CHAPTER 9. EDMUND B. KENNEDY.

9.1. THE VICTORIA AND COOPER'S CREEK.

E.B. Kennedy, whose tragic death ineffaceably branded the Cape York blacks as remorselessly cruel, came to Australia early in life, and was appointed a Government surveyor in 1840. His first experience as an explorer was gained when as Assistant-Surveyor and second in command he accompanied his chief on the last expedition that Mitchell led into the interior. On this occasion he remained in charge of the camp formed at St. George's Bridge, and then conducted part of the expedition on to the Maranoa, where he rejoined the Major, and remained in charge whilst Mitchell made his exploration westward.

On Mitchell's return to Sydney, there being some doubt as to the point of outflow of the newly-discovered Victoria River, Kennedy was sent out with a small party to follow the river down and ascertain its course and destination.

On the 13th of August, he reached Mitchell's lowest camp on the Victoria River, and started to trace the river down. During the first day's journey he came across some natives, from one of whom he learnt that the aboriginal name of the river was the Barcoo. Two days afterwards he observed with some anxiety that the trend of the valley was inclining from northwards towards the point whence Sturt had turned back from his upward course on Cooper's Creek. As the second part of his instructions was to find a practicable road to the Gulf, he feared that he would not have sufficient provisions to fulfil both duties. He therefore made a stationary camp, and with two men proceeded down the river. But after two days' journey, he found that the Barcoo turned to the west, and even north of west. The channel now showed large reaches of water within its confines, some of them more than one hundred yards in width. This induced him to alter his plan, and he thought he should follow such an important watercourse and ascertain its outflow. He therefore turned back for the remainder of his party. On the 30th of August he discovered a large river coming from the North-North-East, and he named it the Thomson. With the usual inconsistency of Australian inland rivers, the Thomson soon presented another and different scene. The great pastoral stretches of the upper course were left behind, and were succeeded by flat and inferior country intersected by sand-ridges. The course of the river itself once more turned to the southward, and was but scantily watered. Still Kennedy persevered until convinced that further progress must bring him to Sturt's furthest on Cooper's Creek. The face of the land answered to Sturt's description; and grass and feed both beginning to fail him, Kennedy had to consider whether it was worth while risking the lives of his men to confirm what was practically a certainty. At last vistas of the desert, described by Sturt with such terrible fidelity, appeared stretching away to the horizon, and Kennedy turned back, satisfied that the Victoria River and Cooper's Creek were one and the same stream.

It was now Kennedy's intention to make an excursion towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. On his way down, in order to travel lighter, he had buried a large quantity of flour and sugar as well as his drays. When he arrived at the cache of provisions on his way back, he found that the natives had dug the rations up, and in mere wantonness had so mixed and scattered them as to render them useless. A little further on, he was just in time to save the carts, for an aboriginal was probing in the ground with a spear to ascertain their whereabouts. During this excursion Kennedy noticed that the blacks were given to "chewing tobacco in a green state;" but the "tobacco" was, of course, the pituri plant, which they are accustomed to masticate. By the time he reached the head of the Warrego, Kennedy was too short of provisions to attempt his projected Gulf expedition, and had to make homeward, but resolved to go down by that river and ascertain whether it joined the Darling or flowed westward.

The Warrego dividing into many dry channels when they reached its lower courses, the party struck eastward to the Culgoa, and reached that river after a very distressing stage over dry country on which they lost six horses from heat and thirst, whilst bringing the carts across it.

9.2. A TRAGIC EXPEDITION.

Kennedy's first experience of an independent exploring expedition in the west was by no means a fitting prelude to the tragic journey he next undertook. The same impulse that led to Mitchell's and Leichhardt's northern journeys stimulated Kennedy to make his dangerous journey up the eastern coast of the long peninsula that terminates in Cape York - the desire to find a road to the north coast, so that an easy chain of communication should exist between the southern settlements and the far north.

It was at the end of the month of May that Kennedy landed at Rockingham Bay with his party of twelve men. He had started from Sydney in the barque Tam o' Shanter, which was convoyed by Captain Owen Stanley in the Alligator. This was in 1848, the same fateful year that witnessed Leichhardt's disappearance. A schooner was to meet the party on the north, at Port Albany, where it was proposed to form a settlement should the features of the peninsula warrant such an enterprise. In actual point of distance the task was not great, being a land traverse of from three to four hundred miles, allowing for deviations. But never were men in Australia so dogged by disaster and beset by danger as were Kennedy and his followers. Opposed by country as yet unfamiliar to them, they found their onward path hindered by many totally unforeseen conditions. Ranges and ravines clothed with an almost impenetrable jungle, which was infested with the venomous leaves of the stinging tree and the hooked spikes of the lawyer vine, confronted them. The land was densely populated with the most savage and relentless natives on the continent, who resented the invasion from the outset. Death tracked them steadily throughout, and claimed ten out of the thirteen of the devoted party as his victims.

The country through which their course lay is now dotted with mining-fields and townships, and fertile spaces of tilled tropical plantations. The coast-line rich in harbours is the busy haunt of steamers, and the narrow waterway between the mainland and the great barrier reef the home of many lightships. But when Kennedy and his party made their pioneer journey, the great desolation of the wilderness beset them on every side from the land, whilst the sea off-shore held myriad dangers.

Kennedy landed from the Tam o'Shanter at the little point that still bears the jovial name, and bade farewell to Owen Stanley in good spirits, and with no dread premonitions. He was fresh from the sun-scorched plains of the interior, and would confidently confront whatever might lie before him. Scrub and swampy country delayed him on his way to the higher land at the foot of the range, where he had hoped to find better travelling country; but the foothills were serried with ravines and gullies, and the sides clothed with the ever-present jungle. The horses and sheep, unaccustomed to the sour grasses of the coast lands of northern Australia, pined and rapidly wasted away. Their troubles were augmented by acts of annoyance, and on one unfortunate occasion, of open hostility on the part of the blacks.

By the 18th of July, a little over six weeks after they had left Rockingham Bay, the sheep had been reduced from one hundred to fifty, and the horses began to fail so rapidly that they had to abandon the carts, while the men were becoming completely exhausted from the endless cutting and hacking of the scrub. At length they surmounted the range, the backbone of the peninsula, and on the western slope, amid the heads of the rivers flowing into the Gulf of Carpentaria, made better progress. Kennedy, however, adhered to his instructions to examine the eastern slope, and recrossed the watershed, where troubles again came thick upon him. One after another the horses began to give in, and owing to the storekeeper's mismanagement, they were nearly out of provisions. On the 9th of December they reached Weymouth Bay, and Kennedy determined to form a stationary camp, and leaving there the main body of his men, push forward to Port Albany, whence he would send back the schooner that was awaiting them with relief. He selected seven men whom he left in charge of Carron, the naturalist, and with three men and the heroic Jacky-Jacky, an aboriginal of New South Wales, he pushed on - to his death.

Before the departure the last sheep was slaughtered, and its lean and miserable carcase shared between the two parties; and with Carron, Kennedy ascended a hill that commanded a prospect of the country lying to the north, but could see nothing but rugged hills and black scrub. He confided only to Carron his gloomy foreboding that he would never reach Albany, so disheartened were both the men by the prospect. And throughout those long weeks of starvation that ensued, Carron refrained from crushing all hope in his comrades by communicating to them Kennedy's despair of relief.

For three weeks Kennedy struggled on, cutting his path through the scrub, and, with dwindling strength, clambering across the spurs of the range. For the story of his struggles and eventual death Australia has had to rely on the report of the only survivor, the faithful Jacky-Jacky. They reached Shelburne Bay, where one of the men accidentally shot himself, and became so weak from loss of blood that it was impossible for him to move. As another man, Luff, was sick, Kennedy left the third man, Dunn, to attend to his two comrades, and pushed on alone with the native boy. He had actually gained the Escape River, within sight of Albany Island, when his fate overtook him, and, surrounded by the blood-thirsty foes who had so long and persistently hung upon his footsteps, he fell at last beneath their spears.

The story is best told in Jacky's own words, although it has been often repeated. They had come across some natives whom Kennedy was inclined to trust, but of whom Jacky was suspicious, and that night they camped in the scrub, foodless and fireless.

"I and Mr. Kennedy," said Jacky, "watched them that night, taking it in turns every hour that night. By and by I saw the blackfellows. It was a moonlight night, and I walked up to Mr. Kennedy and said: 'There is plenty of blackfellows now;' this was in the middle of the night. Mr. Kennedy told me to get my gun ready.

"The blacks did not know where we slept, as we did not make a fire. We both sat up all night. After this daylight came and I fetched the horses and saddled them. Then we went a good way up the river, and then we sat down a little while, and then we saw three blackfellows coming along our track, and then they saw us, and one ran back, as hard as he could run, and fetched up plenty more, like a flock of sheep almost. I told Mr. Kennedy to put the saddles on the horses and go on, and the blacks came up and they followed us all day. All along it was raining. I now told him to leave the horses and come on without them, that horses made too much track. Mr. Kennedy was too weak, and would not leave the horses. We went on this day until the evening; raining hard and the blacks followed us all day, some behind, some planted before. In fact, blackfellows all round following us. Now we went into a little bit of scrub, and I told Mr. Kennedy to look behind always. Sometimes he would do so, and sometimes he would not do so to look out for the blacks. Then a good many blackfellows came behind in the scrub and threw plenty of spears, and hit Mr. Kennedy in the back first. Mr. Kennedy said to me: 'Oh Jacky! Jacky! shoot 'em! shoot 'em!' then I pulled out my gun and fired and hit one fellow all over the face with buck-shot. He tumbled down and got up again and again, and wheeled right round, and two blacks picked him up and carried him away. They went a little way and came back again, throwing spears all round, more than they did before - very large spears.

"I pulled out the spear at once from Mr. Kennedy's back, and cut the jag with Mr. Kennedy's knife. Then Mr. Kennedy got his gun and snapped, but the gun would not go off. The blacks sneaked all around by the trees, and speared Mr. Kennedy again, in the right leg above the knee a little, and I got speared in the eye, and the blacks were now throwing always, never giving over, and shortly again speared Mr. Kennedy again in the right side. There were large jags in the spears, and I cut them off and put them in my pocket. At the same time we got speared the horses got speared too, and jumped and bucked about and got into the swamps. I now told Mr. Kennedy to sit down while I looked after the saddle-bags, which I did, and when I came back again I saw the blacks along with Mr. Kennedy. I then asked him if he saw the blacks with him. He was stupid with the spear wounds, and said 'No'; I then asked him where was his watch? I saw the blacks taking away watch and hat as I was returning to Mr. Kennedy. Then I carried Mr. Kennedy into the scrub. He said, 'Don't carry me a good way.' Then Mr. Kennedy looked this way, very bad (Jacky rolling his eyes). I asked him often, 'are you well now?' and he said - 'I don't care for the spear wound in my leg, Jacky, but for the other two spear wounds in my side and back, and I am bad inside, Jacky!' I told him blackfellow always die when he got spear wound in there (the back). He said: 'I am out of wind, Jacky.' I asked him: 'Are you going to leave me?' And he said, 'Yes, my boy; I am going to leave you; I am very bad, Jacky, you take the books, Jacky, to the Captain, but not the big ones; the Governor will give you anything for them.' I then tied up the papers. He then said: 'Jacky, give me paper and I will write.' I gave him pencil and paper, and he tried to write, and he then fell back and died, and I caught him in my arms and held him; and I then turned round myself and cried. I was crying a good while until I got well; that was about an hour, and then I buried him.

"I digged up the ground with a tomahawk, and covered him over with logs and grass, and my shirt and trousers. That night I left him near dark. I would go through the scrub and the blacks threw spears at me; a great many; and I went back into the scrub. Then I went down the creek which runs into Escape River, and I walked along the water in the creek, very easy, with my head only above the water, to avoid the blacks, and get out of their way. In this way I went half-a-mile. Then I got out of the creek, and got clear of them, and walked all night nearly, and slept in the bush without a fire."

At the southern entrance of Albany Pass, one of the most picturesque spots of the east coast of Australia, the schooner Ariel lay at anchor, awaiting, day after day, some signal to indicate the arrival of the expected Kennedy. One day the look-out man announced that there was an aboriginal on the mainland making urgent signals to the schooner. There was nothing unusual in this, for during the delay and tedious waiting, the blacks had constantly been seen making gestures on the shore. An examination through the glass, however, showed the people on the Ariel that this blackfellow was making such vehement and persistent signals that it was thought worth while to send the boat in to investigate affairs.

No wonder the poor fellow's signals were urgent and vehement; he was Jacky-Jacky, who, thirteen days after Kennedy's death, by devious twistings and windings, occasionally climbing a tree in the hope to catch a glimpse of the schooner, and existing on roots and vermin, had at last reached the goal. But when he stood prominently on the shore to signal to the schooner, his relentless pursuers sighted him, and his frantic signs were for rescue from imminent peril. The boat's crew fortunately recognised the emergency, and a smart race ensued between them and the natives. The rescuers won, and Jacky-Jacky was saved to tell his melancholy story.

There was no time lost on board the Ariel. There were three men who might be still alive at Shelburne Bay, and eight more starving at Weymouth Bay. Kennedy was dead; their duty, and urgent duty it was, lay with the living. At once the schooner commenced to beat down the coast, and at Shelburne Bay they landed but failed to find the camp. But they seized a native canoe which bore sufficient evidence that the men had been murdered. Clearly time must not be wasted in inflicting punishment; according to Jacky's account, the men at Weymouth Bay were absolutely starving, if they had not already succumbed to famine.

After their leader had left Weymouth, Carron had shifted the camp on to the nearest hill, as it was more open and less exposed to the treacherous attacks of the natives. A flagstaff was erected on the crest, in view of the Bay. Then the party had only to sit down and await the coming of the grim shadow following them through the jungle to strike them with the death chill. They had two skeletons of horses and two gaunt dogs, and a tiny remnant of flour. The men gave themselves up to moody despondency. "Wearied out by long endurance of trials that would have shaken the courage and tried the fortitude of the strongest," says Carron in his diary, "a sort of sluggish indifference prevailed that prevented the development of those active energies which were necessary to support us in our present critical position."

One of the two horses was killed, and its scanty flesh, cut into strips, was dried in the sun and smoke. This, the most repellant, sapless food to be found in the world, had been their diet for some time. Douglas was the first to die. The survivors were still strong enough to give him burial. In a few days Taylor followed him and was interred by his side. The blacks threatened them continually, though at times they would lay down their arms and bring pieces of fish and turtle into the camp; but this only the better to spy out their weakness. Carpenter was the next to succumb, and on the 1st of December they were doomed to drink their bitterest cup to the dregs. They had killed the remaining horse, but the monsoonal rains descended, and in the steamy atmosphere the meat turned putrid. Torn with anxiety, Carron was dejectedly mounting the look-out to the flagstaff when he caught sight of a vessel beating into the Bay. The sudden change from despair to relief was overwhelming. Kennedy must have reached Port Albany, and had doubtless sent the Bramble to rescue them. With eager, tremulous hands he hoisted a pre-arranged signal to warn them against the blacks. Darkness fell and they kept a fire burning, and fired off rockets, and when daylight came and a boat was lowered from the schooner, they felt no misgivings. Time passed, and Carron again ascended the look-out. What he saw nearly blasted his eyesight. The schooner was standing out to sea; he was just in time to see her round the point and disappear.

They strove to persuade themselves that it was not the Bramble, a relief schooner that was supposed to cruise along the coast. But it assuredly had been the Bramble, and her men had not seen the signals against the gloomy background of scrub and hills. They knew nothing of Kennedy's death, nor of Carron's plight. The agony of this disappointment must have been more bitter than death. Mitchell was the next to die, and the survivors were too weak to give him burial. Then Niblett and Wall departed, but on the last day of the year relief came to the remaining two.

Some natives suddenly brought Carron a dirty note, to say that help was coming, and he saw by their gestures that there was a vessel in the bay. He scribbled a note in reply, but they refused to take it, and began to crowd into the camp and handle their weapons. They were not going to be baulked of their prey. At the very moment when they were poising their spears, the relief party arrived. Four brave men - Captain Dobson of the Ariel, Dr. Vallack, Barrett a sailor, and the eager Jacky-Jacky - had forced their way through mangroves and hostile threatening natives to snatch them from their doom.

Nothing could be carried away but the two famished men, and they were helped down to the boat without coming into active hostilities. Thus ended the most disastrous expedition in Australian annals. Kennedy's body was never recovered, nor was the fate of the men at Shelburne Bay revealed. The bodies at Weymouth Bay were re-buried on Albany Island, and a tablet was erected in memory of Kennedy, in St. James's Church, Sydney.