceous plants, and with saline crusts, shewing above the ground at intervals. Its waters appear to extend over a considerable surface, but they are, seemingly, shallow. I could not approach the water, from the soft nature of that part of its bed, which is uncovered, and which appeared to reach from three to four miles from the outer bank to the water’s edge. There can be no doubt, however, of its being very salt, as that portion of its bed which lay exposed to our view was thickly coated with pungent particles of salt. There were not any trees or shrubs of any kind near the lake where we made it, nor could either grass or fresh water be procured for our horses. Lake Torrens is bounded on its western side by high lands—apparently a continuation of the table land to the westward of the head of Spencer’s Gulf.—I should think that it must receive a considerable drainage from that quarter, as well as the whole of the waters falling from Flinders range to the eastward.

“From the very inhospitable nature of the country, around the lake, I could not examine it so carefully or so extensively as I could have wished. My time, too, being very limited, made me hurry away to the northward, to search for a place to which I might bring on my party, as the grass in the neighbourhood of the depot was very old, and much less abundant than on either of my former visits there. It became, therefore, imperative on me to remove the horses as speedily as possible. Should circumstances permit, I shall, however, endeavour to visit Lake Torrens again, on my return from the northern interior. After leaving the lake I spent many days in examining the country to the northward of our depot. Its character seemed to vary but little; barren sandy plains still formed the lower level, and the hills constituting the continuation of Flinders range were still composed of quartz and ironstone; they were, however, gradually becoming less elevated and more detached, with intervals of stony valleys between, and the whole country was, if possible, assuming a more barren aspect, while the springs, which had heretofore been numerous among the hills, were very few in number—difficult to find—and very far in amongst the ranges. After most anxious and laborious search, I at last succeeded in finding a place about ninety miles (of latitude) north of Mount Arden, to which I can remove my depot, and from which I can again penetrate more to the northward.

“After an absence of sixteen days I rejoined my party under Mount Arden on the evening of the 21st July, and found they had safely received all the supplies sent for our use by the WATERWITCH. The latter has been detained until my return, for despatches, which I shall send down to–morrow, and on the 24th I intend to move on with my party to the new depot. I regret it is not in my power to afford more certain information as to the future prospects of the expedition, but where so little alteration has taken place, in the features of the country I have been examining, conjectures alone can anticipate what may be beyond. From the very difficult nature of the country we are advancing into, our further progress must necessarily be very slow for some time, but I still hope that by patience and perseverance we shall ultimately succeed in accomplishing the object of the expedition.

“I have the honour to be, Sir, “Your most obedient humble Servant, “EDWARD JOHN EYRE.”