Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia, in Search of a Route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria (1848)

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Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia,
by Thomas Mitchell

This ebook produced by Col Choat


Journal of an Expedition
into the Interior of Tropical Australia

In Search of a Route from Sydney
to the Gulf of Carpentaria (1848)

by

Lt. Col. Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell Kt. D.C.L. (1792-1855)
Surveyor-General of New South Wales

 

Originally published in 1848
TO
THE HONOURABLE
THE SPEAKER AND MEMBERS
OF THE
LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL OF NEW SOUTH WALES,
THIS JOURNAL
OF
AN EXPEDITION OF DISCOVERY,
PETITIONED FOR BY THE COUNCIL,
AND
UNDERTAKEN AT THE EXPENSE OF THE COLONY,
IS
DEDICATED
BY
THEIR MOST OBEDIENT,
HUMBLE SERVANT,
T. L. MITCHELL

 

PREFACE.

“Admiring Nature in her wildest grace,”[* Burns.] it has ever been the most attractive of the author’s duties to explore the interior of Australia. There the philosopher may look for facts; the painter and the poet for original studies and ideas; the naturalist for additional knowledge; and the historian might begin at a beginning. The traveller there seeks in vain for the remains of cities, temples, or towers; but he is amply compensated by objects that tell not of decay but of healthful progress and hope;—of a wonderful past, and of a promising future. Curiosity alone may attract us into the mysterious recesses of regions still unknown; but a still deeper interest attaches to those regions, now that the rapid increase of the most industrious and, may we add most deserving people on earth, suggests that the land there has been reserved by the Almighty for their use.

In Australia, the great family of civilized man seems still at that early period between history and fable, upon which, even in “the world as known to the ancients,” the Roman poet had to look very far back:—

“Communemque priùs, ceu lumina solis et auras, Cautus humum longo signavit limite mensor.”
[* Ovid, Met. lib. i.]

The Journey narrated in this work was undertaken for the extension of arrangements depending on physical geography. It completes a series of internal surveys, radiating from Sydney towards the west, the south, and the north, which have occupied the author’s chief attention during the last twenty years; and, as on former occasions, it has enabled him to bring under the notice of men of science some of the earth’s productions hitherto unknown. He cannot sufficiently express his sense of obligation in this respect, to Mr. Bentham, Sir William Hooker, Dr. Lindley, and Professor De Vriese, for supplying the botanical matter and notes contained in this volume, and thus contributing to the general stock of human knowledge. It is also his pleasing duty to state, that during the long journey of upwards of a year, Captain P. P. King, R. N., kept a register of the state of the barometer at the sea side; and, in the midst of his important avocations, determined, by a very elaborate comparison of minute details, all the heights of localities herein mentioned.

The new geographical matter is presented to the public with confidence in its accuracy, derived as it is from careful and frequent observations of latitude; trigonometrical surveying with the theodolite, whereever heights were available; and, by actual measurement of the line of route. This route was connected, at its commencement and termination, with the trigonometrical survey of the colony; and, in closing on Mount Riddell, a survey extending two degrees within the tropics, the near coincidence of his intersections with that summit, as fixed by his survey of 1830, could not but be very satisfactory to the author.

The geological specimens collected during this journey have been deposited in the British Museum, and their original locality is shown on the maps by the numbers marked upon the specimens, so that they may be available to geologists; hence, in the progress of geological science, the fossils now brought from these remote regions will be accessible at any future time, and something known of the geology as well as of the geography of the interior. As Professor Forbes most readily undertook to describe the freshwater shells after the work had passed through the press, that portion of the collection also has thus been brought under the notice of geologists.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I.

GENERAL MAP

Objects of the expedition.—Unexpected delay—by reference to Lord Stanley.—List of the Party.—Departure from Buree.—Sheep stations.—Scattered population.—Passage through Hervey’s Range.—Encroachment of sheep on cattle runs.—A tea-totaller.—Meet an old acquaintance.—Sulphureous springs.—Currandong—Necessity for damming up the Bogan. Leave Bultje’s country.—Ephemeral existence of Aborigines.—Line between the squatters and the wild natives.—Velocity of the Bogan.—Supply of young bullocks.—Richard Cunningham—Young cattle troublesome.—A night without water.—Distress from heat and thirst.—Excessive heat.—Reunion of the party.—Melancholy fate of the Bogan tribe.—Interesting plants discovered.—Encampment at Mudaà.—Carry water forward.—Arrive at Daròbal.—Nyingan.—Water at Canbelègo.—Discovery of a lagoon.—Encamp near Canbelègo. Explore the Bogan in search of water.—Long ride.—Quit the Bogan.—Party attacked with ophthalmia

CHAPTER II.

MAP OF THE RIVERS BOGAN AND MACQUARIE

Move to the ponds of Cannonbà.—Set up our bivouac.—Hot wind.—Piper’s intention to quit the party.—Piper sent to Bathurst.—Change of weather.—A day of rain.—Mr. Kennedy returns.—Salt made from the salt plant.—Reconnoitre Duck Creek.—Ophthalmia still troublesome.—Approach of a flood announced.—It arrives in clear moonlight.—Marshes of the Macquarie.—Difficulty of watering cattle.—A new guide.—Cattle astray.—Yulliyally.—Docility of the Aborigines.—Water insufficient for cattle.—Want of water.—Small ponds destroyed by cattle.—At last find abundance.—Aboriginal preferable to modern names.—Cattle again astray—and delay the journey.—Junction of the Macquarie and Bàrwan.—The Darling as at present, and formerly.—Admirable distribution of water. The ford at Wyàbry.—The party crosses the Darling

CHAPTER III.

MAP OF THE RIVERS NARRAN, CULGOA, AND BALONNE TO ST. GEORGE’S BRIDGE,—SHOWING ALSO THE ROUTE HOMEWARD, AS DESCRIBED IN CHAPTER X.

Plains and low hills.—The Caràwy ponds.—Delayed by weak cattle.—The Narran.—Arrived at—encamp by:—Narran swamp.—A bridge required.—During the delay of drays take a ride forward.—Rich pastures on the Narran.—New plants.—Arrival of drays.—Bridge laid down for their passage.—The party fords the Narran.—Advances but slowly.—Low hills examined.—Good grassy country.—Food of the natives.—Rising ground west of the river.—Ride up.—Abodes and food of natives.—Rich grass.—Parley with a native.—Gravelly ridges.—Two natives conduct us to the river.—Approach the assembled natives.—Interview with the tribes.—Cordial reception.—Cross the Balonne.—Reach the Culgòa.—Cross that river.—Route beyond.—The Upper Balonne.—Explore its course.—Numerals cut on trees.—A native scamp.—Fine country.—Splendid reaches of the river—Lagoons near it.—Lake Parachute.—Seek a position—for a depôt camp.—Ride to the north-west.—Character of the country.—Search for water. Uncommon birds.—Return to the camp.—New Acacia

CHAPTER IV.

MAP OF THE ADVANCE TO THE MARANÒA—SHOWING ALSO THE ROUTE BY WHICH THE PARTY RETURNED TO ST. GEORGE’S BRIDGE, AS DESCRIBED IN CHAPTER VII.

Advance with a light party.—Fine river scenery.—Junction of rivers.—Trace one up, then cross to the other.—Mr. Kennedy instructed to explore it.—Fine country for grazing.—Turanimga lagoon.—Trace up a small tributary.—Mountains discovered.—Camp visited by three natives.—”Cogoon” the name of tributary.—Charms of the Australian climate.—Mount Minute.—Extreme cold.—Traces of high floods in the Cnogoa.—-Mount Inviting.—Mount Abundance.—Ascend that mountain.—Fitzroy Downs.—The Bottle Tree, or DELABECHEA.—Frosty Creek.—Travel due north over open downs.—Advantages of mountains.—Ascend one.—Mount Bingo.—Thenod Tagando tribe.—The party advances to the Amby—followed by the tribe.—How we got rid of them.—Enter the country through the pass.—Find one pond.—A large river discovered.—Position taken up on its banks.—There await Mr. Kennedy’s arrival.—Explore to the north-west.—Ascend a hill and tree to take angles from.—Interior country visited.—View of the western interior.—Its character.—Determine to trace the river upwards.—Ascend Mount Kennedy.—Extensive prospect.—Native visit during my absence.—Arrival of Mr. Kennedy’s party.—The Tagando tribe again.—Their visit to Mr. Kennedy.—Prepare to advance again with a light party.—Instructions left with Mr. Kennedy

CHAPTER V.

MAP OF THE COUNTRY AND THE ROUTES BETWEEN THE MARANOA AND MOUNT MUDGE, AND THOSE ALONG THE RIVER VICTORIA AS DESCRIBED IN CHAPTER VII.

My departure.—A team of bullocks sent back for.—Good grassy country.—Ride north-west during rain.—Hostile natives menace our camp.—The party crosses Possession Creek.—A small river found.—Another ride to the north-west.—Banks of the little river.—Mount Owen seen.—Travel towards it.—Flank movement to the Maranòa for water.—None found in its bed.—View from Mount Owen.—Names of localities on the map.—Scarcity of water impedes our progress.—Water found in rocky gullies.—Excursion northward.—Mount Aquarius.—View from northern summit of Mount Owen.—Progress through a broken country.—Night without water.—Another route explored amongst the gullies.—Plants found near Mount Owen.—Route for the advance of the carts.—View of mountains—from Mount P. P. King.—View from western extremity of Table Land of Hope.—Mount Faraday.—Strange Hakea.—A running stream discovered.—Return towards the camp.—The party with the carts advances.—Course of the new found river.—New plants.—A large lake receives the river.—The outlet dry.—Enter a scrub.—Return to the Salvator.—Discovery of the Claude.—Rich soil on the downs.—The party moves to the Claude.—Cross that river. Fossil wood.—Again shut up in a rocky country.—Slow progress in a gully.—Balmy Creek.—New plants.—Emerge from the ravines.—Tower Almond.—View from Mount Kilsyth.—View from Mount Mudge.—Two natives met.—Remarkable tree

CHAPTER VI.

MAP OF THE RIVER BELYANDO,

Head of another river.—Water again scarce.—Abundance found.—Climate and country—under the Tropic Line.—Plants.—Peculiar character of the water-course.—One cause of open spaces in the woods.—New plants.—Causes of the outspread of channel.—Plains of wild indigo.—Large river channel from the south.—Cross.—Novelties beyond.—The river much increased.—Long journey through scrub.—New plants.—Journey along the river bank.—Character of this river.—Distant prospect.—No water.—Fatiguing journey through scrubs. Reach the river by moonlight.—Large lagoons.—New tributary—from the S. W.—Excursion to the N. W.—Night without water.—Interview with natives.—Camp visited by natives during my absence.—An affair at the camp.—The party crosses the river.—Conclusions.—The party returns.—Tilled ground of the natives.—The shepherd astray.—Singular phenomenon.—Extraordinary vegetable production.—Heavy rain comes on.—Probability of finding a river.—Singular meteor.—Intertropical temperature.—Effects of the rain.—Recross the Tropic.—Regain the higher land.—Remarkable tree.—(Hakea?)—Dip of the strata.—Character of the Belyando.—How to explore a river in brigalow.—A more direct way homewards.—Successful passage with carts and drays.—Open downs.—Fossil wood.—Recross the Claude.—Mantuan downs.—Natives of the Salvator.—Position taken up for a depôt camp.—Interesting plants

CHAPTER VII.

(Having reference to Map V.)

Preparations and departure.—Mount Pluto.—Route amongst the three volcanic hills.—Interview with a female native.—Cross a range beyond.—The Nive and the Nivelle.—Burning of grass by the natives.—Water found, after a night of thirst.—Pastures green, and quiet waters at sunset.—Morning view from a rock.—A new river followed down-over extensive open downs.—Brigalow scrubs away from the river.—River much increased.—Security from natives—Thoughts in these solitudes.—The downs and the river.—An emu shot there.—A river joins from the east.—Structure of native’s huts.—Two separate channels unite.—The river well filled.—Packhorse unserviceable.—Rare pigeon—numerous.—A wild tribe—surprised at a lagoon.—Recross the river—and return homewards.—The savage compared—with the civilized.—Hills in the S. W.—Short cut along the left bank of the river.—Name it the Victoria.—Privations in exploring.—Return to the Nive and Nivelle.—Gallant charge by a snake.—Sources of the Salvator.—View from Mount Pluto.—Arrival at the camp of the pyramids.—Rare and new plants collected there

CHAPTER VIII.

(Having reference to Map V.) and (Having reference to Map Map IV.)

Fossils and plants.—A new genus.—LINSCHOTENIA DISCOLOR.—Ascend Mount Faraday.—Valley of the Warregò.—Meet an old native.—Return to the camp over the gullies.—Encamp by the Maranòa.—The river found to be near our former track—with water in abundance.—Loss of a horse.—Cattle tracks.—Arrival at the camp of Mr. Kennedy.—Visits of the natives—during our absence.—Plants gathered at the depôt camp.—New plants.—Fossils at Mount Sowerby.—Ascent of Mount Kennedy.—The party leaves the depôt camp following the course of the Maranòa.—Discovery of a fine open country.—Numbered trees at camps.—The country on the Maranòa.—Singular habits of a fish.—Name of river obtained from good authority.—The Acacia varians.—Water scarce again.—Some at length discovered by a dog.—Country between the two routes.—Plants.—Arrive at the Balonne.—Return to St. George’s Bridge

CHAPTER IX.

(Having reference to Map III.)

Despatches sent forward.—Acquisitions during the delay.—Mr. Kennedy’s return and report.—The party crosses the Balonne.—Arrives at the Mooni.—A white woman.—Cattle stations.—Heavy rain.—The country impassable.—Camp removed to a hill.—Dam thrown up.—The waters subside.—The party proceeds.—Arrival at the Barwan.—A flood.—Cross the Màal, also in boats.—Country between the rivers.—Mount Riddell recognised.—The Gwydir crossed.—Termination of the journey.—A stockman. —Night on the open plain.—The Nammoy.—First news

CHAPTER X.

Instructions to Mr. Kennedy for the survey of the river Victoria.—Of the Aborigines.—Simple conditions of human existence.—Grass, fire, kangaroos, and men.—Case of the aboriginal natives.—My native guides.—Experiment worth trying.—Of the Convicts.—Character of the men of the party.—Of convicts generally.—Of the Colony of New South Wales,—capabilities of soil and climate.—Progress of colonization,—Division and appropriation of the territory.—Capricornia and Austral-india

MAP OF EASTERN AUSTRALIA

APPENDIX.

The Colonial Secretary to the Surveyor General of New South Wales.—Letter, dated 28th October, 1830

Systematical List of Plants

ILLUSTRATIONS.

Flood coming down the Macquarie
Map I. The Indian Archipelago
Portrait of Bultje
Remnant of the Bogan tribe
Map II. The Rivers Bogan and Macquarie
First use of the boats
Map III. The Rivers Narran, Culgoa, and Balonne to St. George’s Bridge, shewing also the route thence homeward to Snodgrass Lagoon
Separation of the Balonne into the Culgoa, Narran, etc.
The River Balonne, 7th April
Map IV. Advance to the Maranòa, and route returning to St. George’s Bridge
The Bottle tree, DELABECHEA
The black awaiting the white
Map V. The country and the routes between the Maranòa and Mount Mudge, and those along the River Victoria
Tree without branches
The Pyramids
Martin’s Range
Tower Almond
Map VI. The River Belyando
Missile club of natives of Central Australia
Remarkable tree (HAKEA ?)
The River Salvator, 5th Sept.
Lindley’s Range
Old native female
Aboriginal dance
View on the River Maranòa
Acacia VARIANS
St. Georgia’s Bridge
Last use of the boats
Map VII. Eastern Australia, with recent discoveries

JOURNEY INTO TROPICAL AUSTRALIA, ETC.

Chapter I.

OBJECTS OF THE EXPEDITION.—IT IS DELAYED BY A REFERENCE TO LORD STANLEY.—LIST OF THE PARTY.—DEPARTURE FROM BUREE.—SCATTERED POPULATION.—IRISH AMONGST THE SQUATTERS.—A TEA-TOTALLER FROM SYDNEY.—A SHEPHERDESS IN AUSTRALIA. SHEEP WALK WHERE CATTLE RUN.—MEET AN OLD ABORIGINAL ACQUAINTANCE.—CATTLE STATIONS ABANDONED.—THE BOGAN RIVER.—YOUNG BULLOCKS TROUBLESOME.—EXCESSIVE HEAT.—GREAT SCARCITY OF WATER.—THE PARTY MUCH DISTRESSED BY HEAT AND DROUGHT.—MELANCHOLY FATE OF THE BOGAN TRIBE.—INTERESTING PLANTS DISCOVERED.—CARRY WATER FORWARD.—DESPERATE RIDE DOWN THE BOGAN.—FIND ITS CHANNEL DRY.—DOGS DIE FROM THIRST.—THE PARTY ATTACKED WITH OPHTHALMIA.—QUIT THE BOGAN, BY MOVING TO THE PONDS OF CANNONBÀ.—ENCAMP THERE TO REST AND REFRESH THE PARTY.

The exploration of Northern Australia, which formed the object of my first journey in 1831, has, consistently with the views I have always entertained on the subject [* See London Geographical Journal, vol. vii. part 2, p. 282.], been found equally essential in 1846 to the full development of the geographical resources of New South Wales. The same direction indicated on Mr. Arrowsmith’s map, published by the Royal Geographical Society in 1837, was, in 1846, considered, by a committee of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, the most desirable to pursue at a time when every plan likely to relieve the colony from distress found favour with the public.

At no great distance lay India and China, and still nearer, the rich islands of the Indian Archipelago; all well-peopled countries, while the industrious and enterprising colonists of the South were unable to avail themselves of the exuberance of the soil and its productions,

“Which mock’d their scant manurings,
and requir’d more hands than theirs to prune their wanton growth.”

The same attraction which drew the greatest of discoverers westward, “al nacimiento de la especeria [* To the region where spices grew.],” seemed to invite the Australian explorer northward; impelled by the wayward fortunes of the Anglo-Saxon race already rooted at the southern extremity of the land whose name had previously been “Terra Australis incognita.” The character of the interior of that country still remained unknown, the largest portion of earth as yet unexplored. For the mere exploration, the colonists of New South Wales might not have been very anxious just at that time, but when the object of acquiring geographical knowledge could be combined with that of exploring a route towards the nearest part of the Indian Ocean, westward of a dangerous strait, it was easy to awaken the attention of the Australian public to the importance of such an enterprise. A trade in horses required to remount the Indian cavalry had commenced, and the disadvantageous navigation of Torres Straits had been injurious to it: that drawback was to be avoided by any overland route from Sydney to the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

But other considerations, not less important to the colonists of New South Wales, made it very desirable that a way should be opened to the shores of the Indian Ocean. That sea was already connected with England by steam navigation, and to render it accessible to Sydney by land, was an object in itself worthy of an exploratory expedition. In short, the commencement of such a journey seemed the first step in the direct road home to England, for it was not to be doubted that on the discovery of a good overland route between Sydney and the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria, a line of steam communication would thereupon be introduced from that point to meet the English line at Singapore.

In this view of the subject, it seemed more desirable to open a way to the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria, the nearest part of the sea, than to the settlement at Port Essington, on a presque-île forming the furthest point of the land; and, that the journey would terminate at the Gulf was therefore most probable. The map of Australia, when compared with that of the world, suggested reasonable grounds for believing that a considerable river would be found to lead to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

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