Volume 1: Chapter VI.
Although first visited by French navigators, later on by the Dutch and Spaniards, and last of all by the English, the latter nation first established itself in Australia, and has obtained undisputed possession of the whole country. The physical aspect of the land, as already described, sufficiently explains the fact that other less foreseeing peoples felt little inclination to make permanent settlements in a country which produced neither marketable slaves, nor spices, nor apparently any of the precious metals--nothing in fact but rich pasturages. Hence, when gold was here actually discovered in 1851, drawing universal attention to this region, as it had to California a short time previously, other nationalities found that it was too late to form independent settlements anywhere on this continent, which had already been either permanently settled by the enterprising Anglo-Saxon race, or else formally declared to be attached to the Crown of Great Britain. Since that event the progress of discovery has been very rapid, and British colonies have been everywhere established, some of which have already [[p. 159]] risen to a high degree of material prosperity under the fostering influence of enlightened institutions modelled on those of the "mother of empires." The whole of the mainland is now parcelled out into five such colonies; more or less extensive tracts on the seaboard being actually inhabited, while much of the desert interior remains desolate and unpeopled.
Each of these colonies possesses a separate administration under a special governor appointed by the Crown, and two Houses of Parliament, in most cases freely elected by the people. So practically independent, and yet so firmly attached to the mother country, are these colonies, that for some years past the regular troops have been withdrawn, their immunity from foreign aggression being secured partly by bodies of local volunteers, but perhaps still more by the silent influence of the tremendous power symbolised by the presence of the British flag. The financial condition of the colonies is, on the whole, satisfactory, the revenue being in most cases considerably in excess of the expenditure. Liberty of conscience is everywhere established as in England, and as in that country the Protestants are in a large majority. But the religious sentiment is perhaps less active than either in England or in America. Science and art, as might be expected, are still somewhat backward, though rapidly progressing; and the same may be said of popular education, while the manufacturing industries have of late years greatly increased in magnitude, but this has as yet hardly reduced the commercial intercourse with the mother country.
2. Early History, Discovery, and Maritime Exploration of Australia.
Under the name of Jave le Grand, Australia is [[p. 160]] represented on French maps dating as early as about 1530; and a Provenšal pilot named Guillaume le Testu, whose name is appended to a map dated 1555, is believed to have been its discoverer. But the earliest distinct reference to Australia in any book is the following passage from the Descriptionis Ptolemaicæ Augmentum, by Cornelius Wytfliet, printed at Louvain in 1598: "The Australis Terra is the most southern of all lands, and is separated from New Guinea by a narrow strait. Its shores are hitherto but little known, since after one voyage and another that route has been deserted, and seldom is the country visited, unless when sailors are driven there by storms. The Australis Terra begins at one or two degrees from the equator, and is ascertained by some to be of so great an extent, that if it were thoroughly explored it would be regarded as a fifth part of the world." It is evident, therefore, that the northern part of the country was tolerably well known long before Torres, in 1606, sailed in a Spanish ship through the straits which have received his name; or Dirk Hartog in 1616 explored the extreme western coast. The extent of the country southwards was first ascertained in 1627, when the Dutch ship Gulden Zeepard sighted much of the south coast from Cape Leeuwin eastward. A few years later, in 1642, Tasman discovered the country which he named Van Diemen's Land, and which he believed to be the southern extremity of the great Terra Australis--which it really is, although separated from it by an arm of the sea.
Dampier was the first Englishman who visited Australia (in 1688), but only the north-western coast; and it was not till nearly a century later, in 1770, that the finest portion of the country, the east coast, was discovered and explored by Captain Cook during his first [[p. 161]] voyage round the world. He came upon the Australian mainland in April 1770, at Gipps Land in Victoria, and from this point skirted the entire eastern coast to Cape York, and thus first made known to the world the extent and outline of the Australian continent. The expedition stayed a week at Botany Bay, and the naturalists who accompanied it--Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander--revelled in the many curious and entirely unknown forms of vegetable and animal life which this locality produced. During their stay here and at several other places on the east coast, nearly a thousand species of plants were collected, disclosing to botanists a new world of strange shrubs and beautiful flowers.
Twenty-seven years later Mr. Surgeon Bass explored the straits which have been named after him, and subsequently, accompanied by his friend Lieutenant Flinders, circumnavigated the island of Tasmania. Two years afterwards Flinders explored Moreton Bay and Hervey's Bay, the entrances to which only had been seen by Cook, and in 1801 he was sent as Captain of H.M.S. Investigator to complete the survey of the coasts of Terra Australis. On this voyage he carefully examined the south and east coasts from King George's Sound, surveyed Spencer's Gulf and Gulf St. Vincent, as well as much of the coast farther east and north. The shores of Victoria were explored in 1800 by Captain Grant, and in 1802 by Lieutenant Murray, who discovered the spacious land-locked bay of Port Phillip, at the head of which now stands the populous city of Melbourne. Captain P. P. King surveyed the N.W. coasts in 1818-1832; while from 1837 to 1843 the surveying-ship Beagle under Captains Wickham and Stokes, completed our knowledge of the Australian coasts, all the more frequented parts of which are now accurately laid down on our charts.
[[p. 162]] 3. Inland Exploration of Australia.
The first British settlement was made at Port Jackson in 1788, and for twenty-five years inland exploration was limited to a tract of some 50 miles wide between the Blue Mountains and the sea. Several attempts were made to pass these mountains, but without success; till, in 1813, when a summer of severe drought made it very important to discover new pastures, three colonists--Messrs. Wentworth and Blaxland, and Lieutenant Lawson--succeeded in passing the barrier, and reached the valley of the Fish River and the fertile Bathurst Plains. The Government surveyors then carried on the work. In 1815 the Lachlan River was discovered, and being traced in a south-westerly direction for 300 miles, ended in a vast extent of marsh, and was thought to empty itself into a great inland sea. Soon after the Macquarie River, flowing to the north-east, also led its explorers to a marshy tract, and was supposed to confirm the inland sea theory. The exploration was continued to the east over the Arbuthnot Range, the Liverpool Plains, and the Peel and Hastings Rivers, reaching the sea at Port Macquarie, and adding much to the knowledge of the interior of the country. The same surveyor, Mr. Oxley, starting in 1823 from the Hastings River northward, traversed the elevated district of New England, and entered what is now the colony of Queensland, discovering the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay.
4. Early Explorations of Hume, Sturt, and Mitchell.
In 1819 a young colonist, Mr. Hamilton Hume, commenced his career as an explorer. He discovered the [[p. 163]] Murrumbidgee River, and in 1824 the Murray, and after tracing them a long way marched south, rounding the spurs of the mountains till he reached Port Phillip. Captain Sturt then took up the work, with Hume for his guide. He traced the Macquarie River downwards to the marshes, and then pushing on discovered the Darling. In a second expedition in 1831, he traced the course of the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan into a great river--the Murray, into which the Darling was also found to empty itself about a hundred miles farther down. Still floating [[p. 164]] down the stream, Captain Sturt at length reached the Lake Alexandrina, a deep inlet of the sea forming the mouth of the great Australian river. This grand discovery solved the mystery of the drainage of the whole interior of New South Wales, and opened up a great and fertile country for colonisation.
Major Mitchell, Surveyor-General of New South Wales, carried on the exploration of the upper waters of the Darling; and it was while accompanying these expeditions that Mr. Cunningham, the botanist, was murdered by the aborigines on the Bogan River, the first of the martyrs to Australian inland discovery. Major Mitchell afterwards tracked the course of the Lachlan through the marshes which had stopped previous explorers, and discovered much fertile country where Mr. Oxley had met with nothing but arid desert--one of the early indications of the now ascertained uncertainty of Australian seasons. In 1836 the country beyond the Murray in Victoria was examined, the Loddon and Wimmera Rivers discovered, the Grampians crossed, and the river Glenelg traced to the sea. Returning over the Dividing Range, he passed through what are now the gold-diggings, and descended the Goulburn River to the Murray. He thus traversed much of the finest part of Victoria, and was so much struck with its fertile soil and beautiful scenery, that he named the district "Australia Felix," declaring that he had at length found a country ready for the immediate reception of civilised man, and fit to become the abode of one of the great nations of the earth.
5. Journeys of Eyre and Sturt to the Desert Interior.
Soon after the colony of South Australia was founded in 1836, and its capital fixed at Adelaide, exploration [[p. 165]] was commenced towards the unknown interior. In 1839 Mr. Eyre (since so well known as Governor of New Zealand and of Jamaica) discovered Lake Torrens, connected with the head of Spencer's Gulf by a narrow channel of mud and water; and in 1840 he explored a portion of its eastern shores and the adjacent Flinders Range, but was obliged to return for want of water. He had intended to cross the lake, but found it an impassable swamp of salt mud. He then turned westward and commenced his perilous journey along the shores of the Great Australian Bight, and after great danger and many sad disasters, he reached King George's Sound, in Western Australia (a distance of 1209 miles), with a single native boy, having left Adelaide more than a year before. This was the first extensive journey across the waterless deserts of Australia, and well exhibited the perils of such an attempt, which in this case owed its success to a fortunate accident. When Mr. Eyre had reached 250 miles from his starting-point (the head of Spencer Gulf), he had already lost four of his best horses, which deprived him of the means of carrying provisions for his whole party. He therefore sent back his companion Mr. Scott, with three others, and continued the journey accompanied only by Baxter his overseer, two natives who had started with him, and a native servant of his own, named Wylie. He had with him ten horses, six sheep, and provisions for nine weeks. Before moving the animals it was necessary to secure water for them, and Eyre himself explored in advance, sometimes five or even six days at a time, without finding a drop. They were reduced to collecting dew with a sponge and rags, and most of the horses died from fatigue and thirst. When still 650 miles from their destination they had only three weeks' provisions left, and Baxter proposed to return, but Eyre was resolute to go [[p. 166]] on. The two natives then deserted, but after a few days came back starving and penitent, and were permitted again to join the party. But in the night they shot the overseer and ran away, taking with them the two most serviceable guns and almost all the ammunition, and were never more heard of. Eyre was now left with his servant Wylie and two horses, with a very small store of provisions, and more than 600 miles of unknown desert to traverse. Their whole stock consisted of 40 lbs. of flour, four gallons of water, and part of a dead horse. The last water had been left three days before, and they knew not when more might be obtained. It was 150 miles farther before they obtained a fresh supply. Thus they struggled on for a month, living on horse-flesh, fish, or occasional game, with a little flour-paste or damper. They then fortunately discovered a whaling-ship near the shore, and were kindly received on board for a fortnight, and this almost certainly saved their lives. Being sufficiently recruited, they continued the journey, and after undergoing further hardships for twenty-three days, succeeded in reaching King George's Sound.
In 1844 and 1845 Captain Sturt, who had so successfully explored the great rivers to the west of the coast-ranges, made the first real attempt to penetrate into the very centre of Australia. Starting from a bend of the Darling, about 130 miles above its confluence with the Murray, in October 1844, he travelled in a north-westerly direction for about 250 miles till he reached an easterly extension of Lake Torrens. Returning some distance, he struck due north to the Grey Ranges, where he established a depôt, in which he was delayed six months waiting for rain to furnish a supply of water in advance. He then pushed on in a north-west direction, passing over a barren country and endless sand-ridges, [[p. 167]] and at length over a plain thickly covered with fragments of quartz rock, and entirely without vegetation. This was succeeded by an equally barren mud plain, and then more sand-ridges stretching away into the unknown interior. A remarkable feature of the sand-ridges was their perfect straightness and parallelism, while on both sides of the low desert tract, 50 miles wide, they lay in exactly the same direction. Farther on he was again stopped by an extensive plain covered with the dreaded spinifex grass and a mesembryanthemum; the soil being salt, and of such a nature that rain would have rendered it absolutely impassable. He then came to a creek or watercourse with water abundantly at intervals, and followed it for about 60 miles, when it became salt and then terminated in the sandy desert, whose parallel ridges with spinifex and mesembryanthemum stretched on every side. Crossing this for 34 miles with no sign of grass or water, he turned back from a point beyond which still lies the largest blank on the central portion of the map of Australia. It was a horrible country, which Captain Sturt believed to have no parallel on the earth's surface. The spinifex grass was close and matted, and the horses were obliged to lift their feet straight up to avoid its sharp points. From the summit of one of the sandy undulations ridges were seen extending northwards in parallel lines beyond the range of vision, and appeared as if interminable. To the eastward and westward they succeeded each other like waves of the sea. The sand was of a deep red colour, and a bright narrow line of it marked the top of each ridge. Not a blade of grass was visible, and the aspect of the country was declared even by these experienced explorers to be "terrible." This is Sturt's Desert, and the nature of the country is such that it must be always uninhabitable. [[p. 168]] About 200 miles to the west, however, the telegraph-line passes through a comparatively fertile district.
Lieutenant (now Sir George) Grey's Exploration
These expeditions, though not leading to any important results as regards colonisation, are remarkable for the energy displayed by the young and inexperienced leader in circumstances of difficulty and hardship which have rarely been surpassed even in the records of Australian exploration; and also for the curious discoveries of ancient rock-paintings and tombs, and for the valuable observations of native habits and characters, referred to in the preceding chapter, which are exceptionally trustworthy owing to the fact that the young explorer took every opportunity of acquiring the native languages.
The expedition was sent out from England by the Colonial Office, most of the equipment being obtained at the Cape of Good Hope; whence the party sailed in a small vessel to Hanover Bay, on the north-west coast of Australia, near the mouth of the Prince Regent's River. Half-wild Timor ponies were obtained to serve as pack-horses and were a great trouble. The country traversed, as in so many parts of Australia, consisted of rugged plateaux cut up by ravines whose rocky walls were so precipitous as to be in most cases altogether inaccessible for horses, while the broader valleys were subject to dangerous inundations or were too marshy to be traversed. Mr. Grey was seriously wounded by a spear in a native attack, and persevered in his exploration under the greatest difficulties, and while suffering continual pain from his wound. The exploration was generally parallel [[p. 169]] to the Prince Regent's and Glenelg Rivers, the latter stream being about 250 yards wide at about 60 miles from its mouth; to reach this point, however, a distance of about 150 miles was traversed, owing to the difficulties of the ground. The rocks were basalt or sandstone, forming grand precipices and often isolated pillars, the semi-tropical vegetation very luxuriant, water abundant in numerous small streams, good grass in places, and abundance of animal life. Notwithstanding these advantages, the district seems never to have been visited during the fifty years that have since elapsed, owing no doubt to the extremely rugged character of the country, and the superior attractions of the larger rivers, Victoria to the north and Fitzroy to the south of it.
Returning to Perth, Mr. Grey shortly after started on another expedition, which, landing on an island in Shark's Bay from a whaler, with three whale boats, and a party of twelve, one a native, proposed to make a general exploration of the coast and interior by ascending the rivers, or in any other way that might appear to be practicable. Misfortunes attended them from the very outset of the journey. One of their boats with a quantity of stores was lost in the surf. The island had no water, so they buried their stores in a sand-hill, and went to the mainland to get water. After many difficulties and damage to the boats, from storms which prevented them from moving for a week, they returned to their depôt only to find that the violence of the hurricane had unburied their stores, almost the whole of which had been washed away; half a barrel of flour much damaged by salt water being all that could be recovered. The weather was still very stormy, but they were obliged to put to sea and endeavour to make their way to the colony. After some days of exhausting toil [[p. 170]] they reached Gantheaume Bay, at the mouth of the Murchison River, but in landing one boat was dashed to pieces in the surf and lost, while the other was so much damaged that it became useless.
The explorers were now more than 300 miles from Perth, with an altogether unknown country to traverse, while their only provision was twenty pounds of damaged flour and one pound of salt pork to each man. All were weak, they were exposed to alternate storms and tropical heat, and they had no means of obtaining additional provisions, as they only had one gun, and were too much exhausted to hunt or watch for game. Mr. Grey, feeling that their only chance of safety lay in marching every day to the utmost limit of their strength, started on this principle. But some of the party refused to follow, and declared that only by taking long rests could they possibly make the journey. Mr. Grey decided to push on with the strongest of the party, and after tremendous hardships succeeded in reaching the first settlers' huts, and in sending back a relief party, by whom the others were rescued from imminent starvation, one only, an English lad of eighteen, named Smith, who had joined the expedition as a volunteer, having died two days before.
In these two unfortunate expeditions Mr. Grey had shown some of the best qualities of an explorer, indomitable courage, endurance of wounds, hunger, and fatigue, and considerable power of organisation and command. His total inexperience in such journeys and his ignorance of the dangers to be guarded against both on the coast and inland led to misfortunes which a more experienced traveller might have avoided. The two volumes in which he has described his explorations are, however, full of interest, and give us more information as to the [[p. 171]] natural productions of the country and the character of the aborigines than is usually to be found in the narratives of Australian explorers.
7. Leichhardt and Kennedy in the North-East.
We must now turn awhile to the north-eastern portion of the country, where an enthusiastic German naturalist, Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt, assisted by the liberality of personal friends in Sydney, devoted himself, from 1843 to 1846, to the exploration of Eastern Queensland, from its southern border to the Gulf of Carpentaria. His great journey in 1844, from the upper branches of the Condamine River to the head of the gulf, and thence along its western shores to Port Essington, a distance of 3000 miles, was performed in little more than fourteen months, and places Leichhardt in the first rank of Australian explorers.
When near the Gulf of Carpentaria, on 28th June 1845, Mr. Gilbert the naturalist was killed and two others wounded by native spears while in camp at seven in the evening. Having seen very little of the natives for some time, they were quite unprepared, the guns being uncapped, but a few discharges dispersed the assailants. Later on four horses were lost in the Roper River, and on 17th December the party reached the settlement at Port Essington almost destitute of food, and having been obliged to sacrifice the whole of Dr. Leichhardt's much prized botanical collections.
During this journey many important rivers were discovered, especially the Mackenzie and the Burdekin, and a large extent of luxuriant or fertile country. Eager to apply the experience gained during this expedition, he conceived the gigantic project of traversing the [[p. 172]] entire continent across its centre from east to west. The success of his first expedition had attracted much attention, and the public subscribed liberally towards his new project, enabling him to start from the Hunter River with two years' provisions, 450 sheep and goats, 40 bullocks, and 28 horses. But on this occasion he was unfortunate. Rains in the dense scrubs of the Dawson and Mackenzie rivers brought on fever; the tents were insufficient; no medicines had been brought; the animals strayed or died, and after seven months' wandering without reaching any new country, his whole supplies were expended or lost and he was obliged to return.
Still anxious to prosecute his great journey across the continent, Leichhardt tried hard to get up another outfit, and at last succeeded; but the party was comparatively small and ill provided. Little is known of its members, but it is supposed to have consisted of six white men and two natives. Besides the leader there were Classen, a German, and three Englishmen named Hentig, Stuart, and Kelly. They had 50 bullocks, 13 mules, 12 horses, and 270 goats, with a comparatively small quantity of flour, ammunition, and other necessaries. A letter was received from him dated from M'Pherson's station on the Cogoon River, less than 300 miles from Brisbane, and this was the last ever heard of the explorer or of his entire party; and the total disappearance both of his men and animals, and of all his stores and implements, is one of the mysteries of the Australian interior. Had they been simply destroyed by attacks of the natives some relics would long since have been recovered, if only the iron of the implements they had with them.
Mr. Favenc in his History of Australian Exploration gives a detailed sketch of their probable fate--death by [[p. 173]] thirst in the central desert, and subsequent destruction by fire. As the author has been an explorer himself, his solution of the mystery is probably not far from the truth, and as it is given with much graphic power, we extract it for the benefit of our readers:--
"Once across the waters that wend their sluggish way into the lake district of South Australia, Leichhardt and his followers would be in the great region of fragmentary watercourses; rivers and creeks, when met with, pursuing no definite courses--now lost in miles of level country, now reforming again for a brief existence, but always delusive and disappointing. Here they would one day find themselves in a position that left them no other chance but the slender one of still pushing forward into the unknown. Probably it was during one of the cycles of rainless years that periodically visit the continent. Led on mile after mile, following the dry bed of a creek to lose it in some barren fiat, whereon the withered stalks of blue-bush alone told of a time of past vegetation; again picking up another creek, to lose it in like manner, knowing that to retrace their steps was impossible; making at last for a hazy blue line in the distance that turned out to be spinifex and stunted forest, still, however, struggling forwards, weak and disorganised.
"Then would come the beginning of the end. As they pressed on, the forest became scantier, and the spinifex higher, spikier, and harder to march through. One by one their animals had fallen and died, and the desperate resort of drinking the blood had been tried by some. What little water they had in their canteens was fast evaporating. Still some of them would keep heart. The ground was getting stonier and bare patches of rock were constantly passed; surely they were getting to some higher country, and suddenly, they hoped, the ground [[p. 174]] would break away at their feet in deep gullies and ravines shading some quiet water-hole. How anxiously they looked for any sign of life that might be a good augury of this, but none could be seen. It was useless to stop to rest, the ground was blistering to the touch and there was no shade anywhere. . . . Some lost their reason, and all lost hope. Then came the end; they separated and straggled away in ones and twos, and fell and died. Day after day the terrible and pitiless sun looked down at them lying there, and watched them dry and shrivel into mummies, and still no rain fell on the earth.
"Years may have passed. Higher and higher grew the spinifex, and its long resinous needles entangled themselves in each other unchecked by fire; for no black hunters came there in that season of drought, and the men's bodies lay there scorched by the seven times heated earth beneath and the glaring sun above; untouched save by the ants, those scavengers of the desert, or the tiny bright-eyed lizards. At last the thunder clouds began to gather afar off, and when they broke a few wandering natives ventured into the woods, living for a day or two on the uncertain rainfall. This failing, they retired, leaving perhaps behind them a trail of fire. Then this fire, fed by the huge banks of flammable spinifex, the growth of many years, spread into a mighty conflagration, the black smoke covering half the heavens. The great silence that had reigned for so long was broken by the roar and crash and crackle of a sea of flames; and beneath this fiery blast every vestige of the lost explorers vanished for ever.
"When on the blackened ground fell heavy rain once more, the spinifex sprang up fresh and green to look at, only in spots here and there, where a human body had fertilised the soil, it was greener than elsewhere."
[[p. 175]] This forcible though imaginary description probably arrives as nearly at the truth of Leichhardt's fate as we shall ever attain. Several attempts have been made by subsequent explorers to find some trace of him, but except one or two trees marked with an L, nothing has been found, and these are not demonstrably his. If, as Mr. Favenc reasonably supposes, the expedition perished in the terrible desert beyond Sturt's farthest point in 1845, it is almost certain that nothing more will ever be known of its fate.
About the same time Sir Thomas Mitchell was exploring farther to the east, and opened a great deal of fine country in what is now the centre of the colony of Queensland. He here discovered a large river (the Barcoo), which, after tracing for about 150 miles towards the centre of Australia, he hastily concluded was the same as the Victoria of the north-west coast. His assistant, Mr. Kennedy, however, traced it to the south-west and south, till it was swallowed up in the great central desert.
In the following year Kennedy was appointed to explore the country between Rockingham Bay and Cape York. He had 12 men, including Mr. Carron, a botanist, and Mr. Wall, a naturalist. They had 28 horses and 100 sheep, with carts and all necessary rations. Starting from Rockingham Bay, where they had been conveyed from Sydney in a small vessel, which was to await them at their destination, Port Albany (now Somerset), they at once discovered the difficulty of travelling in the tropical Queensland jungles, bound together by the terrible lawyer vine and the home of the equally dreaded tree-nettle. The former is a species of rattan (Calamus australis), armed with hooks and spurs, which once fast never let go, and the stem being hard, elastic, and very [[p. 176]] tough, renders a passage through the scrub in which it abounds a work of great labour. The other is a forest tree belonging to the nettle family (Urticaceæ), and its broad leaves sting so severely as to cause great pain and inflammation; and horses, which on being first stung have plunged about and thus got stung all over, have sometimes died from the effects. This tree (Laportea gigas) sometimes grows to 100 feet high, and is peculiar to tropical and sub-tropical Australia.
Through these scrubs, and hardly less difficult swamps and marshes, Kennedy attempted to reach the high land, and in doing so had to abandon his carts, while he lost half his sheep and some of his horses. When the hills were reached the scrub was found to be equally dense, in addition to the rugged and often inaccessible nature of the country. At last they crossed the watershed, and found the country somewhat better on the side of the Gulf of Carpentaria; but many horses had died, the stores were greatly reduced, and by the 10th of November Mr. Kennedy determined to push on to the rendezvous at Port Albany and send back relief to the main party, who formed a camp within sight of the coast at Weymouth. He took with him three men and a native boy. This boy, Jacky Jacky, alone reached Port Albany, and gave an account of what had happened. It took them three weeks to reach Shelburne Bay, a distance of about 60 miles in a straight line, but much scrub had to be cut through and many rivers crossed. Then one of the men, Costigan, accidentally shot himself and became very weak from loss of blood, while another, Luff, was ill, so Kennedy left them with the third man, Dunn, to look after them, and went on himself with the boy to endeavour to send back help. They reached Escape River and were in sight of Albany Island when they met a [[p. 177]] number of natives, who were friendly at first, but followed them in ever-increasing numbers. They had to sit up all night to watch. The next night there were still more, and they threw spears and hit Mr. Kennedy in the back. The rest must be given in Jacky's own words:--
"Mr. Kennedy said to me, '0h, Jacky! Jacky! shoot 'em! shoot 'em!' Then I pulled out my gun and fired, and hit one fellow all over the face with buck shot. He tumbled down and got up again, and again, and wheeled right round, and two blacks picked him up and carried him away. They went a little way and came back, again throwing spears all round, more than they did before--very large spears. I pulled out the spear from Mr. Kennedy's back and cut the jag with Mr. Kennedy's knife. Then Mr. Kennedy got his gun and snapped, but the gun would not go off. The blacks sneaked all along by the trees and speared Mr. Kennedy again in the right leg, above the knee a little, and I got speared in the eye, and the blacks were now throwing always, never giving over, and shortly again speared Mr. Kennedy in the right side. There were large jags to the spears, and I cut them out and put them in my pocket. At the same time we got speared the horses got speared too, and jumped and bucked about and got into the swamps. I now told Mr. Kennedy to sit down while I looked after the saddle-bags, which I did, and when I came back again I saw blacks with Mr. Kennedy. I then asked him if he saw the blacks with him. He was stupid with the spear-wounds and said, 'No.' I then asked him where was his watch? I saw the blacks taking away watch and hat as I was returning to Mr. Kennedy. Then I carried Mr. Kennedy into the scrub. He said, 'Don't carry me a good way.' Then Mr. Kennedy looked this way, very bad (Jacky rolling his [[p. 178]] eyes). Then I said to him, 'Don't look far away,' as I thought he would be frightened. I asked him often, 'Are you well now?' And he said, 'I don't care for the spear-wound in my leg, Jacky, but for the other two spear-wounds in my side and back, and I am bad inside, Jacky.' I told him black fellow always die when he got spear-wound in there (the back). He said, 'I am out of wind, Jacky.' I asked him, 'Are you going to leave me?' And he said, 'Yes, my boy, I am going to leave you.' He said, 'I am very bad, Jacky; you take the books, Jacky, to the captain, but not the big ones; the Governor will give you anything for them.' I then tied up the papers. He then said, 'Jacky, you give me paper and I will write.' I gave him paper and pencil and he tried to write, and he then fell back and died, and I caught him as he fell back, and held him, and I then turned round myself and cried. I was crying myself a good deal until I got well--that was about an hour, and then I buried him."
Jacky was still pursued, but he managed to escape and struggled on for thirteen days, living on what small vermin he could catch till he reached Port Albany. The schooner then sailed for Shelburne Bay to rescue the three men left there, but a canoe captured on the way contained articles belonging to them and left little doubt of their fate. The camp was far inland, and it was thought better not to waste time in going to it, at considerable risk, when there were eight men equally requiring relief at Weymouth Bay.
This party had fared badly. Three men died. The natives were sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile, compelling those who were able to be constantly on guard. On the 28th December, six weeks after Kennedy had left them, two more died, and the blacks came and [[p. 179]] surrounded the camp, the two helpless survivors being hardly able to stand and hold their guns. On the 30th relief arrived; Captain Dobson, Dr. Vallack, and Jacky, with another man, Barrett, who received a spear-wound in his arm, forced their way for 3 miles through the dense scrub, surrounded by about 100 armed natives, and saved the two survivors, Goddard and Carron, at the peril of their own lives. Another expedition was sent to search for the three men left at Shelburne Bay, but they were never found, but some of the papers secreted by Jacky were recovered. That any Europeans survived to tell the tale of this unfortunate expedition was entirely due to the devotion and untiring perseverance of the native boy Jacky, which constitutes the one bright spot in this melancholy story.
There was now a lull in actual exploration of the interior for nearly ten years, when it was again energetically taken up, and prosecuted on the whole with wonderful success. During 1855 and 1856 Mr. A. C. Gregory, accompanied by Dr. Müller, the celebrated botanist, and a well-equipped party, was engaged in exploring the Victoria River of the north-west coast. He traced it first in a south-easterly and then in a southerly direction for a distance of 300 miles, when its course became dry, passing through a sterile desert. Crossing a dividing ridge of hills, a series of pools and dry channels was found named Sturt's Creek, and this was traced several hundred miles to a point in lat. 20° 30' S. and long. 128° W., where it terminated in a salt lake in the desert.
[[p. 180]] On the 21st of June, the schooner having been sent to Timor for more provisions, Mr. Gregory, with his brother, Dr. Müller, Mr. Elsey, and three men, started on their homeward journey by the north-eastern route, having arranged for the schooner to meet them at the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria. On the way they crossed the Roper, Nicholson, Gregory, and Leichhardt Rivers. They were attacked once by natives, who were easily repulsed by the death of their leader, and the schooner not having arrived they decided to proceed home overland. They soon got into the country traversed by Leichhardt on his first journey, and on the 22nd of November reached a station on the Dawson river, about 50 miles west of Rockhampton.
This expedition, during which he had travelled nearly 5000 miles in the space of fifteen months, gave Gregory the reputation of a first-rate explorer, and led to his employment in 1858 to command an expedition in search of some traces of Leichhardt. Starting from Brisbane, he reached the head waters of the Warrego, and thence to the Victoria, a tributary of the Barcoo. This river he followed down, and then ascended the Thompson to about the latitude of the tropic, finding nothing but the stumps of felled trees and the enigmatical letter L. Returning by Cooper, Strzelecki, and Taylor Creeks to Adelaide, he completed a successful journey, but without making any important discovery, except the identity of the Barcoo with Cooper's Creek.
9. M'Douall Stuart's Journey across the Continent.
We now come to one of the greatest and most successful of Australian explorers, John M'Douall Stuart, who had been draughtsman to Sturt during his [[p. 181]] memorable expedition, and, in 1858 and 1859, had examined the whole district of Lakes Eyre, Gardner, and Torrens. On 2nd March 1860 he started from Adelaide on a journey across the whole continent to the north coast. Passing to the west of Lake Eyre, he found a tolerably fertile country till he crossed the Macdonnell Ranges close to the tropic of Capricorn. On 23rd April he reached a mountain in S. lat. about 22°, and E. long. nearly 134°, which is said to be the centre of the Australian continent and has been named Central Mount Stuart. It is, however, very far to the north-west of the true centre, though it is almost exactly midway between the head of the Great Australian Bight and the extreme north coast at Port Essington on Melville Bay. Passing beyond this point about 300 miles, and when less than 200 miles from the Gulf of Carpentaria, he was forced to turn back by the hostility of a numerous tribe of natives. Nothing daunted, on New Year's Day 1861 Mr. Stuart again left Adelaide (aided by a liberal grant from the Colonial Government), and succeeded in reaching, about 100 miles beyond his former position, to lat. 17°, long. 133°; but an impenetrable scrub here barred all farther progress. He made strenuous and prolonged efforts to pass the obstacle, his horses being on one occasion 106 hours without water, but without success, and was reluctantly compelled to return for want of provisions. Arriving safely in the settled districts in September, he again started in less than a month on the route now familiar to him; and this time well-deserved success rewarded him. Leaving the Gulf of Carpentaria far to the right, he found a passage through the scrub, and succeeded in reaching the shores of the Indian Ocean on the west side of Chambers Bay, in July 1862. In December he reached Adelaide in [[p. 182]] safety, though greatly worn out with exhaustion and scurvy; but neither on this nor on any of his previous journeys did Mr. Stuart lose a single man of his party.
This journey is perhaps the most important in its results of any of those which have been made in the interior of Australia. It has marked out a track from the settled districts of South Australia to the extreme north, along which it has been found possible to construct a telegraph line, with fixed stations; and it has also led to the discovery of perhaps the most fertile district of tropical Australia, watered by a fine navigable river, the Adelaide, and which, from its position in regard to the islands of the Malay Archipelago, is best fitted to become a flourishing and populous settlement. Mr. Stuart's party consisted of only three persons on his first attempt, and ten on his second and third (successful) exploration.
10. The Fatal Expedition of Burke and Wills.
About the time that M'Douall Stuart commenced his attempt to cross the continent, a great expedition was despatched from Melbourne, chiefly at the expense of the Victorian Government. It consisted of eighteen persons, several waggons, many pack-horses, and twenty-seven camels, imported from India for this special service. Mr. O'Hara Burke was appointed leader, with Mr. W. J. Wills, a young and promising astronomer, as second in command. After much trouble, owing to the unwieldiness of the expedition and the insubordination of some of its members, an advanced party reached Cooper's Creek (the lower course of the Barcoo River), where they formed a depôt and left a detachment in charge of it, while Burke [[p. 183]] and Wills, with two men, King and Gray, pushed on with one horse and six camels for the Gulf of Carpentaria. The person left in charge of the depôt, named Brahé, received instructions to await their return, or till failure of provisions compelled a retreat. The small party of four men with great difficulty passed the M'Kinlay range of hills, and succeeded in about six weeks in reaching the Gulf of Carpentaria near the mouth of the Flinders River, being thus actually the first to cross the continent, though on a somewhat shorter route and through much less new country than Stuart. But in this case the result was most disastrous. The homeward journey to the depôt was toilsome and difficult. The camels broke down, and were most of them left behind. The horse was killed for food. One of the party, Gray, died on the march, the other three being so weak that they could hardly dig a grave to bury him; but four days afterwards, with two camels, they succeeded in reaching the depôt. And now occurred one of the most melancholy episodes in the history of Australian exploration. The depôt was reached on the evening of 21st April 1861; while on that very morning Brahé had started homeward, having left what provisions he could spare (but no clothing, tea, or stimulants) with an indication of their position. Burke and Wills were far too weak and exhausted to follow on his track with any chance of success till recruited by rest and food, and the two camels were too ill to travel more than a very few miles a day. After a few days' rest they endeavoured to make their way down Cooper's Creek to Mount Hopeless, where, at a distance of only 150 miles, there was a sheep station; but want of water drove them back, and the camels both broke down and had to be shot. They found friendly natives who supplied them with food, and they discovered the "nardoo" [[p. 185]] plant, the seeds of which pounded form a kind of native bread. The explorers found it agreeable, but while it satisfied hunger it did not nourish, and they got weaker and weaker. About six weeks after their return to the depôt Burke and Wills both died within a few days of each other, and King joined a party of natives who treated him kindly, and with whom he was found about three months later by Mr. A. W. Howitt, and brought safely home to Melbourne.
After Brahé left the depôt to return, he fell in with Wright, who had been left in charge of the remainder of the party. Wright's instructions were to follow on to the depôt at Cooper's Creek, and he appears to have been amply supplied with provisions and stores; though these had been greatly diminished during his slow journey. He, however, returned with Brahé to the depôt on Cooper's Creek, where they arrived on 8th May, while Burke and Wills were making their attempt to reach the station at Mount Hopeless. They could find no trace of any one having been at the depôt since Brahé had left, and, with incredible carelessness, seeing that the lives of the leaders of the expedition might be dependent on their judgment and conduct, did not test their opinion by opening the buried store of provisions, in which case they would have discovered a paper left by Burke, and might still have saved the party. Instead of doing so, they at once left, leaving no indication of their having returned there. They reached the Darling on 18th June, whence Brahé went to Melbourne, which he reached on 30th June, by which time both Burke and Wills were dead.
No sooner was it known that the depôt had been deserted and the explorers left to their fate, than four distinct expeditions were organised for the relief of the [[p. 186]] missing travellers, or the discovery of their remains. Mr. Howitt was sent along their outward track, and, as already stated, rescued the sole survivor. The South Australian Government sent out Mr. J. M'Kinlay from Adelaide, who, after visiting Cooper's Creek, traversed the whole continent to the Albert River at the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and thence turning east reached the Burdekin River and Port Denison in Queensland. The Victorian Government also sent an expedition to the north coast, in case the Burke expedition should have been unable to get away from that district. Mr. Landsborough was taken by sea to the Albert River, whence he explored about 200 miles to the south-west, and then in a general south-south-east direction till he reached the Warrego River, a tributary of the Darling, about 450 miles west of Brisbane. The Queensland Government sent Mr. Walker with a party of native police, from the Nogoa River, 200 miles south-west of Rockhampton, who thence explored in a general north-west direction to the Gulf of Carpentaria. All these expeditions were brought to a successful termination; and they have given us a sufficient general knowledge of the interior of the entire eastern half of Australia, the most important gap being the desert region east of Central Mount Stuart, and between Sturt's farthest north and Landsborough's farthest south points.
Two other explorations of less extent belong to this period. The first is that of Mr. F. T. Gregory in North-West Australia, in 1861, when he explored about 800 miles of country at an average distance of 200 miles from the coast, about the upper courses of the De Grey, Ashburton, Fortescue, and Oakover Rivers. The other is that of Messrs. Jardine, who, in 1864, explored a new route along the western side of the great northern peninsula from Port Denison to Cape York.
[[p. 187]] 11. Establishment of the Telegraph Line to the North Coast.
There was again a lull of several years, during which time the electric telegraph was successfully carried by the South Australian Government along the track discovered by Stuart from Adelaide to Port Darwin. The establishment of numerous stations along this line, where permanent water and food supplies could be obtained, offered a tempting base of operations for new explorers; and the desire of the colonies of South and West Australia to communicate by an overland route led to the concentration of their efforts in this direction. Previous to 1872 the entire region between the telegraph line and the settled districts of West Australia was a vast blank covering fully one-third the area of the Australian continent; and wherever it had been touched on or pierced, it had been found to be a waterless waste, though often covered with dense scrub. Eyre had traversed its southern border; Gregory had penetrated from the north to a little beyond lat. 20; Stuart had explored its south-eastern corners; and Forrest, in 1869, had entered it from the west for a distance of nearly 300 miles; but all alike had been driven back by want of water.
12. The Western Deserts, traversed by Giles, Warburton, and Forrest.
In the exploration of this vast unpromising area, the first place is due to Mr. Ernest Giles, who, in 1872, at his own expense, but at the suggestion of Baron Von Muller who aided him with pecuniary assistance, started from Chambers's Pillar, near the Charlotte Waters telegraph station, with the intention, if possible, of crossing in a westward direction to the sources of the Murchison [[p. 188]] River. In this he was not successful; but he discovered the extensive salt lake Amadeus, and explored for about 100 miles north of it, the whole country being arid, with sandstone ridges and spinifex or mallee scrub. The mountains diminished in height as he proceeded westward. The following year he started again, aided by the South Australian Government, and travelling about 200 miles south of his former course, reached a point nearly midway between the telegraph and the known part of West Australia. Here the country consisted of open sandhills or gravel, covered with spinifex, and absolutely without water. Turning back, he struck due north about 100 miles, finding only one small water-hole on the way, and then came upon some fine hilly country, with rocky gorges, running streams, a beautiful waterfall, and abundant pasture. Exquisite flowers decked the ground, and the place was an oasis of beauty in the midst of a huge wilderness. But it did not last long. The streams ran dry as soon as they left the shade of the hills, and both north and south there was nothing but parched desert. Packing out water in kegs, he pushed due west, with one companion, for 120 miles over an arid country, when, one of the horses breaking down, he was obliged to return. Giving the horse that remained to Gibson, he instructed him to go back to the kegs, 30 miles off, give the horse a good drink, and then push on for the camp, and bring back water, adding, "I depend on you to bring me relief." Gibson lost his way, and was never seen again. Mr. Giles walked on the whole way to the kegs without water. Then, carrying the keg and his other baggage, a load of 50 lbs., he started, and was seven days reaching his depôt, having been without food for five days, and being able to walk only about five or six miles a day. On his return track he passed a range [[p. 189]] of hills to the south of Lake Amadeus, which lake is probably more than 200 miles long.
While Mr. Giles was thus engaged, several other expeditions had been sent out by the South Australian and West Australian Governments. Mr. Gosse, with camels, horses, and a dray, started in 1873 nearly in the same direction as Mr. Giles, but did not succeed in reaching so far west. He discovered the remarkable Ayer's rock, a pillar or pyramid of granite about 1000 feet high, and not far from it Mount Olga, a precipitous mass of rock 2 miles long, 1 mile wide, and more than a quarter of a mile high.
In April 1873 Colonel Egerton Warburton started from Alice Springs (just north of the tropic) with seventeen camels, and succeeded in reaching the Oakover River, in Western Australia, in December, after extreme hardships, with only three of the camels alive. The line of this exploration was about on latitude 21° and 22°, passing a little south of Gregory's farthest point. The country, for the greater part of the distance, was a fearful desert, with not a drop of surface-water for hundreds of miles at a stretch, and in every way inferior to that traversed by Giles. Colonel Warburton was nearly starved on this journey, and part of the time had to travel, strapped at full length, on his camel; but he was the first to traverse the great Australian desert from east to west.
It was during this journey that the great value of camels for Australian exploration was first demonstrated. The desert vegetation was found to be admirably adapted for them, so that they appeared to thrive better in poor than in rich districts. Their great height and their long necks enable them to feed upon acacia and other bushes at a distance from the ground which no horse or bullock could [[p. 190]] reach, and thus they are able to live and flourish where either of the latter animals would infallibly starve. Grass is often scarce or altogether absent, while the most sterile tracts are usually clothed with scrubby bushes. Prickly acacia, saltbush, mulga, casuarina, and other shrubs are all devoured with apparent relish, while, if really hungry, they will also eat mallee, wattle, eucalyptus, or in fact almost every tree or shrub indigenous to Australia. Still more important is the peculiar organisation of the camel's stomach, which enables it to pass many days without water, apparently without serious inconvenience. This faculty is developed by training, and the best trained camels will sometimes travel ten days without water.
In the following year (1874) a still greater feat was accomplished by Mr. Forrest, who, with horses only crossed through a longer extent of uninhabited country, from the Murchison River to the telegraph line a little north of Peake station. His route passed close to the point whence Giles and Gosse were turned back in 1873, and he was delayed seventeen days at his last station before reaching his destination, in endeavouring to find water sufficient to enable him to go on. For two-thirds of the distance across the country is without permanent water and thoroughly uninhabitable, though often covered with a scrubby vegetation. Towards the telegraph line, however, it becomes more hilly, and with more frequent streams and water-holes; and there are here and there patches of fertile country.
In 1875 the veteran explorer Giles was furnished with camels and assisted by the South Australian Government, and succeeded in crossing from Port Augusta, at the head of St. Vincent's Gulf, to Perth by an entirely new route (see Map). From the Youldeh Depôt to the [[p. 191]] first settlements in West Australia was traversed in about four months. After leaving a small native dammed-up pond, in longitude 128° 40', no water was found for a distance of 325 miles, when a fine spring was accidentally hit upon among barren sandhills. This probably saved the party from destruction, as for 150 miles beyond this point no more water was found. Southward towards the coast the country was open and grassy; northward, mostly covered with scrub and spinifex, but all equally waterless. In this expedition Mr. Giles travelled 2500 miles, and found no country available for settlement.
On his return journey in 1876 he took a new route by the sources of the Murchison, Gascoyne, and Ashburton Rivers, then nearly due east to the Alfred and Marie Range, which he had seen but was not able to reach in 1874. Here he had to travel for ten days over an entirely waterless desert, while no permanent water was seen for about 450 miles, between the sources of the Ashburton River and the springs of the Rawlinson Range. During this journey Mr. Giles suffered dreadfully from ophthalmia, yet he did not relax his explorations. While ascending some of the picturesque gorges of the upper Ashburton, the water sometimes became so deep and so hemmed in by rocks that the camels refused to go on; they would hang back, break their nose-ropes, and then lie quietly down till they were nearly drowned. "It was rather disagreeable," Mr. Giles writes, "for a blind man to slip off a camel up to his neck in cold water, and lifting up his eyelids with both hands, try to see what was going on. . . . It was with the greatest difficulty we got out of this watery glen. . . . Our clothes, saddles, blankets, and food were soaked to a pulp. . . . I called this singular glen in which the [[p. 192]] camels were nearly drowned, Glen Camel." The plague of flies is one of the almost intolerable torments of the explorer. Mr. Giles says: "In consequence of my eyes being so bad, we remained here for the next two days. The heat and the flies were dreadful; and the thermometer indicated 93° one day and 95° the next in the shade. It was impossible to get a moment's peace or rest from the attacks of the flies; the pests kept eating into our eyes, which were already bad enough. This seemed to be the only object for which these wretches were invented and lived, and they also seemed to be quite ready and willing to die, rather than desist a moment from their occupation. Everybody had an attack of the blight, as ophthalmia is called in Australia, which with the flies was enough to set any one deranged. Every little sore or wound on the hands or face was covered by them in swarms; they scorned to use their wings, they preferred walking to flying; one might kill them in millions, yet other and hungrier millions would still come on, rejoicing in the death of their predecessors, as they now had not only men's eyes and wounds to eat, but could fatten on the bodies of their slaughtered friends also. Strange to say, we were not troubled here with ants; had we been, we should only have required a few spears stuck into us to complete our happiness." At another camp near Mount Gould the annoyance was such as to call forth the following graphic picture: "The flies at the camp to-day were, if possible, even more numerous than before. They infest the whole air; they seem to be circumambient; we can't help eating, drinking, and breathing flies; they go down our throats in spite of our teeth, and we wear them all over our bodies; they creep up one's clothes and die, and others go after them to see what they died of. The instant I inhale a fly it acts as [[p. 193]] an emetic. Their bodies are full of poisonous matter, and they have a most disgusting flavour, though they taste sweet. They also cause great pain and discomfort to our eyes, which are always full of them. Probably, if the flies were not there we might think we were overrun by ants; but the flies preponderate; the ants merely come as undertakers and scavengers; they eat up and take away all we smash, and being attracted by the smell of the dead victims, they crawl over everything after their prey."
Giles had thus successfully twice crossed the Australian desert from east to west and from west to east, the two lines being from 300 to 400 miles apart, while he had previously explored an intermediate line for half the distance, as well as great tracts of country between Lakes Eyre and Amadeus, northward to the Macdonnell Ranges as well as in the south-western part of South Australia. He must therefore be regarded as one of the most intrepid and successful of the modern Australian explorers; while his narrative of these journeys in the two handsome and well-illustrated volumes entitled Australia Twice Traversed, is one of the best written works of its class, and gives a vivid picture both of Australian desert scenery and of the difficulties and dangers of its exploration.
13. Further Exploration in South Australia and Queensland.
The greater part of the country between the telegraph line and the settled districts of West Australia having been thus shown to be very largely a waterless desert, exploration was for the next few years devoted chiefly to filling up gaps in our knowledge of the eastern portion of the continent.
[[p. 194]] The northern part of Queensland, to the 14th parallel, was explored for the Government, in 1872, by Hann, with a geologist and botanist, during which the Palmer River gold-fields were discovered. In attempting to reach the coast the party became entangled in the scrubs that had so embarrassed Kennedy, and were finally obliged to return to the Palmer River, and come home by the inland route.
In 1875 Mr. Lewis headed an expedition which succeeded in tracing the chief streams which enter South Australia from Queensland, especially Eyre's Creek, Cooper's Creek, and the Diamentina or Müller Creek, into Lake Eyre.
In 1878, in view of a project for an overland railway from Brisbane to Port Darwin, an expedition was organised in the former city to ascertain the nature of the country on the route. It was under the leadership of Mr. E. Favenc, and started from Blackall on the Victoria or Upper Barcoo River, crossing in a W.N.W. direction to the Diamentina. Thence by a north-westerly route the party reached the Herbert, and followed its farthest westerly tributary, the Rankine, for some distance, and then across to Buchanan Creek. Farther on some extensive but shallow lakes were discovered, and beyond these a large creek named Creswell Creek. This was followed down to the last permanent water, where the party had to remain some time for rain, as the remainder of the distance to the telegraph line was quite waterless. Around this creek much good country was discovered.
In 1879 the West Australian Government sent Mr. Alexander Forrest to explore the north-western territory between the De Grey River and the telegraph line. The first part of the journey was along the coast to the [[p. 195]] Fitzroy River. This was ascended for about 240 miles, when further progress was stopped by the Leopold Range, whose precipices were quite inaccessible. In hopes of finding a way to the plateau these cliffs were followed till the sea was reached, but here the party were entirely enclosed by precipices. In attempting to climb these a horse was killed, and after reaching a height of 800 feet the country was found to be so rugged and so cut up by precipitous gorges as to be quite impassable. It was, in fact, the same district in which Sir George Grey had struggled more than forty years before. Returning to the Fitzroy, a tributary--the Margaret River--was ascended for some distance, and at length a way was found to the table-land, where they came upon a good grassy country, more or less intersected by rough ridges till the Victoria River was reached. Beyond this the country was almost waterless, and it was a hard struggle to reach the telegraph line. This journey opened up some valuable country, which has since been stocked with sheep and cattle.
14. General Result of these Explorations.
The western half of Australia has thus been traversed in three nearly parallel lines about 300 miles apart; while various shorter explorations have made known large portions of the intermediate country. The southern and northern coasts are also fairly known; and we are forced to conclude that about one-third of the entire continent of Australia is, in its present state, uninhabitable by Europeans. Nowhere else perhaps on the globe do we meet with the strange phenomenon of a scattered or even a dense vegetation combined with an [[p. 196]] aridity equal to that of the Sahara. For the traveller the country is worse even than the Sahara. For hundreds of miles at a stretch the sandy undulations are covered with the dreaded spinifex, or porcupine grass, which renders it impossible to walk without painful precaution. Again, for hundreds of miles is found the dense scrub of dwarf eucalyptus, covering the ground like the rods of an osier bed, 10 or 12 feet high, hindering all view of the country, and rendering it necessary almost to bore one's way, like a mole, underground. Then come acacia scrubs, which add the annoyance of sharp prickles to those of the other kinds. Mr. Giles tells us that horses dread the Triodia, or spinifex, like a pestilence. The constant pricking of this grass causes raw and bleeding swellings round their feet; and to escape from it they will prefer to force their way through the densest scrubs, where the ground is soft and the spinifex does not grow. Here they rush along, tearing the coverings off their loads, and frequently forcing sticks between their backs and their saddles; then comes a frantic crashing through the scrub, loads are forced off, and horses are lost sight of, and it may take hours or days to recover them. Nor do the travellers escape; for their clothes get torn and ripped to pieces, and their bodies scratched and often seriously wounded. Sometimes stinging ants abound to such an extent that the wearied explorer can get no rest. However hot and tired he may be, he dare not lie down in the shade, but must remain exposed to the sun or lie on the heated soil, in order to escape this torment. In other parts the whole country is a mass of angular stones, over which the traveller has to pass for days together, without finding a spot of easier ground; while in some districts loose sand is heaped up in ridges, like the long swell of the ocean, and appearing almost as [[p. 197]] interminable. Often, after passing days without water, when at length it is discovered, it turns out to be undrinkable brine, or it exists in such small quantity as to be insufficient to supply the wants of both men and horses for a single day. Again, the extreme uncertainty of the climate and rainfall renders it impossible to depend on the accounts of previous explorers in the same district. Where water is at one time abundant and herbage luxuriant, there may be found a year or two later a burnt-up desert. The lake described by one traveller may be found an expanse of baked mud by his successor; while where one marched over grassy plains, another may be stopped by inundations which cover the whole country.
Exploration, for mere discovery's sake, has now done its work in Australia, and the rest may be left to the unaided expansion of agriculture and commerce. So many outlying stations are already occupied, and the overland telegraphs afford such admirable bases of operations, that every spot available for settlement will be found and occupied quite as quickly as desirable. The work that has been already done in so inhospitable a country and so trying a climate is little less than marvellous; and the story of Australian exploration, with its episodes of heroism and martyrdom, affords a convincing proof of the undiminished energies of our countrymen in their southern home.