CHAPTER 15. THE RELIEF EXPEDITIONS AND ATTEMPTS TOWARDS PERTH.

15.1. JOHN MCKINLAY.

John McKinlay was born at Sandbank, on the Clyde, in 1819. He first came to the colony of New South Wales in 1836, and joined his uncle, a prosperous grazier, under whose guidance he soon became a good bushman with an ardent love of bush life. He took up several runs near the South Australian border, and thenceforth became associated with that province.

In 1861 he was appointed leader of the South Australian relief party and started from Adelaide on October 26th. On arriving at Blanche Water, he heard a vague rumour from the blacks that white men and camels had been seen at a distant inland water; but put little faith in the story. He traversed Lake Torrens, and, striking north, crossed the lower end of Cooper's Creek at a point where the main watercourse is lost in a maze of channels. Here he learned definite and particular details respecting the rumoured white men, and thinking there might be some groundwork of truth in the report, he now pressed forward to the locality indicated. Having formed a depot camp, he went ahead with two white men and a native. Passing through a belt of country with numerous small shallow lakelets, they came to a watercourse whereon they found signs of a grave, and they picked up a battered pint-pot. Next morning, feeling sure that the ground had been disturbed with a spade, they opened what proved to be a grave, and in it found the body of a European, the skull marked, so McKinlay states, with two sabre cuts. He noted down the description of the body, the locality, and its surroundings; and in view of these particulars, it has been stated that the body was that of Gray, who died in the neighbourhood.*

*[Footnote.] See Chapter 14.

Considering the minute and circumstantial accounts that have from time to time been related by the blacks concerning Leichhardt, one is not astonished at the legends told to McKinlay. The native with him told him that the whites had been attacked in their camp, and that the whole of them had been murdered; the blacks having finished by eating the bodies of the other men, and burying the journals, saddles, and similar portions of the equipment beside a lake a short distance away. A further search revealed another grave - empty - and there were other and slighter indications that white men had visited the neighbourhood, so that McKinlay was led to place some credence in this story.

Next morning a tribe of blacks appeared; and although they immediately ran away on perceiving the party, one was captured who corroborated the statement made by the other native. Both of them bore marks on them like bullet and shot wounds. The second native said that there was a pistol concealed near a neighbouring lake. He was sent to fetch it; but returned the next morning at the head of a host of aboriginals, armed, painted, and evidently bent on mischief. The leader was obliged to order his men to fire upon them, and it was only after two or three volleys that they retired.

McKinlay was now satisfied that he had discovered all there was to find of the Victorian expedition, and, after burying a letter for the benefit of any after-comers, he left Lake Massacre, as it was mistakenly named, and returned to the depot camp. His letter was as follows: -

"S.A.B.R. Expedition,

"October 23rd, 1861.

"To the leader of any expedition seeking tidings of Burke and party.

"Sir, I reached this water on the 19th instant, and by means of a native guide discovered a European camp, one mile north on west side of flat. At or near this camp, traces of horses, camels, and whites were found. Hair, apparently belonging to Mr. Wills, Charles Gray, Mr. Burke, or King, was picked up from the surface of a grave dug by a spade, and from the skull of a European buried by the natives. Other less important traces - such as a pannikin, oil-can, saddle-stuffing, etc., have been found. Beware of the natives, on whom we have had to fire. We do not intend to return to Adelaide, but proceed to west of north. From information, all Burke's party were killed and eaten.

"JNO. MCKINLAY.

"P.S. All the party in good health.

"If you had any difficulty in reaching this spot, and wish to return to Adelaide by a more practicable route, you may do so for at least three months to come by driving west eighteen miles, then south of west, cutting our dray track within thirty miles. Abundance of water and feed at easy stages."

McKinlay next sent one of his party - Hodgkinson - with men and pack-horses to Blanche Water, to carry down the news of his discovery, and to bring back rations for a prolonged exploration. Meanwhile he remained in camp. From one old native with whom he had a long conversation, he obtained another version of the alleged massacre, in which there was apparently some vestige of truth.

The new version was to the effect that the whites, on their return, had been attacked by the natives, but had repulsed them. One white man had been killed, and had been buried after the fight, whilst the other whites went south. The natives had then dug up the body and eaten the flesh. The old fellow also described minutely the different waters passed by Burke, and the way in which the men subsisted on the seeds of the nardoo plant, all of which he must have heard from other natives.

After waiting a month, Hodgkinson returned, bringing the news of the rescue of King and the fate of Burke and Wills. This explained McKinlay's discovery as that of Gray's body, the narrative of the fight and massacre being merely ornamental additions by the natives. After an easterly excursion, in which he visited the two graves on Cooper's Creek, McKinlay started definitely north. It is difficult to follow without a map the Journal containing the record of his travel during the first weeks. Not only does he give the native name of every small lakelet and waterhole in full, but he omits to give the bearing of his daily course.

A northerly course was however, in the main pursued, and Mckinlay describes the country crossed as first-class pastoral land. As it was then the dry season of the year, immediately preceding the rains, it proves what an abnormally severe season must have been encountered by Sturt when that explorer was turned back on his last trip in much the same latitude. On the 27th of February, the wet season of the tropics set in; but fortunately the party found a refuge among some stony hills and sand-ridges, in the neighbourhood of which they were camped, though at one time they were completely surrounded by water. On March 10th, the rain had abated sufficiently to allow them to resume their journey; but the main creek which they still continued to follow up north was so boggy and swollen that they were forced to keep some distance from its banks. This river, which McKinlay called the Mueller, is one of the main rivers of Central Australia, and an important affluent of Lake Eyre, and is now known as the Diamantina. McKinlay left it at the point where it comes from the north-west, and following up a tributary, he crossed the dividing range, there called the McKinlay Range, in about the same locality as Burke's crossing. He had christened many of the inland watercourses on his way across, but most of his names have been replaced by others, it having been difficult subsequently to identify them. In many cases, the watercourses which he thought to be independent creeks, are but ana-branches of the Diamantina.

Passing through good travelling country, and finding ample grass and water, he reached the Leichhardt River flowing into the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the 6th of May.

As his rations were becoming perilously low, McKinlay was anxious to get to the mouth of the Albert, it having been understood that Captain Norman, with the steam-ship Victoria was there to form a depot for the use of the Queensland search parties. His attempts to reach it however, were fruitless, as he was continually turned back by mangrove creeks both broad and deep, and by boggy flats; so that on the 21st of May he started for the nearest settled district in North Queensland, in the direction of Port Denison.

He followed much the same route as that taken by A.C. Gregory on his return from the Victoria River.* Crossing on to the head of the Burdekin, he followed that river down, trusting to come across some of the flocks and herds of the advancing settlers. On reaching Mount McConnell, where the two former explorers had crossed the Burdekin, he continued to follow the river, and descended the coast range where it forces its way through a narrow gorge. Here on the Bowen River, he arrived at a temporary station just formed by Phillip Somer, where he received all the accustomed hospitality. Since leaving the Gulf, the explorers had subsisted on little else but horse and camel flesh, and were necessarily in a weak condition. Had they but camped a day or two when on the upper course of the Burdekin, they would have been relieved much earlier, for the pioneer squatters were already there, and the party would have been spared a rough trip through the Burdekin Gorge. In fact the tracks of the camels were seen by one pioneer at least, a few hours after the caravan had passed. E. Cunningham, who had just then formed Burdekin Downs station, tells with much amusement how McKinlay's tracks puzzled him and his black boy. The Burdekin pioneers did not of course, expect McKinlay's advent amongst them, although they knew that he was then somewhere out west; and such an animal as a camel did not enter into their calculations. Cunningham said that the only solution of the problem of the footprints that he could think of was that the tracks were those of a return party who had been looking for new country, and that their horses, having lost their shoes and becoming footsore, they had wrapped their feet in bandages.

*[Footnote.] See Chapter 18.

For his services on this expedition which were of great value in opening up Central Australia, McKinlay was presented with a gold watch by the Royal Geographical Society, and was voted 1,000 pounds by the South Australian Government.

During the early settlement of the Northern Territory, much dissatisfaction had arisen concerning the site chosen at Escape Cliffs. McKinlay was sent north by the South Australian Government to select a more favourable position, and to report generally on the capabilities of the new territory. He organized an expedition at Escape Cliffs, and left with the intention of making a long excursion to the eastward. But a very wet season set in, and he had reached only the East Alligator River when sudden floods cut him off and hemmed him in. The whole party would have been destroyed but for the resourcefulness displayed by the leader, who made coracles of horse-hides stretched on frames of saplings, by which means they escaped. On his return, McKinlay examined the mouth of the Daly River, and recommended Anson Bay as a more suitable site, but his suggestion was not adopted. McKinlay, whose health suffered from the effect of the hardships incident to his journeys, retired to spend his days in the congenial atmosphere of pastoral pursuits, and died, in 1874, at Gawler, South Australia, where a monument is erected to his memory.

15.2. WILLIAM LANDSBOROUGH.

William Landsborough, the son of a Scotch physician, was born in Ayrshire and educated at Irvine. When he came to Australia, he settled first in the New England district of New South Wales, and thence removed to Queensland. In 1856, his interest in discovery and a desire to find new country led him to undertake much private exploration, principally on the coastal parts of Queensland, in the district of Broadsound and the Isaacs River. In 1858 he explored the Comet to its head, and in the following year the head waters of the Thomson.

An old friend and erstwhile comrade, writing of him, says: "Landsborough's enterprise was entirely founded on self-reliance. He had neither Government aid nor capitalists at his back when he achieved his first success as an explorer. He was the very model of a pioneer - courageous, hardy, good-humoured, and kindly. He was an excellent horseman, a most entertaining and, at times, eccentric companion, and he could starve with greater cheerfulness than any man I ever saw or heard of. But, excellent fellow though he was, his very independence of character and success in exploring provoked much ill-will."

Landsborough was recommended for the position of leader by the veteran A.C. Gregory, and on the 14th of August he left Brisbane in the Firefly, having on board a party of volunteer assistants who had been stirred by the widespread sympathy with the missing men to take an active part in the relief expedition. Unfortunately, those under Landsborough were, with one exception, unacquainted with bush life. The exception was George Bourne, the second in command, an old squatter who had seen and suffered many a long drought, and whose services proved to be of great value. After some mishap the Firefly, convoyed by the Victoria, reached the mouth of the Albert River, where the party was safely landed.

After starting from the Albert, Landsborough came unexpectedly upon a river hitherto unknown. It flowed into the Nicholson, and both Leichhardt and Gregory had crossed below the confluence. It was a running stream with much semi-tropical foliage on its banks, running through well-grassed, level country, and he named it the Gregory. As they neared the higher reaches of the Gregory, they found the country of a more arid nature. They ascended the main range, and on the 21st of December, Landsborough found an inland river flowing south, which he named the Herbert. The Queensland authorities subsequently re-christened the stream with the singularly inappropriate name of Georgina. In this river two fine sheets of water were found, and called Lake Frances and Lake Mary. An ineffectual attempt was then made to go westward, but lack of water compelled them to desist.

Landsborough now returned to the depot by way of the Gregory, and, on arriving there, learnt that Walker had been in and had reported having seen the tracks of Burke and Wills on the Flinders. Landsborough thereupon resolved to return by way of the Flinders, instead of going back by boat. They had very little provisions, but by reducing the number of the party, they managed to subsist on short allowance. On this second trip, he followed the Flinders up, and was rewarded by being the first white man to see the beautiful prairie-like country through which it flows. He named the remarkable isolated hills visible from the river Fort Bowen, Mount Brown and Mount Little. From the upper Flinders he struck south, hoping to come across a newly-formed station, but was disappointed, though he saw numerous horse-tracks showing that settlement was near at hand. At last after enduring a long period of semi-starvation, they reached the Warrego, and at the station of Neilson and Williams, first learnt the fate of those whom they had been seeking.

Landsborough was next appointed Resident at Burketown, and afterwards Inspector of Brands for the district of East Moreton. He died in 1886.

15.3. P.E. WARBURTON.

Major Warburton was the fourth son of the Reverend Rowland Warburton of Arley Hall, Cheshire, where he was born on the 15th of August, 1813. He was first educated in France. He entered the Royal Navy in 1826, and in 1829 proceeded to Addiscombe College, preparatory to entering the East India Company's service, in which he served from 1831 to 1853, when he retired with the rank of Major. In 1853 he arrived at Albany. From there he went on to Adelaide, and at the end of the same year was appointed Commissioner of Police, an office which he held until he was placed in charge of the Imperial Pension Department. On his return from his exploring expedition he was voted 1,000 pounds for himself, and 500 pounds for his party. He was created a C.M.G. in 1875, was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, and he died in 1889.

In 1873 two prominent South Australian colonists, whose names are intimately connected with the promotion of exploration in that colony, Thomas Elder and Walter Hughes, fitted out an expedition which it was hoped would lead to the rapid advancement of geographical knowledge. Unfortunately the result was not commensurate with the ambitious nature of the undertaking. The command was given to Major Warburton, who was instructed to start from the neighbourhood of Central Mount Stuart, and to steer a course direct to Perth. In spite of being provided with a long string of camels, Warburton incurred so much delay in getting through the sandhills that his camels were knocked up and his provisions nearly all consumed before he had advanced half-way. This compelled him to bear up north to the head waters of the Oakover River. Besides the leader, the party consisted of his son Richard; Lewis, a surveyor; one more white man; two Afghans; and a native. Lewis, the surveyor, showed himself to be a most capable man; in fact, but for his energy and forethought, the expedition would have been swallowed up in the sands of the north-west desert.

On the 15th of April, 1873, the explorers left Alice Springs and followed the overland line until they reached a creek called Burt's Creek, whence they struck to the westward. After a vain search for the rivers Hugh and Finke, which were popularly supposed to rise to the north of the McDonnell Ranges, Warburton altered his course to the north-west, meaning to connect with A.C. Gregory's most southerly point on Sturt's Creek. For some distance his way led him through available pastoral country, and in some of the minor ranges beautiful glens were discovered with deep pools of water in their beds. So frightened were the camels by the rocks that surrounded them, that they would not approach them to drink. On the 22nd of May, after travelling for some days in poor sandy country, they came to a good creek with a full head. The whole flat, on to which the creek emerged from the hills, was one vast spring. This place, the best camp they had yet met with, was named Eva Springs. Leaving the main body resting at these springs, the leader, with two companions, started ahead, and was successful in finding some native wells that enabled him to break up his main camp and advance with all the men and material.

On the 5th of June they crossed the boundary-line between the two colonies, and found themselves on the scrubby, sandy tableland common to the interior. At some native wells, which were called Waterloo Wells, they made an enforced sojourn of about a month; in addition they lost three camels, and one of the Afghans nearly died of scurvy. When they were at last enabled to leave the Waterloo Wells, they found themselves plunged into the salt lake country, where the native inhabitants exist on shallow wells and soakage springs. By their reckoning they were now within ten miles of Gregory's Sturt's Creek; but though Warburton made two separate attempts to find the place, he was unable to recognise any country that at all resembled the description given by Gregory. Rightfully ascribing this disappointment to an error in his longitude, he proceeded on a westerly course once more. The tale of each day's journey now becomes a dreary record of travels across a monotonous barren country, and an incessant search for native wells, their only means of sustaining life.

In addition to other causes for delay, the excessive heat caused by radiation from the surrounding sandhills during the day compelled the leader to spare his camels as much as possible by travelling at night. This naturally led to a most unsatisfactory inspection of the country traversed, and it was impossible to say what clues to water were passed by unwittingly.

Starvation now commenced to press close upon them; the constant delays had so reduced their store of provisions that they were almost at the end of their resources, whilst still surrounded by the endless desert of sand-ridges and spinifex. Sickness, too, befel them, so that almost the full brunt of the work of the expedition was placed upon the capable shoulders of Lewis and the black boy Charley. The time of these two was taken up in watching the smoke of the fires of the natives, or in looking for their tracks. During the early morning and in the evening they could travel a little, but at night the myriad swarms of ants prevented the tired men from obtaining their natural sleep. If they stopped to rest the camels, they only prolonged their own starvation; yet without rest the camels could not carry them ahead in the search for water. On the 9th of October, the camels strayed away during the night, but luckily came across a small waterhole, and at this welcome spot the party rested for a while; indeed with the exception of Lewis and the native, they were all too weak to do aught else. They slaughtered a camel, and were fortunate to shoot a few pigeons and galah parrots, the fresh meat restoring a little of their strength. They had long since despaired of carrying out the original purpose of the expedition. All that they could hope for was to struggle on with the last remaining flicker of life to the nearest settled country. This was the Oakover River, on the north coast, and to the head of the Oakover, therefore, their worn-out camels were directed. They could entertain no hope of relief before reaching the Oakover, for the discoverer of that river, Frank Gregory, a man always reluctant to acknowledge defeat, had been turned from the southward attempt by this very desert across which they were painfully toiling. On the evening that they started for the station, the whole party were about to ride blindly on into waterless country, where, but for the black boy, they would all have perished. The boy had left the camp early in the morning, and, having come across the fresh tracks of some natives, followed them up to their camp, where he found a well. He hastened back to the party to tell them of his discovery, only to find that they had gone. Fortunately he had sharp ears, and hearing the distant receding tinkle of the camel bell, by dint of energetically pushing on and cooeeing loudly, he managed to attract their attention, and then led them back to the new source of relief. Lewis and the black boy were now the eyes and ears of the party, and but for them the expedition would never have reached the river.

A fresh start was made after a welcome halt at this well. Warburton and his son could scarcely sit their camels, and followed the weary caravan almost with apathy. On the 14th of November Charley found another native well; but its discovery nearly cost him his life. When close to the native camp, he had gone ahead by himself, as he usually did, so as not to startle the aboriginals. The blacks received him kindly and gave him water, but when he cooeed for his companion, they took sudden alarm and attacked him. They had speared him in the arm and back, and cut his head open with a club when Lewis came up just in time to rescue him. Evidently this attack was not premeditated, but caused by the sudden fear aroused by the sight of the white men and camels. At this well Lewis and one of the Afghans went ahead to strike the head of the Oakover, for they thought they must be drawing near the coast, as the nights were growing cool and dewy, and they had found traces of white iron work in an old camp. In a week Lewis returned, having reached a tributary of the river; and on the 5th of December the whole party arrived at the rocky creek that he had found.

They now proceeded slowly down the Oakover, but came across no sign of occupation. The indefatigable Lewis had therefore again to go ahead for help whilst the others waited for him, living on the flesh of the last camel. He had 170 miles to journey over before he reached the cattle station belonging to Grant, Harper, and Anderson, where he was immediately supplied with horses and provisions to take back to the starving men.

It was on the 29th of December as Warburton was lying in the shade thinking moodily that the station must have been abandoned, and that Lewis had surely been compelled to push on to Roebourne, when the black boy from a tree-top gave a cheerful signal. Starting to their feet, the astonished men found the pack-horses and the relief party almost in their camp.

Of the seventeen camels with which they had started, the two that Lewis had taken on to the station were the only survivors; and all their equipment had been abandoned piecemeal in the desert.

15.4. WILLIAM CHRISTIE GOSSE.

On the 23rd of April, about a week after the departure of Warburton, William Christie Gosse, Deputy Surveyor-General of South Australia, also left Alice Springs on an exploring expedition, having been appointed by the South Australian Government to take charge of the Central and Western Exploring Expedition. Like Warburton, he was frustrated by dry country in his endeavour to reach Perth. He had with him both white men and Afghan camel drivers, and a mixed outfit of horses and camels. He left the telegraph line and struck westward, soon finding himself in very dry country, where he lost one horse on a dry stage. He made a depot camp on a creek which he called the Warburton, and while on an excursion from this camp he had the singular experience of riding all day through heavy rain and camping at night without water, the sandy soil having quickly absorbed the downpour. On his return he found that the creek at the camp was running, and though repeated attempts had been made by the Afghans to goad one of the camels over, the animal obstinately refused to cross. Probably the leader thought that it was fortunate for the progress of the expedition that they were not likely to meet with many more running streams. After passing both Warburton's tracks and those of Giles, Gosse reached the extreme western point of the Macdonnell Ranges, where another stationary camp was pitched. The leader made a long excursion to the south-west, and at 84 miles, after passing over sand-ridges and spinifex country, caught sight of a remarkable hill, that on a nearer approach proved to be of singular limestone formation.

"When I got clear of the sandhills, and was only two miles distant, and the hill, for the first time coming fairly in view, what was my astonishment to find it was one immense rock rising abruptly from the plain; the holes I had noticed were caused by the water in some places causing immense caves."

This hill, which Gosse made an ineffectual attempt to ascend, he called Ayer's Rock. He returned to his depot camp, crossing an arm of Lake Amadeus as he did so, and moved the main body on to Ayer's Rock. Rain having set in heavily for some days, he pushed some distance into Western Australia, but soon reached the limit of the rainfall. After many attempts to penetrate the sand-hill region which confronted him, the heat and aridity compelled him to turn back.

His homeward course was by way of the Musgrave Ranges, where he found a greater extent of pastoral country than had been thought to exist there. He discovered and christened the Marryat, and followed down the Alberga to within sixty miles of the Overland Line, when he turned north-eastward to the Charlotte Waters station.

Although Gosse's exploration did not add any important new features, he filled in many details in the central map, and was able correctly to lay down the position of some of the discoveries of Ernest Giles.

William Christie Gosse was the son of Dr. Gosse, and was born in 1842 at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. He had come to Australia with his father in 1850, and in 1859 had entered the Government service of South Australia. He held various positions in the survey department, and, after his return from the exploring expedition, he was made Deputy Surveyor-General. He died prematurely on August 12th, 1881.