Edward John Eyre - Vol 2 - Ch 2

Reflections Upon Situation — Watch for the Arrival of the Native Boys — Their Probable Fate — Proceed on The Journey — Facility of Obtaining Water — Kill a Horse for Food — Silver-Bark Tea-Tree — Intense Cold — First Hills Seen — Good Grass — Appetite of a Native — Injurious Effects of Unwholesome Diet — Change in the Character of the Country — Granite Forms the Low Water Level — Tree Washed on Shore — Indisposition.

May 12

May 12. — I intended this morning to have walked down to the beach, but was suddenly taken ill with similar symptoms to those I had experienced on the 19th, and 21st of April; and, as formerly, I attributed the illness entirely to the unwholesome nature of the meat diet. Wylie was ill too, but not to so great a degree; nor was I surprised at his complaining; indeed, it would have been wonderful if he had not, considering the enormous quantity of horse flesh that he daily devoured. After his feasts, he would lie down, and roll and groan, and say he was “mendyt” (ill) and nothing would induce him to get up, or to do any thing. There were now plenty of sting-ray fish along the beach again, and I was desirous, if possible, to get one for a change of diet; my friend, however, had so much to eat, that though he said he should like fish too, I could not get him to go about a mile to the back of the sand-hills, to cut a stick from the scrub, to make a spear for catching them.

May 11

May 11. — Upon moving away this morning, I kept behind the sea shore along the borders of the salt swamp, steering for some sand-hills which were seen a-head of us. A hill was now visible in the distance, a little south of west, rising above the level bank behind the shore, — this was the first hill, properly so called, that we had met with for many hundreds of miles, and it tended not a little to cheer us and confirm all previous impressions relative to the change and improvement in the character of the country. Our horses were dreadfully fatigued and moved along with difficulty, and it was as much as we could do to reach the sand-hills we had seen, though only seven miles away. In our approach to them we passed through a fine plain full of grass, and of a much better description than we had met with since leaving Fowler’s Bay. Not only was it long and in the greatest abundance, but there were also mixed with the old grass many stalks of new and green, the whole forming a rich and luxurious feast for our horses, such as they had not enjoyed for many a long day. Nearer to the sand-hills we obtained excellent water by digging, at a depth of five feet, and only half a mile away from the grass. This place was too favourable not to be made the most of, and I determined to halt for a day or two to give our horses the benefit of it, and to enable us to diminish the weight of meat they had to carry. Whilst here I gave Wylie free permission to eat as much as he could, — a privilege which he was not long in turning to account. Between last night’s supper and this morning’s breakfast he had got through six-and-a-half pounds of solid cooked flesh, weighed out and free from bone, and he then complained, that as he had so little water (the well had fallen in and he did not like the trouble of cleaning it out again), he could hardly eat at all. On an average he would consume nine pounds of meat per day. I used myself from two to three when undergoing very great exertions. After dinner I ascended one of the sand-hills, and set the hill I had seen in the morning at W. 17 degrees S.

May 10

May 10. — The morning was spent in washing my clothes, cooking meat, and preparing to move on in the afternoon. Wylie, who knew that this was his last opportunity, was busy with the skeleton of the horse, and never ceased eating until we moved on in the afternoon. As we took away with us nearly a hundred pounds of the flesh, the poor horses were heavily laden for the condition they were in. The scrubby and swampy nature of the country behind the shore compelled us too to keep the beach, where the sands were loose and heavy. Our progress was slow, and at eight miles I halted. Here we found a little dry grass not far from the sea, and as the horses did not require water, they fared tolerably well. This was the first grass we had met with since we descended the cliffs on the 3rd instant. The horses having entirely subsisted since then on the wiry vegetation which binds the sand-drifts together. Although we had water in the canteens for ourselves, and the horses did not require any, I was curious to know whether fresh water could be procured where we were encamped — a long, low and narrow tongue of sandy land, lying between the sea on one side and extensive salt swamps on the other, and in no part elevated more than a few feet above the level of the sea itself. After tea I took the spade and commenced digging, and to my great surprise at six feet I obtained water, which though brackish was very palatable. This was very extraordinary, considering the nature of the position we were in, and that there were not any hills from which the fresh water could drain.

The night was again bitterly cold and frosty, and we suffered severely. Now the winter had set in, and we were sadly unprepared to meet its inclemency, the cold at nights became so intense as to occasion me agonies of pain; and the poor native was in the same predicament.

May 9

May 9. — The day was cold and cloudy, and we remained in camp to rest the horses, and diminish the weight of meat, which was greater than our horses could well carry in their present state. On getting up the horses to water them at noon, I was grieved to find the foal of my favourite mare (which died on the 28th March) missing; how we had lost it I could not make out, but as its tracks were not any where visible near the camp, it was evident that it had never come there at all. In leaving our last halting place my time and attention had been so taken up with getting the weak horse along, that I had left it entirely to Wylie to bring up the others, and had neglected my usual precaution of counting to see if all were there before we moved away. The little creature must have been lying down behind the sand-hills asleep, when we left, or otherwise it would never have remained behind the others. Being very desirous not to lose this foal, which had now accompanied me so far and got through all the worst difficulties, I saddled the strongest of the horses, and mounting Wylie, I set off myself on foot with him to search for it. We had not gone far from the camp, when Wylie wished me to go back, offering to go on by himself; and as I was loth to leave our provisions and ammunition to the mercy of any native that might chance to go that way, I acceded to his request, and delivering to him the rifle, returned to the encampment. Wylie had pledged himself to the due execution of this errand, and I had some confidence that he would not deceive me. Hour after hour passed away without his return, and I began to be uneasy at his long delay, and half repented that I had been so foolish as to trust the rifle in his hands. At last, a little after dark, I was delighted to see him return, followed by the foal, which he had found six miles away and still travelling backwards in search of the horses. Having given him an extra allowance of bread as a reward for his good conduct, we took our tea and lay down for the night.

During the day, whilst Wylie was absent, I had employed my time in collecting firewood from the back of the sand-hills. In this occupation I was pleased to meet with the silver-bark tea-tree, another change in the vegetation, which still further convinced me that we were rapidly advancing into a more practicable country.

May 8

May 8. — About two hours before daylight, rain began to fall, and continued steadily though lightly for three hours, so that enough had fallen to deposit water in the ledges or holes of the rocks. The day was wild and stormy, and we did not start until late. Even then we could only get the tired horse along for three miles, and were again compelled to halt. Water was still procured, by digging under the sand-hills, but we had to sink much deeper than we had lately found occasion to do. It was now plain, that the tired horse would never be able to keep pace with the others, and that we must either abandon him, or proceed at a rate too slow for the present state of our commissariat. Taking all things into consideration, it appeared to me that it would be better to kill him at once for food, and then remain here in camp for a time, living upon the flesh, whilst the other horses were recruiting, after which I hoped we might again be able to advance more expeditiously. Upon making this proposal to Wylie, he was quite delighted at the idea, and told me emphatically that he would sit up and eat the whole night. Our decision arrived at, the sentence was soon executed. The poor animal was shot, and Wylie and myself were soon busily employed in skinning him. Leaving me to continue this operation, Wylie made a fire close to the carcase, and as soon as he could get at a piece of the flesh he commenced roasting some, and continued alternately, eating, working and cooking. After cutting off about 100 pounds of the best of the meat, and hanging it in strips upon the trees until our departure, I handed over to Wylie the residue of the carcase, feet, entrails, flesh, skeleton, and all, to cook and consume as he pleased, whilst we were in the neighbourhood. Before dark he had made an oven, and roasted about twenty pounds, to feast upon during the night. The evening set in stormy, and threatened heavy rain, but a few drops only fell. The wind then rose very high, and raged fiercely from the south-west. At midnight it lulled, and the night became intensely cold and frosty, and both Wylie and myself suffered severely, we could only get small sticks for our fire, which burned out in a few minutes, and required so frequently renewing, that we were obliged to give it up in despair, and bear the cold in the best way we could. Wylie, during the night, made a sad and dismal groaning, and complained of being very ill, from pain in his throat, the effect he said of having to work too hard. I did not find that his indisposition interfered very greatly with his appetite, for nearly every time I awoke during the night, I found him up and gnawing away at his meat, he was literally fulfilling the promise he had made me in the evening, “By and bye, you see, Massa, me ‘pta’ (eat) all night.”