CHAPTER 12. ATTEMPTS TO REACH THE CENTRE.
[Map (Diagram). Supposed Extent and Formation of Lake Torrens in 1846.]
12.1. LAKE TORRENS PIONEERS AND HORROCKS.
It will be remembered that Eyre, in 1840, reached, after much labour, an elevation to the north-east, at the termination of the range which he had followed, and had named it Mount Hopeless. From the outlook from its summit he came to the conclusion that the lake was of the shape shown in the diagram, completely surrounding the northern portion of the new colony of South Australia. In fact, he formed a theory that the colony in far distant times had been an island, the low-lying flats to the east joining the plains west of the Darling. It was in 1843 that the Surveyor-General of South Australia, Captain Frome, undertook an expedition to determine the dimensions of this mysterious lake. He reached Mount Serle, and found the dry bed of a great lake to the eastward, as Eyre had described, but discovered that Eyre had made an error of thirty miles in longitude, placing it too far to the east. He got no further north. He thus confirmed the existence of a lake eastward of Lake Torrens (now Lake Frome), but achieved nothing to prove or disprove Eyre's theory of their continuity. Prior to this the pioneers had spread settlement both east and west of Eyre's track from Adelaide to the head of Spencer's Gulf. Amongst these early leaders of civilisation in the central state are to be found the names of Hawker, Hughes, Campbell, Robinson, and Heywood. But unfortunately the details of their expeditions in search of grazing country have not been preserved.
John Ainsworth Horrocks is one of those whose accidental death at the very outset of his career plunged his name into oblivion. Had he lived to climb to the summit of his ambition as an explorer, it would have been written large in Australian history. That he had some premonition of the conditions necessary to successful exploration to the west is shown by his having been the first to employ the camel as an aid to exploration. He took one with him on his last and fatal trip, and it is an example of fate's cruel irony that the presence of this animal was inadvertently the cause of his death.
Horrocks was born at Penwortham Hall, Lancashire, on March 22nd, 1818. He was very much taken with the South Australian scheme of colonisation, and left London for Adelaide, where he arrived in 1839. He at once took up land, and with his brother started sheep-farming. He was a born explorer, however, and made several excursions into the surrounding untraversed land, finding several geographical features, which still preserve the names he gave them. In 1846 he organised an expedition along more extended lines, intending to proceed far into the north-west and west. After having over-looked the ground, he would then prepare another party on a large scale to attempt the passage to the Swan River. He started in July, but in September occurred the disaster which cut him off in the flower of his promise. In his dying letter he describes how he saw a beautiful bird, which he was anxious to obtain: -
"My gun being loaded with slugs in one barrel and ball in the other, I stopped the camel to get at the shot belt, which I could not get without his lying down.
"Whilst Mr. Gill was unfastening it, I was screwing the ramrod into the wad over the slugs, standing close alongside of the camel. At this moment the camel gave a lurch to one side, and caught his pack in the cock of my gun, which discharged the barrel I was unloading, the contents of which first took off the middle fingers of my right hand between the second and third joints, and entered my left cheek by my lower jaw, knocking out a row of teeth from my upper jaw."
His sufferings were agonising, but he was easy between the fearful convulsions, and at the end of the third day after he had reached home, whither his companions had succeeded in conveying him, he died without a struggle.
12.2. CAPTAIN STURT.
Charles Sturt, whose name is so closely bound up with the exploration of the Australian interior, had settled in the new colony which the South Australians loyally maintain he had created by directing attention to the outlet of the Murray. After a short re-survey of the river, from the point where Hume crossed it to the junction of the Murray and Murrumbidgee, which had been one of Mitchell's tasks, he re-entered civil life under the South Australian Government. He was now married, and settled on a small estate which he was farming, not far from Adelaide. In 1839 he became Surveyor-General, but in October of the same year he exchanged this office for that of Commissioner of Lands, which he held until 1843. In the following year he commenced his most arduous and best-known journey, a journey that has made the names of Sturt's Stony Desert and the Depot Glen known all over the world, and that has, unhappily for Australia, done much to create the popular fallacy that the soil and climate of the interior are such as preclude comfortable settlement by whites. Sturt's graphic account is at times somewhat misleading, and the lapse of years has proved his denunciatory judgment of the fitness of the interior for human habitation to have been hasty. But if we examine the circumstances in which he received the impressions he has recorded, we must grant that he had considerable justification for his statements.