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Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 8

Proceed to the westward—channel of communication between lake torrens and spencer’s gulf—Baxter’s range—Divide the party—Route towards Port Lincoln—Scrub—Fruitless search for water—Send dray back for water—Plundered by the natives—Return of dray—Dense scrub—Refuge rocks—Dense scrub—Salt creek—Mount Hill—Dense scrub—Large watercourse—Arrive at a station—Rich and grassy valleys—Character of Port Lincoln Peninsula—Unable to procure supplies—Engage a boat to send over to Adelaide—Buy sheep.

September 28

September 28.—Making an early start, we crossed at four and a half miles, a low scrubby range, and there found, upon the left of our track, some very pretty grassy hills, and a valley lightly wooded with casuarinae. Whilst I went on with the party, I detached Mr. Scott to see if there was water at this little patch of good country, but he did not find any. I am still of opinion, however, that if more time for examination had been allowed, springs would have been discovered not far away; as every thing looked so green and luxuriant, and formed so strong a contrast to the country around.

Pushing on steadify, we crossed over many undulations, coated on the surface either with sand or breccia, and frequently having a good deal of the eucalyptus scrub upon them, at eleven miles we passed a long grassy plain in the scrub, and once or twice crossed small openings with a little grass. For one of these we directed our course, late in the evening, to encamp; upon reaching it, however, we were greatly disappointed to find it covered only by prickly grass. I was therefore obliged, after watering the horses from the casks, to send them a mile and half back to some grass we had seen, and where they fared tolerably well. Our day’s journey had been long and fatiguing, through a barren, heavy country. One mile before encamping, we crossed the bed of a salt water channel, trending to the westward, which was probably connected with the Lagoon Harbour of Flinders, as it appeared to receive the flood tide. Our latitude was 33 degrees 50 minutes S. by observation of a Aquilae.

September 29

September 29.—Whilst the man was out looking for the horses, which had strayed a little during the night, I took a set of angles to several heights, visible from the camp; upon the man’s return, he reported that he had found some fresh water, but upon riding to the place, I. found it was only a very small hole in a sheet of limestone rock, near the salt watercourse, which did not contain above a pint or two. The natives, however, appeared to come to this occasionally for their supply; similar holes enabling them frequently to remain out in the low countries long after the rain has fallen. After seeing the party move on, with the native boy to act as guide through the scrub, I rode in advance to search for water at the hill marked by Flinders as Bluff Mount, and named by Colonel Gawler, Mount Hill. This isolated elevation rises abruptly from the field of scrub, in the midst of which it is situated and is of granite formation; nearly at its summit is an open grassy plain, which was visible long before we reached it, and which leads directly over the lowest or centre part of the range; water was found in the holes of rock in the granite, and the grass around was very tolerable. Having ascertained these particulars, I hurried back to the drays to conduct them to a place of encampment. The road was very long and over a heavy sandy country, for the most part densely covered with scrub, and it was late, therefore, when we reached the hill. The horses, however, had good feed and fair allowance of water, but of the latter they drank every drop we could find. During our route to–day, I noticed some little distance to the north–west of our track, a high scrubby range, having clear grassy–looking openings at intervals. In this direction, it is probable that a better line of road might be found than the one we had chosen.

September 30

September 30.—After breakfast, I ascended to the summit of Mount Hill, and took a set of angles; whilst the dray wound up the gap between it and another low summit, with which it is connected. Upon descending the hill on the opposite side, I was rejoiced to find two very large pools of water in some granite rocks, one of them appearing to be of a permanent character. Here I halted for an hour and a half, to give the horses a little more water, and fill our casks again before we faced the scrubby waste that was still seen ahead of us. I had been last night within fifty yards of the pools that we now found, but had not discovered them, as the evening was closing in at the time, and I was in great haste to return to my party before dark. Leaving Mount Hill at the course of S. 27 degrees W. we passed through a very dense scrub, the strongest, I think, we had yet experienced; the drays were tearing down the brush with loud crashes, at every step which the horses took, and I could only compare their progress to the effect produced by the efforts of a clearing party, the brush rapidly disappearing before the wheels, and leaving almost as open a road as if it had been cut away by axes; the unfortunate animals, however, had to bear the onus of all, and most severely were they harassed before our short stage was over. At twelve miles we came to a large rocky watercourse of brackish water, trending to the east–north–east, through a narrow valley bounded by dense scrub. In this we found pools of fresh water, and as there was good grass, I called a halt about three in the afternoon. We were now able, for the first time for several hundred miles, to enjoy the luxury of a swim, which we all fully appreciated. In the afternoon Mr. Scott shot six ducks in the pools, which furnished us with a most welcome addition to our very scanty fare. For two days previous to this, we had been subsisting solely upon a very limited allowance of dry bread, having only taken fourteen days provisions with us from Baxter’s range, which was nearly all expended, whilst we were yet at least two days journey from Port Lincoln. At night I observed the latitude of our camp, by alpha Aquilae 34 degrees 12 minutes 52 seconds S. by beta Leonis 34 degrees 12 minutes 35 seconds S. and assumed the mean of the two, or 34 degrees 12 minutes 43 seconds as the correct one.

October 1

October 1.—Making an early start we passed at three miles the head of the watercourse we had been encamped upon, and then ascended some scrubby ranges, for about five miles further, when we entered into a narrow tract of good grassy country, which at five miles brought us to Mr. Driver’s station; a Mr. Dutton was living at this place as Mr. Driver’s manager, and by him we were very hospitably received, and furnished with such supplies as we required.

[Note 11: In 1842, Mr. Dutton attempted to take some cattle overland, from this station to the head of Spencer’s Gulf; both he and his whole party perished in the desert, (as supposed) from the want of water. In October of that year, I was sent by Government to search for their remains, but as it was the dry season, I could not follow up their tracks through the arid country they had advanced into. The cattle returned.]

It was a cattle station, and abounded with milk and butter, luxuries which we all fully enjoyed after our long ramble in the wilds. Having halted my party for the day, Mr. Scott and myself dined at Mr. Dutton’s, and learnt the most recent news from Adelaide and Port Lincoln. We had much to hear and much to inquire about, for even in the few months of our absence, it was to be presumed, that many changes would have taken place in the fluctuating affairs of a new colony. Nor were our conjectures wrong.

That great reaction which was soon to convulse all the Australian Colonies generally, to annihilate all mercantile credit, and render real property comparatively valueless, had already commenced in South Australia; failures, and rumours of failures, were of daily occurrence in Adelaide, and even the little settlement of Port Lincoln had not escaped the troubles of the times. I learnt with regret that it was rapidly falling into decay, and its population diminishing. Many had already deserted it, and amongst them I was surprised to hear of the departure of Captain Porter and others, who were once the most enthusiastic admirers and the staunchest supporters of this embryo town. That which however affected me more particularly was the fear, that from the low and impoverished state to which the place was now reduced, I should not be able to obtain the supplies I required for my party, and should probably have to delay until I could send over to Adelaide for what I wanted, even supposing I was lucky enough to find a vessel to go across for me. In walking round Mr. Dutton’s farm I found he was ploughing up some land in the valley for wheat, which appeared to be an excellent soil, and the garden he had already commenced was looking promising. At night I obtained the altitude of a Aquilae, by which I placed Mr. Driver’s station in 34 degrees 21 minutes 20 seconds S. lat., or about 22 miles of lat. north of Kirton Point.

October 2

October 2.—Before leaving the station I purchased from Mr. Dutton a little Timor pony for 25 pounds for one of the native boys to ride, to replace in some measure the services of the animal I had been obliged to have shot up to the north. The only objection to my new purchase was that it was a little mare and already forward in foal. At Port Lincoln, however, I was not likely to meet with any horses for sale, and did not therefore deem it prudent to lose the only opportunity that might occur of getting an animal of some kind. After quitting Mr. Dutton’s, I followed a dray road leading towards Port Lincoln. For the most part we passed through green valleys with rich soil and luxuriant pasturage, but occasionally intersected by poor sandy or gravelly soil of a saline nature; the water was abundant from recent heavy rains, and some of the pools fresh; others, however, were very brackish. The hills adjoining the valley were grassy, and lightly wooded on their slopes facing the valley; towards the summits they became scrubby, and beyond, the scrub almost invariably made its appearance. Altogether we passed this day through a considerable tract of country, containing much land that is well adapted for sheep or cattle, and with a fair proportion suitable for agriculture. It is by far the best portion of the available country in the Port Lincoln peninsula, and I could not help regretting it should be so limited in extent. I had now travelled all the three sides of the triangle, and had obtained extensive views from various heights along each of these lines of route; I had crossed from Port Lincoln to Streaky Bay, from Streaky Bay to the head of Spencer’s Gulf, and from the head of Spencer’s Gulf down to Port Lincoln again. In the course of these journeys, I had spared no toil nor exertion, to make my examination as complete and as useful as possible, though my labours were not rewarded by commensurate success. The great mass of the peninsula is barren, arid, and worthless; and although Port Lincoln possesses a beautiful, secure, and capacious harbour, with a convenient and pretty site for a town, and immediately contiguous to which there exists some extent of fine and fertile soil, with several good grassy patches of country beyond; yet it can never become a large or important place, in consequence of its complete isolation, except by water, from every other, and the limited nature of its own resources.

For one or two large stock–holders, who wish to secure good grazing ground, and be apart from others, it might answer well, but even they would ordinarily labour under difficulties and disadvantages which would make their situation not at all desirable. The uncertainty and expense of procuring their supplies—of obtaining labour, and of finding a market for their surplus stock [Note 12 at end of para.], and the almost total impossibility of their being able to effect sales in the event of their wishing to leave, would perhaps more than counterbalance the advantages of having the country to themselves. Purchased in the days of wild and foolish speculation, and when a rage existed for buying land and laying out townships, no place has been more misrepresented or misunderstood than Port Lincoln. Many gross and glaring misstatements have been put forth of its character and capabilities, by those who were actuated by interested motives, and many unintentional misrepresentations have been made and perpetuated by others, whose judgment or information has led them into error, so that the public generally, and especially the English public, have had no means of discriminating between the widely conflicting accounts that have been given. Amongst the persons from whom this small settlement has suffered disparagement there are none, perhaps, more blameable than those who have put forth statements which ascribe to it advantages and qualities that it does not possess; for just in proportion as the expectation of intending settlers have been raised by exaggeration or untruths has been their disappointment and disgust, when the facts themselves have stared them in the face.

[Note 12: Pastoral settlers have left Port Lincoln in consequence of these disadvantages—but it is possible that a comparatively large population may locate there, hereafter, should mineral resources be found out. Such discoveries are said to have been made, but Iam not aware upon whose authority the report has become current.]

The day of hallucination has now passed away, but out of the reaction which has succeeded it, has arisen a disposition to deprive Port Lincoln of even the merits to which it really has a legitimate claim, and which would have been far more highly appreciated, if the previous misstatements and consequent disappointments had not induced a feeling of suspicion and distrust not easily effaced.

Our stage to–day was twenty–five miles, over a pretty good road, which brought us towards evening under the range contiguous to the township. In one of the valleys leading from these hills on their west side we found a small spring of good water, and as the grass around us was very abundant and of the most luxuriant growth, I at once decided upon making this our resting place, until I had completed my arrangements for procuring supplies, and was again ready to move onwards.