Category: Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 16
Written by Edward John Eyre
March 19. — To-day we travelled onwards for twenty-six miles, through a country exactly similar to that we had passed through yesterday. At three in the afternoon we halted at an opening when there was abundance of grass, though dry and withered. The indications of natives having recently passed still continued, and confirmed me in my impression, that they were on a journey to the westward, and from one distant water to another, and principally for the purpose of gathering the fruit. We were now forty miles from the last water, and I became assured that we had very far to go to the next; I had for some time given over any hope of finding the second water spoken of by the natives at the head of the Bight, and considered that we must have passed it if it existed, long ago, perhaps even in that very valley, or among those very sandhills where we had searched so unsuccessfully on the 12th. There was now the prospect of a long journey before us without water, as we had brought only a little with us for ourselves, and which was nearly exhausted, whilst our horses had been quite without, and were already suffering from thirst. Consulting with the overseer, I resolved to leave our baggage where we were, whilst the horses were sent back to the water (forty miles) to rest and recruit for three or four days; by this means I expected they would gather strength, and as they would have but little weight to carry until they reached our present position, when they returned we should be better able to force a passage through the waste before us, at the same time that we should be able to procure a fresh and larger stock of water for ourselves. At midnight I sent the whole party back to the last water, but remained myself to take care of the baggage and sheep. I retained an allowance of a pint of water per day for six days, this being the contemplated period of the overseer’s absence. My situation was not at all enviable, but circumstances rendered it unavoidable.
From the departure of my party, until their return, I spent a miserable time, being unable to leave the camp at all. Shortly after the party left, the sheep broke out of the yard, and missing the horses with which they had been accustomed to travel and to feed, set off as rapidly as they could after them; I succeeded in getting them back, but they were exceedingly troublesome and restless, attempting to start off, or to get down to the sea whenever my eye was off them for an instant, and never feeding quietly for ten minutes together; finding at last that they would be quite unmanageable, I made a very strong and high yard, and putting them in, kept them generally shut up, letting them out only to feed for two or three hours at once. This gave me a little time to examine my maps, and to reflect upon my position and prospects, which involved the welfare of others, as well as my own. We had still 600 miles of country to traverse, measured in straight lines across the chart; but taking into account the inequalities of the ground, and the circuit we were frequently obliged to make, we could not hope to accomplish this in less than 800 miles of distance. With every thing in our favour we could not expect to accomplish this in less than eight weeks; but with all the impediment and embarrassments we were likely to meet with, it would probably take us twelve. Our sheep were reduced to three in number, and our sole stock of flour now amounted to 142 pounds, to be shared out amongst five persons, added to which the aspect of the country before us was disheartening in the extreme; the places at which there was any likelihood of finding water were probably few and far apart, and the strength of our horses was already greatly reduced by the hardships they had undergone. Ever since we had left Fowler’s Bay, the whole party, excepting the youngest boys, had been obliged chiefly to walk, and yet every care and precaution we could adopt were unable to counteract the evil effects of a barren country, and an unfavourable season of the year. The task before us was indeed a fearful one, but I firmly hoped by patience and perseverance, safely and successfully to accomplish it at last.
During nearly the whole time that my party were away the weather was cool and cloudy. Occasionally there was a great deal of thunder and lightning, accompanied by a few drops of rain, but it always cleared away without heavy showers. The storms came up from seawards, and generally passed inland to the north-east; which struck me as being somewhat singular, especially when taken in conjunction with the fact that on one or two occasions, when the wind was from the north-east, it was comparatively cool, and so unlike any of those scorching blasts we had experienced from the same quarter when on the western side of the Great Bight. There was another thing connected with my present position which equally surprised me, and was quite as inexplicable: whilst engaged one morning rambling about the encampment as far as I could venture away, I met with several flights of a very large description of parrot, quite unknown to me, coming apparently from the north-east, and settling among the shrubs and bushes around. They had evidently come to eat the fruit growing behind the sand-hills, but being scared by my following them about, to try and shoot one, they took wing and went off again in the direction they had come from.
Several days had now elapsed since the departure of the overseer with the horses, and as the time for their return drew nigh I became anxious and restless. The little stock of water left me was quite exhausted. It had originally been very limited, but was reduced still further by the necessity I was under of keeping it in a wooden keg, where it evaporated, and once or twice by my spilling some. At last, on the 25th, I was gratified by seeing my party approach. They had successfully accomplished their mission, and brought a good supply of water for ourselves, but the horses looked weary and weak, although they had only travelled fourteen miles that day. After they had rested a few hours I broke up the encampment, and travelling for fourteen miles further over a scrubby country, came to a patch of grass, at which we halted early. From the nature of the country, and the consequent embarrassment it entailed upon us, it was impossible for any of the party to have any longer even the slight advantage formerly enjoyed of occasionally riding for a few miles in turn; all were now obliged to walk, except the two youngest boys, who were still permitted to ride at intervals. The weather was cloudy, and showers were passing to the north-east.