Departure from Cooper's Creek for the Gulf of Carpentaria. Arrangements for the Continuance of the Depot at Cooper's Creek. Mr. Brahe left in Charge. Determination of Route. Progress and Incidents. Mr. Wills's Field Books, from the 16th of December, 1860, to the 30th of January, 1861, 1 to 9. Shores of Carpentaria.
DURING the halt at Cooper's Creek, it was reported through an Adelaide paper that Mr. McDouall Stuart had returned from his attempt to explore in a north-western direction, and was preparing to start again with Government aid, and no longer confined entirely to the private resources and enterprise of Mr. James Chambers. The Gulf of Carpentaria was not so much the immediate object of Stuart's efforts, as the opening of a commercial avenue with a view to future trade, in a direction more toward the north-west coast, and as far north as the 16 or 18 degrees of southern latitude. This line of exploration appeared preferable to the strong practical mind of Mr. Chambers, who had in view the quid pro quo. Stuart's object was therefore plain business, and the immediate advantage of the colony with which he was connected; whilst the Victorian Expedition included scientific discoveries, and the settlement of a great geographical problem. Stuart is again out, since August, 1861, and doubts are entertained for his safety. Mr. Chambers has died in the interim, and cannot know the result of the work he set afloat with so much spirit. Thus it is in all ages of discovery, that few of the early pioneers live to travel on the roads they open with so much difficulty and endurance.
Mr. Burke and my son, impatient of Wright's delay, and seeing the time slip by that could never return, determined to make a dash for the Gulf while the opportunity still remained to them. I was not aware, until after a communication with Mr. Brahe, on his first visit to Melbourne, subsequent to his desertion of his post at the depot, that my son had strongly advocated a direct course northward; but Mr. Burke hesitated to adopt this, unless he could feel confident in a supply of water; the committee having included something in his instructions as to proceeding north-west towards Eyre's Creek and Sturt's Furthest. In his excursions round the camp and the district of Cooper's Creek, with the all-important question of water in view, my son must have gone over little short of a thousand miles. When he lost his camels he had seen smoke in the direction of north by east, which he believed to be a native fire, but the disaster frustrated his attempts to ascertain the fact. Unable thoroughly to assure his leader on the point of water, the more western course was adopted at the commencement of the journey, for a day or two, after which they turned to the east, and scarcely deviated throughout from the 141st degree of eastern longitude.
The party left Cooper's Creek on the morning of the 16th of December, 1860. It consisted of Mr. Burke, Mr. Wills, King, and Gray, (or Charley as my son calls him in his journal); one horse, and six camels. It appears strange to me that they did not take more horses. As they had been living on horseflesh so much they would have increased their available food, in addition to the facility of carrying burthens.
Mr. Brahe remained at Cooper's Creek depot with Patten, McDonough, Dost Mahomet, an Indian, six camels, and twelve horses. He was left in charge until the arrival of Mr. Wright or some other person duly appointed by the committee to take command of the remainder of the expedition at Menindie. A surveyor also was expected to assist my son, and plenty of work was laid out for all, until Mr. Burke's return, had the authorities known how to employ the proper people and employed them in time.
There can be no doubt that Brahe received MOST POSITIVE ORDERS TO REMAIN AT COOPER'S CREEK UNTIL THE RETURN OF THE EXPLORING PARTY FROM THE GULF OF CARPENTARIA. Three and four months were named as the possible time of absence. Brahe did remain over four months; but even then it was in his power to have waited much longer, and he ought to have done so. But the man was over-weighted; the position was too much for him, and he gave way when a stronger mind might have stood firm. The worst point about him appears to be his want of consistency and miserable prevarication; but this may have been weakness rather than absolute absence of principle, or of any due sense of right or wrong. He was unfit to direct, but he might have been directed. Mr. Burke has been blamed for trusting Brahe; but he was the best of those who remained behind, and there were not many to choose from. King has since told me that it was by my son's advice Brahe was appointed, and that the arrival of the party from Menindie was considered so certain, that the appointment was looked upon only as a temporary affair. It has been also said that King might have been left behind in charge, and Brahe taken on. This arrangement, eligible in some respects, was open to objection in others. Brahe could travel by compass and observation, which King could not; and one so qualified might be wanted for a journey to Menindie.
The details of the journey are given as follows, in my son's Field Books, numbered from 1 to 7 consecutively, transcribed by Dr. Mueller, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Cooper. I was associated with them as a matter of personal delicacy to the memory of the deceased explorer.
MR. WILLS'S JOURNAL.
FIELD BOOK 1.
COOPER'S CREEK TO CARPENTARIA.
[The omissions in this diary are supplied by the information contained in the maps, with the exception of the last two days on the shore of the Gulf.]