THE FATE OF LOST LECHHARDT
WHEN AND HOW HE DIED
This account of how and where Leichhardt and all his party disappeared is given here to the world for the first time though in my possession for over 30 years. The late John Archibald, of the “Bulletin,” wrote to me on three occasions to let him have the whole story, and each time I gave him the reason for my delay.
The reader can have little or no idea of the amount of correspondence devoted to the disappearance of Leichhardt, since his last letter in April, 1848, from Mount Abundance Station, on the Cogoon, a tributary of the Balonne, and the variety of theories to account for the final tragedy, the where and the how, and the wherefore, in reality the bed-rock questions for us all. All those theories of the fate of the lost explorer were barely speculative, and based on nothing more solid than the imagination.
Such were the honest theories of J. F. Mann, Favenc, Ranken, Giles and many others. All that has been published on the subject from time to time would fill a considerable volume. It is not likely that I have missed much in my researches, and in Brisbane, the two sons of Hovenden Hely kindly placed all their father’s papers at my disposal. He was the man who went out in search of Leichhardt in 1852, or four years after the explorer disappeared, and if Hovenden Hely had gone on for another three days, accompanied by his aboriginals from the coast, the whole mystery of Leichhardt would have been definitely settled there and then.
But the coast blacks were in strange country, and among strange tribes, of whom they were naturally afraid, and they deserted Hely when he needed them most, and actually ran their own tracks safely back to the coast. Those men spoke the Kamilroi dialect, which could be understood amongst any other dialects, and over a surprising area. Ridley, in 1854, said he found it understood over 800 miles. After the desertion of the blacks, Hely had no chance of understanding or being among the wild tribes, so he had to turn back within two or three days journey of the scene of Leichhardt’s catastrophe.
For some days the wild blacks had assured Hely’s trackers that the white men had all been killed in a night attack, and indicated a creek called “Boonderra-bahla,” away in the northwest, as the site of the tragedy.
I finally located this creek, which runs into the Langlo River, a tributary of the Warrego, between Charleville and Tambo. A. C. Gregory, in 1858, in his Leichhardt Search Expedition, said he found a tree marked with the horizontal “L” on the Thompson River, 80 miles beyond where the blacks told Hely that Leichhardt and his party had been killed, and Gregory and myself frequently discussed that problem, but he was satisfied with the explanations given to me by the old Warrego blacks, endorsed by them on the Thompson.
They told me that Leichhardt, whom they called “Jirra-bengallie,” or “long spine,” a tall man, made a camp on “Boonderra-bahla” Creek, and left a portion of his party there while he and a white man, and one of the blacks, went away north. That was a flying trip, and Leichhardt would mark no trees except the one where he turned back. That was the tree seen by Gregory; but nobody ever since saw an “L” tree beyond that tree, or between it and “Boonderra-bahla” Creek.
Leichhardt on that trip was doing exactly what he said he would do in his last letter but one.
He was not decided as to what direction he would take, and, in fact, in other letters, he indicated a possibility of turning east on to his track in 1845, following that to the Gulf watershed, and then going due west to the coast of West Australia, probably about Shark Bay.
What Leichhardt intended doing after returning from that marked tree on the Thompson can never be known.
We cannot know if he went on northwards from there until he saw decided waters going to the Gulf, and either marked no other tree or marked on which was never recorded.
Perhaps his “L” and that of Landsborough may have confounded on more than one occasion.
I have seen three of Leichhardt’s “L’s,” one on the Nogoa, one on the Mackenzie, and one on Great Anthill Creek, on the Burdekin.
They were all evidently cut with a chisel, and had a distinctive character, not to be forgotten.
The two Suttor River aboriginal women with Uhr’s troopers at Cardwell, in 1866, said Leichhardt and all his party were killed in a night attack by the blacks, and that was practically correct; but they were repeating news passed on from blacks on the head of the Warrego, a long way southwest from the Suttor.
In Leichhardt’s second expedition, which collapsed on the Mackenzie, all his sheep, goats and mules were adrift in the brigalow scrubs, and were killed by the blacks and the dingoes.
Ornaments made with the hair of some of these goat were found on blacks out on the Barcoo, the result of barter over long distances.
The blacks on the Suttor would be certain to know that none of Leichhardt’s party were killed on that expedition of 1847, so those two women evidently referred to the tragedy of “Boonderra-bahla” Creek.
We shall do to remember that Leichhardt’s party were entirely dependent on him for their latitude and longitude, there being no second man capable of taking the leader’s place. Donald Stuart’s knowledge of the bush was confined to the Darling Downs, the other whites in the party having no bush knowledge whatever.
Remember also that Leichhardt had never recovered from the effects of the fever and hardships in the rains and scrubs on the Mackenzie in the previous year; that he suffered much from palpitation of the heart, and was physically quite unfitted for another expedition. It was practically suicide on his part to attempt a journey across Australia.
The Port Stephens aboriginal, Womai, of the expedition of 1847, was the only old servant who went on the last journey, the others being all new men, including two Germans, Hentig and Classen. If any fatality happened to Leichhardt, the whole party would have been dependent on Womai and Billy to run their tracks back to the coast, and that they could easily have done.
Gregory’s theory held tha Leichhardt went west from the Barcoo, at the Alice junction, far into the desert country, and perished of thirst. For that there is no evidence whatever.
Leichhardt’s letters show clearly that he had no intention of facing a track across the centre of Australia, being much too cautious for such an experiment, his intention being to go north to the head waters of the Gulf and Northern Territory rivers, and follow those head waters westward to the west coast, the most sensible route he could have chosen taking him right along the present Barkley Tableland to the Victoria River, keeping carefully clear of the unknown, mysterious, and presumably desert interior.
Very remarkable is the plausibility of some of the supposed traces of Leichhardt. McIntyre, who was to lead the Victorian women’s expedition, had seen an “L” tree and two owl saddle-marked horses 300 miles from the Gulf, west of Burke’s track, and in 1856 Gregory saw an “L” tree on Elsey Creek, in the Northern Territory.
Gilmour found six skeletons away out in Central Australia, but brought back only two pieces of moleskin and oilcloth. In 1861, McDouall Stuart, returning across Sturt’s Desert, met a party of blacks with a half-caste youth, presumably the result of Sturt’s expedition of 1845. Stuart apparently considered this episode of no importance. If Sturt’s party was responsible, the boy’s age would be 16, or 13 if Leichhardt’s party was concerned.
Hume, who claimed to have found Classen living with the blacks, was an experienced bushman, but he made a terrible mistake on his last journey, a mistake that cost the lives of himself and his companion, both perishing of thirst. The relics said to have been found by Hume, and brought in by Skuthorpe, mysteriously disappeared. The story is too long for here, and would answer no useful purpose. It was more or less nebulous from start to finish. The death of Hume was most unfortunate, as he may actually have seen Classen, the possibility of that to be shown in my next and final chapter.
A white man of strong physique could easily reside among blacks from 1848 to 1876. Buckley lived 33 years among the Victorian blacks, and was then found in perfect health.
It being shown, therefore, that there is no evidence whatever that Leichhardt ever even reached the Barcoo, nothing beyond merely presumptive evidence, pure surmises, and speculative theories, we shall come to the remarkable story given to me by the blacks who were actually present, whose accounts were obtained separately, whose versions were perfectly consistent, and not to be shaken, and in whose honesty and veracity I had the most perfect confidence.
So the readers of “The World’s News” may expect an amazing narrative, in which also will appear my reason for not publishing it before.
FAMOUS BLUE MOUNTAINS FALLS
Just ninety-two years have passed, nearly a hundred years since William Romaine Govett, Sir Thomas Mitchell’s ablest staff surveyor, discovered the now famous Blue Mountain falls which today bear the name of “Govett’s Leap,” and apparently no Australian writer has yet written a history of that remarkable man, or related how or when the celebrated falls were first seen by civilised white men.
Surveyor Govett had a sister who married a son of a proud old Scottish family, and one of her sons became Dr. John Govett Smith, a well-known physician in Grafton, on the Clarence, in the sixties and seventies (1860s and 1870s), familiar to me as a youth when studying law with solicitor George Foott, in an office occupied for years by James Lionel Michael, when he had Henry Kendall, the poet, as a clerk. Three of Dr. Smith’s daughters, grandnieces of Govett, are today residing at Stanmore, and a son, S. Govett Smith, is at present in Stroud.
The sisters possess a splendid and highly artistic oil painting, portrait of William Romaine Govett, done by George Gay, a once famous artist, whose work has an enduring reputation to the present day. He painted the portrait of Govett in 1832, and it certainly should be purchased for the New South Wales Art Gallery, where it could be seen by the public. A photograph of that painting, taken by Stevenson of Grafton, about 60 years ago, has been kindly sent to me by S. Govett Smith, so it could be used to illustrate this article, and he has also placed at my disposal for perusal a series of 20 most interesting and instructive articles written by Surveyor Govett to a London magazine in 1836. In a letter to myself, Mr. Govett Smith says:-
“I had in my possession at one time the original story of Govett, kept while on his survey work, and which contained much valuable information, also pen and ink and water colour sketches of early Sydney and the harbor, various scenes in the Blue Mountains, including what was called after him Govett’s Leap. I distinctly remember reading in his diary that when he was sending in his report to Mitchell, afterwards Sir Thomas, describing and giving a sketch of the wonderful falls he had discovered, Mitchell wrote back to say he had named it Govett’s Leap. Among the many illustrations in his diary, there were some of all the different animals, birds, fish and reptiles he had seen as he made a practice of at once sketching in his diary anything new in the fauna and flora, and he gave a splendid water color drawing of an aboriginal corroboree. This diary was loaned by me to a Mr. W. D. Campbell, who was a surveyor in New South Wales, and afterwards in West Australia, but I was never able to get it back again.”
Possibly this mention in “The World’s News” may rouse Mr. Campbell’s dormant memory, so that he can return the valuable diary to the rightful owner, who would present it to the Mitchell Library, the proper custodian.
The oil painting by Gay not only shows Surveyor Govett as a very handsome man, but his art sketches and literary work clearly show him to have been a highly cultured classical scholar, apparently gifted like Mitchell himself, and with the same inexhaustible capacity for work. And this was the man supposed by ignorant people to have been a desperate bushranger, who galloped his horse over the precipice to escape from the police! It would have been better to have taken his chances with the police, unless he was like the Irishman, who drowned himself for fear his wife might kill him! History is the quintessence of an ass when it deals in fables and delusions. After 2800 years, the world today reads but little concerning Lesbian Sappho, except poisonous lies.
Here is part of the first description ever written of Govett’s Leap, by the discoverer himself, in 1832:-
“It is situated at one of the sources of the Grose River, distant rather more than two miles from the Main Western Road, which leads from Sydney across mountains into the rich Bathurst country, about 65 miles west of Sydney. Two small swamps, commencing near Black-heath, a dreary spot which the road crosses, afford two streams a continual supply of water, and these, after their junction, rush rapidly over the cliffs into the chasm, and fall into the deep abyss. Though the quantity of water is not great, the channel worn being only about 20ft, the entire fall, which is estimated at 1200 feet, gives an air of grandeur to the cascade. The perpendicular height of the cliff, or wall of rock, over which the stream first pours itself is at least 200 ft, and then, falling in a succession of broken cataracts into misty hollows, it forms at the depth of a thousand feet lower the bed of the Grose River. The chasm, which apparently yawns for the small stream, is like an amphitheatre, about 100 yards in width, and the water gliding into it seems again transformed into its present vapor, for it assumes a misty appearance, and a moment’s gaze into the dark void is enough to appall the stoutest heart. But when fear is overcome by curiosity, and the brink of the precipice is approached, wonder is increased at every step by the dreadfully abrupt and perpendicular sides, the frightful depth of the gulf, the whispering echo of the place, and the deep hollow-sounding dash of the water.”
That is the first appearance of “Govett’s Leap” on the page of human history. The fall itself did not impress Govett like the splendid of the environment, the gigantic grey precipices, the tremendous chasms, the vast, inaccessible ravines, the clouds and mists, the rolling vapors, the grim, savage-looking, bare rocks, and all the other scenic grandeur of the mountains. He was more impressed by the awful abyss a mile and a half south of the “Weatherboard Inn,” an abyss so deep that no bottom could be seen, down which descended a stream, larger than the “Govett’s Leap,” also supplied by swamps.
“Upon coming to the edge of the precipice, nothing can sufficiently represent the tremendous magnificence of the scene.” Surveyor Govett must have done an amazing amount of survey work from 1830 to 1836, from Broken Bay to Illawarra, on the Blue Mountains, and beyond them.
A paragraph in one of his articles says:-
“A new township was laid out in 1832, about 3 miles west of Bong Bong, and is called Berrima. This spot is rather peculiarly situated, and when I visited it for the purpose of laying out the form of the streets, it wore a melancholy aspect. The land around is barren and stony, and the bush black and gloomy.”
The gaol of that small town had evidently an appropriate setting, in harmony with its unenviable history.
When the London magazine was announcing Surveyor Govett’s series of articles, it said: “Under the general title of ‘Sketches of New South Wales,’ a series of papers will be given descriptive of that scenery and natural productions of that remarkable country, and also of the singular habits and customs of the natives.”
Govett, like Mitchell, was a keenly observant man, and consequently his articles are unusually interesting.
He saw the blacks in their primitive state in the county of Argyle, and he gives some excellent sketches of their corrobborees, tree climbing and hunting scenes. They caught huge eels, up to 20lb in the Woollondilly and Cockbundoon Rivers. He went to Lake George (“Werriwa”), which he found full of dead trees, with brackish unpleasant water. Hr gives the shape as oblong with a length of 17 miles and a width of 8. It was covered by incredible numbers of wildfowl, and one cloud of ducks a mile in length came and settled “looking like an island, or a huge sandbank.”
He found Lake Bathurst clean, good water, and gives the extraordinary name of “Albanoyonyiga,” which is too much for me in its present form. In 1832 he visited Bathurst, and gives the following lurid incident, which was too common in the penal days. On a clear, rising ground behind the town, a gibbet had been erected and Govett saw two convicts hanged for murdering their overseer, probably for some strong reason, as there were some heartless ruffians among those old convict overseers. The two dead men were suspended in chains on a pole 40ft in height, where they were left until all the flesh fell off, leaving only the bare skeletons swaying and rattling in the wind. Govett was present in the following year when Governor Burke visited Bathurst and ordered the two gruesome skeletons to be cut down and buried.
An old hand, who had been in Bathurst in the forties, told me he saw the people going to the races, riding and driving under two dead men hung in chains, and doing it as a joke!
On one occasion an aboriginal was roasting some goanna eggs in the ashes, and offered a few to Govett, who said he “found them delicious.” I tried a couple at one time, and found them all right, but the thought of the “hen” that laid them had a depressing effect. Govett saw his first flying foxes in a scrub on Cowan and Berowra Creeks, but he omitted to roast some on red coals and find them to be a real dainty dish.
Roast foxes were one of Leichhardt’s favourite articles of diet. Snakes were very numerous in Govett’s days, as they were in all new country. What he calls the “yellow snake” was evidently the death adder, and he quotes a case where a girl was bitten and her father cut and sucked the wound, both of them dying in a few minutes.
He saw vast heaps of oyster shells 20 and 30 feet in height,
and they were brought into Sydney in boats and burned for lime.
The present day Barranjoey he calls “Barranjull,” and Narrabeen was “Narra-bun.” The rocky points from Manly to Broken Bay he called “Farrell’s Head,” “Hole in the Wall,” “Turrimetta,” “Bungan,” and “Bulgoula.” He found two tough old weather beaten fishermen living in a hut at Barranjul and taking their fish to Sydney. He saw the blacks fishing off the rocky points with their primitive lines, using starfish bait, one of them catching six big schnapper in half an hour.
He took one of the lines to try his luck and got his line caught in the rocks first throw, in deep water, where it remained until next morning when the owner dived and released the hook. He found the blacks more expert at fishing than any whites. The whites in the early days called native bears “monkeys,” and he reminds us that Hyde Park was half a mile in length and a quarter in width, and was then at the “back of town,” but he predicted that it “might one day be in the centre!”
WHAT HE SAW AND DID
The people who visit the Blue Mountains today, or stay at the various resorts, have not the remotest idea of the conditions in the early days when Govett found the “Leap” and established a trigonometrical station on the summit of Mount Hay.
This mountain, and Mounts George and Jomak, are the most clearly visible from Sydney, “a distance of 60 miles, and appearing a beautiful blue color,” as Govett says in his diary. The best view of the Blue Mountains in Sydney is from the old trig station on top of the hill on the left going from Manly to Narrabeen, and as seen from there, they received their name in the beginning.
Here is an interesting extract from Govett’s diary. “The first ascent from emu Plains commences at the distance of a mile or so south of the old road at Lapstone Hill, and winds gradually up the side of a ravine, to come out and join the old road at the Pilgrim Inn, a distance of three miles. Thence the traveller may proceed along the ridge and road without difficulty to within two miles of Mount York, the dangerous descent of which is avoided by the new line of road, which inclines a little southward, and descends by a gentle slope along the low neck of Mount Vittoria. The impediment to the formation of the new line at this spot was a huge mass of iron and sandstone rock, of which the mountains on either side are composed, and the difficulty of overcoming it may be conceived from the fact that about six hundred convicts who worked in irons for punishment, were employed for two whole years in removing it.”
Who was responsible for changing Sir Thomas Mitchells’ name of Vittoria to the present day Victoria? Or how came the Survey Office or Lands Department to allow it to continue? There has been far too much official tinkering with the original names, which ought to have remained sacred.
The motor car tourists on that Mount Vittoria Road today may give a spare thought to those terrible years of 600 chained men; the hard fare, the lash and the triangles, the merciless overseers, the red coated soldiers with their muskets, the blood and tears, the occasional suicide from the cliffs by men overcome with pain and despair.
Govett says: “The prisoners are guarded by day and night. They march out of the stockade in the morning in companies of 24 each, guarded by two soldiers and a constable. Everyman receives at the gates the tools he uses at work; shovels, picks, iron bars, and hatchets, all to be returned to the proper person when they return to the stockade at night.” It appears the stockade first erected in New South Wales for road gangs working in irons for punishment was erected in the narrow valley between Mounts York and Vittoria, and the next was under Mount Walker, 13 miles west, a larger stockade than the other, and Govett gives a full description, of which only one or two brief extracts can be given here. The stockade was in the form of a square row of huts, surrounded at a distance of four yards at the back, by a 15ft strong wooden stockade, with two big gates, facing which, outside, were the soldier’s barracks. All the buildings were of slabs, with bark roofs, except the officers’ quarters, which were shingled. If a prisoner escaped, the soldier responsible would be tried by court martial. A pound of fresh beef and a pound of bread represented the daily diet, with soup every other day.
When off work, some of the prisoners would amuse themselves in polishing bullock horns, others would read or write, or listen to stories, or play the fool, or do nothing.
At first, they were allowed fires, around which they Saturday at night, and sang with a full chorus, which reverberated among the crags and cliffs and dark ravines, until the opossums and bandicoots, the wallaroos, and rock wallabies, which Govett calls “warrang,” Saturday up and wondered. But all that was stopped, and even the singing on the way to work was cut out, two convicts who persisted out of bravado getting 50 lashes, and they never sang anymore. I have been to amateur concerts where the quality of some of the singing made one sigh for a return to those old vigorous stockade remedies for tenors and bassos with voices at least five octaves above the yell of a lost Indian.
Govett says: “Some of them refuse to work at all, and chose rather to stand a flogging every other day, until both magistrate and flogger are tired of them. The soldiers merely remain on guard, and neither speak to them nor interfere with their work.”
There were from 700 to 800 people at that stockade. It is all sad reading, and we gladly leave the subject.
Referring to snakes, Govett says they sometimes killed 13 or 14 in one day, and seldom saw less than six or seven. In my early days, as a boy on the Clarence, it was common to see from 10 to 20 in a day, especially the red-bellied black snake, near swamps, where frogs were numerous.
One of Govett’s kangaroo dogs was bitten by a grey snake, when after a kangaroo. He says: “The dog gave a peculiar howl, or shriek, a sound unnatural for either man or dog, expressive of sudden excessive terror, and before I could examine him he reeled a few paces between us, like a drunken man, and fell dead.”
In less than ten minutes, the dog’s body was in a state of putrefaction, and he had to be buried at once on the spot. I well remember the case of a very fine girl, who was bitten by a large 3ft death adder at the lighthouse at Sandy cape, on Fraser’s Island. An hour after death, her body turned quite black. That death adder is now in the Brisbane Museum.
Govett mentions a vineyard on “One Tree Hill,” and the first best orange orchards in the colony at Pennant Hills. He also refers to cultivation carried on as far as “Best’s Inn,” 15 miles from Parramatta. In the valleys leading towards Lane Cove, he found companies of bush-men were cutting down the blue gum, blackbutt, and stringy bark trees, and sawing them into planks for Sydney, so that all the best and largest trees near the city were cut down in the early days. When ascending Mount Tourang, another trig station in Argyle County, he saw a big native bear, which he calls a “monkey,” ascending a tree. He and the blackfellow with him tied it with silk handkerchiefs to a sapling until their return, but the bear was then on top of a tall tree, which the black climbed, taking a pole and a slip noose, with which he lassoed the “monkey” and brought him down.
Here are the boundaries of the city of Sydney, given by Govett in 1834. On the west by Darling Harbor, north by the Government Domain and the Cove, east by Woolloomooloo and the “Windmill Ridge,” and south by the Brickfield Hills. Oxford Street today runs along the top of the Windmill Ridge, from College Street out to Paddington. The Military Barracks and Square faced George Street, and the Police Office, a plain, heavy, brick building, joined the Market Place.
The theatre was at the back of the Royal Hotel, on the top of which there had been a huge windmill, but it was taken down by order of the Government. At the far end of George Street, there was a turnpike gate, and near it were “Carter’s Barracks,” where boy prisoners were kept and made to work.
Govett says the distilleries and warehouses in and around Sydney were “of large dimensions, and built mostly of brick.” There were far more distilleries in those days than today, and at least as many breweries.
The Government storehouses and dockyard, the mercantile warehouses, and wharves, were along all sides of Miller’s Point, and the largest ships lay alongside the walls.
He tells us that Garden Island was the burial place of some persons of distinction, but does not mention who they were. Apparently sharks were not numerous or aggressive in those days, as men, women, and girls, bathed in Woolloomooloo Bay and Darling Harbor in deep water, and swam out long distances, some of the men right out into the Harbor. But they bathed at all hours, and became a nuisance, until a Government order sternly restricted them to before six in the morning and after six in the evening, under a heavy penalty.
In 1830 Sir Thomas Mitchell instructed Govett to survey all that part of the County of Cumberland bounded on the north by Botany Bay and Georges River to Liverpool, about 20 miles’ on the west by Tuggerah (cold) Creek to its source, about 23 miles; on the south by the Illawarra Range, and road to the descent of the mountain, about 13 miles; and on the east by the sea coast for nearly 30 miles.
And this was but a fraction of the work done by that remarkable man, so long terribly misunderstood, and to whose memory I have endeavoured to do some fair amount of too-long- delayed justice. He sleeps in an English cemetery, far from the scenes of his splendid work in Australia nearly a hundred years ago.
LOOKING FOR BURKE AND WILLS
William Landsborough, the veteran explorer, who died in March, 1886, was well known to many of the present day generation, myself included, as he was a personal friend for years, from the time he was appointed Inspector of Brands for West Moreton in June 1872, to the year of his death, at his home at Caloundra, on Bribie Passage. From him I took down some records of his early life, the rest of this article being from the explorer’s own journals.
Landsborough was a Scot, son of the Rev. Dr. Landsborough, of Saltcoats, Scotland, a man who was a naturalist of some considerable reputation. Two of his elder brothers came out before him to Australia and settled in New England, a district pioneered and chiefly settled by Scotsmen. There they started squatting, and when William came out as a young man, he, too, took up a run near them in New England and started sheep breeding; but it was poor and wet country, unsuitable for sheep, so he abandoned it, and took a billet as overseer on sheep and cattle stations until the discovery of gold, and then he became a fairly successful digger, came to Queensland, then a part of New South Wales, and in 1853 too up a station on the Kolan, which was then on the frontier of settlement.
In 1856, he went north in search of new country, and discovered what was afterwards Oxford Downs, Fort Cooper, and Glen Prairie. He also found much of the splendid country on the heads of the Thompson, and ran the Gregory and Georgina, at first called the Herbert, to their sources; but the bad times of 1860 brought Landsborough’s squatting days to an end.
In 1861, the result of a grant of £4500 by Victoria and £500 by Queensland began the organizing of a Burke and Wills relief expedition and William Landsborough was appointed leader.
It was arranged under the direction of A. C. Gregory, the veteran explorer, and consisted of four white men and four blacks. The whites included Landsborough, George Bourne, second in command, H. N. Campbell, W. Allison, W. Gleeson, and the four blacks, Jemmy, Jacky, Fisherman and Charlie, whose aboriginal names were “Calboonya,” “Windanndera,” “Murgon,” and “Thoonimmberie.” Murgon was their name for a revolver, or any firearm, and from that came our township of Murgon today.
On August 24, 1861, they left in the “Firefly,” a vessel of 260 tons, accompanied by the steamer “Victoria,” Captain Norman, from whom the Norman River was named, and he was actually the commander in chief of both land and sea forces. The “Firefly” had bad luck in running on to a reef off Sir Charles Hardy islands, when five out of the 30 horses were lost. Captain Norman came up with the “Victoria,” repaired damage, and finally landed the whole of the party at the mouth of the Albert River at the head of the Gulf on October 1, 1861. Landsborough went from there 200 miles southwest to the O’Shanassy and Thorn branches, and the edge of what is now the eastern fringe of the Barkly Tableland.
Bourne in after years said that the trip represented a loss of four months, and that Landsborough was trying to reach Central Mount Stuart. They were actually only absent for three months and thirteen days, from the depot at the Albert, to which they had originally landed.
Landsborough had no purpose to serve in going towards Central Mount Stuart, unless in the hope of cutting Burke and Wills’ track. The whole of that trip was on the Gregory and its tributaries to the 138th meridian, and he decided to turn back there and take another direction. On returning to the Albert depot and the “Victoria,” Landsborough sent Campbell, Allison and “Charlie” back to Brisbane, leaving the party, reduced to Bourne, Gleeson, himself and the three blacks. Then the small party left the depot on February 10, 1862.
Bourne, in after years, said: “We left with a miserable supply of provisions, which barely allowed each member of the expedition 3lb of meat per week, and a bare pint of flour per day, and no tea or sugar. On Sunday, there was about a pint of pea soup, some rice, and a small jar of jam divided among the lot. This mean allowance of provisions was in great measure due to Captain Norman, of the ‘Victoria’ war sloop, and if hard words have any effect on a man’s conscience, he must have suffered badly at the manner in which his conduct was criticized after the arrival of the party in Melbourne.” So there was clearly bad management somewhere.
Bourne was the only man who could take the bearings, the latitude and longitude, for Landsborough knew no more of astronomy that McKinlay, and neither would have known a prismatic compass from an aneroid barometer. They were just two plain rule of thumb bushmen, not quite sure if Aldebaran was one of the stars in Orion’s Belt or one of the Pleiades.
On the second trip, they left the depot finally on February 10. They went across to the Flinders and followed that river up to the watershed, where they went south to the head of the Thompson, following that river down to near the junction with the Barcoo. He passed the Bowen Downs country which was really discovered by Nat Buchanan, then one of the best bushmen in Queensland, and went across to the Warrego, which they followed down to Kennedy’s No. 19 camp, of 1847, the year in which he found and named the Barcoo, which he traced for 100 miles, and saw the Victoria River was actually the Cooper’s Creek of Sturt.
Neilson and Williams had a station on the Warrego in Landsborough’s time. On May 21, after leaving there, he followed the Warrego to the Darling and the Darling to Menindie. At Neilson’s station on the Warrego, he had first heard of the fate of Burke and Wills, so he went straight away to Melbourne, and was present at a meeting of the Royal Society of Victoria on August 18, 1862, when a gold watch was being presented to John King, the survivor of the Burke and Wills Expedition, by the president, Sir Henry Barkly, who made complimentary references to Landsborough. The latter described the splendid country he had seen on the Gulf rivers, and the watersheds of the Flinders, Thompson, and Barcoo, and also offered an explanation of his want of success in finding no traces of Burke and Wills.
No other explorer was ever exposed to the same hostile criticism. The Melbourne papers were very severe, accusing him of having ignored the chief object of his journey, and devoting himself entirely to the discovery of good pastoral country for Queensland squatters, the Queensland Government, and himself. Even Howitt, in his work on the explorers, quotes one of those hostile articles with evident approval.
Landsborough, in defence, wrote:-
“My opinion was that Burke and Wills had gone from their depot, via Bowen Downs, to Carpentaria, so I came overland that way, and as I could learn nothing about them from the blacks, I went o to the settled country. We took the most probable route for finding Burke’s party, as we always followed the watercourses and went over more ground than seemed possible with our small shipwrecked equipment. I never imagined that Burke and wills could have gone straight across a desert from Cooper’s Creek to Carpentaria. When I wrote on my arrival at the Darling, we had learned the fate of Burke’s party and the time was past for saying much about our want of success.”
Suspicion arose from his apparent unnecessary delays, his journey towards the southwest, his crossing Burke’s tracks without seeing them, his leaving the Cloncurry and Burke’s line of march to travel away out towards the head of the Thomson, down that river to near the Barcoo, and thence across to the Warrego, about 250 miles east of Burke’s route to the Gulf. To cross Burke’s track without seeing it was easy enough, for he might have crossed it in a hundred places without any trace of Burke’s tracks being visible even to the eager eyes of his three aboriginals.
Landsborough left the mouth of the Albert on February 10, 1862, reached that spot on May 8, 1862, so that those two explorers crossed the Australian continent in the same year, starting with the same purpose, crossing each other by widely separated tracks. On November 25, 1861, Frederick walker, also out in search of Burke and Wills, struck their trail at the junction of the Norman and the Flinders, and on the 27th found the two leaves from Burke’s memorandum book.
A month after Landsborough landed in Melbourne, news was received of McKinlay’s safe arrival at Bowen, though there had been no word from him since he found Grey’s grave on Cooper’s Creek. When McKinlay reached Melbourne, he and Landsborough were the recipients of a great demonstration by 3000 people in the Exhibition Building, the Hon. M. Hervey in the chair. Highly eulogistic speeches were made by the chairman and Dr. Cairns. Landsborough also had £500 given to him in Victoria by the Governor, and a public dinner was tendered to him in Sydney. He was presented with a gold watch by the British Royal Geographical Society, and the Queensland Parliament granted him the sum of £2000. In Sydney he married the sixth daughter of Captain Rennie, and they went away on a wedding tour to India, the Continent, and England, being absent two years. Then he returned to Queensland and Saturday for one year as a member of the Legislative Council.
In the end of that year, he was appointed Police Magistrate with other official appointments, at Burketown, where he remained until 1871, going thence for a while to Stanthorpe tin mines, until June 1872, when he was appointed inspector of brands in the Moreton district, and held that appointment up to his death on a big selection he had taken up near Caloundra.
His wife never recovered from the Gulf fever she contracted at Burketown, and died at Sydney some years before him.
In one of his books, Dr. Lang mentions that “Landsborough is one of the three sons of the Rev. Dr. Landsborough, of Ardrossan in the west of Scotland, well-known in natural history and poetry as well as in connection with the ecclesiastical struggles of his native land.”
Landsborough himself was a 6 feet man, with broad shoulders and great strength, very modest and courteous, very determined and scrupulously honest and truthful. There was not much poetry or romance in Landsborough – and mighty little Presbyterianism.
One of the two aboriginals who crossed the continent with him was well known to me. Three left the Gulf with him, but one deserted on the Warrego, a foolish thing to do as he had small hope of ever reaching the coast. The returned man gave me a very laconic and characteristic description of Landsborough, and he told Alick Jardine in exactly the same words.
He said: “Good feller that Mitha Lanburra; he thim time too much bright red pool, but, by crype, cabonn he go!”
Interpreted, this means, “he is a good fella, sometimes plays the fool, but by jingo, he will keep going in defiance of all obstacles.”
The blacks saw that Bourne took all the bearings, and then told Landsborough which way to go, so they thought the leader never knew where he was or what direction to take. Bourne was justifiably bitter, because he was officially ignored in all the glorifications, but he had a lot of good friends, including Sir Henry Barkly, Governor of Victoria, and finally his services were recognised by the Royal Geographical Society presenting him with the “Murchison Grant,” the highest honour the Society can bestow. Usually the captain of a ship receives all the honours, even if the first mate did all the finest work.
The reason for Landsborough taking the erratic track he took on his trip across the continent has always been a puzzle to those who studied the subject, but though some of the eulogies bestowed on him were altogether extravagant, we may be also sure that some of the censures were entirely undeserved.
The venerable Australian explorer, now Sir Augustus Charles Gregory, K.C.M.G., neither requires nor receives any added luster through the adventitious agency of Imperial titles. He will live in history as “Gregory the Explorer,” his fame far overshadowing that of his exploring brother, Francis Thomas Gregory, who also received the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society of Britain. A. C. Gregory, who in Masonry has been Grand Master since 1863, was in the service of the West Australian Government in 1841, sixty-three years ago. In 1859, he became Surveyor-General of Queensland, and prepared the first draft of the proposed boundary between us and New South Wales, taking in the Clarence River, as proposed by Dr. Lang, a suggestion unfortunately not adopted.
He became a C.M.G. in 1874, an M.L.C. in 1882, and K.C.M.G., in 1903, none of these giddy elevations in the least disturbing the old explorer’s serenity or affecting his modesty in any direction.
Some of our ordinary politicians, men who sprang into public notice yesterday, and will vanish out of it tomorrow, are probably known to more people and attract more public attention than the now venerable colonist who can be seen daily driving on the Milton Road to or from his quiet, somewhat secluded, and unpretentious office in Mary Street. The visitor who enters that office will find himself in the presence of one of the most remarkable men now living in Australia – a man memorable in Australian exploration, dear to Australian science, beloved by many friends for his retiring modesty, his uniform geniality, and the unfailing courtesy ever ready to draw on all his available stores of knowledge for the benefit of all classes of inquirers.
King Cyrus is credited with the observation that “if the souls of departed worthies were not to watch over and perpetuate their reputation, they would soon vanish from the memory of men.” The philosophic king overlooked the danger of great men being forgotten while they are still alive. But the Hon. Sir Augustus Charles Gregory, K.C.M.G., is not the man to regret that he is not advertised and spoken of so much as a record breaking cyclist or a champion boxer. His fame is of another kind. It has been building for half a century and will last as long as the records of science and Australian history. Let us pity those who can, today unmoved, behold the venerable form of one who in the fire and vigour of his early manhood was exploring the vast solitudes of the spinifex deserts of West Australia, before the great majority of the present generation were born. Just fifty-eight years have passed since the three brothers, A. C., F. T., and H. C. Gregory started on the 7th of August, 1846, with four horses and seven weeks’ provisions from Yule’s station, sixty-four miles from Perth, to search for new pastoral country towards the northeast.
A. C. Gregory was then 27 years of age, his birth dating from 1819, in Nottinghamshire. He had come to West Australia in 1829, the year that colony was founded, and entered the Survey Department in 1841.
Fiver years of experience as a surveyor on the frontier country, and a natural talent for bushmanship, had qualified him for exploration in the interior.
No other Australian explorer possessed the same happy combination of natural and acquired qualifications. His explorations were really complete surveys of the country traversed, and his maps were finished productions.
Gregory’s journals of his expeditions are a disappointment to those who naturally start to read them with great expectations, but in justice to him we must remember that they were prepared for the Governor of a Crown colony, and that no latitude was allowed for anything but bare, cold, abrupt facts, and naked, unadorned description.
His journals are therefore little more than silhouettes of his journey; but there is much gold in the official sand drifts when you sift them carefully.
That first journey of 1846 was no picnic excursion, nor was it over picnic country. Dreary flats of samphire (to gather which was no man’s ‘dreadful trade’), dismal salt lakes, bare peaks and crags of granite, dense thickets of gums and cypress; lakes bordered by high banks of gypsum and red sand, saltbush swamps, hills of white sandstone, impenetrable wattle scrubs, and treacherous dry salt lakes, where the horses bogged and had to be lifted out with sapling hurdles.
On the 9th of September, in the bed of Captain Gray’s Irwin River, Gregory found the first West Australian coal, one seam of 5 feet, and one of 6 feet, out of which they cut a quarter of a ton with their tomahawks and made a cheerful fire.
In 1848, the Swan River settlers wanted new country for stock, and organised an expedition, with A. C. Gregory as leader, to go north, while Surveyor-General Captain Roe went south with another party.
This expedition suffered from want of water, being several times dependent on small quantities found in native wells.
In one place the view presented a boundless expanse of thicket “as level as the sea, where the saddle-bags were tornto pieces and the horses suffered from thirst, until they had to return to the well of the day before.”
In three days more the party had to return to a small native well, containing about a gallon for each horse. Here Gregory’s horse “Bob” walked off on his own account to look for water, and was found coolly drinking out of a nice little pool.
On 20th October, the journal informs us, “returning towards the camp, the natives followed for some distance, and on descending the cliff, the women commenced pelting the party with stones, apparently in revenge for the refusal of certain courteous invitations, which, perhaps, are the greatest marks of politeness they think it possible to offer strangers.” From the top of Stokes’ “Wizard Peak,” at Champion Bay, they looked across 20,000 acres of beautiful country, which Stokes had described as scrubby and barren.
One night the blacks stole a frying pan to dig a well in the sand, and returned it early next morning.
Next day seventy or eighty warriors came up, and had some damper and bacon.
On the 12th of November, Gregory returned to Perth, having travelled 1500 miles, and on the 1st of December left again for the Geraldine lead mine, accompanied by Governor Fitzgerald, Mr. Bland, and three soldiers of the 96th.
On the 11th, when near King’s Table Hill, a party of sixty blacks closed on them armed with spears, nullas and fighting boomerangs. One took Bland by the arm and raised a “dowak” (a nulla) to strike him. One threw a spear at Gregory, and the Governor fired and shot him dead. For a few minutes, the air was full of spears, boomerangs and musket balls, and a barbed spear passed clean through the Governor’s leg above the knee. The balance of the programme is not mentioned, but is generally supposed to have caused the blacks a considerable amount of personal inconvenience.
Passing over Frank Gregory’s interesting explorations of 1858 and 1816, we come to a. C. Gregory’s great North Australian expedition of 1855-1856.
The cost of this was undertaken by the Imperial Government, and the Duke of Newcastle instructed the Governor of West Australia to place the expedition under A. C. Gregory’s command.
The barque “Monarch” and the schooner “Tom Tough,” left Sydney on the 18th of July, 1855, with the stores and some of the party, and anchored in Morton bay, on the 22nd.
On the 12th August, A. C. and H. C. Gregory, with sixteen others, left for the North Coast.
The young man acting as supercargo on the Monarch was named “G. R. Dibbs,” who became, in after years, the Premier of New South Wales.
Off Port Patterson, the “Monarch” ran on a reef, and stayed there for two weeks.
The whole party finally arrived safely at the Victoria River, the starting point for the land journeys.
The botanist of the expedition was Dr. Mueller, the afterwards world-famous Baron Von Mueller, K.C.M.G.
The “Tom Tough” remained at the Victoria River during all the first exploration.
On the 20th of June, Mr. Gregory instructed the captain to go to Coepang, for supplies, and then meet him at the Albert River.
Next day, A. C. and H. Gregory left the Victoria River overland for the Gulf of Carpentaria, accompanied by Dr. Mueller and four others, with seven saddle and twenty-seven packhorses and six months provisions.
On the way to the Gulf, Gregory saw, on Elsey Creek, the remains of a camp, supposed to be one of Leichhardt’s, on his last journey, 100 miles south-west of his track to Port Essington in 1845.
When Gregory arrived at the Albert there was no sign of the “Tom Tough,” so he continued his journey to Morton Bay.
On the river which he named the “Leichhardt,” the party had a collision with the blacks.
On the 16th of October, they were on the Burdekin, crossed the Dawson on the 21st of November, and reached Brisbane on 16th December, via Rannes, Rawbelle, Boondooma, Taabinga, Nanango, Colinton, Kilcoy, Durundur, and Caboolture.
On the 27th of March, 1858, A. C. Gregory started from Juanda station with an expedition in search of Leichhardt.
He had estimated the cost at £4158, and it was undertaken by the New South Wales Government.
When Gregory arrived on the Barcoo, he found the country a drought stricken desert, the river dry, and a small clay puddle containing all the water available.
In latitude 24 degrees minutes, longitude 36 degrees 6 minutes, Gregory found one of Leichhardt’s marked trees on the site of one of his camps.
The country on the Thomson and Alice was desolated by drought. Heavy rain fell on the 2nd of May, and made a series of gullies, so boggy that the party were three days in going five miles.
On the Thomson, “distant ridges of red drift sand showed the desert character of all around; even the lower surfaces of the clouds assumed the lurid tinge from the reflection of the bare surface of the sand,” feed was so scarce at one time they had to give their horses the dry grass from the roofs of blacks’ camps.
Gregory followed the Barcoo down to Cooper’s Creek, finding no further trace of Leichhardt, and continued on the Adelaide via Mount Hopeless.
He gives his opinion that the lost explorer was lured into the great central desert by favourable showers, and that the shallow pools dried in front and behind, stopping his advance and cutting off his retreat.
Thus have we given a rudimentary outline of some of the work done by Augustus Charles Gregory, now one of the last of the great explorers, the red sandhills, the stony desert, the savage spinifex, the waterless wastes, the unknown regions and the wild forces in the dark morning of Australian colonization.
One by one they have passed away from us, those old warrior pioneers, not into oblivion, for their names and deeds shall not perish; and when the one of whom we have written shall start on his last expedition, Australia’s sons shall sorrowfully murmur – with the author of the “Rave,”
Let the bell toll, a valiant soul.
Floats on the Stygian river.
Sir Thomas Mitchell was the most eloquent descriptive writer of all the Australian explorers, and the most poetic and enthusiastic admirer of the scenery, some of his graphic word painting occasionally erring on the side of extravagance, but that is pardonable in him as the first white man to see some of the most beautiful country in south and southwest Queensland.
This article deals only with his expedition of 1846. Leichhardt had started from the Darling Downs for Port Essington on October 1, 1844, and Mitchell left Buree, in New South Wales, for the far north on December 5, 1845. Leichhardt went on his journey with six white men and two aboriginals, one white man, Gilbert, being killed on the Nassau, so he had only five white men on arrival at Essington. Mitchell’s party, then leaving Buree, included Mitchell himself, C. B. Kennedy, Dr. Stephenson, 26 other white men, and one aboriginal.
The outfit included eight drays, three light carts, two iron portable boast, made by Struth of Sydney, 80 bullocks, 17 horses, and 250 sheep. All but three of the 26 white servants were prisoners of the Crown, in various stages of probation, all rejoicing in the freedom from the gaol, the flogger, and the overseer, and determined to do their best to obtain a reprieve for good behaviour.
It was the most numerous and best equipped exploring party ever organised in Australia. The Burke and Wills party, on leaving Melbourne on August 20, 1860, had 17 men, 26 camels and 28 horses.
The cost of that expedition or the amount available was provided for by a grant of £2000 from the New South Wales Legislative Council.
Leichhardt financed his own expedition, with help from some friends in Sydney.
An aboriginal named “Buljee” acted as guide for Mitchell from the Goobang Creek to the Bogan, where they “saw the remains of dairies burned down, stockyards in ruins, and untrodden roads,” where pioneer squatters had been driven back by the blacks.
The real object of Mitchell’s expedition was to find an overland route to the Gulf of Carpentaria, so as to facilitate an export horse trade to India, and save the long dangerous voyage along the tropical north coast and round through Torres Strait. At that time there was no chart from Leichhardt to show there were no navigable rivers running to the Gulf from the interior, and Mitchell was hopeful of finding such a river.
After a few days’ journey two of his drays broke down in a gully, and an aboriginal who came in from there to the nearest settlement announced the event a s “White fella warra warra tumble down wheelbarrow joke ‘im,” that is, The white man, a long way off, fell down and broke his drays!
There are many old hands who can still remember that aboriginal message.
On February 13, 1846, the dry bed of the Macquarie was suddenly swept by a wall of water, a moving cataract sweeping all before it, the result of heavy rain in the Turon Mountains, there not being a sign of rain at the camp. All the western rivers are prone to those sudden floods.
History is indebted to Mitchell for preserving many of the aboriginal place names. The Castlereagh was called the Barron, the Macquarie was Wammerawa, and the Darling was the Barwon, the name now given to a tributary of the McIntyre. Guided by blacks, Mitchell crossed the Balonne and the Nogoa, then turned and followed up the same to a branch the blacks called to Cogoon, which comes from near where Roma stands.
Keeping a northwest course, on May 7, he discovered and named Mount Abundance, taken up as a station in the following year by a squatter named Macpherson, at whose hut on the Cogoon, on April 4, 1848, Leichhardt dated his last letter.
From the top of Mount Abundance, Mitchell overlooked the splendid Fitzroy Downs, which he named and regarded as the finest country he had ever seen in a primeval state. Here he saw his first specimen of the bottle tree (Sterculia rupestris) one 36ft in circumference, the bulging centre double the size of the base. On May 12 he crossed a creek the blacks called “Amby” (a woman) and an old black pointed to the northwest and repeated the word “Maranoa,” a river reached by Mitchell on May 17, and found to be as large as the Darling, with steep banks, dark green reeds, and extensive reaches of water. On May 20, the thermometer fell to 12 degrees, the river was frozen over, and the grass white with hoar frost. Here he waited for Kennedy and the rear party with the drays on June 1, then formed a depot there, left Kennedy and the main party, and, with only a few men and the aboriginal, Yuranigh, started towards the head of the Warrego, crossed the dry channel of the Maranoa, on June 17, named Mounts Kennedy, Owen, Ogilby, Faraday, Hope’s, and Buckland’s Tablelands, and Mount Aquarius. He crossed the divide between the eastern and western waters near Mount Faraday, taking his light carts with him over a height of 2500 feet, and entering the valley of the Salvator River through magnificently picturesque scenery. On top of the range the thermometer fell to 12 degrees.
Mitchell was then looking for a river running to the Gulf. Leichhardt was in Sydney, after his return from Port Essington, a fact unknown to Mitchell, who then knew nothing of Leichhardt’s work.
The Valley of the Salvator Mitchell named from Salvator Rosa, the artist, and said it was a discovery worthy of the toils of a pilgrimage.
The hills overhanging the valley surpassed all he had ever seen in picturesque outline, some resembling ruined Gothic cathedrals. He went into ecstasies over that wonderful country, and having been through the scenes he so eloquently describes, I certainly could not charge him with exaggeration. He crossed the present Drummond Range into the valley of a river the blacks called the Belyando, naming Mount Beaufort, the name in after years of Sir Arthur Palmer’s station, past big lagoons full of wild fowl, through brigalow and bottle tree scrubs, across flats of wild indigo 6ft in height, following the Belyando to the Suttor, in latitude 21.30, then turned back, as he saw that it ran to the east coast.
On his return, he named Mantuan Downs and the Claude, formed a depot camp there, left Dr. Stephenson in charge, took two of the men and the black boy, crossed the range at Mount Pluto, struck some lagoons an old gin called “Coonoo,” evidently coomoo (water), and then pointed northwest and repeated the word “Warrego,” which Mitchell took to be the name of the river, but “Warrego” there is bad, no good, and the old lady was merely giving him a warning that it was dangerous for him to go any further in that direction, but Warrego remains as the name of the river today.
Two days afterwards, he found and named the Nive and Nivelle, in memory of Lord Wellington’s action on the Nive.
From the Nive he crossed the Warrego watershed, on to that of the Barcoo, where her “beheld downs and plains extending beyond the reach of vision,” the course of a river visible in the distance. Here at last was “a reward direct from Heaven for his perseverance!” He compared himself to Balboa looking out on the Pacific Ocean. He was lost in rapture at the verdure of the vegetation, the lake-like expanses of water, the boundless plains, all forming the most glorious regions he had seen in Australia. He followed the Barcoo tributaries to the Alice, which he named, went west towards the Thomson, but turned back to the Barcoo, which he named Victoria, in honor of the Queen, not knowing it to be the river Sturt had named Cooper’s Creek, much lower down. Mitchell returned to the Nive and went straight to Mount Pluto, ascending to the summit at 2420ft, the thermometer at 9, or 23 degrees of frost, on October 6. My aneroid gave the height of Mount Pluto as 2850ft, in a temperature of 32, on October 22.
He found Dr. Stephenson and the depot camp all well, and they went back along their old track, via Mount Owen, and down the Maranoa, to the base of supplies camp on October 19, 1846, to find a garden full of lettuce, radish, melons, and cucumbers. Thence they followed the Maranoa to the Balonne, and by the Mooni, the Barwon, and the Namoi, to Sydney. It was a splendidly successful expedition, without a hitch or the loss of a man, and most honorably distinguished by unbroken friendship with the aboriginals. Mitchell’s second in command, H. B. Kennedy, was sent by him to further explore the Victoria, and Kennedy followed it down for 100 miles, until he clearly identified it as the Cooper’s Creek of Sturt. Returning up the river to where the blacks called it the “Barcoo,” he gave it that name, and he found and named the Thomson, after E. Deas Thomson, of Sydney.
Kennedy intended going north to the Gulf, but the blacks had found all the provisions he had buried on the Barcoo, so he came back across the Warrego and down the Maranoa, Culgoa, and Barwon, to Sydney. Kennedy was the unfortunate explorer who, in the following year, 1848, Leichhardt’s fatal year, was speared in the Cape York peninsula, and only two white men and an aboriginal came alive out of a party of 18.
This is a brief outline of Mitchell’s journey of 1846. The next chapter will include a series of the exciting incidents of all Mitchell’s expeditions, and a portrait of the explorer, that, and his journals, being kindly placed at my disposal by the sons of the late John F. Mann, who married a daughter of Sir Thomas Mitchell
Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell was not only a surveyor, military engineer, explorer, soldier, expert draughtsman, and inventor of the boomerang screw for steamers, but he had a strong poetic instinct, manifesting itself so often in the graceful poetic prose and flowery writing in his journals, his boundless appreciation of the beautiful in nature, and his intense human sympathies, his delicate intuitions, and that consistent regard for the feelings of others which is, after all, the only reliable guarantee of a gentleman, regardless of what station in life he may have been assigned by Fate. His admiration for the aboriginals was unsurpassed.
When a little black four year old girl fell off one of his drays, and broke her leg, he had it carefully set, and herself carried on to the dray, and nursed by her own mother (“Turandary”) until she was well again; then brought her to Sydney, to have her cared for and educated, and brought up with his own family, and when he had to leave for England on one trip with his wife and children, he left the little aboriginal “Ballandella” to be cared for and educated in the household of his friend Nicholson.
On one occasion, his dogs bailed up a female kangaroo and killed her, but the young one hopped out of her pouch and escaped in the undergrowth.
Mitchell records genuine sympathy when lying awake that night, sorrowing for the poor little kangaroo and its dead mother. It is a fine touch of a beautifully sympathetic nature.
Among his multitude of works, he actually found time to translate the Lusiad, the famous work of the Portuguese poet Camoens. The classical reader will recall how this poet, on one occasion, when shipwrecked, swam ashore with the manuscript of the Lusiad, a case parallel with that of Julius Caesar swimming ashore with the manuscript of his “Commentaries.” Being so long in Spain, Mitchell spoke Spanish fluently.
Few readers are likely to know that Mitchell represented Australia Felix, now Victoria, for years in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. His knighthood was conferred for the splendid services he had done for Australia, services which need more national recognition than the statue erected in his honor at the Sydney lands Office in 1892.
Just 65 years have passed since he died on the 5th of October, at Darling Point, in a house he had named Carthona, an ancient Caledonian name famous in the poems of Ossian, he himself having sprung from two of the most ancient families in Scotland.
Among the many dramatic scenes in Mitchell’s life was his meeting with the Henty brothers at their whale fishing station, at Portland Bay in Victoria.
Instead of following the Glenelg to its mouth, he struck off eastwards towards another point on the coast (Discovery Bay), and found himself at Portland Bay, knowing nothing of the Henty settlement.
Mitchell was watching the face of his aboriginal tracker, an inland black, to see his expression of astonishment at first sight of the ocean, but “Tommy Come Last” had his eyes on the ground, on tracks of cattle and a man with boots on, then a bottle with the top knocked off, sure sign of an advanced civilization.
What they took to be grey rocks at the foot of a cliff proved to be houses, and then came the scattered bones of whales, and a brig riding at anchor in the bay. Then some shots were heard, and Mitchell ordered answering shots. Both sides suspected each other of being bushrangers. The matter was resolved when one of the Hentys advanced on the party and resolved the issue of identity.
The Henty establishment operated when the whales came into the bay to calve, and in the off season some of the crews of the ships were taken round to Western Port to strip wattle bark, and one year Captain Hart loaded the Andromeda and another ship, and sold both cargoes in London for £14 per ton, so the tanning virtues of wattle bark were recognised in a very early period, at least a hundred years ago.
Mitchell was the only explorer who had boats, except Sturt, who took one to navigate his imaginary inland sea. Mitchell’s boats of 1846 were of iron, and made in sections, and a section of one was found about 16 years ago, somewhere near Wallerawang, and sent to the Sydney Museum. His boats of 1836 were of canvas, and he had them with him on the Glenelg River when he visited the Henty’s whaling station in 1836.
Mitchell named the famous Mount Macedon in Victoria, and rode to the top, the summit full of wombat holes and covered by fallen trunks of huge trees in all stages of decay, and many beautiful tree ferns. The blacks, called the mountain “Geeboor,” the “g” hard, as in gun. While Mitchell was exploring, he heard of a serious tragedy at a place called the “Winding Swamp,” midway between the Murrumbidgee and Port Phillip.
A squatter named Faithfull, travelling overland with drays and stock, had his camp attacked by a mob of about 300 blacks, about 30 miles beyond the Ovens River.
The men yoking the bullocks heard the shepherds shouting for help, as they came running in, pursued by blacks throwing woomera spears. One man, Bentley, foolishly fired in the air, then shot one black dead, and was at once transfixed by three spears, but he died fighting bravely with the stock of his musket. The other men had no alternative but flight, in which they could have had no hope whatever if the blacks, for some mysterious reason, had not drawn apart in two rows and allowed them to escape.
There were seven white men killed out of 15, and, as a singular coincidence, Mitchell’s men shot seven blacks in one spot at another part of the country, Mitchell not being present. In that expedition of 1836, one of his men, James Taylor, was drowned while swimming his horse over the river, and, though one of Mitchell’s blacks had the body up in five minutes Taylor was quite dead, but he had probably died in one of the fits to which he was subject. They tried for three hours to restore him. They buried him in a sheet-of-bark coffin, and Mitchell sincerely grieved for one of his best men. On one of his journeys, 1846, most of his men came from a lot of convicts left at Cockatoo Island (“Beeloeela”) and six of those were known as the “Flash Mob,” thorough scoundrels, but his other men behaved admirably, and were rewarded with liberty on their return.
Among his other valuable work, Mitchell explored the Wellington caves, and sent a fine collection of fossil bones to Professor Owen, enabling that eminent paleontologist to discover new and extinct species, including the giant Diprotodonts, afterwards found in 1842 in King and Gowrie Creeks, on the Darling Downs, and since then, at Lake Mulligan, in South Australia, and the Burdekin and Flinders, in North Queensland.
On one occasion, during drought, Mitchell and all his men prayed for rain, which fell the same night, and next day an old gray headed black came in to say that when he heard “Mayjee” and his men were asking for rain, he had “ordered some at once,” thus taking prompt credit for the break of the drought! He was rewarded with a tomahawk, if only for his ready wit as a champion humorist.
When Mitchell built a log fort at Fort Burke, he found on his next visit that some humorous blacks had, at great expense of labor, settled the “Fort” by chopping out all the iron spikes, though they could have got them with no trouble by the aid of a bonfire!
Another dark humorist brought in a lady described by Mitchell as “the handsomest gin I ever saw, and so far from black that the red color was plainly visible in her cheeks.” The dark gentleman courteously offered to exchange the peerless maiden for a tomahawk, but the gallant explorer explained that he already had a wife, who would make a cannibal feast of all hands if a rival lady appeared on the scene! The forest maiden, who had been clothed in only a sweet smile, changed her costume to a dark frown, on finding that her value was not equal to a tomahawk, but, unfortunately, her remarks on the occasion were not recorded. They must have been slightly ringed with scorn, for has not the bard of Avon told us that “a woman scorned is pitiless as fate,” and likewise that “Hades has no Fury like a woman scorned”?
We can sympathise with that beautiful girl with the red cheeks, and doubtless even Mitchell shed tears. None of the explorers were so friendly to the aboriginals, and his journals have many grateful references to their services as scouts, trackers, and general assistants. In one part, he says, “The blacks have been described as lowest in the scale of humanity, but I found those who accompanied me much superior in their perceptive faculties and their judgment to the white men who composed my party.”
And Sir George Grey, Warburton, Leichhardt, Kennedy, Walker, and Hodgkinson have left similar testimony.
Now we take leave of Sir Thomas Mitchell, in the hope that readers of “The World’s News” will not regret the time spent on these rambles with the most brilliant and remarkable of all the Australian explorers.
We look far back into other years, and see those grand old explorers come out of their hall of clouds, like the heroes of Ossian, silhouetted on the sky line of memory, like the stars of Orion in the blue empyrean of space. They march past, those splendid men who laid the granite foundations of the Australian Temple of History, wherein all their names, from Cook and Flinders to the last of the old explorers, are carved on the white tablets of Fame.
It has been my good fortune to claim eight of the old explorers as personal friends – the two Gregorys (Augustus Charles and Francis Thomas), J. G. Macdonald, William Landsborough, Frank and Alick Jardine, William Hann, and William Oswald Hodgkinson.
And what a modest, unassuming, courteous, quiet band of men they were, reluctant to speak of anything they had done, and their manner would give you the impression that they had never done anything at all more than ordinary men. It is too true, that axiom, that “Ignorance is bold and Knowledge reserved,” and that a small pebble in a large tin makes a loud noise.
Hodgkinson was one of Burke and Wills’ party which left Melbourne on August 20, 1860, and the man who rode alone from Menindie to Melbourne and back, a distance of a thousand miles, in 21 days, for more funds to buy horses and sheep, really an excuse by Wright, the second in command, to delay in following Burke and Wills. That man was the Evil Genius of the Expedition. On August 16, 1861, Hodgkinson left Adelaide as second in command of John McKinlay’s Expedition, which crossed Australia and reached the Albert River on the Gulf on May 18, 1862. Had he been second in command with Burke, in the place of Wright, Howitt believes that all the disasters of the Burke expedition would have been avoided. In 1876 Hodgkinson led an expedition for the Queensland Government to explore the northwest of Queensland, an expedition honourably distinguished by consistent friendship with the aboriginals.
In his journal he gave a most graphic picture of a scene at a waterhole in a prolonged drought, exactly as seen by myself out on the Cooper in a disastrous dry season. He is describing a waterhole on Manner’s Creek, and the picture is perfect, made from copious notes taken while looking on.
“A naturalist might here procure specimens of the whole animal kingdom in the locality. Thirst, which conquers fear, brings them all together. These two daily lessening pools are the resort of every living creature for miles around. The timid emu and plain turkey, the stealthy native dog, await their opportunity.
“A passing pelican pauses to see if a fish is left, while a couple of herons and a spoonbill stand motionless for hours, and four or five shags actively search every square foot, most of the water so shallow that one laughs at their ludicrous efforts to dive.
“Cockatoos, galahs, and other noisy members of the parrot family scream loudly in the adjoining trees, while countless finches and parroquets chirp and twitter from dawn to sunset. Birds of prey sweep down upon the birds at the water, pursuer and pursued, impelled by hunger or terror, dashing wildly into the thick polygonum. Grave, but active, the ubiquitous crow walks about warily, now seizing some morsel from the camp or securing some unfortunate bird disabled but not clutched by the swooping falcon.
“Night, too, has its active nocturnal army, for then the smaller marsupials travel their well-worn tracks; nightjars sweep past on noiseless wings, and strange cries rise above the noiseless murmur of the foliage.
“The very timber bordering the creek reveals the nature of the climate. Warped in all fantastic shapes, it is grown equally to resist the rushing torrents of floods or the burning sun and scorching winds of droughts. All is in extreme, fiery heat or chilling cold.”
No better description has ever been written, or is ever likely to be written.
They crossed spinifex covered sandhills, flooded creeks and rivers, claypan flats, open downs, through scrubs of mulga, gidya, and polygonum, past lagoons full of wildfowl, cork trees covered by nests of Java sparrows, through numerous tribes of blacks, and all the time living on portulae, fish, ducks, pelicans, pigeons and salt beef. In July they were among those beautiful lakes, including Lake Hodgkinson, named by McKinlay, the “Gnappanbarra” of the aboriginals, glorious sheets of water, swarming with fish and wild-fowl, set in borders of beautiful emerald clover, overshadowed by a rim of box gums, with a background of sandhills. They saw huge native graves, one 18 feet by 10 wide, and 4 in height, oval in shape, and made of sand, boughs, and logs.
On the 28th of August, they surprised a band of blacks, who fled and left 1218 dead birds, shell parrots, and Java sparrows, they had caught in nets.
One of the most remarkable expeditions was that of the Jardine brothers, Frank and Alick, in 1864. Governor Sir George Bowen had been on a visit to cape York in 1862, and recommended Port Albany as a site for a northern settlement.
This suggestion was adopted, and William Jardine, P.M., at Rockhampton, was chosen, in 1864, as superintendent. He proposed to the Government to send his two sons overland to Cape York with the cattle and horses, a fairly serious undertaking for two young fellows only 20 and 22 years of age, through country absolutely unknown to white men for at least 800 miles, with numerous tribes of hostile wild blacks expert with the woomera spear; but they were two determined and athletic young fellows, with the blood of the old Scottish Border Jardines, and they bravely faced the journey, and actually went through to Cape York after a more perilous journey than had been experienced by any of the other explorers, and without losing one member of the Expedition, but minus three-fourths of their horses and a fifth of their cattle.
On the 9th of November they had the bulk of their stores, ammunition, and equipment destroyed in a bush fire, result of gross carelessness by one of the party.
There were six white men and four aboriginal troopers, Eulah, Peter, Sambo, and Barney, from Rockhampton and Wide Bay, armed with police carbines, while the white men carried Terry breechloaders and Tranter revolvers.
No explorers had so much trouble with the blacks. They first fired on them on the 20th and 22nd of November, and thence onward the blacks would all be hostile, as word would be passed along from tribe to tribe that the white men were enemies, just as happened to Kennedy’s expedition in 1848.
On October 19, they surprised a party of blacks who were roasting a newly killed blackfellow for a cannibal feast, and another party cooking a lot of the beautiful bee-eaters, Merops ornatus, which they called “Burrumburrong.” They travelled too far to the westward, through some of the worst country in the Peninsula, instead of following the watershed along the route of the present telegraph line.
Their troubles with the blacks increased, until the hostilities led to a pitched battle on the Mitchell River, described by them as the “Battle of the Mitchell,” in which about 50 blacks were shot.
That was the number given to me by both the brothers, but just 20 years afterwards the blacks showed to me the place where the battle was fought, and what happened, though possibly their inability to count led them to exaggerate the number of the slain.
Several had scars from old bullet wounds received in that memorable fight. At one stage the blacks huddled together in a state of panic, or confusion, and the six Terry breechloaders did deadly work.
The Jardines assured me they had never fired at a black except from necessity, and then very reluctantly. It is certain they always avoided the subject as an unpleasant memory.
In their journal they reported great quantities of game, especially bustards, wallabies, grey and wood ducks, teal, pigmy geese, bronze wings, native companions, scrub turkeys, black and white cockatoos, quails, pelicans, parrots, whistling ducks, and redbills, all of which are still in abundance in many parts of the Peninsula. In some of the rivers they caught splendid fish, including the barramundi, from a pound to two pounds, and with three red spots on each scale, the Dawson barramundi, O. Leichhardti, having only one.
In a small creek on York Downs, I gave an aboriginal woman a light whiting line, and in half an hour she caught a dozen beautiful Barramundi, from a pound to two pounds, and when she grilled them on red coals, they were a dish not to be forgotten. Like the Dawson fish, they grow to a maximum of about 9 or 10lb.
The Jardines travelled over a journey of 1000 miles, through continuous danger, perilously near, on more than one occasion, to annihilation, had the blacks been better organised.
Frank Jardine remained at Cape York until he died there recently. He married a daughter of a Samoan woman married to a Scotsman, and had a handsome daughter and two handsome sons, one of whom, “Chum Jardine,” is 6ft 2in., and weighs over 20st. Alick came south and became a surveyor and engineer, being for some tome Engineer of Harbors and Rivers. Their father, William Jardine, died in Rockhampton.
OXLEY AND CUNNINGHAM
The history of the explorers ought to be an essential and very important part of the education of Australian children, and yet the general ignorance of the subject shows it to be grossly neglected. There is nothing so fascinating in the whole curriculum of our schools.
Questions any boys or girls leaving school, presumably finished, on the history of the explorers, and they will be humiliated on realizing how little they know. You may question a majority of teachers, with the same result. We are concerned here with only two of the early explorers, of whom Oxley is the first.
Surveyor General Oxley was sent north to find a suitable site for a new penal settlement, to take the place of Port Macquarie, which had only been started for two years, and revealed even then a clear prospect of being required for free settlement on an early date. Oxley left Sydney in the Mermaid cutter, Captain Penson, on the 2nd of October, 1823, with Lieutenant Stirling of the “Buffs,” John Uniacke, a Sydney aboriginal named “Bowen,” and a necessary crew. Oxley called in at Port Macquarie, and left there again on the 27th. On the 31st the cutter passed Turtle Island. It was discovered and named “Turtle Island” by Oxley because they saw 12 large turtles on the southwest shore, and captured seven of the lot. It is a very rough and rocky island, with precipitous sides, and fairly flat top, which Oxley found covered by the nests and eggs of petrels, mutton birds, and marine red-bills, or oyster catchers. There were also about 100 pelicans, with many eggs, and numbers of young, a few of which were taken away. The Tweed aboriginals called the island “Joong-urra-gnarrian,” or the pelican’s corrobboree ground, alluding to the great birds dancing on the rocks, and flapping their broad wings in the wind.
There was also the wreck of some large, unknown vessel, a piece of slate with a name scratched and a case of mathematical instruments. All else, the captain, officers, crew, and passengers, the ship and her history, have vanished pathless, like La Perouse, evermore into blue immensity.
Then Oxley discovered and named the Tweed River, up which he and Uniacke went for some miles in the whaleboat.
Next day, they sailed away north, leaving about 200 armed wild blacks on the shore. Just 47 years afterwards I stood on top of Turtle Island, and saw similar turtles, pelicans, petrels, mutton birds, gulls, curlews, and oyster catchers; and on the adjoining shore about 50 descendants of Oxley’s 200 wild blacks.
On the 6th of November, Oxley anchored in Port Curtis, and while they discovered and named the Boyne River, which was ascended for 18 miles, the river swarming with teal, widgeon, and black duck. What Oxley called widgeon was probably the pigmy goose.
On the evening of Saturday, the 29th of November, the Mermaid anchored at the mouth of Bribie Island Passage, the “Pumice Stone River” of Flinders on the 20th of August 1799. Oxley had narily anchored when a mob of blacks came out on the shore opposite the vessel, bringing a white man, who was taken on board the cutter, and proved to be Thomas Pamphlet, one of four ex-convicts who had been cedar cutting in the scrubs of the Illawarra, started from Sydney in a large open boat, were driven out of sight of land by a gale, entirely lost their latitude, and kept on sailing north under the impression they were south of Sydney, until the boat finally ran ashore on the outer white sand beach of Moreton Island. The four men were Thomas Pamphlet, Richard Parsons, John Finnegan, and John Thompson.
Pamphlet said Thompson had died of thirst and been thrown overboard, a somewhat doubtful statement. The Moreton Island blacks, a tribe called “Booroo-geen-meeri,” now extinct, treated them kindly, passed the three men over to Amity Point on Stradbroke Island, and the blacks there passed them over to the mainland. Next day, after the discovery of Pamphlet, Finnegan appeared on the shore of the mainland opposite, the present Toorbul Point, and was also taken on the Mermaid. He had been south along the coast for some distance, and crossed a large river. Next day he and Pamphlet piloted Oxley into the present Brisbane River, to which Oxley gave the name of Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, of New South Wales. Very extraordinary is the fact that Oxley has no reference to these men in his journal, and we owe all the available information to the diary kept by John Uniacke. But for him we could not have known that they ever existed. The three ex-convicts, judged by their own account of themselves, must have been low types, frequently quarrelling with each other, Parsons even trying to kill Finnegan.
They could hardly have given the Moreton Bay aboriginals a very high opinion of the white men, and we may marvel at their amazing escape from being killed.
Parsons had gone north, still believing he was south of Sydney, though 500 miles north of Port Jackson, but he had turned back and was also recovered.
Oxley recommended “Redcliffe Point,” one of Brisbane’s present marine watering places, as a site for a new penal settlement, and then returned to Sydney, where he died on the 25th of May, 1828, and was buried somewhere at North Shore, having lived less than five years after his memorable expedition of 1823.
One of the most attractive of the early explorers, the man who discovered and named the Darling Downs, was Alan Cunningham, the botanist, the eldest son of Alan Cunningham, of Renfrewshire, and born at Wimbledon, in Surrey, on July 18, 1791, coming to Sydney as a passenger in the convict ship Surrey, Captain Raine, on December 28, 1818, as collector for the Royal Gardens at Kew.
The restless energy of the man had no limit. He was collecting at Bathurst in April 1817, and spent a month in the scrubs of Illawarra, with which he was fascinated. He accompanied Captain King on all his four voyages in the Mermaid and Bathurst, from 1817 to 1821, and was at Parramatta in 1823, leaving there with five men and five packhorses for Bathurst, with provisions for ten weeks, discovering on that trip Pandora’s Pass through the Blue Mountains to Liverpool Plains. After three years of collecting, he went for a tour to New Zealand, returning from there to Sydney on January 20, 1827. Then he started from the Hunter with six men and 11 horses, via Liverpool Plains and the Peel River, to the Darling Downs, which he discovered and named after Governor Darling, returning by the Gwydir River, which he named. In June 1828, he went by sea to Moreton Bay in the Lucy Ann, with Fraser, the Colonial Botanist, and Captain Logan, afterwards murdered by his own men on the Upper Brisbane River, when out on an exploring expedition. The Logan River bears his name.
Cunningham returned to Sydney in the Isabella, and went back to Brisbane in May 1829, spent three months collecting and returned to Sydney; leaving there in May, 1830, in the Lucy Ann for Norfolk Island, where he was robbed on a visit to Phillip Island by 11 runaway convicts. In August 1830, he paid a last collecting visit to his beloved Illawarra, and on the 6th of January, 1831, started on his last trip to the Blue Mountains. At Vaucluse, near Watson’s Bay, on February 26, 1831, he saw the beautiful Spiranthes Australis, a plant he had seen but once in 14 years. Is it still growing at Vaucluse?
He left for London on February 25, 1831, after an absence of 15 years, and returned to Sydney on February 12, 1837, with Captain Gatenby, in the convict ship Norfolk, to accept the position of Government Botanist, succeeding his brother Richard, who had been killed by the Bogan blacks when out with Sir Thomas Mitchell’s expedition, in April, 1835, at the age of 42.
Alan was the first Superintendent of the Botanic Gardens, but he found it merely garden growing vegetables for the Government officials, and he resigned in disgust.
Then he left Sydney on April 15, 1838, in the French corvette, L’Heroine, Captain Cecille, for New Zealand, to return to Sydney on October 30, 1838, in a state of collapse, and his health ruined. On the 27th of June, 1839, he died in the arms of his successor, James Anderson, in the little cottage in the Botanic Gardens, at 48 years of age.
None of the explorers had done more valuable work, or crowded more experiences into a few short years, than Alan Cunningham, whose name is sacred in Australian history.