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Arriving, however, at the remotest spot at which it could have taken place, he ascertained that the rumours related to a fact known to have occurred eight years before. In the paucity of their topics of conversation, the native Australians, are driven to the expedient of dressing up the few that do occur, with great diligence and ingenuity, for frequent repetition to those who seek for news.
Before the end of 1844, the party had traversed the country in various directions above twenty-five degrees to the northwest of the Darling river. They traced the head of Lake Torrens, in lat. 29° 44′, opposite three remarkable peaks laid down by Mr. Eyre, the enterprising Australian traveller, from another side. At this end, it seemed to consist of a succession of lakes, formed by the drainage from the hills. This lake, and the creek upon which Captain Sturt ultimately established his permanent station in long. 141°, 30', lat. 29°, 40, seemed to be the only waters to be depended upon in a circuit of many hundred miles.
The atmosphere, upon the excursions made from this depôt to the west, north, and east, was overpowering. The wind,' says the report, blew in our faces with the constancy and intensity of a hot blast from a furnace.' The party suffered from scurvy. The character of the country, penetrated at this period of the expedition, may be judged of from the following passage :—
'On the 11th of February, 1845, we proceeded on our journey in a course of 5 degrees W. of N., through a country alternating with long, narrow flats, and sandy ridges. As we advanced, the flats became narrower, and the sandy ridges appeared closer, succeeding each other like the waves of a tempestuous sea. There was at the first a little grass on the flats, but at length they became sandy, and the ridges less elevated. The whole region was now sand, on which spurifex alone was growing; so that if I had not brought a few oats with me for the horse, he would have starved. On the 13th, at noon, my observations and reckoning placed me in lat. 28° 11′ 15′′, and here my horse failed. I therefore took him out of the cart, and, with Joseph, walked above twelve miles, as I wished, if possible, to pass the 28th meridian. I was then more than two hundred miles to the westward of the Darling, and in long. 141° 22, as near as I could judge. And as I looked around me from the top of a small sand-hill, I could see no change in the terrible desert into which I had penetrated. The horizon was unbroken by a single mound, from north round to north again, and it was as level as that of the ocean. My view to the north extended above eight miles; but I did not venture to compass the distance, only perhaps to have a similar heart-rending and desolate scene to look over.'
Not far, however, from the desert, Captain Sturt found a
creek, which led to a beautiful enclosure, of about seven miles in circumference, studded with fine trees, and covered with grass, in long. 120° 44', lat. 28° 6, within the colony of South Australia.
The heat was here intense, the thermometer being 135 degrees of Fahrenheit, in the shade, at half-past two P.M.; and it rose to 157 degrees in the intense rays of the sun. The birds were observed to be migrating from this region.
Of the natives, Captain Sturt says,
'We had seen very few; but our kindness to those few had been such, that I hoped it would have engendered a confidence; but they have not dared to approach us. Aware that there was a general scarcity of water in the country, I could not think that we were putting them to great inconvenience by occupying so important a post. I had found a large sheet of water at the termination of a large creek near us; and, in hopes that I should have found nearly the whole of the population of these regions assembled there, I rode to it with Mr. Browne; but we were disappointed in finding any number of natives. It was clear that they were dispersed at the different water-holes unexhausted, in families, as the country is too poor to maintain any number of inhabitants in any one place. One family, indeed, came in from the south whilst we were at this water, having been driven in from the failure of their own supplies.
About three weeks ago, a solitary native came to the camp, and remained with us for a week. He was a stranger, from the northward and westward, and spoke a different language to the natives hereabouts. What led him to wander to the hills it is impossible to say; but it almost appeared as if he had been sent to encourage us. He guessed the use of the boat the moment he saw it, and pointed to the N.W. as the quarter to which we should go to use it. He examined the sheep-netting, and, putting his head to the meshes, intimated to us by signs, that the fish we should find were too large to get through them. He recognised the turtle, the hippocampus, and several sea-fish figured in Cuvier's plates, naming them respectively; but he put his fingers on all the others, and gave them a general
'Putting my observations and these facts together, I cannot but think that we are within 150 or 200 miles of some remarkable feature; but whether a river or a sea it is impossible to say.'
The whole of the next ten months were passed in attempts to make out this remarkable feature,' which the sanguine traveller had reckoned upon.
After trying, to no purpose, the west country towards Lake Torrens, he set out to the N. W., and reached lat. 24° 30, long. 138°; but was compelled to return, from the failure both of water and grass. After passing through a succession of sandy wastes, and desolate flats whence recent floods had sub
sided, at a distance of 110 miles from the depôt, they reached a region of salt formation covered with samphire, and other subsalaceous productions, with numbers of dry beds of lagoons, white as snow with salt. Passing this, they found themselves among sand ridges, perfectly insurmountable, and of a fiery red, running for miles in parallel rows, with points like the vanishing points of an avenue. But there was neither grass nor water to be found; and, after trying all points of the compass,' says Captain Sturt, we gave it up.' They returned to the depôt after an absence of seven weeks, and a ride of 924 miles.
He soon set out again, due north for the tropic; and after travelling one hundred and twenty-three miles, he found a fine creek of water, from which he proceeded one hundred and seventy miles further, depending upon a quantity of surface water from a thunder storm. Here he was stopped by a stony desert, a dark and adamantine sea.' 'I was,' says he, 'forty miles advanced in the gloomy region, and fifty-two miles from water.' He was compelled to return after having reached lat. 25°. 48. and long. 139°. 13'.
But before arriving at the depôt again, the party went up the creek just mentioned. They traced it one hundred and twenty miles to its head in some extensive plains.' 'It was as large as the Darling, and was flanked by a box-tree forest, in grassy land.'
Here,' says Captain Sturt, I fell in with a numerous population, passing three or four small tribes every day; but the news of our kind treatment of them had spread through the country, and they evinced no alarm, but did all they could to serve us.
'On the 3d of October I was at the bead of the creek, and all at once found myself in presence of 270 or 280 natives, encamped on a rising piece of ground under a large sand-hill I had descended. On seeing us, they set up a great shout; but when I rode slowly down the hill there was a dead silence: then I dismounted, and, giving my borse to one of the men, walked over to the natives, who received me kindly, brought me troughs of water and baked seeds, and invited me to sleep at one of their fires; but, observing a small clump of trees about fifty yards away from the native camp, I told them I would sleep there; to which they gave a ready assent, and carried over firewood for our use, which was very scarce.
These people were the finest I have seen in Australia. Many stood six, several more than six feet high. They were well made, and had not the pot-bellies of the natives in general. They were frank and merry people, and told me all they could. They assured me there was no water to the east, or north, and were quite distressed when I persisted next day on going to the eastward.
The women were engaged to a late hour in bruising seed cakes, and the noise they made was like the working of looms in a
manufacturing town. At ten all was hushed; and for the remainder of the night no one could have known that there were so many human beings near.'
From this spot, Captain Sturt went westward, but reached 'a scene of the greatest turmoil, where the water passed over the dreary waste, and left the shivered fragments of the mountains behind.'
Here again grass and water failed; and on the ninth of November, 1845, this attempt to penetrate the interior was reluctantly given up. In eight days more, Captain Sturt was again at his depôt, having ridden this time eight hundred and forty-three miles in four weeks, and four days. He got safe back to the banks of the Darling, although without a drop of water for the first hundred miles of the journey. After some weeks rest, he recovered sufficiently from the severe effects of this fatiguing expedition, to proceed to Adelaide, where an enthusiastic reception awaited him.
The important geographical fact, that there is no sea in the heart of New Holland, seems to be settled by the tenor of Captain Sturt's observations, as illustrated by the discoveries of Dr. Leichardt. The four hundred or five hundred miles between the extreme points of their south east, and west, do not admit of more than extensive lakes, into which, possibly, the western waters of the latter traveller may run; unless, as is more likely, they supply the rivers which reach the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The vast space westward of Captain Sturt's route is soon to be explored to the Swan River; when all mystery will be dispelled on the subject. But his discovery of a considerable native population in the interior, is of much more real importance than that of a greater or less quantity of available land or water, however worthy of investigation. It has been somewhere rashly denied, that such a population was to be found beyond the Darling; and their kindly dispositions so well met by Captain Sturt, and their physical growth are equally deserving of notice. The mysterious, single visitor seen some degrees further south, and apparently a native wanderer, from the north west, with his knowledge of boats and large fish, makes us regret that an intimate knowledge of the native languages does not form part of the acquirements of Australian travellers.
Dr. Leichardt's expedition left Moreton Bay in September, 1844, to penetrate the north-eastern of New Holland, direct to Port Essington, where they arrived the seventeenth of December, 1845. The party consisted of eight persons, of whom one was a youth, and two were Aboriginal natives. They had
fifteen horses, sixteen head of cattle, and four dogs. One of the party, a white, was killed on the journey by native plunderers. The rest arrived safe with eight horses, one ox, and the dogs. The other animals had either died on their way, or had been killed for food. Not being able to persevere in a north-west course, the party followed a line nearer the east coast, up to the centre of York Peninsula, to lat. 15° 51'. They then went westward to the gulf of Carpentaria; and descending its eastern side, went round it to the west side, until they could find a route north-west to Port Essington.
They crossed, and named thirty-seven large rivers, all running westward except two, the Comet and the Mackenzie, in lat. 24 and 23', which took an eastward course, and escaped also a few which go north to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The creeks crossed were innumerable, and distributed pretty equally along the whole way. Rich, elevated tracts, some of them from two thousand to 2800 feet high, and fertile vallies, well adapted for sheep and cattle, extended far within the tropics. Five distinct regions were observed to be peculiarly favourable to agricultural objects;-namely, the countries in about lat. 26°, and lat. 20° to 18°, and both as long, as that in York Peninsula in lat. 17°; thus at the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and other vast tracts west of these gulfs. Every variety of soil and rock was accurately traced; and good coal and slate found above the tropic. Towards the north new fruits and edible seeds were abundant. Two specimens of Dr. Leichardt's description will suffice to shew the character of his observations. They chiefly relate to the country not very remote from Captain Sturt's interior wilderness.
Robinson's Creek, in lat. 25° 29′, comes,' says Dr. Leichardt, 'from a hilly country, which more to the N. W. rises into ranges of considerable elevation, giving rise to a great number of watercourses, creeks, and gullies. The whole country is openly timbered (the ridge at the upper part of it is part covered with silver-leaved iron bark), well adapted for sheep. Fine flats extend along its banks. In pursuing a N.W. course, I entered into a knot of mountains, from which the waters flowed in almost every direction, to the E., N.E., N., W., and S.
'A creek in lat. 24° 45′ led me to a small river, lined with fine casuarinos and flooded gum trees. I called it Comet River, as I saw the fine comet (29th of December, 1844) in travelling along its banks. It comes from downs and plains to the westward. It joins the Mackenzie, which also comes from the westward. They are the only two rivers I passed running to the east.
From time to time sandstone crops out on the banks of the Mackenzie. In one of these sections several layers of fine coal were found, identical with the formation of the Newcastle coal. Rounded pieces of coal had been found in the bed of the river, where we first