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Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 7

Excursion to the north–east—Trace down the Frome—Water becomes salt—Pass beyond the ranges—Cockatoos seen—Heavy rains—Dry water–courses—Mount Distance—Brine springs—Mount Hopeless—Termination of Flinders range—Lake Torrens to the north and to the east—All further advance hopeless—Young emus caught—Rejoin party—Move back towards Mount Arden—Loss of a horse—Arrive at the depot—Plans for the future—Take up stores—Prepare for leaving.

September 2a

September 2.—At thirty–five miles we reached the little elevation I had been steering for, and ascended Mount Hopeless, and cheerless and hopeless indeed was the prospect before us. As I had anticipated, the view was both extensive and decisive. We were now past all the ranges; and for three quarters of the compass, extending from south, round by east and north, to west, the horizon was one unbroken level, except where the fragments of table land, or the ridge of the lake, interrupted its uniformity

The lake was now visible to the north and to the east; and I had at last ascertained, beyond all doubt, that its basin, commencing near the head of Spencer’s Gulf, and following the course of Flinders range (bending round its northern extreme to the southward), constituted those hills the termination of the island of South Australia, for such I imagine it once to have been. This closed all my dreams as to the expedition, and put an end to an undertaking from which so much was anticipated. I had now a view before me that would have damped the ardour of the most enthusiastic, or dissipated the doubts of the most seeptical. To the showers that fell on the evening of the 31st of August, we were solely indebted for having been able to travel thus far; had there been much more rain the country would have been impracticable for horses,—if less we could not have procured water to have enabled us to make such a push as we had done.

The lake where it was visible, appeared, as it had ever done, to be from twenty–five to thirty miles across, and its distance from Mount Hopeless was nearly the same. The hills to the S. and S. W. of us, seemed to terminate on the eastern slopes, as abruptly as on the western; and from the point where we stood, we could distinctly trace by the gum–trees, the direction of watercourses emanating from among them, taking northerly, north–easterly, easterly and south–easterly courses, according to the point of the range they came from. This had been the case during the whole of our route under Flinder’s range. We had at first found the watercourses going to the south of west, then west, north–west, north, and now north–east, east and south–east. I had, at the same time, observed all around this mountain mass, the appearance of the bed of a large lake, following the general course of the ranges on every side, and receiving, apparently, the whole drainage from them.

On its western, and north–western shores, I had ascertained by actual examination, that its basin was a very low level, clearly defined, and effectually inclosed by an elevated continuous sandy ridge, like the outer boundary of a sea–shore, its area being of immense extent, and its bed of so soft and yielding a nature, as to make it quite impossible to cross it. All these points I had decided positively, and finally, as far as regards that part of Lake Torrens, from near the head of Spencer’s Gulf, to the most north–westerly part of it, which I visited on the 14th of August, embracing a course of fully 200 miles in its outline. I had done this, too, under circumstances of great difficulty, toil, and anxiety, and not without the constant risk of losing my horses, from the fatigues and privations of the forced labours I was obliged to impose upon them.

Having ascertained these particulars, and at so much hazard, relative to Lake Torrens, for so great a part of its course, what conclusion could I arrive at with regard to the character of its other half to the north–east, and east of Flinders ranges, as seen from Mount Hopeless, and Mount Serle points, nearly ninety miles apart! The appearances from the ranges were similar; the trend of all the watercourses was to the same basin, and undoubtedly that basin, if traced far enough, must be of nearly the same level on the eastern, as on the western side of the ranges. I had completely ascertained that Flinders range had terminated to the eastward, the north–east, and the north; that there were no hills or elevations connected with it beyond, in any of these directions, and that the horizon every where was one low uninterrupted level.

With such data, and under such circumstances, what other opinion could I possibly arrive at, than that the bed of Lake Torrens was nearly similar in its character, and equally impracticable in its eastern, as its western arm; and that, considering the difficulties I had encountered, and the hazards I had subjected myself to, in ascertaining these points so minutely on the western side, I could not be justified in renewing those risks to the eastward, where the nature and extent of the impediments were so self–evidently the same, and where there was not the slightest hope of any useful result being attained by it.

I was now more than a hundred miles away from my party; and having sent them orders to move back towards Mount Arden, I had no time to lose in following them. With bitter feelings of disappointment I turned from the dreary and cheerless scene around me, and pushing the horses on as well as circumstances would allow, succeeded in retracing ten miles of my course by a little after dark, having completed a stage of fully forty–five miles during the day. Here there was tolerable good grass, and plenty of water from the late rains, so that the horses were more fortunate on this excursion than usual. I observed the variation to be 4 degrees E.

September 3

September 3.—Travelling early, we made a long stage of about forty miles, and encamped with good grass and water. During the day we caught four young emus in the plains, which we roasted for supper, being very hungry, and upon short allowance, as I had not calculated upon remaining out so long; the black boy enjoyed them exceedingly, and I managed to get through one myself. They were about the size of full grown fowls.

September 4

September 4.—Making a very early start, we travelled twenty miles to the watercourse, where we had encamped on the 31st of August, striking it a little lower down. As I had left one or two trifles here, that I wished to take on with me, I sent the black boy for them, telling him to follow my tracks while I went slowly on. Upon finding that he did not overtake me so soon as I expected, I halted for some time, but still he did not come up, and I again proceeded; for as I had left my former track, I concluded he had taken that line, and thus missed me. Steering, therefore, across the hills, some of which were very stony and broken, I made for the Mundy, which I reached very late in the evening, and found the party safely encamped there.

I had rode fifty–five miles, and had been on horseback about thirteen hours, so that both myself and horse were well nigh knocked up. The black boy had not arrived, nor did he come up during the night.

The next day, becoming uneasy about his absence, I detained the party in the camp, and sent Mr. Scott to search for him, who fortunately met him almost immediately he had left us. The boy’s detention had been occasioned by the fagged condition of his horse, which prevented the possibility of his overtaking me. As the day was wet, I did not move on, but gave the party a day’s rest, whilst I employed myself in meditating upon the disappointment I had experienced, and the future steps it might be most advisable to take to carry out the objects of the expedition. I was still determined not to give up the undertaking,—but rather to attempt to penetrate either to the eastward or westward, and to try to find some other line of route that might afford a practicable opening to the interior.

September 6

September 6.—Moving on the party early to–day, I pushed steadily towards the depot near Mount Arden. In doing this, the favourable state of the weather enabled us to keep more in the open plains, and thus both to avoid a good deal of rough ground, and to shorten the road considerably.

Upon mustering the horses on the 9th, the overseer reported to me that one of them was lying down with a broken leg, and upon going to examine him, I found that it was one of the police horses kindly lent to the expedition by the Governor. During the night some other horse had kicked him and broken the thigh bone of the hind leg. The poor animal was in great pain and unable to rise at all, I was therefore obliged to order the overseer to shoot him. By this accident we lost a most useful horse at a time when we could but ill spare one.

During our progress to the south we had frequently showers and occasionally heavy rains, which lodging in puddles on the plains, supplied us abundantly with water, and we were unusually fortunate enough to obtain grass also. We were thus enabled to push on upon nearly a straight course, which, after seven days of hard travelling, brought us once more, on the afternoon of the 12th, to our old position at the depot near Mount Arden. I had intended to have halted the party here for a day or two, to recruit after the severe march we had just terminated; but the weather was so favourable and the season so far advanced, that I did not like to lose an hour in following out my prospective plans.

During the homeward journey from the Mundy, I had reflected much on the position in which I was placed, and spent many an anxious hour in deliberating as to the future. I had one of three alternatives to choose, either to give up the expedition altogether;—to cross to the Murray to the east and follow up that river to the Darling;—or by crossing over to Streaky Bay to the westward, to endeavour to find some opening leading towards the interior in that direction. After weighing well the advantages and disadvantages of each (and there were many objections to them all,) I determined upon adopting the last, for reasons which will be found in my Report sent to the Governor, and to the Chairman of the Northern Expedition Committee from Port Lincoln. [Note 8: Vide Chapter IX.] My mind having thus been made up, I knew, from former experience, that I had no time to lose, now that the weather was showery and favourable, and that if I delayed at all in putting my plans into execution I might probably be unable to cross from Mount Arden to Streaky Bay. The distance between these two points was upwards of two hundred miles, through a barren and desert region, in which, though among high ranges, I had on a former occasion been unable to discover any permanent water, and through which we could only hope to pass by taking advantage of the puddles left by the late rains; I therefore decided upon halting at the depot to rest the horses even for a day; and the party had no sooner reached their encampment, than, while one portion of the men took the horses up the watercourse to water, the others were employed in digging up the stores we had buried here, and in repacking and rearranging all the loads ready to move on again immediately. By the evening all the arrangements were completed and the whole party retired to rest much fatigued.