Explorations In The Interior 1840-1860

Progress of Exploration. The coasts of Australia had all been

examined before the year 1815. From that date those who wished to make

fresh discoveries were obliged to penetrate into the interior; and we

have already seen that, previous to the year 1836, explorers were busy

in opening up the south-east portion of the continent. Oxley had made

known the northern districts of New South Wales, and Allan Cunningham

the sou
hern part of what is now the colony of Queensland. Hume and

Hovell, Sturt and Mitchell, had traversed the southern districts of New

South Wales and the territory now occupied by Victoria. Following

closely in the footsteps of these intrepid discoverers, the squatters

had entered all these districts, and, wherever the land was suitable,

had settled down with their flocks; so that, ere long, all that corner

of Australia which would be cut off by drawing a straight line from

Brisbane to Adelaide was fully surveyed. But there still remained to be

explored about seven-eighths of the continent; and from this date onward

there was an unbroken succession of adventurous travellers, who entered

the vast central territory for the purpose of making known its nature

and capacities. But the manner of conducting an expedition was now very

different from what it had been. Previous explorers had been provided

with parties of convicts, and had traversed lands for the greater part

grassy and well watered. These expeditions had their dangers, arising

chiefly from the hostility of the blacks; and Allan Cunningham, his

brother Richard, with many others, sacrificed their lives in their

ardour for discovery. But subsequent travellers had to encounter, in

addition, the pangs of hunger and thirst in that dry and desolate

country which occupies so great a portion of Central Australia.

Eyre. The first on this roll of gallant discoverers was Edward John

Eyre, who, in 1840, offered to conduct an expedition to the interior. He

himself provided about half the money required, the South Australian

Government--which was then in difficulties--gave a hundred pounds, and a

number of Eyre's personal friends made up the remainder. With five

Europeans, three natives, and thirteen horses, and with forty sheep to

serve as food on the way, he set out from Adelaide and travelled to the

head of Spencer's Gulf, where a small vessel lay waiting to supply them

with provisions sufficient for three months. Having traversed forty or

fifty miles of desert land, he turned to the west, and came in sight of

what he called Lake Torrens. It was now dried up, so that in place of a

sheet of water twenty miles broad, he saw only a dreary region covered

with glittering salt. When he entered upon it the thin crust of salt

broke, and a thick black mud oozed up. The party plunged onward for

about six miles, the mud becoming always deeper and deeper, till at

length it half covered the saddles of their horses. He was then forced

to turn back, and to seek a passage round this lake of mud; but, having

followed its shores for many miles, there seemed to be so little

prospect of reaching the end of the obstacle, that he turned his course

again, from west to north. After travelling about two hundred miles

through a very desolate country, he was once more arrested by coming

upon a similar sheet of salt-encrusted mud, which he called Lake Eyre.

Again there appeared no hope of either crossing the lake or going round

it; no water was to be found, and his supplies were fast failing, so

that he was forced to hasten back a long distance to the nearest stream.

Setting out once more, he twice attempted to penetrate westward into the

interior, but, on each occasion, the salt lakes barred his progress, and

as a last effort he urged his failing party towards the north-east. Here

the country was the most barren and desolate that can be imagined. It

was not always so, but after a period of drought, when the grass is

burnt to the roots and not a drop of fresh water to be seen in a hundred

miles, it has all the appearance of a desert. His supplies of water ran

short, and frequently the explorers were on the point of perishing. When

they approached the Frome River--a creek which flows northwards into

Lake Eyre--they were inexpressibly delighted to view from afar the

winding current; but its waters were found to be as salt as the ocean.

After a long and dreary journey, Eyre ascended a hill, in order to see

if there was any hope of finding better country; but the view was only a

great and barren level, stretching far away to the horizon on every

side. He had now no water, and his only course was to turn back; so,

leaving this place--which he called Mount Hopeless--he retraced his

steps to the head of Spencer's Gulf.

Australian Bight. Here he changed the object of his journey, and

made efforts to go along the shores of the Great Australian Bight, in

order to reach West Australia. Three times he rounded Streaky Bay; but

in that bare and desert land the want of water was an insuperable

obstacle, and each time he was forced to retreat to less desolate

country. Governor Gawler now sent word to him to return to Adelaide, as

it seemed madness to make further efforts; but Eyre replied that to go

back without having accomplished anything would be a disgrace he could

never endure. Seeing that his only chance of reaching West Australia was

to push rapidly forward with a simple and light equipment, he sent back

the whole of his party except Mr. Baxter, his black servant Wylie, and

the other two natives; and taking with him a few horses, carrying a

supply of water and provisions for several weeks, he set out to follow

the coast along the Great Australian Bight. His party had to scramble

along the tops of rough cliffs which everywhere frowned from three

hundred to six hundred feet above the sea; and if they left the coast to

travel inland they had to traverse great stretches of moving sands,

which filled their eyes and ears, covered them when asleep, and, when

they sat at meals, made their food unpleasant. But they suffered most

from want of water; for often they were obliged to walk day after day

beneath a broiling sun when all their water was gone, and not a drop to

be seen on the burning soil beneath them. On one occasion, after they

had thus travelled 110 miles, the horses fell down from exhaustion, and

could not be induced to move. Eyre and a native hastened forward; but,

though they wandered for more than eighteen miles, they saw no sign of

water, and when darkness came on they lay down, with lips parched and

burning, and tossed in feverish slumber till morning. At early dawn they

perceived a ridge of sand-hills not far away, and making for them they

found a number of little wells--places where the natives had dug into

the sand for six or eight feet, and so had reached fresh water. Here

Eyre and his black companion drank a delicious draught, and hastened

back with the precious beverage to revive the horses. The whole party

was then able to go forward; and there, around these little waterholes,

Eyre halted for a week to refresh his men and animals before attempting

another stretch of similar country. They saw some natives, who told them

that there was plenty of water farther on, and when Eyre set out again

he carried very little with him, so as not to overburden the horses. But

after sixty miles of the desert had been traversed without meeting any

place in which water was to be found, he became alarmed, and sent back

Mr. Baxter with the horses to bring up a better supply, whilst he

himself remained to take charge of the baggage. When Baxter returned

they all set forward again, and reached a sandy beach, where they had

great difficulty in preventing the horses from drinking the sea-water,

which would certainly have made them mad. As it was, two of them lay

down to die, and part of the provisions had to be abandoned. Baxter now

grew despondent, and wished to return; but Eyre was determined not yet

to give up. Onward they toiled through the dreary wilderness, and two

more horses fell exhausted; 126 miles from the last halting-place, and

still no signs of water. Still onward, and the horses continued to drop

by the way, Baxter constantly entreating Eyre to return. It was only

after a journey of 160 miles that they came to a place where, by

digging, they could obtain fresh water in very small quantities.

They were now forced to eke out their failing provisions by eating

horseflesh. Baxter was altogether disheartened; and, if to return had

not been as dangerous as to go forward, Eyre would himself have

abandoned the attempt. The three natives, however, were still as

light-hearted and merry as ever; whilst the food lasted they were

always full of frolic and laughter.

Death of Baxter. Each evening Eyre formed a little camp, loaded the

muskets, and laid them down ready for use in case of an attack by the

blacks; the horses were hobbled, and set free to gather the little

vegetation they could find. But this forced Eyre and Baxter to keep

watch by turns, lest they should stray so far as to be lost. One evening

when Eyre had taken the first watch, the horses, in their search for

grass, had wandered about a quarter of a mile from the camp. He had

followed them, and was sitting on a stone beneath the moonlight, musing

on his gloomy prospects, when he was startled by a flash and a report.

Hastening to the camp, he was met by Wylie, who was speechless with

terror, and could only wring his hands and cry: "Oh, massa". When he

entered, he saw Baxter lying on his face, whilst the baggage was broken

open, and scattered in all directions. He raised the wounded man in his

arms, but only in time to support him as his head fell back in death.

Then placing the body on the ground, and looking around him, he

perceived that two of his natives had plundered the provisions, shot Mr.

Baxter as he rose to remonstrate with them, and had then escaped. The

moon became obscured, and in the deep gloom, beside the dead body of his

friend, Eyre passed a fearful night, peering into the darkness lest the

miscreants might be lurking near to shoot him also. He says, in his

diary: "Ages can never efface the horrors of that single night, nor

would the wealth of the world ever tempt me to go through a similar

one". The slowly-spreading dawn revealed the bleeding corpse, the

plundered bags, and the crouching form of Wylie, who was still

faithful. The ground at this place consisted of a great hard sheet of

rock, and there was no chance of digging a grave; so Eyre could only

wrap the body in a blanket, leave it lying on the surface, and thus take

farewell of his friend's remains.

Arrival at King George's Sound. Then he and Wylie set out together

on their mournful journey. They had very little water, and seven days

elapsed before they reached a place where more was to be obtained. At

intervals they could see the murderers stealthily following their

footsteps, and Eyre was afraid to lie down lest his sleep should prove

to have no awaking; and thus, with parching thirst by day, and hours of

watchfulness by night, he slowly made his way towards King George's

Sound. After a time the country became better; he saw and shot two

kangaroos, and once more approached the coast. His surprise was great

on seeing two boats some distance out at sea. He shouted and fired his

rifle, without attracting the attention of the crews. But, on rounding a

small cape, he found the vessel to which these boats belonged. It was a

French whaling ship; and the two men, having been taken on board, were

hospitably entertained for eleven days. Captain Rossiter gave them new

clothes and abundance of food; and when they were thoroughly refreshed,

they landed to pursue their journey. The country was not now so

inhospitable; and three weeks afterwards they stood on the brow of a

hill overlooking the little town of Albany, at King George's Sound. Here

they sat down to rest; but the people, hearing who they were, came out

to escort them triumphantly into the town, where they were received with

the utmost kindness. They remained for eleven days, and then set sail

for Adelaide, which they reached after an absence of one year and

twenty-six days.

This expedition was, unfortunately, through so barren a country that it

had but little practical effect beyond the additions it made to our

geography; but the perseverance and skill with which it was conducted

are worthy of all honour, and Eyre is to be remembered as the first

explorer who braved the dangers of the Australian desert.

Sturt. Two years after the return of Eyre, Captain Sturt, the famous

discoverer of the Darling and Murray, wrote to Lord Stanley offering to

conduct an expedition into the heart of Australia. His offer was

accepted; and in May, 1844, a well-equipped party of sixteen persons was

ready to start from the banks of the Darling River. Places which Sturt

had explored sixteen years before, when they were a deep and unknown

solitude, were now covered with flocks and cattle; and he could use, as

the starting-place of this expedition, the farthest point he had reached

in that of 1828. Mr. Poole went with him as surveyor, Mr. Browne as

surgeon, and the draughtsman was Mr. J. M'Douall Stuart, who, in this

expedition, received a splendid training for his own great discoveries

of subsequent years. Following the Darling, they reached Laidley's

Ponds, passed near Lake Cawndilla, and then struck northward for the

interior. The country was very bare--one dead level of cheerless desert;

and when they reached a few hills which they called Stanley Range, now

better known as Barrier Range, Sturt, who ascended to one of the

summits, could see nothing hopeful in the prospect. How little did he

dream that the hills beneath him were full of silver, and that one day a

populous city of miners should occupy the waterless plain in front of

him! In this region he had to be very careful how he advanced, for he

had with him eleven horses, thirty bullocks, and two hundred sheep, and

water for so great a multitude could with difficulty be procured. He had

always to ride forward and find a creek or pond of sufficient size, as

the next place of encampment, before allowing the expedition to move on;

and, as water was often very difficult to find, his progress was but

slow. Fortunately for the party, it was the winter season, and a few of

the little creeks had a moderate supply of water. But after they had

reached a chain of hills, which Sturt called the Grey Range, the warm

season was already upon them. The summer of 1844 was one of the most

intense on record; and in these vast interior plains of sand, under the

fiery glare of the sun, the earth seemed to burn like plates of metal:

it split the hoofs of the horses; it scorched the shoes and the feet of

the men; it dried up the water from the creeks and pools, and left all

the country parched and full of cracks. Sturt spent a time of great

anxiety, for the streams around were rapidly disappearing; and, when all

the water had been dried up, the prospects of his party would, indeed,

be gloomy. His relief was therefore great when Mr. Poole found a creek

in a rocky basin, whose waters seemed to have a perennial flow. Sturt

moved forward, and formed his depot beside the stream; and here he was

forced to remain for six weeks. For it appeared as though he had entered

a trap; the country before him was absolutely without water, so that he

could not advance; while the creeks behind him were now only dry

courses, and it was hopeless to think of returning. He made many

attempts to escape, and struck out into the country in all directions.

In one of his efforts, if he had gone only thirty miles farther, he

would have found the fine stream of Cooper's Creek, in which there was

sufficient water for the party; but hunger and thirst forced him to

return to the depot. He followed down the creek on which they were

encamped, but found that, after a course of twenty-nine miles, it lost

itself in the sand.

Meantime the travellers passed a summer such as few men have ever

experienced. The heat was sometimes as high as 130 deg. in the shade,

and in the sun it was altogether intolerable. They were unable to write,

as the ink dried at once on their pens; their combs split; their nails

became brittle and readily broke, and if they touched a piece of metal

it blistered their fingers. In their extremity they dug an underground

room, deep enough to be beyond the dreadful furnace-glow above. Here

they spent many a long day, as month after month passed without a shower

of rain. Sometimes they watched the clouds gather, and they could hear

the distant roll of thunder, but there fell not a drop to refresh the

dry and dusty desert. The party began to grow thin and weak; Mr. Poole

became ill with scurvy, and from day to day he sank rapidly. At length,

when winter was again approaching, a gentle shower moistened the plain;

and, as the only chance of saving the life of Poole, half of the party

was sent to carry him quickly back to the Darling. They had been gone

only a few hours when a messenger rode back with the news that he was

already dead. The mournful cavalcade returned, bearing his remains, and

a grave was dug in the wilderness. A tree close by, on which his

initials were cut, formed the only memorial of the hapless explorer.

Journey to the Centre. Shortly afterwards there came a succession of

wet days, and, as there was now an abundance of water, the whole party

once more set off; having travelled north-west for sixty-one miles

farther, they formed a new depot, and made excursions to explore the

country in the neighbourhood. M'Douall Stuart crossed over to Lake

Torrens; while Sturt, with Dr. Browne and three men, pushing to the

north, discovered the Strzelecki Creek, a stream which flows through

very agreeable country. But as they proceeded farther to the north their

troubles began again; they came upon a region covered with hill after

hill of fiery red sand, amid which lay lagoons of salt and bitter water.

They toiled over this weary country in hopes that a change for the

better might soon appear; but when they reached the last hill, they had

the mortification to see a great plain, barren, monotonous and dreary,

stretching with a purple glare as far as the eye could reach on every

side. This plain was called by Sturt the "Stony Desert," for, on

descending, he found it covered with innumerable pieces of quartz and

sandstone, among which the horses wearily stumbled. Sturt wished to

penetrate as far as the tropic of Capricorn; but summer was again at

hand, their water was failing, and they could find neither stream nor

pool. When the madness of any farther advance became apparent, Sturt,

with his head buried in his hands, sat for an hour in bitter

disappointment. After toiling so far, and reaching within 150 miles of

his destination, to be turned back for the want of a little water was a

misfortune very hard to bear, and, but for his companions, he would have

still gone forward and perished. As they hastened back their water was

exhausted, and they were often in danger of being buried by moving hills

of sand; but at length they reached the depot, having traversed 800

miles during the eight weeks of their absence.

It was not long before Sturt started again, taking with him M'Douall

Stuart as his companion. On this trip he suffered the same hardships,

but had the satisfaction of discovering a magnificent stream, which he

called Cooper's Creek. On crossing this creek he again entered the Stony

Desert, and was once more compelled reluctantly to retrace his steps.

When he reached the depot he was utterly worn out. He lay in bed for a

long time, tenderly nursed by his companions; and, when the whole party

set out on its return to the settled districts, he had to be lifted in

and out of the dray in which he was carried. As they neared their homes

his sight began to fail. The glare of the burning sands had destroyed

his eyes, and he passed the remainder of his days in darkness. His

reports of the arid country gave rise to the opinion that the whole

interior of Australia was a desert; but this was afterwards found to be

far from correct.

Leichardt. Allan Cunningham's discoveries extended over the northern

parts of New South Wales and the southern districts of Queensland. But

all the north-eastern parts of the continent were left unexplored until

1844, when an intrepid young German botanist, named Ludwig Leichardt,

made known this rich and fertile country. With five men he started from

Sydney, and, passing through splendid forests and magnificent pasture

lands, he made his way to the Gulf of Carpentaria, discovering and

following up many large rivers--the Fitzroy, with its tributaries--the

Dawson, the Isaacs and the Mackenzie; the Burdekin, with several of its

branches; then the Mitchell; and, lastly, the Gilbert. He also crossed

the Flinders and Albert, without knowing that, a short time previously,

these rivers had been discovered and named by Captain Stokes, who was

exploring the coasts in a British war-ship. Having rounded the gulf, he

discovered the Roper, and followed the Alligator River down to Van

Diemen's Gulf, where a vessel was waiting to receive his party. On his

return to Sydney the utmost enthusiasm prevailed; for Leichardt had made

known a wide stretch of most valuable country. The people of Sydney

raised a subscription of L1,500, and the Government rewarded his

services with L1,000. Leichardt was of too ardent a nature to remain

content with what he had already done; and, in 1847, he again set out to

make further explorations in the north of Queensland. On this occasion,

however, he was not so successful. He had taken with him great flocks of

sheep and goats, and they impeded his progress so much that, after

wandering over the Fitzroy Downs for about seven months, he was forced

to return. In 1848 he organised a third expedition, to cross the whole

country from east to west. He proposed to start from Moreton Bay, and to

take two years in traversing the centre of the continent, so as to

reach the Swan River settlement. He set out with a large party, and soon

reached the Cogoon River, a tributary of the Condamine. From this point

he sent to a friend in Sydney a letter, in which he described himself

as in good spirits, and full of hope that the expedition would be a

success. He then started into the wilderness, and was lost for ever from

men's view. For many years parties were, from time to time, sent out to

rescue the missing explorers, if perchance they might still be wandering

with the blacks in the interior; but no traces of the lost company have

ever been brought to light.

Mitchell. Whilst Leichardt was absent on his first journey, Sir

Thomas Mitchell--the discoverer of the Glenelg--had prepared an

expedition for the exploration of Queensland. Having waited till the

return of Leichardt, in order not to go over the same ground, he set out

towards the north, and, after discovering the Culgoa and Warrego--two

important tributaries of the Darling--he turned to the west. He

travelled over a great extent of level country, and then came upon a

river which somewhat puzzled him. He followed the current for 150 miles,

and it seemed to flow steadily towards the heart of the continent. He

thought that its waters must eventually find their way to the sea, and

would, therefore, after a time, flow north to the Indian Ocean. If that

were the case, the river--which the natives called the Barcoo--must be

the largest stream on the northern coast, and he concluded that it was

identical with the Victoria, whose mouth had been discovered about nine

years before by Captain Stokes. He, therefore, provisionally gave it the

name of the Victoria River.

Kennedy. On the return of Mitchell, the further

prosecution of exploration in these districts was left to his

assistant-surveyor--Edmund Kennedy--who, having been sent to trace the

course of the supposed Victoria River, followed its banks for 150 miles

below the place where Mitchell had left it. He was then forced to return

through want of provisions; but he had gone far enough, however, to show

that this stream was only the higher part of Cooper's Creek, discovered

not long before by Captain Sturt. This river has a course of about 1,200

miles; and it is, therefore, the largest of Central Australia. But its

waters spread out into the broad marshes of Lake Eyre, and are there

lost by evaporation.

In 1848 Kennedy was sent to explore Cape York Peninsula. He was landed

with a party of twelve men at Rockingham Bay, and, striking inland to

the north-west, travelled towards Cape York, where a small schooner was

to wait for him. The difficulties met by the explorers were immense;

for, in these tropical regions, dense jungles of prickly shrubs impeded

their course and lacerated their flesh, while vast swamps often made

their journey tedious and unexpectedly long. Thinking there was no

necessity for all to endure these hardships, he left eight of his

companions at Weymouth Bay, intending to call for them on his way back

in the schooner. He was courageously pushing through the jungle towards

the north with three men and his black servant Jackey, when one of the

party accidentally received a severe gunshot wound, which made it

impossible for him to proceed. Kennedy was now only a few miles distant

from Cape York; and, leaving the wounded man under the care of the two

remaining whites, he started--accompanied by Jackey--to reach the cape

and obtain assistance from the schooner. They had not gone far, and were

on the banks of the Escape River, when they perceived that their steps

were being closely followed by a tribe of natives, whose swarthy bodies,

from time to time, appeared among the trees. Kennedy now proceeded

warily, keeping watch all around; but a spear, urged by an unseen hand

from among the leaves, suddenly pierced his body from behind, and he

fell. The blacks rushed forward, but Jackey fired, and at the report

they hastily fled. Jackey held up his master's head for a short time,

weeping bitterly. Kennedy knew he was dying, and he gave his faithful

servant instructions as to the papers he was to carry, and the course he

must follow. Not long after this he breathed his last, and Jackey, with

his tomahawk, dug a shallow grave for him in the forest. He spread his

coat and shirt in the hollow, laid the body tenderly upon them, and

covered it with leaves and branches. Then, packing up the journals, he

plunged into the creek, along which he walked, with only his head above

the surface, until he neared the shore. Hastily making for the north,

he reached the cape, where he was taken on board the schooner. This

expedition was one of the most disastrous of the inland explorations.

The wounded man, and the two who had been left with him, were never

afterwards heard of--in all probability they were slaughtered by the

natives; whilst the party of eight, who had been left at Weymouth Bay,

after constant struggles with the natives, had been reduced, by

starvation and disease, to only two ere the expected relief arrived.

Gregory. In 1856 A. C. Gregory went in search of Leichardt, and,

thinking he might possibly have reached the north-west coast, took a

small party to Cambridge Gulf. Travelling along the banks of the

Victoria River, he crossed a low range of hills and discovered a stream,

to which he gave the name of "Sturt Creek". By following this, he was

led into a region covered with long ridges of glaring red sand,

resembling those which had baffled Captain Sturt, except that in this

desert there grew the scattered blades of the spinifex grass, which cut

like daggers into the hoofs of the horses. The creek was lost in marshes

and salt lakes, and Gregory was forced to retrace his steps till he

reached the great bend in the Victoria River; then, striking to the

east, he skirted the Gulf of Carpentaria about fifty miles from the

shore; and, after a long journey, arrived at Moreton Bay, but without

any news regarding Leichardt and his party. His expedition, however, had

explored a great extent of country, and had mapped out the courses of

two large rivers--the Victoria and the Roper.