CHAPTER 6. THE EXPEDITION.
But in this matter we are not left to decide between Mr. Landells' account and Mr. Burke's account. Mr. Wills, the third officer, may be taken as an impartial observer, and his statement, a private communication to the head of the department to which he lately belonged, Professor Neumayer, is free from any suspicion of toadyism. From it we may find abundant reason for the conduct which Mr. Landells calls "strange." If Mr. Burke was restless at nights, hasty in the day, and apparently undecided what course to pursue, we have from this account of the matter only to wonder that he managed to bear with Mr. Landells so long as he did. Here the rage is all on Mr. Landells' side. "Mr. Landells then jumped up in a rage, asking Mr. Burke whether he intended that I should superintend him?" To talk, touch, or mention anything about his favourites, the camels, was sure to bring on "a scene." "On his remarking that there was no rope here, I mentioned that we had just brought one across with us, when he wanted to know what business I had to say anything. Altogether, he made a great fool of himself before several of the men, and a Mr. Wright, the manager of the Kinchica Station." These camels, under Mr. Landells' spoiling, appear to have become the plague of the expedition. They were to have rum - solely, as it now appears, because Mr. Landells "knew of an officer who took two camels through a two years' campaign in Cabul, the Punjab, and Scinde, by allowing them arrack." They were to carry more stores for themselves than they were worth. They were not to make long journeys, nor to travel in bad weather, nor to be subject to any one's direction, or opinion, or advice. In fine, the chief difficulty of exploring Australia seemed to consist in humouring the camels. We may imagine the feelings of a leader with such a drag as this encumbering him. Mr. Pickwick could never have viewed with such disgust the horse which he was obliged to lead about as Mr. Burke must have regarded his camels. When to this it is added that the leader observed various intrigues carried on, we cannot wonder that he determined to come to an open rupture before Mr. Landells and the camels had completely disorganized the expedition. "Whereupon it came out," writes Mr. Wills, "that Mr. Landells has been playing a fine game, trying to set us all together by the ears. There is scarcely a man in the party whom he has not urged Mr. Burke to dismiss." Under such a state of things, the leader of the expedition must have been painfully aware that his party was in no fit state of organization to enter on a most perilous undertaking, and that while such continued, both he and his men were going to inevitable destruction. If his conduct appeared to Mr. Landells restless and uncertain, we may wonder how, under the circumstances, it could be otherwise. We find it impossible to believe that the Exploring Committee of the Royal Society could have secretly informed Mr. Landells that he held independent command, for such a thing would be a burlesque on discipline. He claims the sole management of the camels; and perhaps the committee may have defined his duty as such. But so also has a private soldier the sole management of his musket, but it is under the directions of his officer. Profound as may be Mr. Landells' knowledge of camels, it would be worse than useless unless subject to the direction of his commanding officer.
. . .
Mr. Burke, on the resignation of Mr. Landells, immediately promoted my son to the post he had vacated, which appointment the committee confirmed. Here there was perfect union and reciprocal understanding. Neither had petty jealousies or reserved views. The success of the expedition was their object, and personal glory their aim. The leader had every confidence in his second, and the second was proud of his leader. But Mr. Burke committed an error in the selection of Mr. Wright for the third position in command, without any previous knowledge or experience of his capabilities. In this he acted from his impulsive nature, and the consequences bore heavily on his own and my son's fate. To the misconduct of Mr. Wright, in the words of the report of the Committee of Inquiry, "are mainly attributable the whole of the disasters of the expedition, with the exception of the death of Gray." In appearance and acquirements, there was nothing to recommend him. The gentleman suggested by Mr. Burke as a substitute for Dr. Beckler, most unjustly, according to general opinion, desired to supplant my son. This the majority of the committee refused to accede to, and Mr. Nicholson, the chief secretary, agreed with their decision. Others, including myself, offered to go; and a dispute, or rather a discussion arose on the matter, which produced delay, so that no one was sent at all. Another fatal mistake. It will be a source of sorrow and strong regret to me as long as I exist, that I did not, of my own will, push on to Menindie, where I might have been instrumental in saving one for whom I would willingly have risked my life. But no one then foresaw or expected the errors which caused the surviving travelers to perish on their return.