Chinamen Invade the Russell River
Wreck off the Brunswick
Hinchinbrook in 1881
The Russell River Goldfield is a locality evidently destined to immortality as the last spot on which the Chinaman is to make his final and desperate stand for liberty to rake auriferous gullies and wash out sandy bars.
There will the scene of the Mongolian Armageddon, where the sole and sad survivors of the Queensland army of celestial diggers are to strike their last blow for freedom and a grain in the dish.
It seems impossible to exaggerate the importance of this tremendous event in its mighty influence on the future political history of this great colony.
The Rhadamanthine law, which is to be read for the first time on the 16th of next month, and the stern necessity for which is bringing our next Parliament prematurely together with a wild patriotic rush, will have the fatal effect of removing one of the standard national grievances forming the yellow ladder by which so many amateur politicians have climbed to the summit of election fame, to fall off occasionally on the other side never to recover again.
Many years ago, an Old Country comic paper, represented two Irishmen discussing Gladstone, and one of them called for a cheer for that redoubtable statesman. The other Hibernian said, “A cheer for Gladstone is it? Be jabbers, and thrue Oirish patriot ‘ud curse the name of ‘im! The devil the man has done so much to deprive us of our grievances!”
The new Ministry would do well to pause and reflect on the magnitude of the responsibility they undertake in “depriving us of our grievances!”
The kanaka has either gone or is slowly vanishing on the edge of the horizon. His departure is a death blow to that numerous class of politicians to whom in the political game of euchre the dusky son of the South Seas represented a “joker” capable of securing at least one solitary trick.
And now the Chinese digger, the last surviving standard grievance, is doomed to speedy annihilation and disappearance from the sum of things! The subject is almost too mournful for discussion.
From old records I find that in 1852, there were 300 Chinese on the Darling Downs, in charge of 450,000 sheep, and in the Northern Districts of the State of New South Wales, three millions of sheep in charge of 1200 Chinamen and “exiles.”
In July, 1862, there were 281 Chinese landed at Brisbane from the Lord Lyndhurst on their way to the Tooloom and the Lachlan. Far back in the early days, old Dr. Land suggested in the Legislative Council of New South Wales the introduction of a thousand Chinese families to pioneer new agricultural industries. Actuated by similar wisdom did other philanthropists introduce Bathurst burr, sida retusa, sparrows, and rabbits.
There appears to be no record of the first Chinaman who landed on Australian soil. He may have drifted ashore on the fragment of a wrecked junk, or landed at midnight as a stowaway. Possibly he was an ignorant Celestial with no colonial experience, and paid his passage with the erroneous intention of being honest and living content with a moderate price for assorted vegetables.
In Carlyle’s essay on the “Diamond Necklace,” there is an imaginary speech by Cagliostro, to his :fellow scoundrels” in the Bastille, a speech in which the Arch Quack said, “I have been far north into frozen Muscovy, and south into hot Calabria, east and west wherever the blue sky overarches civilised man, yet out of Scoundreldom I never was!”
So I have been far North along the coast, from Southport to where Cape Bedford dips into the Coral Sea, and west to the plains of the Flinders, and the myall scrubs of the Warrego, and was never out of sight of a Chinaman.
Old diggers were probably not far wrong in their belief that 200 White men and Chinamen were killed by the Palmer blacks. The epicurean myalls of that region were not long in discovering that grilled Chinaman was equal to the choicest bandicoot and far superior to wallaby.
The Chinese started to the diggings in bands of ten to fifty, or a hundred, scattering at intervals on the march into straggling bands. We picture one of these on the journey. Ten Chinamen are entering a defile in the gloomy range of dark weather-worn desert sandstone. Around them are blue and box gums, ironbarks, and acacias, through whose green leaves Aeolian winds play an “old and solemn harmony.” Dark forms with savage faces, pitiless as death, remorseless as the grave, crouch behind those sandstone boulders, behind those gray old trees.
In each right hand is a black palm spear, in the other, four or five more, to complete what the first began. There is a wavy line in the grass where a startled wallaby flies fast and far, and overhead a pair of white cockatoos look down from a tall dry branch, and call alternately with harsh voices of defiance and alarm.
A solitary bear crouches in the fork of a box gum, and gazes sleepily with half-opened eyes, and icy unconcern at the band of travellers passing underneath. The Chinese have marched into the crescent of ambushing blacks! One tall savage rises from behind a fragment of rock, and his palm spear is driven clean through the heart of the Chinaman in the rear. Far over the death cry of the victim rises that wild savage war yell from a hundred throats, the murder breathing perfect imitation of the cries of the black cockatoo, ending in a long quaver produced by the back of the hand on the mouth. The terror stricken Chinamen fling down their packs and huddle together, or fly in all directions. Those who stay are slaughtered where they stand; those who flee are overtaken in a few years by the swift footed savage, and clubbed mercilessly until their brains fall out, or speared. Tow or three bodies are cut up and carried away to be roasted and eaten that night by the bank of a stream in some lonely ravine; the rest remain cold and silent in their blood. The two cockatoos left with the first war cry, and only the bear remained the sole spectator of that scene of death. He climbed up to a higher branch and looked dubiously down, wide awake, as the dread twin sisters, Silence and Darkness drew their sable funeral pall gently and mercifully over the lonely dead.
Three years ago, there were 180 Chinamen fossicking in the gullies on the head of the head of the Russell, just outside the goldfield boundary. The Russell goldfield is situated at the head of the Russell River, the centre about six miles west from Bartle Frere (Chooriechillum), and about 2500 feet above the sea. Mr. Jack, the Government Geologist believes that this field will “rise into pre-eminent importance.”
The Chinese confined themselves to the streams and gullies flowing from the ravines of Chooriechillum and the basalt terraces of the range. The whole of this country is covered by dense dark tropical jungle, extending from the edge of the river to the tops of the highest mountains. The main Chinese camp is on an old blacks’ bora ground called “Teechappa,” about twenty three miles by road from the mouth of the Russell River, and about fifty six miles from Cairns. The Russell goldfield was first discovered by Christie Palmerston when rambling through that country looking for a railway route from Herberton to the coast. The Chinese scented alluvial from afar off, and were there at an early stage. It was not a complete Paradise for the black haired sons of the Celestial Empire. A dark and yawning gulf separated the European and Chinese digger. There is a strained relationship that breaks on the slightest provocation. Not only did the pioneer white digger decline with opprobrious terms to drink out of the same pannikin, but he excited the wild sons of the jungle with a similar objection to the Chinaman as a colleague and companion.
The myall, however, had no objection to the long-tailed digger as an article of diet. Chinamen a` la Chooriechillum, became a standard dish at corrobborees.
When grilled, he was declared by the epicures of the tribe to be equal to young cassowary, and much superior to the tree-climbing kangaroo. Truly the way of Chinese transgressors is hard. Some cynic was brave enough to say that the white diggers were not in the habit of violently remonstrating with the myalls against turning Chinamen into roast pork. And the Chinese digger, in a fight with the wily myall in his native jungle, was generally knocked clean out in the first round. The Chinamen lived in daily and nightly terror of the “black devils,” of the mountains. So the Chinese loaded up their old Muskets with powder, and a charge of gravel, and discharged volleys of musketry into the night.
So the Chinamen blazed away all night while the myalls were peacefully sleeping in innocent unconsciousness five miles away, and exploded crackers until the earth shook, the scrub hens ceased their midnight cackle, and the fugacious wallaby fled terrified to the thickest part of the jungle.
Then, next morning they went cheerfully off on a fossicking expedition up some lonely gully, guarded by one man armed with a rifle not in a fit state to go off, and which would probably kill nobody but the Chinaman if it did. The sentry with this formidable artillery Saturday down to smoke opium, and then quietly dozed off to sleep, trusting to the others to rouse him if they saw any danger.
Around and over them towered the mighty jungle, the giant trees interlaced by graceful vines, and festooned by beautiful creepers. Dark forms steal stealthily from tree to tree. The bare black feet make no sound upon the granite rocks. Wild savage faces exchange significant glances, and dark hands in eloquent gestures describe the plan of attack in silence. At a given signal, a score of blacks converge swiftly on one point not fifteen yards from the unsuspecting Chinamen.
The silence of the dark scrub is broken by a yell that paralyses the doomed men with terror. The armed Chinaman starts from slumber to be struck down by a shower of stones, “too near and deadly aimed to err,” for these blacks are not using their spears. The other two diggers are killed where they stand on the sandbar, in the creek. This description will also apply to the several of the considerable number of white men killed on the Russell, beneath the shadow of Chooriechillum.
Captain W. H. Wyborn, late harbormaster, Brisbane, kindly supplies me with the following authentic account of the wonderful escape of two men who were washed ashore on the coast near Byron Bay in a vessel which had capsized at sea. The incident was referred to in a letter by Mr. A. Meston, published in our issue of the 3rd instant:
In May 1849, the schooner, Swift, of 50 tons register, Captain Tyrrell, left Brisbane for Sydney, with a cargo of tallow, hides, and sheepskins, and having on board, besides a crew of five men, Mr. Robert Gee, part owner, and one passenger; and, shortly after leaving Moreton Bay she encountered a heavy easterly gale.
I must here use Mr. Gee’s own words as he related the case to me, “On Sunday morning at daylight, the vessel was a little to the north of Cape Byron. I had been on deck the most part of the night, and my clothes being wet through, and the vessel making better weather, I went below to change them. Just as I had taken off my trousers, the cook came down to get some coffee for the men. The cabin being small, I lay down in one of the berths to give him more room to move about, and just as he was going up the companion, the vessel suddenly turned over, bottom up, leaving me and the passenger below, as we supposed, in a living tomb; the air, having no means of escaping, kept the vessel afloat.
Some hours after – I could not guess the time –I felt her masts touch the bottom. They were soon carried away, and the vessel was thrown up on the beach. This must have been at high tide, for the water shortly afterwards commenced to fall in the vessel, and afterwards rose and fell with the tide. We could tell day from night by the light coming up through the companion. We thought of diving to get out, but felt too weak to attempt it; and had we done so there was no chance of our escaping, for the rails of the bulwarks were resting on the sand. The cabin deck being a little above the water, we took our turns of crawling up through the scuttle to get a little sleep, there being only room for one; and at high water the other had to stand with the water up to his armpits.
The air was now getting very bad, which increased our misery, and we felt that our lives were nearly at an end. The terrors of death had long passed, and we were waiting patiently to be relieved of our sufferings, when to our surprise we heard a thump on the outside of the vessel which we answered with a rap. This was again and again repeated, showing that we were discovered, which raised our spirits, giving us hope of being released from our prison.
Some short time after heavy blows like the chopping of an axe on the vessel’s bottom were heard, and we then knew we were being cut out. No one can realize our feelings at that moment unless he has been placed in a similar position. As soon as we were taken out, we asked for a drink of water, when one of the men ran to a waterhole a short distance off, took off one of his boots, filled it, and brought us a drink, after which my companion in misfortune asked me for a smoke. He had not suffered as I had done, having all his clothes on when the vessel had capsized. I was without trousers, and the things that were floating about scratched my skin, and having been nearly sixty hours in the salt water, those places had turned to large sores.
I must now turn to the rescuers to state what brought them to this lonely spot at this particular time. A few years before this some cedar getters had camped on the banks of the Brunswick River, and the heavy rains at that time had driven them from their temporary scrub camps to their permanent one near the mouth of the river.
The weather having cleared up on Thursday afternoon, Beannard, a Frenchman, then master of a small vessel lying in the river, being of a restless disposition, proposed to Boyd to take a stroll along the beach to shoot some birds. They saw on the beach what was at first taken to be a stranded whale; but on approaching it they found it to be the hull of a vessel bottom up. It being low water at this time, the beach on the inside was dry out to where she was lying, and Boyd stamped his foot on her, saying at the same time, “God have mercy on the poor fellows that were in this vessel,” when to his astonishment he heard a rap from the inside.
This convinced him that some of them were still in her, and alive. He ran back to the ship and gave the alarm, when the men all turned out with their axes, which had just been ground ready for going back into the scrub again when the weather cleared up. They very soon had a hole cut through the vessel’s bottom and took the men out.
The passenger (I forget his name) went to Sydney in the small vessel mentioned, but Gee remained there some weeks before his sores were sufficiently healed for him to be removed.
His nervous system was very much unhinged by this disaster, and he dreaded taking a passage by sea again in a sailing vessel.
An application was therefore made to the A.S.N. Company, to allow the steamer Eagle, Captain Allen, to call off the Brunswick River on one of her return trips from Brisbane, which she did, and brought him onto Sydney.
But his constitution was very much shattered. Before this, he was a strong, wiry, man, but he never recovered his former health, and about five years after, was found dead in his bed one morning as if quietly sleeping.
At the time of this occurrence, there were very few, if any, permanent settlers on either the Brunswick or the Tweed, they being mostly cedar-getters and migratory. At the time of Mr. Meston’s visit, there may not have been any of them in that locality who knew of the incident.
But Macgregor, from whom he got his information a few years later, had sailed with me in the brig Palermo, of which Gee was part owner, and he must have known him. But then he might not have heard of this incident, for the excitement over it at that time had died out.
Beannard, who, as I mentioned, was the cause of the wreck being discovered and the men being cut out, was a Frenchman, and yarns, when often repeated, seldom agree.
It is so in this case, a Frenchman being the cause of the vessel being discovered, he got transformed into the two that were out of her, as mentioned in Mr. Meston’s letter.
Mr. A. J. Tyson’s enthusiastic account of the ascent of a mountain on Hinchinbrook, recalls some vivid memories of ten days I spent on that famous island in 1881, on a copper hunting expedition.
During that period, I ascended Mount Straoch, 3,000 feet, Mount Diamantina, 3,100 feet, Mount Bowen, 3,600 feet, and Mount Burnett, about 2,000 feet, to say nothing of a score of lesser peaks, for the whole island consists of steep mountains, precipitous ravines, small tablelands, and little valleys.
I wrote a brief account of the Hinchinbrook scenery in that year for the Townsville “Herald”, of which I was then the editor, and the Rev. Father Walsh, of Townsville, sent a copy to Ireland in the “Freeman’s Journal,” which reprinted the whole article.
Hinchinbrook is a large island, 22 miles long, and sevento 12 miles wide, lying between the mouth of the Herbert River and Rockingham Bay.
Between the island and the mainland is Hinchinbrook Channel, through which small steamers pass from Dungeness to Cardwell.
The name “Hinchinbrook” was first given to one of the mountains on the island by Captain King, of the Mermaid, on January 19, 1819, and the channel and island took their names from the mountain. The south end is granite, and the north is occupied chiefly by slates, quartz, and trachyte.
“From information received,” according to the police formula, I proceeded to Hinchinbrook on a search for copper supposed to exist there in large quantities. The first four days were fine, the other six were devoted to an attempt to break the rainfall record since the Deucalion Deluge.
All ravines, small and large, were hoarse with the roar of waters, and white and mist covered with foam and spray. Cataracts descended from the loftiest peaks, but nothing was visible from the summits of the mountains. I was not even certain what peaks I ascended. In going up Mount Diamantina, I left all my clothes, and even my shoes, under a ledge of rock with the black boy, and went up to the top in ordinary shower bath costume. The cold brought me down in a hurry. Once I had a brief glimpse of the sea, and the surf breaking on Bramble Reefs, where the ill-fated Maria was wrecked on February 26, 1872, on the way to New Guinea; also Goold Island, where Charley Clements and his mate were killed by the blacks, while fishing, on January 17, 1872.
In a little nook in Ramsay’s Bay, while rain was falling in torrents, I walked suddenly on to a camp of seven blacks (three men and four gins), beside two small boys, whose dismal howls were heard above the rain and the waves. The camp was full of fish and crabs, and a heap of pounded nuts and roots ready for hanging in dilly bags in running water to have the poisonous principle washed out. The weapons were two big painted shields, three fish spears, one wooden sword, and a small tomahawk made out of a two-inch chisel.
The seven myalls, having no chance to run, remained seated, made an heroic effort to appear delighted at our appearance, and assured us by copious smiles and friendly signs that our visit was indeed a pleasant and unexpected treat. We accepted their invitation to dine, but my Townsville blackboy, Calminda, was a wary warrior, and, pretending to have no appetite, he stood carefully on guard, for the Hinchinbrook blacks were not personally celebrated for benevolence and hospitality to strangers. It may be as well to mention also that Calminda was too frightened to eat anything, but when leaving, he took up a roasted fish and two crabs in an absent-minded manner, just for a sandwich on the journey.
The search for copper ended in discovering half a dozen pieces of malachite, and prospecting for gold was not possible in that weather. For scenery, no island on the Australian coast can hope to rival Hinchinbrook, either in fair or stormy days.
Mr. A. Meston writes:-
Sir,- Your correspondent , Mr. R. M. Collins, whose letter I have read with considerable interest, is evidently led into one or two errors by knowing only a fragment of Cunningham’s report.
Cunningham, Captain Logan, and Fraser, the Colonial Botanist, left South Brisbane on the 24th of July, 1828, and started for the Logan by way of Cowper’s Plains, erroneously called “Cooper’s Plains,” named after Dr. Cowper, the medical officer at the penal settlement.
They crossed the Logan where it is only a shallow stream, over “Letitia’s Plain,” twenty seven miles from Brisbane, past a big lagoon a quarter of a mile long on the south side of the plain, and thence on along the valley of the Logan to Mount Lindesay.
Captain Logan had been at the base of Mount Lindesay in the previous year and failed to reach the top.
At three miles from the mountain, they were 935 feet above the sea. From that point they crossed a lightly timbered flat for two miles to the base of the first hill, then ascended a ridge along the top of which they passed to a steep ascent which brought them to the foot of the mount, presumably somewhere about the present track to Unumgar.
Cunningham says the actual ascent began among large masses of compound rock forming huge blocks and shelving slabs of vast dimensions with luxuriant tufty plants in the interstices. He turned back at an early stage of the ascent, and Fraser and Logan went on.
In 1827, Logan had made the mistake of taking Mount Lindesay or Mount Hooker, to be the Mount Warning of Cook, unaware of the fact that those peaks are not visible from the sea, and that Mount Warning was thirty miles away, east by south.
Fraser turned back at the base of the cliffs, a point said by Cunningham to be 4,000 feet above the sea, and came back to camp very much very much bruised and exhausted.
Logan went on to the top and did not return for five hours after Fraser. From the summit, he had a clear view of all the surrounding country, including the Richmond River, named in a previous year by Captain Rous, of H.M.S. Rainbow. A ravine on the eastern base, bounded by vertical walls of rugged rock, he called Glen Lyon. A lofty mountain north by east he named Clanmorris, and a tall wooded peak ten miles more to the north he called Mount Hughes, after Lieutenant Hughes, of the Royal Staff Corps.
Cunningham, from the point at which he arrived, saw five miles away a precipitous, rocky, inaccessible mountain, which he called “Mount Hooker,” after the Regius Professor of Botany at Glasgow University. He says he saw Mount Flinders far to the north, and the sea was east-south-east. He gave the latitude of the mountain as 28degrees 15minutes 21seconds south, and longitude 152 degrees 45 minutes 45 seconds east. He also said it was sixteen geographical miles west of the meridian line of Brisbane, the azimuth variation of the needle being 11 east.
Next day, Logan went away to find a road round the base of Lindesay to the valley of the Richmond.
On the following day they started back, naming “Wilson’s Peak,” “Minto Craigs,” “Knapp’s Peak,” and “Dalhunty’s Plain.”
Mounts Shadforth and French had been named by Logan in the previous year. At present I have not the time to give details of that interestingly return journey. There is clearly some mistake about the position and height of Mount Lindesay. It appears that no height was taken by Messrs. Borchgrevink and Brown, who, unfortunately, carried no aneroid, so we have to fall back on Cunningham’s 5,703 feet. My present impression is that this height is entirely wrong, there being apparently no ascent to account for such an elevation. Just now, however, we will not discuss that subject.
Logan got a clear view in all directions, and Mr. Borchgrevink says he could see nothing from the summit. Messrs. Prior and Pears had a magnificent view according to the graceful account in the “Queenslander” of May, 1872, an account which seems to me to have been written by a lady, and one quite competent for the work. Am I right in my belief in the fair correspondent?
My opinion is that Mount Hooker must be the bare rock topped mountain overlooking Unumgar, and that the Clanmorris of Logan is the Barney of today.
In 1869 or 1870 I ascended Mount Warning on the Tweed, a mountain 3,400 feet high, called “Walloombin,” by the blacks. Among those who had been there before me was the present Curator of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, W. R. Guilfoyle, who stayed all night on the summit, and wrote a graphic account of the sunrise for a Sydney illustrated paper. The view from “Walloombin” is not likely to be ever forgotten. Lindesay and Barney and Hooker were all clearly visible, and I readily recognised all three in 1874 when passing between them.
It is interestingly to learn that Walter Hill, late Curator of our Botanic Gardens, a man who made many valuable contributions to the flora of Queensland, was collecting in the vicinity of Mount Lindesay previous to 1868, and found there, among other specimens, a new filmy fern, Hymenophyllum tunbridgeense, and Cyathea Lindesayana, a tree fern and first true Cyathea found up to that time in Australia. They were named by Hooker.
When Dr. Lang passed Mount Lindesay in the 1850s, he stayed a night at Unumgar, then “Glennies’s station, Unumga,” and heard there two blackfellows had been on top, but that a bushfire had subsequently made the mountain inaccessible.
REPRODUCED FORM THE QUEENSLANDER’S CHRISTMAS SUPPLEMENT
In the following article the reader will find notice only a reliable though necessarily brief account of Leichhardt and his three expeditions but also interestingly facts never hitherto published in any history of that remarkable man.
In the noble band of Australian explorers there is not one whose memory is stained by any action dishonorable to himself or discreditable to the nation. If the actions of all were not characterized by wisdom, they have never been overshadowed in a doubt of their integrity or the purity of their intentions. They rise and stand before us unsullied from out the misty silence of the vanished years.
The careful and cautious Gregory brothers; much-enduring marvelous Eyre; proud, methodical Mitchell; indefatigable Sturt; gallant, unfortunate Kennedy; watchful, adventurous Stuart; solemnly resolute Landsborough; dashing Walker; enthusiastic, fatally incautious, Leichhardt; and wild, headlong, fatally unwise, Burke.
The Hon. A. C. Gregory, one of the most useful of Australian explorers, still lives in Brisbane, and can be seen during the session driving down to take his seat in the Legislative Council. This gallant veteran’s explorations extended over the years 1846, 1848, 1853, 1856, 1857, 1858, 1859 and 1861.
In the year 1858, he led one of the expeditions in search of Leichhardt. This will be referred to further on. Our present genial Minister for Mines, the Hon. W. O. Hodgkinson, was a member of the Burke and Wills expedition in 1861. The leader’s fatal mistake of dividing his party left W. O. Hodgkinson with Wright’s detachment, and so deprived him of the honour of being one of the first men to cross the Australian continent. He crossed Australia afterwards in 1862 as second in command to McKinlay’s party.
He was the man who rode with urgent dispatches to Melbourne from Menindie and back in twenty days, a distance of 1,000 miles. Had Hodgkinson been the leader instead of Wright, the Burke and Wills tragedy would never have happened. That is also the opinion of Howitt and other writers on Australian exploration. These two men are now among the few living representatives of the old explorers, the connecting links between us and the past.
When Camille Desmoulins stood arraigned before the Revolutionary Committee and the judgment bar of Fouquier-Tinville, he replied, in answer to the question of his age, “I am the same age as the bon sans-culotte Jesus, an age fatal to revolutionists.” The year 1848 was a year fatal to Australian explorers. It was the year of Kennedy’s disastrous expedition along the Cape York Peninsula; the year also in which Leichhardt and all his party vanished utterly into oblivion. These are the two most terribly tragic events in Australian exploration. The Burke and Wills tragedy left at least the skeletons of the two leaders and the site of Grey’s burial place. Two men and the blackfellow “Jacky” were all who returned alive out of the eleven who landed with Kennedy from the schooner, Tam O’Shanter, on the shore of Kennedy Bay, on the 24th of May, 1848, under the guns of H.M.S. Rattlesnake. And that same, poor, untutored savage, “Jacky Jacky,” is one of the most pathetic and beautifully heroic characters in Australian annals. For his sake alone the entire Australian aboriginal race is entitled to a share of our national regard.
Leichhardt’s whole party, men and animals, disappeared from the face of the earth, leaving neither a token nor a trace of either the time or the locality of the last death scene.
The narrative of Jacky describes Kennedy’s last moments. We see the noble savage drawing forth the fatal spear, and bending with tears over the body of his dead master. But no human voice was left to tell us when and where and how Johann Ludwig Leichhardt started on his lone journey to the pale kingdoms of Dis. Sad, unutterably sad!
Little is known of the early history of Leichhardt, nor was much information given by the female relative who considered herself entitled, by virtue of relationship, to the reward which would doubtless have been given to Leichhardt had he succeeded in his last journey, or at least to a further grant for State Services on his first expedition.
He was a German physician of considerable scientific attainments. He possessed an extensive knowledge of economic botany and considerable information on general geology.
In August, 1846, on the 18th and 25th of the month, he delivered two lectures in Sydney on the results of his journey to Port Essington. These two lectures were published in a pamphlet now extremely rare, and have never been republished since.
Leichhardt was in Queensland for two years before he projected any extensive scheme of exploration. He rode here overland from Newcastle. He was collecting specimens from around Brisbane, and from Ipswich to the darling Downs in 1843 and 1844. He was at German Station with the German missionaries in June, 1843; Bigge’s Station, Grandchester, November 1843; and Canning Dows, near Warwick, 27th March 1844. An old Ipswich citizen tells me he saw him in Ipswich in 1843, a ‘thin, spare man, with a long, serious, face.’ Physically he was not a strongman, nor did his face and figure indicate a capacity for much endurance. His spirit was strong, far stronger than the body, a combination common enough among all grades of human genius. In his journey to Port Essington, he was subjected to no severe ordeal, having abundance of food and water, and a fair season from start to finish. In eight months, they had only three day’s rain. He was ill during nearly the whole of his second journey, and when starting from McPherson’s station, on the Cogoon, in April, 1848, was suffering from palpitations of the heart. Leichhardt was not a leader of men. He possessed hardly one of the qualifications of leader. Any competent Australian bushman reading his account of his journey to Port Essington would see clearly enough that the first time he met with serious troubles, he would involve himself and party in disaster.
It would be difficult to find two men of strong individualism more unqualified for leadership than Leichhardt and Robert O’Hara Burke. We have no record to show if Burke ever said a foolish thing, but he certainly never did a wise one, from the start at Melbourne to the last scene on Cooper’s Creek.
Both men led their parties into misery and death. Burke’s succession of blunders really seemed to arise out of an infatuation based on a blind, unreasoning fatalism. He started with an expedition that could have made a picnic excursion of a journey across the continent, and it ended with the death of six men, and a meager geographical result from a flying trip which Hewitt appropriately describes as an ‘act of splendid insanity.’
Leichhardt’s suicidal want of caution when surrounded by hostile blacks caused the cruel death of Gilbert, the botanist, and serious injury to two other men.
Had the brothers Gregory, Sturt, Stuart, Landsborough, and Walker, acted with the same want of ordinary precaution, they and all their men would certainly have been exterminated. There was no other resemblance between Burke and Leichhardt except their incapacity for leadership.
The journey to Port Essington was beyond question, a splendid achievement; but from Jimbour station on the Darling Downs to the northwest ocean, Leichhardt had an unbroken series of advantages such as never favoured any Australian explorer before nor since. There was an abundance of grass and water for his stock and party, plenty of game for the camp, and fine weather nearly the whole journey. They had to face none of the miseries and dangers of Sturt, Eyre, and Stuart, nor any of the difficulties encountered and overcome by the careful, calculating Gregory.
The scientific man of an expedition ought never to be the leader. The leader should be leader only and nothing else. Emin Pasha thought more of a new bird or a new beetle than the discipline of his soldiers or the condition of the state. Had Stanley been an Emin, he would never have come back from Albert Nyanza, and probably never have got there at all. The scientist is usually an enthusiast with one grand planetary idea which makes science the central sun round which it for ever revolves in a fixed orbit. He, too, on an expedition, in justice to himself, ought to have no other responsibility whatever. Leichhardt was a specially valuable man as the scientist of a party, but as leader he was a mournful failure. He possessed neither the natural nor the acquired qualifications. He neither ruled his men by fear nor endeared them to him by love. Like most scientists, he lived wrapped up in cold selfish isolation, a condition more or less essential to science, but fatal to a leader of men. He possessed no strong human sympathies. He never anywhere writes of any of his party with a kind generous feeling. He expresses no sorrow or regret for the criminal negligence which caused the death of Gilbert, and the physical torture of Calvert and Roper. His journal shows that he inspired neither his white men nor his blackboys with fear or respect. They regarded him with a feeling utterly subversive of discipline and the mutual harmony which ought to bind a leader and his men together. Not one of his first party went out on his second trip, and not one of his second party except ‘Womai’ joined his third expedition.
When John Mann and Hovenden Hely arrived in Brisbane on 12th August, 1847, both very ill from fever, they expressed opinions in no sense complimentary to the leader of the expedition.
In 1878 old John Campbell, of Redbank, wrote: “I well recollect the surprise when one evening Messrs. Hely and manna walked into the Queen’s Arms Hotel in Ipswich upon their unexpected return, and at the way they abused Leichhardt, calling him anything but a gentleman. Among other things they asserted that if any game was shot – such as a duck, or even a pigeon – it must first be brought to him, and he generally appropriated it to his own use, leaving those who shot it to go without. They also accused him of camping at a short distance from the rest of the party in an exclusive manner and not talking over the events of the day, nor of the route to be pursued on the morrow. And finally they declared that he was no bushman, but merely a good navigator, who could find his way by quadrant and compass only, and that he was a martinet, and an extremely disagreeable companion.
The reader must not deem me uncharitable in writing in this strain. My object is to give a correct picture of a celebrated man whose name must for ever be honourably associated with Australian history. My first chapters are dealing exclusively with cold facts. The sentiment is left for the conclusion. There was enough foolish, unreasoning sentiment wasted over O’Hara Burke to have give a full share to all the explorers of the nineteenth century. The shadowy atmosphere of romance in which Burke expanded to such sublime proportions was rudely dispelled by Howitt and Favenc.
I have now to paint Leichhardt in more attractive colours.
As a scientist, he commands our admiration. Very little escaped notice within the range of that ever watchful eye. He collected intensely interestingly information on the flora and fauna seen along the journey to Port Essington. Much of that information was embodied in lectures delivered in Sydney on the 18th and 25th August 1856. These lectures were revised and published in a pamphlet by Mr. A. Baker, of King Street, a publication unfortunately so rare that I was able to obtain or hear of only one copy. Both lectures appeared in the Sydney Herald, and parts were republished in the Moreton Bay Courier of 1846.
He described all the roots, seeds, fruits, and vegetables used as food on the journey. His knowledge of botany enabled him to ascertain to what species the plant belonged, and the properties of those to which they were allied in other parts of the world. His botanical skill supplied his party and himself with a variety of vegetable food unknown to all other explorers. He was not sentimentally fastidious in his diet, and ate all available animal food, from tree grubs to snakes, to kangaroos and flying foxes. Fat foxes were a favourite dish. He appeared to posses what Josh Billings regarded as the supreme blessing of any man in this world, ‘a good reliable set of bowels.’
The book of nature was ever before him with an open page, and, like Manfred, ‘he dived in his lone wanderings to the cave of Death, searching for causes and effect; and drew from withered bones and skulls and heaped up shells, conclusions most forbidden.’
The dead crabs and turtles and mussel shells far out on the box gum flats of the Gulf, groves of dead trees and heaps of shells, overgrown by four or five years growth, spoke eloquently of long droughts and the receding ocean. He saw buffaloes for the first time on the East Alligator River, wandering descendants of the old Raffles Bay stock.
He met blacks with beautiful rock crystals, but no gold or gems. Strange that the rock crystal has been an object of veneration to so many tribes of Australian blacks.
The student of Occultism, or the alchemist who passed the nights of years in sciences untaught, save in the olden time, may seek to solve in vain, this mystery of the wild myalls’ magic talisman! I have seen these rock crystals carried under the arm, worn around the neck, hidden in the hair, or suspended in small bags with a band round the forehead. But this subject must stand aside.
In the maps prepared by Leichhardt in 1847, we have proofs of his careful and accurate observation. He records the physical features of the country along the entire route, the geology, the fauna, the flora, the temperature, and specially interestingly incidents of travel. His few unimportant geographical errors may seem absurd to men who traverse modern mapped out Queensland in buggies or railways, but they were only trifling spots on the great sun of the man who travelled in 1845 for 3000 miles across wild, unknown country, never before trodden by the foot or seen by the eye of civilised man.
He left Sydney in the steamer Sovereign, afterwards wrecked at the South Passage, with the loss of forty-four people, on the 13th August, 1844, bringing James Calvert, John Roper, John Murphy (a boy 10 years of age), a ticket of leave man named “Bill Phillips,” and Harry Browne, a Newcastle aboriginal. The Sovereign occupied a week on the journey, a little more than is required by the clipper steamers of today.
Before leaving the Downs, the party was increased by Pemberton Hodgson; Mr. Gilbert, a naturalist who had been with Gould; Caleb, an American Negro; and “Charley,” a Bathurst aboriginal.
There was not one competent bushman in the whole expedition. The instruments were represented by a sextant and an artificial horizon, a chronometer, Kater’s compass, and small thermometer. He also carried Arrowsmith’s map of New Holland. Among the provisions were 1200lb of flour, 200lb of sugar, 80lb of tea, and 20lb of gelatine. They took 30lb of powder and eight bags of shot, chiefly Nos 4 and 6. Those were the days of muzzleloaders. He estimated the time at seven months, whereas the journey occupied fourteen months and a half.
They left Jimbour, then called ‘Jimba,” on the 1st of October, 1844, and “launched buoyant with hope into the wilderness of Australia.”
On the 17th, “Charley” threatened to shoot Gilbert, and was in a state of insubordination. He was dismissed in the morning and pardoned in the evening. They were all poor sportsmen, and, like Burke and Wills and King, would have starved in the midst of plenty.
On the 3rd of November he decided to reduce his party, and Caleb and Hodgson returned to the Darling Downs.
On the 6th of November, they crossed the Dawson, named after R. Dawson, of the Hunter River.
On the 7th an old man kangaroo killed two of the dogs.
On the 14th he named the Gilbert Range after the naturalist, and Lynd’s Range after Robert Lynd.
They passed waterholes full of jewfish and eels, and swamps covered with plovers and ducks. They ate iguanas, ‘possums, shellfish, and all manner of birds.
On the 27th Leichhardt named the Expedition Range, Mount Nicholson, after Dr. Nicholson M.L.C., of Sydney, and Aldis Peak after a Mr. Aldis of Sydney. On the 28th he named the Boyd River after Benjamin Boyd, the first man to introduce kanakas to New South Wales in 1846.
On the 5th of December, he had named Zamia Creek and “Bigges’s Mountain,” after Bigges the squatter at the present Grandchester.
On the 7th one of the horses was speared by the blacks. On the 29th he named the Comet River, from a comet visible on that date. On the 31st they saw they saw the remains of a camp, evidently made by white men, with a ridge pole and two forks cut by a sharp axe. Who were these lonely strangers? And whence and whither? No answer from the eternal silences. One native seen that day looked like a half caste. On the 10th of January, he reached the Mackenzie, called after Sir Evan Mackenzie.
The blacks, so far, were either friendly, or declined communication. His attempts to understand the natives were a failure. He was nearly always wrong in his conclusions. He says, “The Mackenzie blacks called water ‘yarrai,’ the same as on the Downs,” whereas water on the Downs is “goong,” and “gamoo,” and “coomoo,” on the Mackenzie and Dawson. The scared old gin on a treetop was not alluding to water when she said, “Yarrai-yah,” but simply telling him laconically to clear out. He says, “The hunting nets were made from the bark of the Cooramin tree,” whereas Cooramin is the word for kangaroo, the animal caught by the nets. Sir Thomas Mitchell was equally unfortunate in confusing the information received from the blacks.
And so the explorers journey on to the Burdekin, following that river past the Valley of Lagoons, away up to the head waters; crossed the Dividing Range on to the Lynd, followed that river down to the Mitchell, along the Mitchell until near the coast; then doubled back on the 25th June, and came down the shores of the Gulf, touching the coast a little north of the Staaten River, thence skirting the Gulf away across all the rivers to within sight of the sea near the mouth of the Limmen Bight River, and thence he travelled westward across the Peninsula to the settlement at Port Essington, where they arrived on the 17th of December, 1845.
They were kindly received by the Commandant, Captain McArthur, and, after recruiting there for some weeks, started with Captain McKenzie in the schooner Heroine and arrived in Sydney on the 29th of March, 1846.
Of the party who had started from Jimbour one man never returned. This man was Gilbert, the naturalist, a pupil of the famous Gould. Poor Gilbert lies in his lonely grave by the side of a lagoon on a box tree flat on the Nassau, the victim of a leader’s want of caution criminal in its astounding stupidity. On the night of the 28th of June, 1845, the party camped by a lagoon on the Nassau in latitude 15 degrees 45 minutes. They were at that time surrounded by hostile dangerous blacks. Yet no watch was kept. They camped in tents far apart, Phillips actually on the opposite side of the lagoon, and all went serenely off to sleep, leaving even the fires burning brightly to mark their position to the blacks. A shower of spears and a chorus of fearful yells woke them up to find that their guns had no caps on, and the whole party only escaped total destruction in a manner little short of miraculous. Calvert and Roper were pierced by several spears and extremely bruised by nullas. A fine pointed spear had been driven through Gilbert’s heart, killing him dead on the spot.
After this, Leichhardt “took every precaution to prevent another surprise!” They had so far been rambling through wild, unknown country and wild, unknown, savages with the unsuspicious confiding simplicity of a band of children.
Leichhardt and party landed at Sydney on the 29th of March, 1846, greatly to the astonishment and much to the delight of the general public, who had come to regard them as the “lost explorers.”
Leichhardt and his men were either swept away by floods, dead from starvation, perished from thirst, murdered by blacks, or were hopelessly lost in some “wild, weird clime, lying sublime, out of Space and out of Time.”
Pathetic articles and mournful paragraphs beveled the fate of the doomed men, and amateur poets added new and appalling terrors to death. Chief of the frenzied bards who burst forth prematurely into sombre epithetic verse was Robert Lynd, whose name Leichhardt had bestowed on the tributary of the Mitchell. His poem, expressing a sad desire for someone to “pluck a leaf on Leichhardt’s tomb,” is printed in Dr. Lang’s “Queensland.”
Much more useful to Leichhardt than the applause of the crowd and the paeans of enthusiastic poets was a grant of £1000 from the Legislative Council and a sum of £1518 18s 6d subscribed by the general public. From the last amount, Leichhardt received a share of £854, and from the State grant £660; Calvert and Roper getting each £125; Murphy £70; Phillips £80 and a free pardon, and the two blacks £25 each. The £854 was presented to Leichhardt in the Sydney School of Arts by the President of the Council on the 21st of September, 1846. He thus received personally a total sum of £1454.
After a few months sojourn in Sydney, where he was treated to the most generous hospitality, Leichhardt prepared for his second expedition.
Particulars of this trip were written two years ago by John F. Mann, a member of Leichhardt’s party. This hale and hearty old gentleman is still living, and resides at Neutral bay, Sydney. It appears that Mann’s very clear and interestingly narrative was unknown to Ernest Favenc when writing his excellent “History of Australian Exploration,” so the general reader will meet here for the first time an outline of that second expedition of which so little has hitherto been known. Leichhardt’s intention was to cross the continent from east to west. His natural timidity is clearly apparent in the course he intended to take. At the end of one of the lectures delivered in Sydney in August, 1846, he then announced his future intentions:-
“I shall proceed at once to latitude 23 degrees where I found the Mackenzie and Peak Range during my last journey, and as the Mackenzie was well supplied with water, shall follow it up to its sources, probably 80 or 100 miles west of where we struck the river. I might then find out if the western branches of the supposed watershed go south to join the Darling or turn north as the sources of the great rivers of the Gulf. In the last case, if there were sufficient water I would go west and try to reach the northwest coast. If there were no water to go west or north I would return down the Mackenzie and follow my first journey up to the junction of the Clarke and Burdekin in latitude 19 degrees 12 minutes. I would follow the Clarke and doubtless easily find the head of the Flinders after crossing a tableland or dividing range. I would then go on to the Albert and follow it up to find the latitude of its source and nature of country. Then I would try a westerly course to the heads of the Nicholson, Van Alphen, Abel Tasman, Robinson, and Macarthur, and from the latter river would hope to reach the waters of the west coast in about 17 degrees 18 minutes. Should I succeed, I shall turn south parallel to the northwest and west coast until I reach Swan River. This journey I hope to complete in two years.”
In stead of reaching the opposite end of the triangle by traversing the base he intended to pursue an erratic course up one side and down the other, with a series of curves and various geodetic eccentricities thrown in to break the monotony of the journey.
On the night of 30th September, 1846, Dr. Leichhardt, Hovenden Hely, and Daniel Bunce left Sydney for Raymond Terrace on the H.R.S. Company’s steamer, Thistle.
On the following day, Perry, Boecking, and Meyer left by the Cornubia.
On the 15th of October, J. B. Mann left for Brisbane by the Tamar in charge of the heavy luggage, and to pick up ten head of cattle presented out of the Government heard at Redbank. He wisely sold these cattle, bought others on the Downs at the same price, and saved roving and risk. All the stores went to Ipswich in the Experiment (Pearce owner), the first steamer that ever ran on the Brisbane River.
On the 6th of November he went to Ipswich with J. Bowie Wilson, McConnell, and Gideon Scott, dining on the way with Dr. Simpson, C.L. Commissioner. At Ipswich he got a letter from Leichhardt at Eton Vale, telling him to see Major North about certain horses and to get some rhubarb and magnesia. Mann says that Dr. Dorsey kindly supplied him with all the medicines he could spare.
In the Maitland “Mercury” of 1846, I find that Leichhardt’s party were in Stroud on the 8th of October preparing to start. All wore red shirts and cabbage tree hats, and were daily expecting the doctor from “Tahlee.” They had twelve horses and fifteen mules , twelve of which were obtained from the A. A. Company, one was presented by Wentworth, and two by H. H. McArthur, besides 270 goats purchased from Wentworth, of Windemere. The horses came from King’s Irrawang station.
When the whole party were finally together at Oakey Creek, they possessed fourteen horses, sixteen mules, 270 goats, 100 sheep, four dogs, and forty head of cattle. That was certainly a lively procession to face the flooded rivers and mulga and brigalow scrubs of the West! Leichhardt less resembled an Australian explorer than one of the Hyskos or Shepherd Kings driven forth by tribal wars to stock and populate a new territory. They carried ½ a ton of flour, 200lb of tea, 200lb of tea, 200lb of salt, 50lb of powder, 200lb of shot, six bars of soap, and 20lb of gelatine and tapioca. Their weapons included eight guns and two swords. For camping they had only two 8 x 6 tents. The mules were a source of trouble from the start. These cantankerous animals, when not engaged exercising their hind legs in kicking holes in the atmosphere, were distributing their loads impartially over the surface of the surrounding territory.
On the 6th of December, they all arrived at Jimbour. Next day the unwieldy cavalcade departed on that disastrous journey second only in Australian annals to the Burke and Wills expedition for the general misery and dismal failure arising out of the suicidal incompetence of the leadership, and insane mismanagement.
People disposed to regard Leichhardt as a hero of a sublime type will do well to avoid reading Mann’s narrative. They will emulate the antiquarian who declined to scour his ancient shield for fear it might prove to be a pot lid, or the amateur astronomer who refused to risk his faith in Aristotle by gazing through a telescope.
Macaulay, in his essay on Bacon, says the life of the noblest man is too often a perpetual conflict between lofty aspirations and mean desires. If there were noble traits in Leichhardt they are not discernible either in his own journals or those of Mann or Bunce, who were his companions on that melancholy expedition. Mann’s account of the journey was written as a painful duty to himself and his comrades. Leichhardt on his return to the Downs stated in a published letter to Lieutenant Lynd that “on this journey my companions behaved remarkably well.” But he wrote to his brother in law in Germany on the 20th of October 1847, attributing all the disasters of the trip to the bad conduct of his companions, and alluding to them all in most ungenerous terms. That letter was, of course, not intended for publication, but it appeared in the Sydney “Herald” of the 24th of January 1866.
Then Mr. Mann, “for the sake of his children and himself and the memory of his former companions, published a true version of the journey, as brief as possible.”
The journal of Bunce, a botanical collector in the party, had been published long before, and it agrees entirely with Mann’s account. Mann himself writes more in sorrow than in anger, apparently somewhat humiliated by the “bitter constraint and sad occasion” which makes his painful revelations a necessity. There is no reason whatever to doubt the absolute sincerity and integrity of Mr. Mann’s account of the expedition and his allusions to Leichhardt’s peculiarities.
They started along Leichhardt’s first track towards the Comet and the Peak Range, intending to go thence towards the west coast of Australia. The party included Hovenden Hely, James Perry, a saddler; Boecking, a German tanner and baker; Daniel Bunce, botanical collector; Turnbull, from the A. A. Company, and Brown and Wammai, two blacks from Newcastle and Port Stephens.
On this trip, Leichhardt resembled “some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster followed fast and followed faster,” until there was no prospect of escape. On Charley’s Creek, they were detained twenty-five days recovering their stock scattered in a night panic caused by Leichhardt walking through them to “accustom them to his presence.”
Hely came into camp on the 13th from Drayton, then called the “Springs” (myall ‘Moyumneura’), with the mails and letters.
Reaching the Dawson, they found that river and its tributaries flooded, and the country very soft. One of the mules kicked the doctor in the stomach. Colds, face-ache, and influenza, were prevalent. The mules were one prolonged calamity. The atmosphere was thick with sandflies and mosquitoes. The doctor was usually in a frantic rage with the mules, or the goats, or some of his party. When his men were sick he had no physic. He told them at the start that he had a complete medicine chest, and a set of surgical instruments. Both statements were untrue. He had no ointment, bandages, physic, lint or plaster of any sort, and his “instruments consisted of a knife for skinning birds and a bullet mould for drawing teeth.” He had actually induced those who had medicine to leave them behind at the stations! This criminal neglect entailed incalculable suffering on the whole party. He would not even kill the sheep or cattle to supply proper food, but kept them on lean, tough, goat meat. They were delayed for weeks camped by the flooded Mackenzie, and all were miserably ill with fever and ague. The doctor was very despondent in his illness, but said that he “would die in Australia for Australia.” He had none of the calm defiance of pain and death shown by brave, mad, Burke. He made undignified attempts to obtain an unfair share of the food, and went stealthily away on three successive mornings and ate all the mustard cress grown for the invalids. He said, “They must look after themselves!” They were then not able to walk. He displayed the most cold blooded, disregard of his people’s illness and sufferings, and actually at night two of his party caught him walking away from the reserve provisions with an old neck scarf full of sugar, which he said agreed with him, but would turn sour on the stomachs of the sick men!
It is truly a painful and humiliating story. There is an unpleasant episode told of Sturt’s action with regard to 6lb of sugar when exploring on the Murray. Sugar seems to have been the Paradise apple to the Adams of exploration.
On the 19th of April they sighted the Peak Range. All the sheep and goats (230) had been abandoned in the Mackenzie scrubs, and some of the mules, horses, and cattle, were lost. On the 5th of May, they camped close to the Peaks. [The Comet blacks called these peaks “Babboola,” and Table Mountain “Wingganna.”]
Weeks of valuable time were foolishly wasted here in hunting for stray mules and cattle. Five of these mules actually went back for 600 miles to the Darling Downs, clearly making for Port Stephens. Hely and Brown were once out for eleven days, and again out for nine days. The weather was cold, the thermometer even falling to 25 degrees (F); they had a wretched camp, and were all sick. Their flour and sugar were done, and much of the meat was more or less putrid. Their lives were probably saved by the game that they shot. On the 21st of June, they started to return to the Darling Downs, and, on the 24th of July, after a miserable journey – in which the thermometer once fell to 18 degrees [Fahrenheit] – arrived, all half dead from sickness at Jimbour, where they were hospitably received by Mr. Joshua Peter Bell (the late Sir Joshua). There was a decidedly strained relationship between the doctor and his companions, not one of whom entertained towards him any friendly feeling.
On the 3rd of August, Hely and Mann left for Brisbane, arriving on the 7th of August at Ipswich, where Mann remained for a few days with Dr. Dorsay. In Brisbane they were entertained by Gordon Sandeman, Pierce, and others, with a supper at Bow’s Hotel.
On the 9th of August, Leichhardt started away west for Fitzroy Downs, to connect his surveys with those of Mitchell. He was accompanied by F. N. Isaacs, Bunce, Perry, and a blackboy. That journey was also a failure. After returning to the Downs, he started for Brisbane and arrived on Monday the 4th of October 1847, and left on Wednesday by steamer for Sydney.
The following graphic and interestingly description of Leichhardt is given by J. B. Mann, who for a period of eight months, had the best possible opportunities of observing his appearance and general disposition- “In appearance Leichhardt possessed a commanding presence, being a little over 6ft in height. He was by no means the strong man which those who knew him only in Sydney supposed him to be. All tendency to robustness vanished soon after we commenced our journey. I was much surprised to notice his slightly built frame and absence of muscular development. His head was well shaped with high intellectual forehead, small grey intelligent eyes, dark brown hair; the lower part of his face was hidden in a bushy beard and moustache; nose slightly aquiline. A few months in his company were sufficient to convince one that he was a man of more than ordinary intellect. His conversation was most fascinating; a thorough English scholar, writing and conversing most fluently in that language; his slight foreign accent, I suppose, added to his charm. He stood high in the estimation of those who were competent to form an opinion of his talents. As a leader he was wholly unsuited for such a responsible position, being deficient in almost every requirement for such a responsible post. He possessed neither patience, temper nor ingenuity; the organ of locality was apparently absent, as well as any mechanical conception. He really had no taste for drawing, nor could he distinguish one picture from another any more than he could distinguish one tune from another. He did not like music, there were only two tunes he cared to listen to. It was difficult to make out what religion he possessed. He certainly was not a Christian. He might have been a Unitarian. Judging from more circumstances than one, I judge him to be a Jew. Boecking, his countryman, a most intelligent, well informed man, was of the same opinion. It was suggested to him by one of our party that prayers should be read every Sunday. His reply was, ‘I do not care for those things myself, but if you choose to have them among yourselves, I have no objection.”
And now we come to the last journey, in which Leichhardt unexpectedly fulfilled his Peak Downs ambition of “dying in Australia for Australia.” His companions on this fatal expedition were Henzig Classon, Donald Stuart, Kelly, “Womai” and “Billy.”
Donald Stuart had been for some time with Leslie at Canning Downs. The blackboy “Womai,” was the Womai of his second trip.
The party came overland from the Hunter with the mules and the horses, and Leichhardt came from the Downs to Brisbane to get thirty fat bullocks from Redbank, presented by Sir Charles Fitzroy.
He left Brisbane on Wednesday, 16th February 1848. They started from the Downs with fifty bullocks, twenty mules, and six horses; besides 800lb of flour, 150lb of tea; 100lb of salt; 250lb of shot; 40lb of powder, but no sugar.
Leichhardt’s intention was to “follow the Cogoon to Cooper’s Creek.” This is an absurdity in the face of our present geographical information. The Cogoon is only a tributary of the Condamine, and the Condamine runs into the Balonne and the Murray. His intended course was probably west across the Warrego towards the Bulloo, across Cooper’s Creek in the direction of the Lower Diamantina, and thence over the continent to the western coast. By this route he would cross Mitchell’s Barcoo line of 1846, and Sturt’s track where he reached his furthest point north of the Stony Desert on the 8th of September, 1845.
Whatever route he took, it would be crossed in 1860 by Stuart, in 1861 by Burke and Wills, and in 1862 by McKinlay and Hodgkinson. Whether his proposed route would have taken him away towards the Sandy Desert reached by Gregory from the northwest in March, 1856, or across Sturt’s Desert through the still unknown portion of the interior is a problem no man now can ever solve.
His last letter is dated the 4th of April, 1848, from McPherson’s station on the Cogoon, beyond Mount Abundance. He was then suffering from palpitation, and apparently had never recovered from the effects of his unfortunate journey to the Peak Downs.
On the way out he stayed a night with Chauvel at Weeambilla Creek. The present Channing is Leichhardt’s “Sandy Creek,” and Uhiba his “Horse Track River.”
The next creek was then called “Odookadooka,” and the Balonne headwaters “Yancoodall.” The word “Dulacca” is the myall acacia; Tieryboo is another acacia, and Mica is a water lily; all native names in the ‘Cogal; dialect of the Maranoa.
There is not one sentence of evidence to show where they went for 100 miles after leaving McPherson’s. At that point they became enveloped in Egyptian darkness, which no human eye has pierced up to the present time. They vanish thence, voiceless and pathless, into Eternity, leaving their fate chiefly to the mercy of shadowy conjecture, wild formless rumour, or unfathomable lies.
Hovenden Hely went out to the head of the Warrego in 1851, and returned with a collection of idle tales from the blacks.
In 1858, A. C. Gregory with eight men and a complete equipment went west from Juanda across the divide of the Dawson on to the Maranoa, and found a Moreton Bay ash marked _], and other evidence of a camp in latitude 25 degrees, 35 minutes, longitude 36 degrees 6 minutes.
The country was in a state of desolation, the long drought having dried up the rivers and lagoons and turned the beautiful downs into a desert.
On the 28th of May, they saw one of Kennedy’s marked trees of 1846. They went out to Streletzki Creek, past lake Torrens and Mount Hopeless, thence to Adelaide, and returned to Sydney by sea. The marked tree seen by Gregory was eighty miles beyond where the blacks told Hely all Leichhardt’s people were murdered.
That solitary letter on the Moreton Bay ash is all that is left to tell us of the direction traveled by the lost explorer, if we are sure it was not cut by one of Kennedy’s or Mitchell’s men.
Landsborough’s expedition, after Burke and Wills, obtained no information whatever concerning Leichhardt. Hely had traced him to the head of the Warrego, and his last known camp when Gregory went out was 230 miles beyond Surat.
Thenceforth the Egyptian darkness is only pierced by the lightning flash of rumours which reveal nothing. Hume’s tales of Classon living with the blacks and Skuthorpe’s relics of the lost explorer must be consigned to the usual fate of discoveries that rest solely on the unsupported assertion of the discoverer. I was disposed to believe there really was something in Hume’s circumstantial narrative, but his secret ended with his cruel and untimely death. He was a splendid bushman who made astonishing discoveries.
If Classen was a man of vitality and strong physique, it would be quite possible to remain alive to old age among a tribe of friendly blacks. Buckley was with the Victorian natives for thirty three years. Finding goat hair ornaments among the western tribes is not much value in face of the fact that Leichhardt took no goats on the last expedition. The hair from the 100 goats abandoned on the Mackenzie on his second trip would be passed from tribe to tribe over immense distances. Goat mutton would be a standard dish at myall banquets in the Comet district long after Leichhardt left. There are still old blacks out there who remember Leichhardt’s goats, cows, and mules. They called the sheep and goats “mang-gees,” the bullocks “boolah,” and the horse “wandee,” the word for wild.
In the year 1866, Uhr’s black troopers at Cardwell had two gins who were brought down from the Suttor River. They gave a complete and true account of Leichhardt’s party and all their movements on the Comet, but concluded by saying that the blacks surprised them one night and exterminated the whole party. The gins doubtless believed this story told to them by the boastful warriors liars of the tribe. This plausible fiction was gravely circulated at the time to account for the fate of the lost party.
Gregory says Leichhardt intended to follow down the Barcoo to its northern bend, and then sheer towards supposed ranges at the head of the northwest rivers. His opinion is that the party left the Barcoo at the junction with the Alice and traveled far into the desert country to the northwest and perished from thirst.
Ernest Favenc holds a somewhat similar opinion, believing that the whole party vanished in the Central Desert.
In his work on the “Dominion of Australia,” W. H. L. Bunken draws a highly poetic picture of the last hours of Leichhardt’s party involved in tremendous floods in the basin of Cooper’s Creek and swept away into destruction. “Last of all, as the waters sapped and drowned the camp fire, Ludwig Leichhardt strode into the flood and passed away upon that exploration of which no traveler has ever reported.” The flood theory is also that of Mann, Giles, and Forrest.
The theory of floods is weak. In the first place, floods would have strewn the wreck of the party over discoverable localities, and total obliteration of men, animals, and baggage, in that fashion would verge on the improbable. In the second place, there were no floods out there in 1848. The rainfall on the coast for that year was only 29 inches, and the years 1847 and 1848 were both dry.
If Hume’s story of Classon was true, and I am strongly disposed to believe that it was, being both reasonable and consistent, then we have the whole secret explained.
A party of convicts escaped from the penal settlement in Western Australia, and went along the coast for a distance of about a hundred miles. They found several old camps found by white men, a big heap of oyster shells, and five human skeletons. Among the relics were the rusted unstocked barrels of five police carbines, bearing the broad arrow brand of the Ordnance Dept.
Each of Leichhardt’s party was armed with a police carbine from the Government stores in Sydney, and each carbine bore the broad arrow brand. Classen told Hume the party mutinied and the other five parted from him and Leichhardt. In that case, Leichhardt, who was ill when he started, would probably not long survive the ordeal of sickness or starvation.
Classen would be left alone to the mercy of the blacks.
The convicts returned to the penal settlement and related what they saw. A party went out and found everything exactly according to the convicts’ description.
Then the Governor of Western Australia sent a despatch to the Governor of New South Wales, giving an account of the remains and expressing a belief that they were those of Leichhardt’s party. If they really did separate, it must have been under desperate circumstances. Classen would naturally remain with his countryman. Once without a leader, the others would probably be guided by Donald Stuart, who had been years with the blacks, was a good bushman, and could live on anything.
When they reached the coast at Shark’s Bay, their ignorance of the country would prevent them knowing which way to go, or the fact that there were within less than a hundred miles of a penal settlement. They would continue to live on the coast, eating fish and oysters, in the hope of attracting the attention of a passing vessel. They would either be killed by the blacks or perish with fever. They were not men likely to die of starvation on the sea coast. In extreme hunger they would have eaten one another and scattered the bones; in thirst they would have wandered far apart; in illness one or two would probably have been buried. Killed by the blacks is the most reasonable theory.
But why was the most important evidence entirely overlooked? Among those five men of Leichhardt’s party were three whites and two blacks. Any man with the commonest amateur knowledge of craniology would have known at a glance the skulls of aboriginals from those of white men. If there were two native and two European skulls, they disposed at once of all reason for further controversy concerning Leichhardt.
In addition to this is the important fact that a stray horse found far west in South Australia was identified by Charles Marsh, of New England, as one presented by his brother to Dr. Leichhardt. These are strong reasons for believing that the story of Hume was correct, that Leichhardt had taken the northwest course indicated in his last letter but one, in which he says, “I shall go north from the Victoria (the Barcoo) until I come on decided waters of the Gulf, and then go west,” and thus Leichhardt died on the journey. Classon was left among the blacks and the five skeletons found by the escaped convicts at Shark’s Bay were those of Donald Stuart, Kelly, Heatig, Womai, and Billy. This would also fully explain the total disappearance of men and animals. An alternative belief is the theory at the end of this article.
In 1864 the ladies of Victoria sent out a Leichhardt search expedition under McIntyre, who had previously seen a tree marked l and two day old saddle marked horses 300 miles from the Gulf to the west of Burke’s track. Unfortunately McIntyre died of malarial fever before leaving the Gulf.
Gilmore found six skeletons away out in Central Australia, heard various rumours concerning a white man living with the blacks, but came back with only a piece of moleskin and oilcloth.
One more fact and we pass on to the conclusion. In 1862, when McDowall Stuart was returning across Sturt’s Desert, he was met by a small party of wild blacks, among whom was a half caste boy about 13 years of age. This boy would be accounted for by Leichhardt’s party passing that way in 1848, unless we are to credit him to Sturt’s expedition of 1845. It is incredible that Stuart took no notice of this boy, nor ever thought of an attempt to ascertain his parentage. He passes over that most important episode as an ordinary occurrence of no interest whatever. If Leichhardt passed Sturt’s Desert, his fate is as certain as if we had full particulars from a survivor. It seems idle to suppose that he and all his men, stock and baggage, were blotted from the face of the earth by blacks or floods before reaching the desert.
Leichhardt, with his usual infatuated faculty for doing the wrong thing, and his suicidal want of all ordinary precaution and calculation, may have marched straight on into the Central Desert without the smallest thought about water in front or his base of supply in the rear. Treacherously lured on by rapidly evaporating pools from thunder showers or light temporary rains, he probably even went beyond the hunting boundaries of the blacks, and on into that gloomy region ever since untrodden by the foot of man. A search for him, in that case, would be a search for Prester John, for Eldorado, for the Holy Grail, for the Philosopher’s Stone. Beneath the red sands of the desert lie the remains of Leichhardt and all his party. There perished the ambitious man
There lie they all “huddled in gray annihilation.”
Their graves are hidden in a gloom deep and dark as that witch conceals the last resting place of Moses the Jew and Alaric the Visi Goth, Their Buzentinus is Alph the sunless subterranean river, or the salt lakes; their “lone Bet-peor’s land,” lies where the sharp spinifex hides its roots in the death still sand waves of the Desert Ocean. No mortal eye beheld the last struggle; no mortal ear heard the groans of the dying explorers.
Vainly, in the last thirst madness they separated looking for water, each to perish helpless and alone, each left to the crowding thoughts of the dread moments when Azrael, the Death Angel, is lowering the sable curtain on the last scene. Ah, God, this is a cruel world, with its worship of Mammon and Moloch, its breaking hearts; its ceaseless tears; its never ceasing sight of weak women; its groans of strong men; its cries of sick children; its never ending Death March, and grim avenues of ever yawning graves.
And as the leader reclined there on the hot sand, in that voiceless, awful, solitude, shunned by the swift birds, shunned even by the spectral Winds, he thought of the woman he loved far off by the “blue rushing of the arrowy Rhine,” the one for whose sake he had gone forth into the world to hunt for fame and fortune, and who would thenceforth know only, like Vittoria Colonna,
The lifelong martyrdom,
The weariness, the endless pain,
Of waiting for someone to come,
Who never more would come again.
And death came softly upon him in the darkness, his dreams of love and fame ended in silence and oblivion, and day after day and year after year the dismal desert ocean buried him deeper and deeper beneath its waves, and the cruel spinifex hid even the surface of the dead man’s sepulchre, until those who loved him, alike with the heedless crown who care only to know how he died, may look hereafter for ever in vain for the remains of Lost Leichhardt.
December 16, 1898.
Sir, - It has doubtless not escaped your attention that there have lately been an unusual number of outrages perpetrated in connection with the beche-de-mer industry.
I do not propose in this communication to refer to the details of those outrages. It is desirable, however, that I should make some general observations in connection with them for your information.
They have occurred almost invariably in boats or on stations wholly manned or carried on by native labourers.
There have been and there still are employers who treat these natives fairly on the whole, though they are completely at the mercy of their masters, and it is quite impossible to exercise any such supervision as is found necessary in the employment of gangs of South Sea Islanders or other coloured labourers on sugar plantations. There are doubtless exceptional cases of gross ill-treatment , though it would be very difficult to prove these. The cases I refer to are generally those in which there is a starvation allowance of food. I have, however, known cases where murder has been committed by the natives in pure revenge for personal injuries and insults. But in the majority of cases the moving cause in the perpetration of outrage is the desire to return home.
They are recruited often willingly enough. They have heard strange tales of the sea from their friends, and they are willing to go on a cruise for a time. They are shipped with the vaguest possible idea of their duties or their obligations. They perhaps work willingly enough for a time, especially if they are well fed. But whether they are fed well or ill, whether they are treated badly or not, there comes over them, long before the expiration of their legal agreement, an irrepressible desire to return to their own country and to their tribal usages. They talk of this among themselves. There are always some of them who know enough about the navigation of a lugger to enable them to reach the mainland. Then they agree to seize the first favourable opportunity, and they make a dash for freedom.
If they get a chance they run away with the boat, making straight for the mainland, landing anywhere they can, and abandoning the boat. If they find they cannot do this without killing their master, they avail themselves of the first opportunity, and knock him on the head or pitch him overboard. It is easily done, and if there is plenty of flour and tobacco on board so much the better. Such is the history of most of these outrages.
Then as to the industry. It is conducted almost invariably by men who have only small capital, and who have not the means to go into the pearl shelling industry.
There are few exceptions to this, but for the most part a man who can afford to work a diving boat will have nothing to do with the beche-de-mer industry.
It will not pay to employ labour at it on a lugger on a higher scale than 10s a month, which is the usual covenanted scale for the natives. It is not a nice business. Life on board one of these boats, or at the stations on the islands which are resorted to, is unspeakably squalid and dirty. For some men, however, it has an attraction, and there is often associated with it a good deal of illicit intercourse with native women. It is altogether a nasty, stinking business, and at the present time, it yields very small profits to anyone connected with it. A few small commissions may be made by the agents who consign the beche-de-mer to China, but I think that most of these agents would be only too glad to realize the advances made to the trade.
It may be asserted, indeed, it has been broadly asserted by the local Press, which is of an exceptionally unprincipled and inexperienced type, that the present outbreak of atrocities is due to the presence of the Moravian missionaries under the auspices of the Presbyterian Federal Church at the Batavia River. It is further stated that the hands of the police are tied by the fact that the missionaries have impeded their action, and checked their efficiency. The statements thus made are most untrue, and most preposterous. The missionaries have done all they could to facilitate the arrest of offenders. The arrest of Harry Nichols’ would-be-murderers was made by them, and could not have been made without them. The police, moreover, are just as zealous as ever, though they have been nearly worked off their feet. Their area of influence has been from Somerset to the Scardon, about 10 miles to the north of the Batavia. They have never attempted anything beyond this, along the western shores of the peninsula, including the Jardine River and Seven Rivers. Within that area they command, and have commanded, the willing cooperation of the natives. Beyond it they have never attempted any permanent influence, and have not the means to command it. The police have always acted most willingly and zealously.
Indeed both Mr. Sub-inspector Savage and Senior Constable Conroy have suffered seriously in health from the hardships they have sometimes had to undergo while camping out.
It is both cruel and ridiculous to attribute either to the police or to the missionaries crimes which have their foundation in different causes altogether.
It is said, no doubt, that the mission station at the Batavia River is an asylum for some of those runaway murderers. It may be so. This, however, I will say, that the fact that they have resorted to Mapoon has enabled us to make arrests, which we certainly could not otherwise have made.
It is very evident to me that it will be necessary to adopt some means to stop these outrages. It can be best done, I believe, by checking the present system of recruiting; by making a strict scrutiny into the character of those by whom they are recruited; and by not allowing the mainland natives to be worked except in combination with other nationalities. In the meantime I propose not to allow natives from the mainland to be shipped except in boats where there is a sufficient proportion of South Sea Islanders, Malays, and Japanese to render their presence harmless.
I shall be glad to know if this proposal meets with your approval. If it is adopted, I feel confident that the outrages will cease. I am etc