The attempt to reach South Australia and Adelaide by Mount Hopeless. Mistake of selecting that Route. Mr. Wills's Journals from the 23rd of April to the 29th of June, 1861. Adventures with the Natives. Discovery of Nardoo as a Substitute for Food. Mr. Burke and King go in search of Natives as a last resource. Mr. Wills left alone in the Desert. The Last Entry in his Journal.
ON the morning of Thursday, the 23rd of April, 1861, Mr. Burke, my son, and King, being refreshed and strengthened by the provisions they found at Cooper's Creek, again resumed their journey homewards. It was an unfortunate resolve of Burke's, to select the route to the Adelaide district by Mount Hopeless, instead of returning by the Darling. King says, "Mr. Wills and I were of opinion that to follow Brahe was the best mode of proceeding; but Mr. Burke had heard it stated positively at the meeting of the Royal Society, that there were South Australian settlers within one hundred miles of Cooper's Creek in the direction he proposed to take;" and by this very questionable assertion, without evidence, his mind was biassed. There was, in fact, nothing to recommend the route by Mount Hopeless, while everything was in favour of that by the Darling. Blanche Water, the nearest police-station on the Adelaide line, was distant between four and five hundred miles. The one road they knew nothing of, the other was familiar to them. The camels, too, would have plucked up spirit on returning after the others on the old track. It is true that Brahe's false statement of the condition of his party held out no encouragement that they might be able to overtake him; but there was a chance that a new party might even then be coming up, or that the laggard Wright would be on the advance at last, as proved to be the fact. A Melbourne paper, commenting on these points, had the following remarks, which were as just as they were doubly painful, being delivered after the event: -
Wills and King it appears were desirous of following their track out from Menindie, which would unquestionably have been the wiser course; but Mr. Burke preferred striking for the South Australian stations, some of which, he had been informed by the Royal Committee of Exploration, were only one hundred and fifty miles from Cooper's Creek. It was a most unfortunate and fatal matter for Mr. Burke that these Royal people had anything whatever to do with his movements.
He made two attempts to strike in the direction in which they had assured him he would easily reach a settled district, and twice was he driven back for want of water. It was a fatal mistake on his part to follow the suggestion of these ready advisers. The practical impressions of Wills or King were worth a world of theoretical conjectures and philosophic presumption. But it seems to have been decreed that Burke should have favoured the former instead of the latter; the consequences of which were that himself and poor Wills were to perish miserably.
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Much as I approve of and admire my son's steady obedience to his leader, I cannot but regret and wonder that in this particular instance he was not more resolute in remonstrance. It bears out what I said to Mr. Burke on taking leave of him: "If you ask his advice, take it; but he will never offer it; and should he see you going to destruction, he will follow you without a murmur."
The party, before they left Cooper's Creek, buried my son's journals in the cache, with the subjoined note from Mr. Burke, which were dug out and brought up by Brahe.
Depot 2, Cooper's Creek Camp 65.
The return party from Carpentaria, consisting of myself, Wills, and King (Gray dead), arrived here last night and found that the depot party had only started on the same day. We proceed on, to-morrow, slowly down the creek towards Adelaide by Mount Hopeless, and shall endeavour to follow Gregory's track; but we are very weak. The two camels are done up, and we shall not be able to travel faster than four or five miles a day. Gray died on the road, from exhaustion and fatigue. We have all suffered much from hunger. The provisions left here will, I think, restore our strength. We have discovered a practicable route to Carpentaria, the chief position of which lies in the 140 degrees of east longitude. There is some good country between this and the Stony Desert. From thence to the tropics the land is dry and stony. Between the Carpentaria a considerable portion is rangy, but well watered and richly grassed. We reached the shores of Carpentaria on the 11th of February, 1861. Greatly disappointed at finding the party here gone.
(Signed) ROBERT O'HARA BURKE, Leader.
April 22, 1861.
P.S. The camels cannot travel, and we cannot walk, or we should follow the other party. We shall move very slowly down the creek.
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My son's journal is now written in a more complete and consecutive form. He had no instruments for observation or mapping, so that his time and mind were concentrated on the one employment.
APRIL, 1861. - JOURNAL OF TRIP FROM COOPER'S CREEK TOWARDS ADELAIDE.