Having now brought to a close the narrative of my explorations in 1840-1, it may not be out of place to take a brief and cursory review of the whole, and to state generally what have been the results effected. In making this summary, I have no important rivers to enumerate, no fertile regions to point out for the future spread of colonization and civilization, or no noble ranges to describe from which are washed the debris that might form a rich and fertile district beneath them; on the contrary, all has been arid and barren in the extreme.
Such, indeed, has been the sterile and desolate character of the wilderness I have traversed, and so great have been the difficulties thereby entailed upon me, that throughout by far the greater portion of it, I have never been able to delay a moment in my route, or to deviate in any way from the line I was pursuing, to reconnoitre or examine what may haply be beyond. Even in the latter part of my travels, when within the colony of Western Australia, and when the occasionally meeting with tracts of a better soil, or with watercourses appearing to have an outlet to the ocean, rendered the country one of much greater interest, I was quite unable, from the circumstances under which I was placed, the reduced and worn-out state of my horses, and the solitary manner in which I was travelling, ever to deviate from my direct line of route, either to examine more satisfactorily the character of the country, or to determine whether the watercourses, some of which occasionally bore the character of rivers (though of only short course), had embouchures opening to the sea or not.
In a geographical point of view, I would hope the result of my labours has not been either uninteresting, or incommensurate with the nature of the expedition placed under my command, and the character of the country I had to explore. By including in the summary I am now making, the journeys I undertook in 1839, as well as those of 1840-1 (for a considerable portion of the country then examined was recrossed by the Northern Expedition), it will be seen that I have discovered and examined a tract of country to the north of Adelaide, which was previously unknown, of about 270 miles in length, extending between the parallels of 33 degrees 40 minutes and 29 degrees S. latitude. In longitude, that part of my route which was before unknown, extends between the parallels of 138 degrees E., and 118 degrees 40 minutes E., or about 1060 miles of direct distance. These being connected with the previously known portions of South-western, South-eastern, and part of Southern Australia, complete the examination of the whole of the south line of the coast of this continent. Indeed, I have myself (at various times) crossed over the whole of this distance from east to west, from Sydney to Swan River. In the early part of the Expedition, 1840, the continuation of Flinders range, from Mount Arden, was traced and laid down to its termination, near the parallel of 29 degrees S. It was ascertained to be hemmed in by an impassable barrier, consisting of the basin of an immense lake, which I named Lake Torrens, and which, commencing from the head of Spencer’s Gulf, increased in width as it swept to the north-west, but subsequently bent round again to the north-east, east and south-east, in correspondence with the trend of Flinders range, the northern extremity of which it completely surrounded in the form of a horse-shoe. The shores of this lake I visited to the westward of Flinders range, at three different points, from eighty to ninety miles apart from each other, and on all these occasions I found the basin to consist, as far as I could penetrate, of a mass of mud and sand, coated on the surface with a crust of salt, but having water mixed with it beneath. At the most north-westerly point attained by me, water was found in an arm of the main lake, about two feet deep, clear, and salt as the sea; it did not extend, however, more than two or three hundred yards, nor did it continue to the bed of the main lake, which appeared, from a rise that I ascended near the arm, to be of the same character and consistency as before. The whole course of the lake, to the farthest point visited by me, was bounded by a steep, continuous, sandy ridge, exactly like a sea-shore ridge; those parts of its course to the north, and to the east of Flinders range, which I did not go down to, were seen and laid down from various heights in that mountain chain. Altogether, the outline of this extraordinary feature, as thus observed and traced, could not have extended over a circuit of less than 400 miles.
It is singular enough that all the springs found near the termination of Flinders range should have been salt, and that these were very nearly in the same latitude in which Captain Sturt had found brine springs in the bed of the Darling in 1829, although our two positions were so far separated in longitude. My furthest position to the north-west was also in about the same latitude, as the most inland point gained by any previous exploring party, viz. that of Sir Thomas Mitchell’s in 1832, about the parallel of 149 degrees E. longitude; but by my being about 600 miles more to the westward, I was consequently much nearer to the centre of New Holland. It is, to say the least, remarkable that from both our positions, so far apart as they are, the country should present the same low and sterile aspect to the west and north-west. Since my return from the expedition, a party has been sent out under Captain Frome, the Surveyor-General, in South Australia, to examine the south-east extremity of Lake Torrens; the following is the report made by that officer upon his return.
“The most northern point at which I found water last year, was near the top of a deep ravine of the Black Rock Hills, in lat. 32 degrees 45 minutes 25 seconds, where I left the dray and the larger portion of my party on the 20th July, taking on only a light spring cart, the bottom filled entirely with kegs containing sufficient water for our horses for nearly three days, and provisions for one month, which was as much as the cart would contain.
“My object being to ascertain the boundaries of the southern termination of the eastern branch of Lake Torrens, as laid down by Mr. Eyre, and also the nature of the country between Flinders range, as high as the parallel of Mount Hopeless, and the meridian of 141 degrees, (the eastern limits of the province), I kept at first a course as near N.N.E. as the nature of the ground would admit, to ensure my not passing to the east of this extremity of the lake; from whence I intended, if possible, to pursue a line nearly north-east, as far as my time and the means at my disposal would allow me, hoping to reach the high land laid down by Sir Thomas Mitchell, on the right banks of the Darling, to the north of Mount Lyell, and thus ascertain if any reasonable hope existed of penetrating at some future time towards the interior from thence. The continued heavy rains which had fallen for more than three weeks before my departure from Adelaide, on the 8th July, and for nearly a fortnight afterwards, had left the surface water in pools on the scrubby plains, and in some of the ravines; but on proceeding north, it was evident that these rains had not been there so general or so heavy, though by steering from point to point of the hills, after crossing the Black Rock Range at Rowe’s Creek, I was able to find sufficient water for the horses, and to replenish the kegs every second or third day. From this spot, the plains, as well as the higher land, appeared evidently to dip away to the north-east, the barren hills all diminishing in elevation, and the deep watercourses from Flinders range all crossing the plains in that direction. In one of these watercourses, the Siccus (lat. about 31 degrees 55 minutes), whose section nearly equals that of the Murray, there were indications of not very remote floods having risen to between twenty and thirty feet above its bed, plainly marked by large gum-trees lodged in the forks of the standing trees, and lying high up on its banks, on one of which I remarked dead leaves still on the branches; and in another creek (Pasmore River), lat. 31 degrees 29 minutes, a strong current was running at the spot where we struck it (owing, I suppose, to recent heavy rains among the hills from whence it has its source), but below this point the bed was like that of all the other creeks, as dry as if no rain had ever fallen, and with occasional patches of various shrubs, and salt water tea-tree growing in it. After crossing the low ridge above Prewitt’s Springs, lat. 31 degrees 45 minutes, forming the left bank of the basin of the Siccus, the plain extended between the north and east as far as the eye could reach, and the lurid glare of the horizon, as we advanced northward, plainly indicated the approach of Lake Torrens, which, from the direction I had followed, I expected to turn about this point. I was obliged, however, to continue a northerly course for the sake of water, which I could only hope to find in the ravines of the hills on our left, as high as the parallel of 30 degrees 59 minutes, where the lake was visible within fifteen or sixteen miles, and appeared from the high land to be covered with water, studded with islands, and backed on the east by a bold rocky shore. These appearances were, however, all deceptive, being caused solely by the extraordinary refraction, as on riding to the spot the following day, not a drop of water was to be seen in any direction. The islands turned out to be mere low sandy ridges, very scantily clothed with stunted scrub on their summits, and no distant land appeared any where between the north and south-east, though from the hills above our camp of the previous night, I could discern, with the aid of a very powerful telescope, a ridge of low land, either on the eastern side of the lake, or rising out of it, distant at least seventy miles, rendered visible at that distance by the excessive refractive power of the atmosphere on the horizon. A salt crust was seen at intervals on the surface of the sand at the margin of the lake, or as it might more properly be called, the Desert; but this appearance might either be caused by water brought down by the Siccus, and other large watercourses spreading over the saline soil in times of flood, or by rain, and appeared to me no proof of its ever being covered with water for any period of time. A few pieces of what appeared drift timber were also lying about its surface. The sand, as we advanced farther east, became more loose and drifting, and not a blade of grass, or any species of vegetation, was visible, rendering hopeless any attempt to cross it with horses. This point of the lake shore, being by Mr. Eyre’s chart about thirty miles to the westward of where I found it, I thought it advisable to push further north, in the direction of the highest point of the range, which I imagined was probably his Mount Serle; for though it was not to be expected that Mr. Eyre, whose principal and almost sole object was to discover a road to the interior, would, at the same time, have been able to lay down the position of his route with the same accuracy that might have been expected from a surveyor; this difference of longitude prevented my being certain of the identity of the spot, or that the range on our left, might not after all, be another long promontory running to the north, similar to that on the western side of which was Mr. Eyre’s course. The appearance of the country, however, from the hills close under Mount Serle (for the perpendicular cliffs on the east side of this range of hills prevented my ascending to their summit without turning them among the ranges, for which I had not time), convinced me at once, from its perfect accordance with the description given by Mr. Eyre, that his eastern arm of Lake Torrens was the sandy desert I had left, its surface being about three hundred feet above the level of the sea; and our two converging lines having thus met at Mount Serle, I knew it was useless to advance further in the same direction to a spot which he had named, from the impossibility of proceeding beyond it, “Mount Hopeless.”
“I was thus forced to return to Pasmore River, as the nearest point from whence I could cross to the low hills to the eastward, south of Lake Torrens; and from thence I sent back to the depot two men of the party, and three horses — the former for the sake of their rations, and the latter on account of the probable difficulty I should have in procuring water — taking on with me only Mr. Henderson and Mr. Hawker on foot, with the light cart and one policeman. The second evening I made the most northern of these hills, but could not find a drop of water in any of them; and having unluckily lost the policeman, who had crossed in front of the dray and got entangled in the dense scrub, I was detained three days riding upon his tracks, until I had traced them to our dray tracks from the depot at the Black Rock Hill, which he reached in safety, after being out five days without food. The cart, in the mean time, had been obliged to leave the spot where I left it, for want of water — having been out six days without obtaining any but what we carried in the kegs; and when I overtook it, we had not sufficient provisions for another attempt, the period of one month, for which they were intended to last, having already nearly expired.
“I very much regret not having been able to reach, at all events, within sight of Mount Lyell; but where I turned I could plainly see the whole country within fifty or sixty miles of the boundaries of the province, and can speak with almost as much confidence of its absolute sterility as if I had actually ridden over it. It would certainly be possible in the wet season to take a small party from Prewitt’s Springs across to this hill of Sir Thomas Mitchell (distant about one hundred and sixty miles), by carrying on water for eight or ten days; but no further supply might be found short of the Darling (eighty miles beyond Mount Lyell), on which river it would be madness to attempt anything without a considerable force, on account of the natives; and the same point might be reached in nearly as short a time, and with much more certainty, with any number of men that might be considered necessary, by ascending the Murray as high as the Laidley Ponds, and proceeding north from thence.
“On returning to the depot, I moved the party down to Mount Bryan, and made another attempt on the 25th August, with Mr. Henderson, and one man leading a pack-horse, to the north-east, hoping, from the heavy rains which had fallen during the past two months, to find sufficient water in the ravines to enable me to push on for several days. The second day, I crossed the high range I had observed from the Black Rock Hills and Mount Bryan, for the southern termination of which Colonel Gawler steered when he left the northern bend of the Murray in December, 1839; but though these hills had an elevation of twelve hundred or fourteen hundred feet above the plain, there was no indication of rain having fallen there since the deluge. This want of water prevented my proceeding further to the north-east; but from the summit of the highest of these hills (Mount Porcupine,) I had a clear view of the horizon in every direction, and a more barren, sterile country, cannot be imagined.
“The direction of the dividing ridge between the basin of the Murray and the interior desert plain was generally about north-east from the Black Rock Hills (the highest point north of Mount Bryan,) gradually decreasing in elevation, and, if possible, increasing in barrenness. The summits of those hills I found invariably rock — generally sandstone — the lower slopes covered with dense brush, and the valleys with low scrub, with occasional small patches of thin wiry grass. I was obliged to return on the third day, and reached the foot of Mount Bryan on the fourth evening, at the southern extremity of which hill the horses were nearly bogged in the soft ground, though only fifty miles distant from land where the dust was flying as if in the midst of summer.
“It appears to me certain, from the result of these different attempts, that there is no country eastward of the high land extending north from Mount Bryan, as far as Mount Hopeless, a distance of about three hundred miles, as far as the meridian of 141 degrees (and probably much beyond it), available for either agricultural or pastoral purposes; and that, though there may be occasional spots of good land at the base of the main range on the sources of the numerous creeks flowing from thence towards the inland desert, these must be too limited in extent to be of any present value.
“The nature of the formation of the main range I found generally iron-stone, conglomerate and quartz, with sandstone and slate at the lower elevation. At the points of highest elevation from Mount Bryan northward, igneous rocks of basaltic character protruded from below, forming rugged and fantastic outlines.
“At one spot, particularly, about 30 degrees, there were marked indications of volcanic action, and several hollows resembling small craters of extinct volcanoes, near one of which we found a small spring of water, maintaining always a temperature of about 76 degrees Farenheit, when the thermometer standing in water in the kegs stood at 52 degrees, and in the atmosphere at 54 degrees.
“The accompanying sketch of the country from Mount Bryan northwards, will probably explain its character better than any written description. The altitudes marked at the different spots where they were observed, were obtained by the temperature of boiling water, as observed by two thermometers; but as they were not graduated with sufficient minuteness for such purposes, the results can only be considered approximate.”
E. C. FROME, Capt. Royal Engineers, Surveyor-General. September 14th, 1843.
In the above report it will be observed, that there are some apparent discrepancies between my account and Captain Frome’s. First, with respect to the position of the south-east extremity of Lake Torrens. Captain Frome states that he found that point thirty miles more to the east than I had placed it in my chart. Now the only sketch of my course under Flinders range, and that a rough one, which I furnished to the Colonial Government, was sent from Port Lincoln, and is the same which was subsequently published with other papers, relative to South Australia, for the House of Commons, in 1843. This sketch was put together hastily for his Excellency the Governor, that I might not lose the opportunity of forwarding it when I sent from Port Lincoln to Adelaide for supplies early in October, 1840. It was constructed entirely, after I found myself compelled to return from the northern interior, and could only be attended to, in a hurried and imperfect manner, during the brief intervals I could snatch from other duties, whilst travelling back from the north to Port Lincoln (nearly 400 miles,) during which time my movements were very rapid, and many arrangements, consequent upon dividing my party at Baxter’s range, had to be attended to; added to this were the difficulties and embarrassments of conducting myself one division of the party to Port Lincoln, through 200 miles of a desert country which had never been explored before, and which, from its arid and sterile character, presented impediments of no ordinary kind.
Upon my return to Adelaide in 1841, after the Expedition had terminated, other duties engrossed my time, and it was only after the publication of Captain Frome’s report, that my attention was again called to the subject. Upon comparing my notes and bearings with the original sketch I had made, I found that in the hurry and confusion of preparing it, whilst travelling, I had laid down all the bearings and courses magnetic, without allowing for the variation; nor can this error, perhaps, be wondered at, considering the circumstances under which the sketch was constructed.
At Mount Hopeless the variation was 4 degrees E., at Mount Arden it was 7 degrees 24 minutes E. Now if this variation be applied proportionably to all the courses and bearings as marked down in the original chart, commencing from Mount Arden, it will be found that Mount Serle will be brought by my map very nearly in longitude to where Captain Frome places it. [Note 30 at end of para.] Our latitudes appear to agree exactly. The second point upon which some difference appears to exist between Captain Frome’s report and mine is the character of Lake Torrens itself, which Captain Frome thought might more properly be called a desert. This, it will be observed, is with reference to its south-east extremity — a point I never visited, and which I only saw once from Mount Serle; a point, too, which from the view I then had of it, distant although it was, even at that time seemed to me to be “apparently dry,” and is marked as such in Arrowsmith’s chart, published from the sketch alluded to.
[Note 30: This has been done by Arrowsmith in the map which accompanies these volumes; — to which Mr. Arrowsmith has also added Captain Frome’s route from the original tracings.]
There is, however, a still greater, and more singular difference alluded to in Captain Frome’s report, which it is necessary to remark; I mean that of the elevation of the country. On the west side of Flinders range, for 200 miles that I traced the course of Lake Torrens, it was, as I have observed, girded in its whole course by a steep ridge, like a sea-shore, from which you descended into a basin, certainly not above the level of the sea, possibly even below it (I had no instruments with me to enable me to ascertain this,) the whole bed consisted of mud and water, and I found it impossible to advance far into it from its boggy nature. On the east side of Flinders range, Captain Frome found the lake a desert, 300 feet above the level of the sea, [Note 31: By altitude deduced from the temperature of boiling water.] and consisting of “loose and drifting sand,” and “low sandy ridges, very scantily clothed with stunted scrub on their summits.” Now, by referring to Captain Frome’s chart and report, it appears that the place thus described was nearly thirty miles south of Mount Serle, and consequently twenty miles south of that part of the bed of Lake Torrens which I had seen from that hill. It is further evident, that Captain Frome had not reached the basin of Lake Torrens, and I cannot help thinking, that if he had gone further to the north-east, he would have come to nearly the same level that I had been at on the western side of the hills. There are several reasons for arriving at this conclusion. First, the manner in which the drainage is thrown off from the east side of Flinders range, and the direction which the watercourses take to the north-east or north; secondly, because an apparent connection was traceable in the course of the lake, from the heights in Flinders range, nearly all the way round it; thirdly, because the loose sands and low sandy ridges crowned with scrub, described by Captain Frome, were very similar to what I met with near Lake Torrens in the west side, before I reached its basin.
After the Northern Expedition had been compelled to return south, (being unable to cross Lake Torrens,) the peninsula of Port Lincoln was examined, and traversed completely round, in all the three sides of the triangle formed by its east and west coasts, and a line from Mount Arden to Streaky Bay. A road overland from Mount Arden was forced through the scrub for a dray; but the country travelled through was of so inhospitable a character as to hold out no prospect of its being generally available for overland communication. One unfortunate individual has since made an attempt to take over a few head of cattle by this route, but was unable to accomplish it, and miserably perished with his whole party from want of water. [Note 32: Vide note to page 154, Vol. I. (Note 11)]
On the northern side of the triangle I have alluded to, or on the line between Mount Arden and Streaky Bay, a singularly high and barren range, named the Gawler Range after His Excellency the Governor, was found consisting of porphoritic granite, extending nearly all the way across, and then stretching out to the north-west in lofty rugged outline as far as the eye could reach; the most remarkable fact connected with this range, was the arid and sterile character of the country in which it was situated, as well as of the range itself, which consisted entirely of rugged barren rocks, without timber or vegetation. There was not a stream or a watercourse of any kind emanating from it; we could find neither spring nor permanent fresh water, and the only supply we procured for ourselves was from the deposits left by very recent rains, and which in a few days more, would have been quite dried up. The soil was in many places saline, and wherever water had lodged in any quantity (as in lakes of which there were several) it was quite salt.
[Note 33: A small exploring party, under a Mr. Darke, was sent from Port Lincoln in August, 1844, but after getting as far as the Gawler Range were compelled by the inhospitable nature of the country to return. The unfortunate leader was murdered by the natives on his route homewards.]
Continuing the line of coast to the westward, the expedition passed through the most wretched and desolate country imaginable, consisting almost entirely of a table-land, or of undulating ridges, covered for the most part with dense scrubs, and almost wholly without either grass or water. The general elevation of this country was from three to five hundred feet, and all of the tertiary deposit, with primary rocks protruding at intervals.
The first permanent fresh water met with on the surface was a small fresh-water lake, beyond the parallel of 123 degrees E.; but from Mount Arden to that point, a distance of fully 800 miles in a direct line, none whatever was found on the surface (if I except a solitary small spring sunk in the rock at Streaky Bay). During the whole of this vast distance, not a watercourse, not a hollow of any kind was crossed; the only water to be obtained was by digging close to the sea-shore, or the sand-hills of the coast, and even by that means it frequently could not be procured for distances of 150 to 160 miles together. With the exception of the Gawler Range, which lies between Streaky Bay and Mount Arden, this dreary waste was one almost uniform table-land of fossil formation, with an elevation of from three to five hundred feet, covered for the most part by dense impenetrable scrubs, and varied only on its surface by occasional sandy or rocky undulations.
What then can be the nature of that mysterious interior, bounded as it is by a table-land without river or lakes, without watercourses or drainage of any kind, for so vast a distance? Can it be that the whole is one immense interminable desert, or an alternation of deserts and shallow salt lakes like Lake Torrens? Conjecture is set at defiance by the impenetrable arrangements of nature; where, the more we pry into her secrets, the more bewildered and uncertain become all our speculations.
It has been a common and a popular theory to imagine the existence of an inland sea, and this theory has been strengthened and confirmed by the opinion of so talented, so experienced, and so enterprising a traveller as my friend Captain Sturt, in its favour. That gentleman, with the noble and disinterested enthusiasm by which he has ever been characterised, has once more sacrificed the pleasure and quiet of domestic happiness, at the shrine of enterprise and science. With the ardour of youth, and the perseverance and judgment of riper years, he is even now traversing the trackless wilds, and seeking to lift up that veil which has hitherto hung over their recesses. May he be successful to the utmost of his wishes, and may he again rejoin in health and safety his many friends, to forget in their approbation and admiration the toils he has encountered, and to enjoy the rewards and laurels which will have been so hardly earned, and so well deserved.
It was in August, 1844, that Captain Sturt set out upon his arduous undertaking, with a numerous and well equipped party, and having provisions calculated to last them for eighteen months. I had the pleasure of accompanying the expedition as far as the Rufus (about 240 miles from Adelaide), to render what assistance I could, in passing up, on friendly terms among the more distant natives of the Murray. Since my return, Captain Sturt has been twice communicated with, and twice heard from, up to the time I left the Colony, on the 21st December, 1844. The last official communication addressed to the Colonial Government will be found in Chapter IX. of Notes on the Aborigines. The following is a copy of a private letter to John Morphett, Esq M.C., and published in the Adelaide Observer of the 9th November, 1844: —
“14th October, 1844.
“I left Lake Victoria, as I told you in a former letter, on the 18th of September, and again cut across the country to the Murray. As we travelled along we saw numerous tracks of wild cattle leading from the marshes to the river, and we encamped at the junction of the river and a lagoon (one of the most beautiful spots you ever saw), just where these tracks were most numerous. In the night therefore we were surrounded by lowing herds, coming to the green pastures of which we had taken possession. In the morning I sent Messrs. Poole and Brown, with Flood my stockman, and Mark to drive in some bullocks, as I was anxious to secure one or two workers. The brush however was too thick, and in galloping through it after a bull, Flood’s carbine exploded, and blew off three of the fingers of his right hand. This accident obliged me to remain stationary for two days, notwithstanding my anxiety to get up to the lagoon at Williorara, to ascertain the truth or otherwise of the report I had heard of the massacre of a party of overlanders there.
“On the 23rd I reached the junction of the Ana branch with the Murray, discovered by Eyre, and then turned northwards. Running this Ana branch up, I crossed it where the water ceased, and went to the Darling, striking it about fifteen miles above its junction with the Murray. The unlooked-for course of the Darling however kept me longer on its banks than I had anticipated; but you can form no idea of the luxuriant verdure of its flats. They far surpass those of the Murray, both in quantity and quality of soil; and extended for many miles at a stretch along the river side. We have run up it at a very favourable season, and seen the commencement of its floods; for, two days after we reached it, and found it with scarcely any water in its bed, we observed a fresh in it, indicated by a stronger current. The next morning to our surprise the waters were half-bank high. They had risen six feet during the night, and were carrying everything before them; now they are full sixteen feet above their level, and a most beautiful river it is. Over this said mysterious river, as Major Mitchell calls it, the trees drooped like willows, or grew in dark clusters at each turn; the sloping banks were of a vivid green, the flats lightly timbered, and the aspect of the whole neighbourhood cheerful.
“I had hoped that we should have been able to approach the ranges pretty closely along the line of Laidley’s Ponds; but fancy our disappointment when we arrived on its banks to find that instead of a mountain stream it was a paltry creek, connecting a lake, now dry, with the river, and that its banks were quite bare. I was therefore obliged to fall back upon the Darling, and have been unable to stir for the last four days by reason of heavy rain.
“On Tuesday I despatched Mr. Poole to the ranges, which are forty miles distant from us, to ascertain if there is water or feed under them; but I have no hope of good tidings, and believe I shall ultimately be obliged to establish myself on the Darling.
“You will be glad to hear, and so ought every body, that we have maintained a most satisfactory intercourse with the natives. The report we had heard referred to Major Mitchell’s affray with them, and you will not be surprised at their reverting to it, when I tell you that several old men immediately recognized me as having gone down the Murray in a boat, although they could have seen me for an hour or two only, and fifteen years have now elapsed since I went down the river. I suppose we misunderstood the story; but most assuredly I fully anticipated we should, sooner or later, come on some dreadful acene or other, and I came up fully prepared to act; but the natives have been exceedingly quiet, nor have we seen a weapon in the hands of any of them: in truth I have been quite astonished at the change in the blacks; for instead of collecting in a body, they have visited us with their wives and children, and have behaved in the most quiet manner. We may attribute this in part to our own treatment of the natives, and in part to Eyre’s influence over them, which is very extensive, and has been productive of great good. The account the natives give of the distant interior is very discouraging. It is nothing more however than what I expected. They say that beyond the hills it is all sand and rocks; that there is neither grass or water, or wood; and that it is awfully hot. This last feature appears to terrify them. They say that they are obliged to take wood to the hills for fire, and that they clamber up the rocks on the hills; that when there is water there, it is in deep holes from which they are obliged to sponge it up and squeeze it out to drink. I do not in truth think that any of the natives have been beyond the hills, and that the country is perfectly impracticable.
“We are now not more than two hundred and fifteen feet above the sea, with a declining country to the north-west, and the general dip of the continent to the south-west. What is the natural inference where there is not a single river emptying itself upon the coast, but that there is an internal basin? Such a country can only be penetrated by cool calculation and determined perseverance. I have sat down before it as a besieger before a fortress, to make my approaches with the same systematic regularity. I must cut hay and send forage and water in advance, as far as I can. I have the means of taking sixteen days’ water and feed for two horses and three men; and if I can throw my supplies one hundred miles in advance, I shall be able to go two hundred miles more beyond that point, at the rate of thirty miles a-day, one of us walking whilst two rode. Surely at such a distance some new feature will open to reward our efforts! My own opinion is, that an inland sea will bring us up ere long — then how shall we get the boat upon it? ‘Why,’ you will say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ You will find some means or other, no doubt; and so we will. However, under any circumstances, depend upon it I will either lift up or tear down the curtain which hides the interior from us, so look out for the next accounts from me as of the most interesting kind, as solving this great problem, or shutting the door to discovery from this side the continent for ever.
“P.S. Poole has just returned from the ranges. I have not time to write over again. He says that there are high ranges to N. and N.W. and water, — a sea extending along the horizon from S.W. by W., to ten E. of N. in which there are a number of islands and lofty ranges as far as the eye can reach. What is all this? Are we to be prosperous? I hope so; and I am sure you do. To-morrow we start for the ranges, and then for the waters, — the strange waters on which boat never swam, and over which flag never floated. But both shall are long. We have the heart of the interior laid open to us, and shall be off with a flowing sheet in a few days. Poole says that the sea was a deep blue, and that in the midst of it there was a conical island of great height. When will you hear from me again?”
From this communication, Captain Sturt appears to be sanguine of having realized the long hoped for sea, and at last of having found a key to the centre of the continent. Most sincerely do I hope that this may be the case, and that the next accounts may more than confirm such satisfactory intelligence.
My own impressions were always decidedly opposed to the idea of an inland sea, nor have I changed them in the least, now that circumstances amounting almost to proof, seem to favour that opinion.
Entertaining, as I do, the highest respect for the opinion of one so every way capable of forming a correct judgment as Captain Sturt, it is with considerable diffidence that I advance any conjectures in opposition to his, and especially so, as I may be thought presumptuous in doing so in the face of the accounts received. Until these accounts, however, are further confirmed, the question still remains as it was; and it may perhaps not be out of place to allude to some of the reasons which have led me to form an opinion somewhat different from that entertained by Captain Sturt, and which I have been compelled to arrive at after a long personal experience, a closer approach to the interior, and a more extensive personal examination of the continent, than any other traveller has hitherto made. In the course of that experience, I have never met with the slightest circumstance to lead me to imagine that there should be an inland sea, still less a deep navigable one, and having an outer communication with the ocean. I can readily suppose, and, in fact, I do so believe, that a considerable portion of the interior consists of the beds or basins of salt lakes or swamps, as Lake Torrens, and some of which might be of great extent. I think, also, that these alternate, with sandy deserts, and that probably at intervals, there are many isolated ranges, like the Gawler range, and which, perhaps, even in some places may form a connection of links across the continent, could any favourable point be obtained for commencing the examination.
It is very possible that among these ranges, intervals of a better or even of a rich and fertile country might be met with.
The suggestion thrown out by Captain Sturt a few years ago, that Australia might formerly have been an Archipelago of islands, appears to me to have been a happy idea, and to afford the most rational and satisfactory way of accounting for many of the peculiarities observable upon its surface or in its structure. That it has only recently (compared with other countries) obtained its present elevation, is often forcibly impressed upon the traveller, by the appearance of the country he is traversing, but no where have I found this to be the case in a greater degree, than whilst exploring that part of it, north of Spencer’s Gulf, where a great portion of the low lands intervening, between the base of Flinders range, and the bed of Lake Torrens, presents the appearance of a succession of rounded undulations of sand or pebbles washed perfectly smooth and even, looking like waves of the sea, and seeming as if they had not been very many centuries deserted by the element that had moulded them into their present form. In this singular district I found scattered at intervals throughout the whole area inclosed by, but south of, Lake Torrens, many steep-sided fragments of a table land, [Note 34 at end of para.] which had evidently been washed to pieces by the violent action of water, and which appeared to have been originally, of nearly the same general elevation as the table lands to the westward. It seems to me, that these table lands have formerly been the bed of the ocean, and this opinion is fully borne out by the many marine remains, fossil shells, and banks of oyster shells, [Note 35 at end of para.] which are frequently to be met with embedded in them. What are now the ranges of the continent would therefore formerly have been but rocks or islands, and if this supposition be true, there are still hopes that some other islands are scattered over the immense space occupied by Australia, and which may be of as rich and fertile a character, as any that are yet known. Thus if the intervening extent of desert lying between any of the known portions of Australia, and what may be considered as having been the next island, can be ascertained and crossed over, new and valuable regions may yet be offered for the extension of the pastoral interest of our Colonies, and for the general spread of civilization and improvement.
[Note 34: “An hundred miles above this, I passed a curious feature, called the “Square Hills” (plate 123 ). I landed my canoe and went ashore, and to their tops to examine them. Though they appeared to be near the river, I found it half a day’s journey to travel to and from them; they being several miles from the river. On ascending them I found them to be two or three hundred feet high, and rising on their sides at an angle of 45 deg. and on their tops, in some places for half a mile in length perfectly level, with a green turf, and corresponding exactly with the tabular hills spoken of above the Mandans, in plate 39, vol. 1. I therein said that I should visit these hills on my way down the river; and I am fully convinced from close examination, that they are a part of the same original superstratum, which I therein described, though 7 or 800 miles separated from them. They agree exactly in character, and also in the materials of which they are composed; and I believe that some unaccountable gorge of waters has swept away the intervening earth, leaving these solitary and isolated, though incontrovertible evidences, that the summit level of all this great valley, has at one time been where the level surface of these hills now is, two or three hundred feet above what is now denominated the summit level.” — Catlin’s American Indians, Vol. 2. pp. 11 and 12.]
[Note 35: Similar banks of fossil shells and oyster beds, are found in the Arkansas. — Vide Catlin, Vol. 2. p. 85. At page 86, Mr. Catlin describes banks of gypsum and salt, extending through a considerable extent of country, and which apparently was of a very similar formation to some of the localities I was in to the north of Spencer’s Gulf.]
I have already observed that several circumstances connected with my own personal experience have led me to the conclusion, that there is no inland sea now occupying the centre of New Holland; it will be sufficient to name three of the most important of these.
First. I may mention the hot winds which in South Australia, or opposite the centre of the continent, always blow from the north, to those, who have experienced the oppressive and scorching influence of these winds, which can only be compared to the fiery and withering blasts from a heated furnace, I need hardly point out that there is little probability that such winds can have been wafted over a large expanse of water.
Secondly. I may state that between the Darling river and the head of the Great Australian Bight, I have at various points come into friendly communication with the Aborigines inhabiting the outskirts of the interior, and from them I have invariably learnt that they know of no large body of water inland, fresh or salt; that there were neither trees nor ranges, but that all was an arid waste so far as they were accustomed to travel.
Thirdly. I infer the non-existence of an inland sea, from the coincidence observable in the physical appearance, customs, character, and pursuits of the Aborigines at opposite points of the continent, whilst no such coincidence exists along the intervening lines of coast connecting those points.
With respect to the first consideration, it is unnecessary to add further remark; as regards the second, I may state, that although I may sometimes not have met with natives at those precise spots which might have been best suited for making inquiry, or although I may sometimes have had a difficulty in explaining myself to, or in understanding a people whose language I did not comprehend; yet such has not always been the case, and on many occasions I have had intercourse with natives at favourable positions, and have been able, quite intelligibly, to carry on any inquiries. One of these opportunities occurred in the very neighbourhood of the hill from which Mr. Poole is said to have seen the inland sea, as described in Captain Sturt’s despatch.
There are several reasons for supposing Mr. Poole to have been deceived in forming an opinion of the objects which he saw before him from that elevation: first, I know, from experience, the extraordinary and deceptive appearances that are produced in such a country as Mr. Poole was in, by mirage and refration combined. I have often myself been very similarly deceived by the semblance of hills, islands, and water, where none such existed in reality. Secondly, in December 1843, I was within twenty-five miles of the very spot from which Mr. Poole thought he looked upon a sea, and I was then accompanied by natives, and able, by means of an interpreter, to communicate with those who were acquainted with the country to the north-west. My inquiries upon this point were particular; but they knew of no sea. They asserted that there was mud out in that direction, and that a party would be unable to travel; from which I inferred either that some branch of the Darling spread out its waters there in time of flood, or that Lake Torrens itself was stretching out in the direction indicated. Thirdly, I hold it physically impossible that a sea can exist in the place assigned to it, in as much as during an expedition, undertaken by the Surveyor-general of the Colony, in September, 1843, that officer had attained a position which would place himself and Mr. Poole at two opposite points, upon nearly the same parallel of latitude; but about 130 miles of longitude apart, in a low level country, and in which, therefore, the ranges of their respective vision from elevations would cross each other, and if there was a sea, Captain Frome must have seen it as well as Mr. Poole; again, I myself had an extensive and distant view to the north-east and east from Mount Hopeless, a low hill, about ninety miles further north than Captain Frome’s position, but a little more east; yet there was nothing like a sea to be seen from thence, the dry and glazed-looking bed of Lake Torrens alone interrupting the monotony of the desert.
There are still some few points connected with our knowledge of the outskirts of the interior which leave great room for speculation, and might lead to the opinion that it is not altogether a low or a desert region. The facts which have more immediately come under my own observation, are connected, first with the presence of birds belonging to a higher and better country in the midst of a desert region, and secondly, with the line of route taken by the Aborigines in spreading over the continent, as deduced from a coincidence or dissimilarity of the manners, customs, or languages of tribes remotely apart from one another.
With respect to the presence of birds in a region such as they do not usually frequent, I may state that at Mount Arden, near the head of Spencer’s Gulf, swans were seen taking their flight high in the air, to the north, as if making for some river or lake they were accustomed to feed at. At the Frome river, where it spreads into the plains to the north of Flinders range; four white cockatoos were found flying about among the trees, although those birds had not been met with for 200 miles before I attained that point. [Note 36: Vide Vol. I. July 4, Aug 31, and March 19.] And about longitude 128 degrees 20 minutes E., when crossing over towards King George’s Sound, large parrots were found coming from the north-east, to feed upon the berries of a shrub growing on the sea coast, although no parrots were seen for two or three hundred miles on either side, either to the east or to the west, they must, therefore, have come from the interior. Now the parrot is a bird that often frequents a mountainous country, and always inhabits one having timber of a better description and larger growth than the miserable shrubs met with along the coast; it is a bird too that always lives within reach of permanent fresh-water, as rivers, lakes, creeks, pools, etc. Can there then be such in the interior, with so barren and arid a region, bounding it? and how are we to commence an examination with so many difficulties and embarrassments attending the very outset?
The second series of facts which have attracted my attention, relate to the Aborigines. It is a well known circumstance that the dialects, customs, and pursuits in use among them in the various parts of the continent, differ very much from each other in some particulars, and yet that there is such a general similarity in the aggregate as to leave no room to doubt that all the Aborigines of Australia have had one common origin, and are in reality one and the same race. If this then is really the case, they must formerly have spread over the continent from one first point, and this brings me to the
Third reason I have mentioned as being one, from which I infer, that there is not an inland sea, viz., the coincidence observable in the physical appearance, customs, character, and pursuits of the Aborigines, at opposite points of the continent, whilst no such coincidence exists along the intervening lines of coast connecting those two points, and which naturally follows from the circumstances connected with the present location of the various tribes in which this is observable, and with the route which they must have taken to arrive at the places they now occupy on the continent. [Note 37 at end of para.] I believe that the idea of attempting to deduce the character of the continent, and the most probable line for crossing it, from the circumstances and habits of the natives inhabiting the coast line is quite a novel one. It appears to me, however, to be worth consideration; and if it is true that the natives have all one common origin, and have spread over the continent from one first point, I think it may reasonably be inferred that there is a practicable route across the centre of New Holland, and that this line lies between the 125th and 135th degrees of east longitude. It further appears that there must still be a second route, other than the coast line, in the direction between Port Jackson in New South Wales and the south-east corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria on the north coast.
[Note 37: Vide Chapter VII. of Notes on the Aborigines, where this subject will be found fully discussed, and the reasons given for supposing the conclusions here assumed.]
If then we have reasonable grounds for believing that such lines of route actually do exist, it becomes a matter of much interest and importance to determine the most favourable point from which to explore them. My own experience has pointed out the dreadful nature of the southern coast, and the very great and almost insuperable difficulties that beset the traveller at the very commencement — in his efforts even to establish a single depot from which to enter upon his researches. The northern coast may, probably, afford greater facilities, but in a tropical climate, where the heat and other circumstances render ordinary difficulties and impediments still more embarrassing and dangerous, it is a matter of deep moment that the expedition for interior exploration should commence at the right point, and this can only be ascertained by a previous examination.
I have myself always been most anxious to attempt to cross from Moreton Bay on the N. E. coast to Port Essington on the N. W. I believe that this journey is quite practicable, and I have no doubt that if judiciously conducted, and the country to the south of the line of route always examined, as far as that could be done, it would completely develop, in connection with what is already known, the character and formation of Australia, and would at once point out the most proper place from which subsequent expeditions ought to start in order finally to accomplish the passage across its interior — from the north to the south.
- Written by Edward John Eyre
- Category: Edward John Eyre - Vol 2 - Ch 6 - Concluding Remarks
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