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.