- Category: Edward John Eyre - Vol 2 - Ch 2
- Written by Edward John Eyre
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May 6. — After breakfast we carefully examined the sand-drifts and the sea-shore, to see if the two boys had passed, but there were no traces of them to be found, and I now felt that we were secure from all further interruption from them. Three days we had been in camp at the water, making altogether a period of six since we last saw them. Had they continued their course to the westward, they must have arrived long before this, and I now felt satisfied that they had turned back to Fowler’s Bay for the sake of the provisions buried there, or else they had fallen in with the natives, whose traces we had so repeatedly seen, and either joined them, or been killed by them.
It was now apparent to me beyond all doubt, that in following us on the 30th of April, so far out of the direction they ought to have taken if they intended to go to the eastward, their only object had been to get Wylie to accompany them. As he was the eldest of the three, and a strong full grown man, they would have found him a protection to them from his superior age, strength and skill. As it was they had but little chance of making their way safely either to the east or west. At the time I last saw them they were sixty-three miles from the nearest water in the former direction, and eighty-seven miles from that in the latter. They were tired and exhausted from previous walking, and in this state would have to carry the guns, the provisions, and other things they had taken. This would necessarily retard their progress, and lengthen out the period which must elapse before they could obtain water in any direction. On the night of the 29th April they must have had one gallon of water with them, but when we saw them on the 30th, I have no doubt, that with their usual improvidence, they had consumed the whole, and would thus have to undergo the fatigue of carrying heavy weights, as well as walking for a protracted period, without any thing to relieve their thirst. Their difficulties and distress would gradually but certainly increase upon them, and they would then, in all likelihood, throw away their guns or their provisions, and be left in the desert unarmed, without food or water, and without skill or energy to direct them successfully to search for either. A dreadful and lingering death would in all probability terminate the scene, aggravated in all its horrors by the consciousness that they had brought it entirely upon themselves. Painfully as I had felt the loss of my unfortunate overseer, and shocked as I was at the ruthless deed having been committed by these two boys, yet I could not help feeling for their sad condition, the miseries and sufferings they would have to encounter, and the probable fate that awaited them.
The youngest of the two had been with me for four years, the eldest for two years and a half, and both had accompanied me in all my travels during these respective periods. Now that the first and strong impressions naturally resulting from a shock so sudden and violent as that produced by the occurrences of the 29th April, had yielded, in some measure, to calmer reflections, I was able maturely to weigh the whole of what had taken place, and to indulge in some considerations in extenuation of their offence. The two boys knew themselves to be as far from King George’s Sound, as they had already travelled from Fowler’s Bay. They were hungry, thirsty, and tired, and without the prospect of satisfying fully their appetites, or obtaining rest for a long period of time, they probably thought, that bad and inhospitable as had been the country we had already traversed, we were daily advancing into one still more so, and that we never could succeed in forcing a passage through it; and they might have been strengthened in this belief by the unlucky and incautiously-expressed opinions of the overseer. It was natural enough, under such circumstances, that they should wish to leave the party. Having come to that determination, and knowing from previous experience, that they could not subsist upon what they could procure for themselves in the bush, they had resolved to take with them a portion of the provisions we had remaining, and which they might look upon, perhaps, as their share by right. Nor would Europeans, perhaps, have acted better. In desperate circumstances men are ever apt to become discontented and impatient of restraint, each throwing off the discipline and control he had been subject to before, and each conceiving himself to have a right to act independently when the question becomes one of life and death.
Having decided upon leaving the party, and stealing a portion of the provisions, their object would be to accomplish this as effectually and as safely as they could; and in doing this, they might, without having had the slightest intention originally, of injuring either myself or the overseer, have taken such precautions, and made such previous arrangements as led to the fatal tragedy which occurred. All three of the natives were well aware, that as long as they were willing to accompany us, they would share with us whatever we had left; or that, if resolutely bent upon leaving us, no restriction, save that of friendly advice, would be imposed to prevent their doing so; but at the same time they were aware that we would not have consented to divide our little stock of food for the purpose of enabling any one portion of the party to separate from the other, but rather that we would forcibly resist any attempts to effect such a division, either openly or by stealth. They knew that they never could succeed in their plans openly, and that to do so by stealth effectually and safely, it would first be necessary to secure all the fire-arms, that they might incur no risk from our being alarmed before their purpose was completed. No opportunity had occurred to bring their intentions into operation until the evening in question, when the scrubby nature of the country, the wildness of the night, the overseer’s sound sleeping, and my own protracted absence, at a distance with the horses, had all conspired to favour them. I have no doubt, that they first extinguished the fires, and then possessing themselves of the fire-arms, proceeded to plunder the baggage and select such things as they required. In doing this they must have come across the ammunition, and loaded the guns preparatory to their departure, but this might have been without any premeditated intention of making use of them in the way they did. At this unhappy juncture it would seem that the overseer must have awoke, and advanced towards them to see what was the matter, or to put a stop to their proceedings, when they fired on him, to save themselves from being caught in their act of plunder. That either of the two should have contemplated the committal of a wilful, barbarous, cold-blooded murder, I cannot bring myself to believe — no object was to be attained by it; and the fact of the overseer having been pierced through the breast, and many yards in advance of where he had been sleeping, in a direction towards the sleeping-place of the natives, clearly indicated that it was not until he had arisen from his sleep, and had been closely pressing upon them, that they had fired the fatal shot. Such appeared to me to be the most plausible and rational explanation of this melancholy affair — I would willingly believe it to be the true one.
Wylie and I moved on in the evening, with the horses for two miles, and again pitched our camp among the sand-drifts, at a place where the natives were in the habit of digging wells for water, and where we procured it at a very moderate depth below the surface. Pigeons were here in great numbers, and Wylie tried several times with the rifle to shoot them, but only killed one, the grooved barrel not being adapted for throwing shot with effect.
At midnight we arose and moved onwards, following along the beach. I intended to have made a long stage, as I no longer had any fears about not finding water; but at nine miles one of the horses knocked up, and could proceed no farther, I was compelled, therefore, to turn in among the sand-drifts, and halt at five in the morning of the 7th. We were again fortunate in procuring water by digging only two feet under the sand-hills, which were here very high, and were a continuation of those in which we had first found water on the 3rd. In the afternoon, I again tried to advance upon our journey, but after proceeding only four miles, the jaded horse was again unable to move further, and there was no alternative but to halt and search for water. This was found among the sand-hills, but we could procure nothing but the coarse grass growing upon the drifts for the animals to eat.