CHAPTER 6. THE EXPEDITION.
As I have an opportunity of sending a few lines by this mail, I have determined to take advantage of the chance, because I know how glad you will be to receive them; but I have not time sufficient to give you any account of our journey. We are now at the last township at which we shall touch on our way towards the interior of the continent. It is an out-of-the-way place, situated on the lower part of the Murrumbidgee River. Our journey so far has been very satisfactory: we are most fortunate as regards the season, for there has been more rain this winter than has been known for the last four or five years. In fact, it seems probable that we shall finish our work in a much shorter period than was anticipated; very likely in ten or twelve months. The country up here is beautiful; everything green and pleasant; and if you saw it now, you would not believe that in two months' time it could have such a parched and barren appearance as it will then assume. I hope to be able, either from the Darling or from Cooper's Creek, to send you some details of our proceedings. Please to remember me to all, and
Believe me, ever your affectionate son,
WILLIAM J. WILLS.
. . .
At Balranald, beyond the Murray, Mr. Burke found it impossible to get on further with his foreman, Ferguson, and discharged him in consequence. It required no deep penetration to discover that this would occur. Before they left the Royal Park, I made a remark to one of the committee on Ferguson's appearance and general demeanour: the gentleman I addressed replied, "I have just told Burke he will have to shoot him yet."
When Ferguson returned to Melbourne, he published his own account of the affair; and after the melancholy catastrophe of the expedition became known, he brought his action against the committee, and obtained a verdict for a considerable sum on the ground of unjust dismissal, proving his own statement in the absence of counter-evidence. Those who could or might have refuted it were dead.
Mr. Burke had no sooner rid himself of his troublesome foreman, than his second began to exhibit insubordination in an unmistakable manner. This reached a crisis by the time they had proceeded as far as Menindie, on the Darling. Whatever Mr. Landells' merits may have been as a manager of camels, his post of second in command had evidently affected the equilibrium of his intellects. He mistook his position, as also the character of his superior. His conduct was so manifestly unjustifiable that no one took his part, or defended him in the slightest degree. What his real motive was, whether to escape from danger when danger was likely to commence, or to obtain the leadership of the expedition himself, is difficult to determine. He had been sowing dissension in the camp from an early period. My son was so much engaged in his scientific avocations that he knew little of what was going on; but when Mr. Landells was ill-judged enough to talk plain sedition to him, he saw at once, and clearly, the state of affairs. Mr. Burke was of a generous and unsuspecting nature; he trusted every one until practical experience opened his eyes, and then he naturally became angry, almost to violence. The following correspondence, which was published at the time, explains the affair exactly as it happened. Mr. Selwyn laid before the committee the letter from Professor Neumayer, enclosing my son's to him. The professor had been lost in the bush, and had to cut his way through the scrub for a distance of six miles.
Youngera, November 8.
MY DEAR SIR,
Bad news from the expedition since I left them at McPherson's. I really do not know what to think of it. I send you herewith a letter from Mr. Wills, descriptive of the whole affair, and give you authority to do with it according to your views. I am right in the bush, and have just met with Captain Cadell, who is so kind as to take this to you, in order that you might have a chance of hearing both sides of the question. Landells I spoke to last night; and, according to his statement, of course he is in the right.
I shall be in town in three or four weeks. Excuse my writing.
Alfred Selwyn, Esquire, Government Geologist.
. . .
Menindie, October 16, 1860.
MY DEAR PROFESSOR,
I suppose you are by this time safe in town again. Great things have occurred since you left; in fact, I have so much to tell you that I do not know where to begin.
That Mr. Landells has resigned, and gives over his things to-morrow, is news at which you will not be much surprised; but that Dr. Beckler has been foolish enough to follow his example, for no better reason than that he did not like the way in which Mr. Burke spoke to Mr. Landells, will I think rather astonish you. I shall now give you a full account of the whole matter, so that you may be in a position to make any statement that you may deem necessary in explanation of the proceedings.