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

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Journal of an Expedition
into the Interior of Tropical Australia

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


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


Originally published in 1848



“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.




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



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



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



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



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



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


(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


(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


(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


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



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

Systematical List of Plants


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
St. Georgia’s Bridge
Last use of the boats
Map VII. Eastern Australia, with recent discoveries


Chapter I.


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.

My department having been reduced to a state of inactivity in 1843, I submitted a plan of exploration to Sir George Gipps, the Governor, when His Excellency promised, that if the Legislative Council made such reductions as they seemed disposed to make in the public expenditure, he should be able to spare money for such an expedition. The Legislative Council not only made reductions in the estimates to save much more money than His Excellency had named, but even voted 1000L. towards the expense of the journey, and petitioned the Governor to sanction it. His Excellency, however, then thought it necessary to refer the subject to the Secretary for the Colonies. Much time was thus lost, and, what was still worse, the naturalist to whom I had explained my plan, and invited to join my party, Dr. Leichardt. This gentleman, tempted by the general interest taken by the colonists at the time in a journey of discovery, which afforded a cheering prospect amid the general gloom and despondency, raised and equipped a small party by public subscription, and proceeded by water to Moreton Bay. Dr. Leichardt, and the six persons who finally accompanied him thence to the northward, had not been heard of, and were supposed to have either perished or been destroyed by natives. [* Dr. Leichhardt returned afterwards to Sydney from Port Essington by sea; and the journal of his journey, recently published, shows what difficulties may be surmounted by energy and perseverance.]

The reply of Lord Stanley was, as might have been anticipated, favourable to the undertaking; but the Governor of the colony still declined to allow the journey to be undertaken, without assigning any reason for keeping it back. This was the more regretted by me, when it became known in New South Wales that Captain Sturt was employed, with the express sanction of Lord Stanley, to lead an exploring expedition from Adelaide into the northern interior of Australia, and that he was actually then in New South Wales. Sir George Gipps had expressed, in one of his early despatches to the British Government, his readiness to encourage such an undertaking as that, and stated that “no one came forward to claim the honour of such an enterprise;” yet now that Lord Stanley had sanctioned the plan of the Surveyor General, whose duty it was to survey the country, he refused to allow this officer to proceed. The Legislative Council, however, renewed the petition for this undertaking, to which the Governor at length assented, in 1845; and the sum of 2000L. was unanimously voted for the outfit of the party, but with the clear understanding on the part of the Council, that the plan of the Surveyor General should be adopted.

The idea of a river flowing to the northward, was not, however, new. The journey in 1831 was undertaken chiefly in consequence of a report that a large river had been followed down to the coast by a bushranger, accompanied by the natives: and the ultimate course of the Condamine, still a question, was a subject of controversy in some of the first papers published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. My suggestions on the subject are detailed at length in the London Geographical Journal, Vol. VII., Part 2., page 282., and accompanied by a map showing the line of exploration then recommended.

In making preparations for this expedition, the means of conveyance by land and water required the earliest consideration. These were strong bullock-drays and portable boats. Horses and light carts had been preferred by me: but the longer column of march, and necessity for a greater number of men, were considered objections; while many experienced persons suggested that the bullocks, though slow, were more enduring than horses. [* The results of this journey proved quite the reverse.] Eight drays were therefore ordered to be made of the best seasoned wood: four of these by the best maker in the colony, and four by the prisoners in Cockatoo Island. Two iron boats were made by Mr. Struth, each in two parts, on a plan of my own, and on the 17th of November the whole party moved off from Paramatta on their way to the proposed camp at Buree.

I joined the party encamped at Buree on the 13th of December, having rode there from Sydney in four and a half days, and on the following Monday, 15th of December, 1845, I put it in motion towards the interior. The Exploring party now consisted of the following persons:—

SIR T. L. MITCHELL, Kt., Surveyor General, Chief of the Expedition.
EDMUND B. KENNEDY, Esq. Assistant Surveyor, Second in command.
W. STEPHENSON, M.R.C.S.L. Surgeon and Collector of objects of Natural History.
PETER M’AVOY, Mounted Videttes.
Charles Niblett,
William Graham,
ANTHONY BROWN, Tent-keeper.
WILLIAM BALDOCK, In charge of the horses.
John Waugh Drysdale, Store-keeper.
Allan Bond, Bullock-drivers.
Edward Taylor,
William Bond,
William Mortimer,
George Allcot,
John Slater,
Richard Horton,
Felix Maguire,
James Stephens, Carpenters.
Job Stanley,
Edward Wilson, Blacksmith.
George Fowkes, Shoemaker.
John Douglas, Barometer carrier.
Isaac Reid, Sailor and Chainman.
Andrew Higgs, Chainman.
William Hunter, With the horses.
Thomas Smith,
Patrick Travers, Carter and Pioneer.
Douglas Arnott, Shepherd and Butcher.
Arthur Bristol, Sailmaker and Sailor.

8 drays, drawn by 80 bullocks; 2 boats; 13 horses; 4 private do.; and 3
light carts, comprised the means of conveyance; and the party was
provided with provisions for a year:—250 sheep (to travel with the
party), constituting the chief part of the animal food. The rest consisted
of gelatine, and a small quantity of pork.

With the exception of a few whose names are printed in italics, the party consisted of prisoners of the Crown in different stages of probation, with whom the prospect of additional liberty was an incentive so powerful, that no money payment was asked by them or expected, while, from experience, I knew that for such an enterprise as this I could rely on their zealous services. The patience and resolution of such men in the face of difficulties, I had already witnessed; and I had hired three of the old hands, in order the more readily to introduce my accustomed camp arrangements. Volunteers of all classes had certainly come eagerly forward, offering their gratuitous services on this expedition of discovery; but discipline and implicit obedience were necessary in such a party to ensure the objects in view, as well as its own preservation; and it was not judged expedient, where some prisoners were indispensable as mechanics, to mix with them men of a different class, over whom the same kind of authority could not be exercised.

Following the same road by which I quitted Buree, in 1835, my former line of route across Hervey’s Range lay to the left. The party thus arrived at Bramadura, a sheep station occupied by Mr. Boyd. It was on the same chain of ponds crossed by me on the journey of 1835, and then named Dochendoras Creek, but now known as the Mundadgery chain of ponds. These ponds had been filled by heavy rains which fell on Tuesday the 9th December—the day on which I left Sydney, where the weather had been clear and sultry. A tornado or hurricane had, on the same day, levelled part of the forest near this place, laying prostrate the largest trees, one side of which was completely barked by the hailstones. Many branches of trees along the line of route, showed that the wind had been very violent to a considerable distance.

16TH DECEMBER.—Some of the bullocks missing: the party could not, therefore, quit the camp until 11 o’clock. The passage of the bed of the chain of ponds (which we travelled up) was frequently necessary, and difficult for heavily laden drays, which I found ours were, owing, chiefly to a superabundance of flour, above the quantity I intended to have taken, but supplied to my party, and brought forty miles by my drays before my arrival at the camp.

We halted at another sheep station of Mr. Boyd’s. Here I perceived that Horehound grew abundantly; and I was assured by Mr. Parkinson, a gentleman in charge of these stations, that this plant springs up at all sheep and cattle stations throughout the colony, a remarkable fact, which may assist to explain another, namely, the appearance of the Couchgrass, or Dog’s-tooth-grass, wherever the white man sets his foot, although previously unknown in these regions.

17TH DECEMBER.—Set off about 7 a.m. and travelled along a good road, for about 6 miles. Then, at a sheep station, we crossed the chain of ponds, following a road leading to Dr. Ramsay’s head station, called Balderudgery. Leaving that road, and, at 7 miles, taking to the left, we finally encamped on Spring Creek, after a journey of about 9 miles. We had passed over what I should have called a poor sort of country, but everywhere it was taken up for sheep; and these looked fat; yet not a blade of grass could be seen; and, but for the late timely supply of rain, it had been in contemplation to withdraw these flocks to the Macquarie.

Calling at a shepherd’s hut to ask the way, an Irish woman appeared with a child at her breast and another by her side: she was hut-keeper. She had been there two years, and only complained that they had never been able to get any potatoes to plant. She and her husband were about to leave the place next day, and they seemed uncertain as to where they should go. Two miles further on, a shoemaker came to the door of a hut, and accompanied me to set me on the right road. I inquired how he found work in these wild parts. He said, he could get plenty of work, but very little money; that it was chiefly contract work he lived by: he supplied sheep-owners with shoes for their men, at so much per pair. His conversation was about the difficulty a poor man had in providing for his family. He had once possessed about forty cows, which he had been obliged to entrust to the care of another man, at 5S. per head. This man neglected them: they were impounded and sold as unlicensed cattle under the new regulations.

“So you saw no more of them?”

“Oh, yes, your honour, I saw some of them after they had been sold at the pound!—I wanted to have had something provided for a small family of children, and if I had only had a few acres of ground, I could have kept my cows.”

This was merely a passing remark made with a laugh as we walked along, for he was one of the race—

“Who march to death with military glee.”

But the fate of a poor man’s family was a serious subject: such was the hopeless condition of a useful mechanic ready for work even in the desolate forests skirting the haunts of the savage. So fares it with the disjecta membra of towns and villages, when such arrangements are left to the people themselves in a new colony.

18TH DECEMBER.—The party moved off about 7 a.m., and continued along a tolerable road, crossing what shepherds called Seven Mile Creek, in which there was some water; and a little further on we quitted the good beaten road leading to Balderudgery, and followed one to the left, which brought us to another sheep station on the same chain of ponds, three miles higher up than Balderudgery. Having directed the party to encamp here, I pursued the road south-westward along the chain of ponds, anxious to ascertain whether I could in that direction pass easily to the westward of Hervey’s Range, and so fall into my former line of route to the Bogan. At about five miles I found an excellent opening through which the road passed on ground almost level. Having ascended a small eminence on the right, I fell in with some natives with spears, who seemed to recognise me, by pointing to my old line of route, and saying, “Majy Majy” (Major Mitchell). I little thought then that this was already an outlying picquet of the Bogan Blacks, sent forward to observe my party. The day was hot, therm. 97° in the shade. The chain of ponds, there called “the Little River,” contained water in abundance, and was said to flow into the Macquarie, in which case the Bogan can have but few sources in Hervey’s Range.

The station beside which we had encamped, comprised a stock yard, and had been formerly a cattle station belonging to Mr. Kite. It was now a sheep station of Dr. Ramsay’s, and there was another sheep station a mile and a half from it, along the road I had examined. Thus the country suitable for either kind of stock is taken up by the gradual encroachment of sheep on cattle runs, not properly such. This easily takes place—as where sheep feed, cattle will not remain, and sheep will fatten where cattle would lose flesh. Fortunately, however, for the holders of the latter description of stock, there are limits to this kind of encroachment. The plains to the westward of these ranges afford the most nutritive pasturage in the world for cattle, and they are too flat and subject to inundations to be desirable for sheep. A zone of country of this description lies on the interior side of the ranges, as far as I have examined them. It is watered by the sources of the rivers Goulburn, Ovens, Murray, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Bogan, Macquarie, Castlereagh, Nammoy, Peel, Gwydir, and Darling; on which rivers the runs will always make cattle fat. There are two shrubs palpably salt, and, perhaps, there is something salsolaceous in the herbage also on which cattle thrive so well; and the open plains and muddy waterholes are their delight. Excessive drought, however, may occasionally reduce the owners of such stock to great extremities, and subject them to serious loss. The Acacia pendula, a tree whose habitat is limited and remarkable, is much relished by the cattle. It is found only in clay soils, on the borders of plains, which are occasionally so saturated with water as to be quite impassable; never on higher ground nor on any lower than that limited sort of locality, in the neighbourhood of rivers which at some seasons overflow. In such situations, even where grass seems very scarce, cattle get fat; and it is a practice of stockmen to cut down the Acacia pendula (or Myall trees, as they call them) for the cattle to feed on.

At this sheep station where we had encamped, I met with an individual who had seen better days, and had lost his property amid the wreck of colonial bankruptcies—a tea-totaller, with Pope’s Essay on Man for his consolation, in a bark hut. This “melancholy Jaques” lamented the state of depravity to which the colony was reduced, and assured me that there were shepherdesses in the bush! This startling fact should not be startling, but for the disproportion of sexes, and the squatting system which checks the spread of families. If pastoralisation were not one thing, and colonisation another, the occupation of tending sheep should be as fit and proper for women as for men. The pastoral life, so favourable to love and the enjoyment of nature, has ever been a favourite theme of the poet. Here it appears to be the antidote of all poetry and propriety, only because man’s better half is wanting. Under this unfavourable aspect the white man first comes before the aboriginal native; were the intruders accompanied by women and children, they could not be half so unwelcome. One of the most striking differences between squatting and settling in Australia consists in this. Indeed if it were an object to uncivilise the human race, I know of no method more likely to effect it than to isolate a man from the gentler sex and children; remove afar off all courts of justice and means of redress of grievances, all churches and schools, all shops where he can make use of money, then place him in close contact with savages. “What better off am I than a black native?” was the exclamation of a shepherd to me just before I penned these remarks.

19TH DECEMBER.—The party moved along the road I had previously examined. On passing through to the western side, I recognised the trees, plants, and birds of the interior regions. Granitic hills appeared on each side, and the sweet-scented Callitris grew around, with many a curious shrub never seen to the eastward of these ranges. On descending, grassy valleys, with gullies containing little or no water, reminded me of former difficulties in the same vicinity, and it was not until we had travelled upwards of sixteen miles that I could encamp near water. This consisted of some very muddy holes of the Goobang Creek, on which I had formerly been pleasantly encamped with Mr. Cunningham. [* See Vol. I. of Three Expeditions, etc., page 171.] Two or three natives soon made their appearance, one of whom I immediately recognised to be my old friend Bultje, who had guided me from thence to the Bené Rocks, on my former journey along the Bogan. He brought an offering of honey. Ten years had elapsed since I formerly met the same native in the same valley, and time had made no alteration in his appearance. With the same readiness to forward my views that he formerly evinced, he informed me where the water was to be found; and how I should travel so as to fall in with my former route, by the least possible détour. Mount Laidley bore 23° E. of N.

20TH DECEMBER.—This day I gave the cattle a rest, as the grass seemed good, while I rode to look at my old line of marked trees. A cattle station (of Mr. Kite) was within a mile and a half of our camp, and at about three miles below it, I fell in with the former line. Where it crossed the Goobang, a track still continued by them, but finally diverged, leaving the line of marked trees, without the slightest trace of the wheels or hoofs that had formerly passed by it. Reaching a hill laid down on my former survey, and from which I recognised Mount Laidley, I returned directly to the camp. We had encamped near those very springs mentioned as seen on my former journey, but instead of being limpid and surrounded by verdant grass, as they had been then, they were now trodden by cattle into muddy holes, where the poor natives had been endeavouring to protect a small portion from the cattle’s feet, and keep it pure, by laying over it trees they had cut down for the purpose. The change produced in the aspect of this formerly happy secluded valley, by the intrusion of cattle and the white man, was by no means favourable, and I could easily conceive how I, had I been an aboriginal native, should have felt and regretted that change. The springs which issue from the level plains of clay, while the bed of the water-course some twenty feet lower continues dry and dusty, are numerous. One had a strong taste of sulphur, and might probably be as salubrious as other springs more celebrated. They show that, in this country at least, the water-courses are not supplied by springs, but depend wholly on heavy torrents of rain descending from the mountains. Some holes in the bed of the Goobang Creek did however retain some water which had fallen during the last rain. The thermometer stood at 107° in the tent.

21ST DECEMBER.—Guided by my old friend Bultje, we pursued a straight line of route through the forest to Currandong, which was half way to the Bogan. We passed over a very open, gently undulating country, just heading a gully called Brotherba—showing how well our guide knew the country—and we reached Currandong at 2 o’clock. Here also were two flocks belonging to Dr. Ramsay; Balderudgery, the head station, being fifteen miles distant, by a mountain road through a gap. While travelling this day, Corporal Graham overtook me with letters from Buree, and a cart had also been sent after us by Mr. Barton with a small supply of corn. That country is considered excellent as a fattening run for sheep; the shepherd told me they there find a salt plant, which keeps them in excellent condition and heart for feeding. The scarcity of water at some seasons occasions a conversion here of cattle runs into sheep runs, and VICE VERSÂ, a contingency which seems to render these lands of Hervey’s range of temporary and uncertain value.

22D DECEMBER.—Guided by Bultje we continued to follow down the little chain of ponds which, as he said, led to the Bogan. The road was good—the Currandong ponds running in a general direction about N. N. W. It was the first of the sources of the Bogan we had reached. Crossing at length to its left bank, near an old lambing station of Dr. Ramsay’s, we further on came to a large plain with the Yarra trees of the Bogan upon its western skirts. Some large lagoons on the eastern side of the plains had been filled by the late rains, and cattle lay beside them. We at length arrived in sight of a cattle station of Mr. Templar’s, called Ganànaguy, and encamped on the margin of a plain opposite to it. The cattle here looked very fat, and although the herd comprised about 2000 head, there was abundance of grass. The Bogan thus first appeared on our left hand, and must have its sources in the comparatively low hills, about the country crossed by my former line of route, rather than in Hervey’s or Croker’s ranges, as formerly supposed. The water in the ponds of the Bogan seemed low.

This fine grazing country had been abandoned more than once from the failure of the water, and yet these ponds seemed capable of holding an almost inexhaustible supply. A single dam would have retained the water for miles, the Bogan always flowing through clay in a bed of uniform width and depth like a canal. No doubt a little art and labour would be sufficient to render the land permanently habitable: but on an uncertain tenure this remedy was not likely to be applied, and therefore the sovereignty of art’s dominion remained unasserted there. The incursions of the savage, who is learning to “bide his time” on the Darling, are greatly encouraged by the hardships of the colonists when water is scarce; and I was shown where no less than 800 head of fat bullocks had been run together by them when water was too abundant. Then horses cannot travel, and cattle stick fast in the soft earth and are thus at the mercy of the natives. The stone ovens, such as they prepare for cooking kangaroos, had been used for the consumption of about twenty head of cattle a day, by the wild tribes who had assembled from the Darling and lower Bogan on that occasion. Thermometer in tent 109° at noon, wind W.N.W.