Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 6

Cause of hostility of the natives—Well sunk unsuccessfully—Overseer sent to the east—The Scott examined—Rock wallabie—Overseer’s return—Another visit to lake torrens—Boggy character of its bed—Extraordinary effects of mirage and refraction—Return to the camp—Supply of water exhausted—Leave the depot—The Mundy—The Burr—Mount Serle—Lake Torrens to the east—Melancholy prospects.

August 16.—UPON reaching the camp the extraordinary behaviour of the natives was soon explained to me. At the time when I left the depot on the 11th of August, in giving the overseer general directions for his guidance, I had among other matters requested him, if he found any natives in the neighbourhood, to try and get one up to the camp and induce him to remain until my return, that we might, if possible, gain some information as to the nature of the country or the direction of the waters. In endeavouring to carry out my wishes, it seems he had one day come across two or three natives in the plain, to whom he gave chase when they ran away. The men escaped, but he came up with one of the females and took her a prisoner to the camp, where he kept her for a couple of days, but could gain no information from her; she either could not be understood, or would not tell where there was water, although when signs were made to her on the subject, she pointed to the east and to the north–west. After keeping her for two days, during which, with the exception of being a prisoner, she had been kindly treated, she was let go with the present of a shirt and handkerchief.

It was to revenge this aggression that the natives had now assembled; for which I could not blame them, nor could I help regretting that the precipitancy of my overseer should have placed me in a position which might possibly bring me into collision with the natives, and occasion a sacrifice of life; an occurrence I should deplore most deeply under any circumstances, but which would be doubly lamentable when I knew that my own party had committed the first act of aggression.

The number of natives said to have been seen altogether, including women and children, was between fifty and sixty, and though they had yet actually committed no overt act against us, with the exception of trying to steal upon myself and the native boy as we returned; yet they had established themselves in the close vicinity of our encampment, and repeatedly exhibited signs of defiance, such as throwing dust into the air, shouting, and threatening with their weapons, and once or twice, the evening before my arrival, crossing within a very short distance of the tents, as if for the purpose of reconnoitring our position and strength; I determined, however, nothing but the last extremity should ever induce me to act on the defensive. [Note 6: “And they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air.”—Acts xxii. 23.]

When on my return to the depot, I had seen the natives creeping after me with their spears, I and the native boy at once halted, turned round and went slowly towards them, upon this they retreated. They would see by this that we did not fear them, and as the party at the camp had been increased in number by our return, I thought they might probably be more cautious in their hostile demonstrations, which for the present was the case, for we saw nothing more of them for some time.

During my absence, the overseer, according to my instructions, had put a party of men to dig for water in the bed of the creek, about four miles from the depot, in a westerly direction and down upon the plains. They were busy when I arrived at the depot; the soil already dug through had been a very hard gravel, but as yet no water had been found, they had got to a depth of about ten feet; but from the indurated character of the soil were proceeding very slowly.

I was, however, too much fatigued to go and inspect the work immediately, the boy and myself as well as the horses being completely worn out. We had ridden in the last five days and a half, about two hundred miles, and walked about twenty up and down rocky and precipitous creeks, whilst, for the last two nights before our arrival we had scarcely been off the horses’ back.
On the 17th, which was dreadfully hot, I went in the afternoon to see what progress was being made at the well, and found that only two feet had been dug in the last twenty–four hours, whilst just as I arrived the men came to a solid mass of rock, and could sink no further; I at once ordered them to return to the camp, as I did not think it worth while to make further attempts in so unkindly a soil, and indeed I was unwilling to have my little party too much divided in the neighbourhood of so many natives. The men themselves were very glad to get back to the camp, having been apprehensive of an attack for the last two or three days.
August 18.—This morning I sent off the overseer and a native boy to the eastward, to look for water in the watercourses I had been at on the 5th of August, the Scott not having then been discovered; they would now be thirty–six miles nearer water than any I was acquainted with at that time, and would consequently be less hurried and embarrassed in their movements than I was. By giving them a pack–horse to carry ten gallons of water, I hoped they would be able to examine all the watercourses so effectually as to secure the object of their search, for I felt satisfied that water was to be found somewhere among the high ranges we had seen in the direction they were going; I also directed the overseer to visit the camp where the two native children had been left, and to see what had been their fate.

During the day I employed myself in writing; the weather was excessively close and oppressive, with heavy clouds coming up from the S. W. against the wind at N. E. At night it blew almost a hurricane, accompanied by a few drops of rain, after which, the wind then veered round to the north.
The 19th was another oppressive hot day, with a northerly wind, and clouds of dust which darkened the air so that we could not see the hills distinctly, although we were close under them. The flies were also incessant in their persecuting attacks. What with flies and dust, and heat and indisposition, I scarcely ever remember to have spent a more disagreeable day in my life. My eyes were swollen and very sore, and altogether I was scarcely able to attend to any thing or employ myself in any profitable way.
August 20.—Some slight showers during the night made the weather cool and pleasant, the day too was cloudy, and I was enabled to occupy myself in charting, working out observations, etc. whilst Mr. Scott, by shooting, supplied us with some wallabies. This animal is very like a rabbit when running, and quite as delicate and excellent in eating.