John McDouall Stuart - Fifth Expedition


John McDouall Stuart - Fifth Expedition - Preamble 5

On January 21st Mr. Stuart reached the Neale Creek, a little to the east of where he struck it before, but found that the large bodies of water had nearly all gone; by digging in the sand of the main channel, however, they obtained sufficient for their immediate wants.

Exploring parties were dispatched up and down the creek, and returned, reporting abundance of water eight miles above and five miles below where they were.

They also brought back with them some fish, resembling the bream, which were very palatable when cooked.

An attack of dysentery prevented Mr. Stuart from proceeding for a few days, and, during his stay, the natives, while studiously keeping themselves out of sight, set fire to the surrounding grass.

On the 27th the expedition arrived at the Hamilton, after a heavy journey of thirty-five miles.

"I observed," says Mr. Stuart, "a peculiar feature in one of the families of the mulga bushes; the branches seemed to be covered with hoar frost, but on closer examination it turned out to be a substance resembling honey in taste and thickness. It was transparent, and presented a very pretty appearance when the sun shone upon it, making the branches look as though they were hung with small diamonds."

John McDouall Stuart - Fifth Expedition - Preamble 6

The course now taken was through Bagot range to the Stevenson, where they arrived on February 1st.

The next day they proceeded northward, and at eight miles came upon a large water hole, which was named Lindsay Creek, after J. Lindsay, Esquire, M.L.A. This water hole was one hundred and fifty yards long, thirty wide, and from eight to fifteen feet deep in the deepest parts.

The native cucumber was growing upon its banks, and the feed was abundant.

Here they met with immense numbers of brown pigeons, of the same description as those found by Captain Sturt in 1845. There were thousands of them; in fact, they flew by in such dense masses that, on two occasions, Woodforde killed thirteen with a single shot. The travellers pronounced them first-rate eating.

Many natives, tall, powerful fellows, were seen, but they did not speak with them.

After trying for water in the neighbourhood of Mount Daniel, they were compelled to return to Lindsay Creek, which they did not quit until February 9th, when they camped on another creek, which was named the Coglin, after P.B. Coglin, Esquire, M.L.A.

From this place Mr. Stuart started, accompanied by Thring and Woodforde, to examine the condition of the Finke, and found its bed broad, and filled with white drift sand, but without water.

A hole ten feet deep was sunk in the sand, but just as the increasing moisture gave them hope of finding water, the sides gave way, and Thring had a narrow escape of being buried alive.

After sinking several other holes, but without success, they turned to another creek, coming more from the westward, and in a short time discovered six native wells near to what was evidently a large camping-place of the natives.

The ground for one hundred yards round was covered with worleys, and at one spot they seemed to have had a grand corroberrie, the earth being trodden quite hard, as if a large number had been dancing upon it in a circle.

They had left one of their spears behind, a formidable weapon about ten feet long, with a flat round point, the other end being made for throwing with the womera.

On the 13th Mr. Stuart and his two companions returned to the camp on the Coglin, after discovering a place about four miles from the six native wells, where sufficient water could be obtained by digging.

On the 14th three of the men were sent in advance to dig a hole at this place, and the following day the whole party moved forward to join them.

Here the natives annoyed them much by setting fire to the grass in every direction.

John McDouall Stuart - Fifth Expedition - Preamble 7

Marchant Springs (on the Finke) were reached on February 22nd, and here Mr. Stuart noticed a remarkable specimen of native carving.

He says: "The natives had made a drawing on the bark of two trees--two figures in the shape of hearts, intended, I suppose, to represent shields. There was a bar down the centre, on either side of which were marks like broad arrows. On the outside were also a number of arrows, and other small marks. I had a copy of them taken. This was the first attempt at representation by the natives of Australia which I had ever seen."

John McDouall Stuart - Fifth Expedition - Preamble 8

Following the course of the Finke, they arrived on the 25th at some springs which were rendered memorable by Mr. Stuart's favourite mare Polly. She became very ill, and on the morning of the 26th slipped her foal.

Polly had been with her master on all his previous journeys, and was much too valuable and faithful a creature to be left behind; besides, she was second to none in enduring hardship and fatigue. They therefore waited another night to give her time to recover, and Mr. Stuart named the springs Polly Springs in her honour.

On the 27th they again moved northwards, still following the course of the Finke, and, after a short journey of ten miles, camped at what were afterwards called Bennett Springs.

It is worthy of remark that while the horses were in this water drinking, one of them kicked out a fish about eight inches long and three broad--an excellent sign of the permanency of the water.

Here several of the horses were taken violently ill, and the next morning one of them could not be found.

Mr. Stuart writes:

"Thursday, 28th February, The Finke, Bennett Springs. Found all the horses but one named Bennett.

Sent two of the party out in search of him; at 9 a.m. they returned, having been all round, but could see nothing of him. I then sent out four, to go round the tracks and see if he had strayed into the sand hills. At noon they returned unsuccessful. Sent five men to search, but at 2 p.m. they likewise returned without having discovered him.

I then went out myself, and, in half-an-hour, found the poor animal lying dead in a hole, very much swollen. Blood seemed to have come from his mouth and nostrils. He must have died during the night.

I am afraid that there is some description of poisonous plant in the sand hills, and that the horses have eaten some of it.

As he lay he appeared to have been coming from the sand hills, and making for the water. He seemed to have fallen down three times before he died.

I never saw horses taken in the same way before--in a moment they fell down and became quite paralysed.

The cream-coloured horse, that was taken so ill last night, must also have eaten the poison. We were upwards of two hours before we could get him right. As soon as he got on his legs, his limbs shook so that he immediately fell down. This he did for more than a dozen times.

As we were very much in want of hobble-straps, I sent Mr. Kekwick, with three others, to take Bennett's skin and shoes off.

We found no indication of poison on opening him.

This is a very great loss to me, for he was one of my best packhorses--one that had been with me before, and that I could depend upon for a hard push."

John McDouall Stuart - Fifth Expedition - Preamble 9

On the 2nd March, while still following the course of the Finke, they passed two or three holes containing fish about eight inches long, and enclosed by small brush fences, apparently for the purpose of catching fish.

They also saw a lot of shields, spears, waddies, etc., which the natives had deposited under a bush.

As to the aborigines themselves, although it was evident there were plenty of them about, they never allowed themselves to be seen.

There was an abundance of timber which Mr. Stuart says would be well suited for electric-telegraph poles.

Mr. Stuart's journal continues as follows: