[Map (Diagram). Supposed Extent and Formation of Lake Torrens in 1846.]


It will be remembered that Eyre, in 1840, reached, after much labour, an elevation to the north-east, at the termination of the range which he had followed, and had named it Mount Hopeless. From the outlook from its summit he came to the conclusion that the lake was of the shape shown in the diagram, completely surrounding the northern portion of the new colony of South Australia. In fact, he formed a theory that the colony in far distant times had been an island, the low-lying flats to the east joining the plains west of the Darling. It was in 1843 that the Surveyor-General of South Australia, Captain Frome, undertook an expedition to determine the dimensions of this mysterious lake. He reached Mount Serle, and found the dry bed of a great lake to the eastward, as Eyre had described, but discovered that Eyre had made an error of thirty miles in longitude, placing it too far to the east. He got no further north. He thus confirmed the existence of a lake eastward of Lake Torrens (now Lake Frome), but achieved nothing to prove or disprove Eyre's theory of their continuity. Prior to this the pioneers had spread settlement both east and west of Eyre's track from Adelaide to the head of Spencer's Gulf. Amongst these early leaders of civilisation in the central state are to be found the names of Hawker, Hughes, Campbell, Robinson, and Heywood. But unfortunately the details of their expeditions in search of grazing country have not been preserved.

John Ainsworth Horrocks is one of those whose accidental death at the very outset of his career plunged his name into oblivion. Had he lived to climb to the summit of his ambition as an explorer, it would have been written large in Australian history. That he had some premonition of the conditions necessary to successful exploration to the west is shown by his having been the first to employ the camel as an aid to exploration. He took one with him on his last and fatal trip, and it is an example of fate's cruel irony that the presence of this animal was inadvertently the cause of his death.

Horrocks was born at Penwortham Hall, Lancashire, on March 22nd, 1818. He was very much taken with the South Australian scheme of colonisation, and left London for Adelaide, where he arrived in 1839. He at once took up land, and with his brother started sheep-farming. He was a born explorer, however, and made several excursions into the surrounding untraversed land, finding several geographical features, which still preserve the names he gave them. In 1846 he organised an expedition along more extended lines, intending to proceed far into the north-west and west. After having over-looked the ground, he would then prepare another party on a large scale to attempt the passage to the Swan River. He started in July, but in September occurred the disaster which cut him off in the flower of his promise. In his dying letter he describes how he saw a beautiful bird, which he was anxious to obtain: -

"My gun being loaded with slugs in one barrel and ball in the other, I stopped the camel to get at the shot belt, which I could not get without his lying down.

"Whilst Mr. Gill was unfastening it, I was screwing the ramrod into the wad over the slugs, standing close alongside of the camel. At this moment the camel gave a lurch to one side, and caught his pack in the cock of my gun, which discharged the barrel I was unloading, the contents of which first took off the middle fingers of my right hand between the second and third joints, and entered my left cheek by my lower jaw, knocking out a row of teeth from my upper jaw."

His sufferings were agonising, but he was easy between the fearful convulsions, and at the end of the third day after he had reached home, whither his companions had succeeded in conveying him, he died without a struggle.


Charles Sturt, whose name is so closely bound up with the exploration of the Australian interior, had settled in the new colony which the South Australians loyally maintain he had created by directing attention to the outlet of the Murray. After a short re-survey of the river, from the point where Hume crossed it to the junction of the Murray and Murrumbidgee, which had been one of Mitchell's tasks, he re-entered civil life under the South Australian Government. He was now married, and settled on a small estate which he was farming, not far from Adelaide. In 1839 he became Surveyor-General, but in October of the same year he exchanged this office for that of Commissioner of Lands, which he held until 1843. In the following year he commenced his most arduous and best-known journey, a journey that has made the names of Sturt's Stony Desert and the Depot Glen known all over the world, and that has, unhappily for Australia, done much to create the popular fallacy that the soil and climate of the interior are such as preclude comfortable settlement by whites. Sturt's graphic account is at times somewhat misleading, and the lapse of years has proved his denunciatory judgment of the fitness of the interior for human habitation to have been hasty. But if we examine the circumstances in which he received the impressions he has recorded, we must grant that he had considerable justification for his statements.

He was a broken and disappointed man, worn out by disease and frustrated hopes, and nearly blind. During six months of his long absence, he had been shut up in his weary depot prison, debarred from attempting the completion of his work, and compelled to watch his friend and companion die a lingering death from scurvy. And when the kindly rains released him, he was doomed to be repulsed by the ever-present desert wastes. No wonder that he despaired of the country, and viewed all its prospects through the heated, treacherous haze of the desert plains. Yet now, close to the ranges where Sturt spent the burning summer months of his detention, there has sprung up one of the inland townships of New South Wales, where men toil just as laboriously as in a more temperate zone.

[Map. Sturt's Route 1844, 1845 and 1846.]

But, though baffled and unable to win the goal he strove for, never did man better deserve success. The instructions that he received from the Home Office were, to reach the centre of the continent, to discover whether mountains or sea existed there, and, if the former, to note the flow and direction of the northern waters, but on no account to follow them down to the north coast. Sturt was instructed to proceed by Mount Arden, a route already tried, condemned, and abandoned by Eyre; and he elected to proceed by way of the Darling. His plan was to follow that river up as far as the Williora, a small western tributary of the Darling, opposite the place whence Mitchell turned back in 1835, after his conflict with the natives, an episode which Sturt found that they bitterly remembered. Poole, Sturt's second in command, resembling Mitchell in figure and appearance, the Darling blacks addressed him as Major, and evinced marked hostility towards him. From Williora, or Laidley's Ponds, Sturt intended to strike north-west, hoping thus to avoid the gloomy environs of Lake Torrens, and the treacherous surface of its bed. At Moorundi, on the Murray, where Eyre was then stationed as Resident Magistrate, the party was mustered and the start made.

In addition to Poole, Sturt was accompanied by Dr. Browne, a thorough bushman and an excellent surgeon, who went as a volunteer and personal friend. With the party as surveyor's draftsman, went McDouall Stuart, whose fame as explorer was afterwards destined nearly to equal that of his leader. In addition there were twelve men, eleven horses, one spring-cart, three bullock-drays, thirty bullocks, one horse-dray, two hundred sheep, four kangaroo dogs, and two sheep dogs.

Eyre accompanied the expedition as far as Lake Victoria, which they reached on the 10th of September, 1844. On the 11th of October they arrived at Laidley's Ponds. This was the place from which Sturt intended to leave the Darling for the interior, and where he expected to find, from the account given him by the natives, a fair-sized creek heading from a low range, visible at a distance to the north-west. But he found the stream to be a mere surface channel, distributing the flood water of the Darling into some shallow lakes about seven or eight miles distant. Sturt despatched Poole and Stuart to this range to see if they could obtain a glimpse of the country beyond to the north-west.

They returned with the rather startling intelligence that, from the top of a peak of the range, Poole had seen a large lake studded with islands.

Although in his published journal, written some time after his return, Sturt makes light of Poole's fancied lake, which of course was the effect of a mirage, at that time his ardent fancy, and the extreme likelihood of the existence of a lake in that locality, made him believe that he was on the eve of an important discovery. In a letter to Mr. Morphett of Adelaide, he wrote: -

"Poole has just returned from the range. I have not time to write over again. He says there are high ranges to the North and North-West, and water, a sea, extending along the horizon from South-West by South and then East of North, in which there are a number of lofty ranges and islands, as far as the eye can reach. What is all this? To-morrow we start for the ranges, and then for the waters, the strange waters, on which boat never swam and over which flag never floated. But both shall ere long. We have the heart of the interior laid open to us, and shall be off with a flowing sheet in a few days. Poole says that the sea was a deep blue, and that in the midst of it was a conical island of great height."

Poor Sturt! No boat was ever to float upon that visionary sea, nor flag to wave over those dream-born waters. To those who know the experiences that awaited the expedition, it is pathetic to read of the leader's soaring hopes, as delusive as the desert mirage itself.

The whole of the party now removed to a small shallow lakelet, the commencement of the Williora channel (Laidley's Ponds). After a short excursion to the distant ranges reported by Poole, Sturt, accompanied by Browne and two men, went ahead for the purpose of finding water of a sufficient permanency to remove the whole of the party to. At the small lake where they were then encamped, there was the ever-present likelihood of a conflict with the pugnacious natives of the Darling. He was successful in finding what he wanted, and on the 4th of November the main body of the expedition, finally leaving the Darling basin, removed to the new water depot.

The next day Sturt, with Browne and three men and the cart, started on another trip in search of water ahead. This was found in small quantities, but rain coming on, Sturt returned and sent Poole out again to search while the camp was being moved. On his return, Poole reported having seen some brackish lakes, and also having caught sight of Eyre's Mount Serle. They were now well on the western slope of the Barrier Range, and, but for the providential discovery of a fine creek to the northward, which was called Flood's creek, after one of the party, they would have been unable to maintain their position. To Flood's creek the camp was removed, and Sturt congratulated himself on the steady and satisfactory progress he was making.

The party now left the Barrier Range, and followed a course to another range further north, staying for some time at a small lagoon while engaged in making an examination of the country ahead. On the 27th of January, 1845, they camped on a creek rising in a small range, and affording, at its head, a fine supply of permanent water. When upon its banks the explorers pitched their tents, they little thought that it would be the 17th of the following July before they would strike camp again. This was the Depot Glen, and an extract from Sturt's journal depicts the situation of the party: -

"It was not, however, until after we had run down every creek in the neighbourhood, and had traversed the country in every direction, that the truth flashed across my mind, and it became evident to me that we were locked up in the desolate and heated region into which we had penetrated, as effectually as if we had wintered at the Pole. It was long, indeed, ere I could bring myself to believe that so great a misfortune had overtaken us, but so it was. Providence had, in its all wise purposes, guided us to the only spot in that wide-spread desert where our wants could have been permanently supplied, but had there stayed our further progress into a region that almost appears to be forbidden ground."

This then was Sturt's prison - a small creek marked by a line of gum trees, issuing from a glen in a low range. By a kindly freak of nature, enough water had been confined in this glen to provide a permanent supply for the exploring party and their animals, during the long term of their detention.

Of Sturt's existence and occupation during this dreary period little can be said. He tried to find an avenue of escape in every direction, until convinced of the futility of the attempt; sometimes encouraged and lured on by the shallow pools in some fragmentary creek, at others, seeing nothing before him but hopeless aridity. Now, too, he found himself attacked with what he then thought to be rheumatism, but which proved to be scurvy. Poole and Browne were afflicted in the same manner.

Sturt made one desperate attempt to the north during his imprisonment in the Depot Glen, and succeeded in reaching a point one mile beyond the 28th parallel, but further north he could not advance, nor did he find any inducement to risk the safety of his party.

There passed weeks of awesome monotony, relieved by one strange episode. From the apparently lifeless wilderness around them there strayed an old aboriginal into their camp. He was hungry and athirst, and in complete keeping with the gaunt waste from which he had emerged. The dogs attacked him when he approached, but he stood his ground and fought them valiantly until they were called off. His whole demeanour was calm and courageous, and he showed neither surprise nor timidity. He drank greedily when water was given to him, ate voraciously, and accepted every service rendered to him as a duty to be discharged by one fellow-being to another when cut off in the desert from his kin. He stopped at the camp for some time and recognised the boat, explaining that it was upside down, as of course it was, and pointing to the North-West as the region where they would use it, thus raising Sturt's hopes once more. Whence he came they could not divine, nor could he explain to them. After a fortnight he departed, giving them to understand that he would return, but they never saw him again.

"With him" writes Sturt pathetically, "all our hopes vanished, for even the presence of this savage was soothing to us, and so long as he remained we indulged in anticipations for the future. From the time of his departure a gloomy silence pervaded the camp; we were indeed placed under the most trying circumstances: everything combined to depress our spirits and exhaust our patience. We had witnessed migration after migration of the feathered tribes, to that point to which we were so anxious to push our way. Flights of cockatoos, of parrots, of pigeons, and of bitterns; birds also whose notes had cheered us in the wilderness, all had taken the same road to a better and more hospitable region."

And now the water began to sink with frightful rapidity, and all thought that surely the end must be near. Hoping against hope, Sturt laid his plans to start as soon as the drought broke up. He himself was to proceed north and west, whilst poor Poole, reduced to a frightful condition by scurvy, was to be sent carefully back to the Darling, as the only means of saving his life.

On the 12th and 13th of June the rain came, and the drought-beleaguered invaders of the desert were relieved. But Poole did not live to profit by the rain. Every arrangement was made for his comfort that their circumstances permitted, but on the first day's journey he died. His body was brought back and buried under the elevation which they called the Red Hill, and which is now known as Mount Poole, three and a-half miles from Depot Camp.

Sturt's way was now open. He again despatched the party selected to return to the Darling, whose departure had been interrupted by Poole's untimely death, and, with renewed hope, made his preparations for the long-denied north-west.

Having first removed the depot to a better grassed locality, he made a short trip to the west. On the 4th of August he found himself on the edge of an immense shallow, sandy basin, in which water was standing in detached sheets, "as blue as indigo, and as salt as brine." This he took to be a part of Lake Torrens. He returned to the new depot, called Fort Grey, which was sixty or seventy miles to the north-west of the Glen, and arranged matters for his final departure.

McDouall Stuart was left in charge of the depot. Dr. Browne accompanied the leader, and on the 14th of August a start was made. For some distance, owing to the pools of surface water left by the recent rain, they had no difficulty in keeping a straightforward course. The country they passed over consisted of large, level plains, intersected by sand-ridges; but they crossed numerous creeks with more or less water in all of them. To one of these creeks Sturt gave the name of Strzelecki. Finally they reached a well-grassed region which greatly cheered them with the prospect of success it held out. Suddenly they were confronted with a wall of sand; and for nearly twenty miles they toiled over successive ridges. Fortunately they found both water and grass, but the unexpected check to their brighter anticipations was depressing. Nor did a walk to the extremity of one of the ridges serve to raise their spirits.

Sturt saw before him what he describes as an immense plain, of a dark purple hue, with a horizon like that of the sea, boundless in the direction in which he wished to proceed. This was Sturt's Stony Desert. That night they camped within its dreary confines, and during the next day crossed an earthy plain, with here and there a few bushes of polygonum growing beside some straggling channel in which they occasionally found a little muddy rain-water remaining. At night when they camped just before dusk, they sighted some hills to the north, and, on examining them through the telescope, they discerned dark shadows on the faces, as if produced by cliffs. Next morning they made for these hills, in the hope of finding a change of country and feed for the horses, but they were disappointed. Sand ridges in repulsive array confronted them once more. "Even the animals," writes Sturt, "appeared to regard them with dismay."

Over plains and sand dunes, the former full of yawning cracks and holes, the party pushed on, subsisting on scanty pools of muddy water and fast-sinking native wells. On the 3rd of September, Flood, the stockman who was riding in the lead, lifted his hat and waved it on high, calling to the others that a large creek was in sight.

When the main party came up, they feasted their eyes on a beautiful watercourse, its bed studded with pools of water and its banks clothed with grass. This creek Sturt named Eyre's Creek, and it was an important discovery in the drainage system of the region that he was then traversing.

Along this new-found watercourse, they were enabled to make easy stages for five days, when the course of the creek was lost; nor could any continuation be traced. The lagoons, too, that were found a short distance from the banks, proved to be intensely salt. Repeated efforts to continue his journey to other points of the compass only led Sturt amongst the terrible sandhills, their parallel rows separated by barren plains encrusted with salt. Sturt now came to the erroneous conclusion that he had reached the head of Eyre's Creek, and that further progress was effectually barred by a waterless tract of country. In fact, he was then within reach of a well-watered river, along which he could have travelled right up to the main dividing range of the northern coast. But Sturt was baffled in the most depressed area on the surface of the continent, where rivers and creeks lost their identity in the numberless channels into which they divided before reaching their final home in the thirsty shallows of the then unknown Lake Eyre. There was neither sign nor clue afforded him; his men were sick, and any further progress would jeopardise his retreat. There was nothing for it but to fall back once more; and, after a toilsome journey, they reached Fort Grey on the 2nd of October.

Sturt's last effort had been made to the west of north; he now made up his mind for a final effort due north. Before starting, however, he begged of Browne, who was still suffering, to retreat, while the way was yet open, to the Darling. This Browne resolutely refused to do; stating that it was his intention to share the fate of the expedition. The 9th of October saw Sturt again under way to the seemingly forbidden north, Stuart and two fresh men accompanying him. On the second day they reached Strzelecki Creek, and on the 13th they came on to the bank of a magnificent channel, with fine trees growing on its grassy banks, and abundance of water in the bed. This was the now well-known Cooper's Creek, which Sturt, on his late trip, had crossed unnoticed, as it was then dry and divided into several channels on their route. This was the most important discovery made in connection with the lake system, Cooper's Creek being one of the far-reaching affluents, its tributaries draining the inland slopes of the main dividing range.

Sturt, on making this unexpected discovery, was undecided whether to follow Cooper's Creek up to the eastward or persevere in his original intention of pushing to the north. A thunder-storm falling at the time made him adhere to his original determination, and defer the examination of the new river until his return.

Seven days after crossing Cooper's Creek, he had the negative satisfaction of seeing his gloomy forebodings fulfilled. Once more he gazed over the dreary waste of the stony desert, unchanged and repellant as ever. They crossed it, but were again turned back by sandhill and salt plain, and forced to retrace their steps to Cooper's Creek. This creek Sturt followed up for many days, but found that it came from a more easterly direction than the route he desired to travel along; moreover, the one broad channel that they had commenced to follow became divided into several ana-branches, running through plains subject to inundation. This became so tiring to their now exhausted horses, who were woefully footsore, that he reluctantly turned back. He had found the creek peopled with well-nurtured natives, and the prospects of advancing were brighter than they had ever been; but both Sturt and his men were weak and ill, and the horses almost incapable of further effort. Moreover, he was not certain of his retreat.

As they went down Cooper's Creek on their way back, they found that the water was drying up so rapidly that grave fears were entertained lest Strzelecki's Creek, their main resource in getting back to Fort Grey, should be dry. Fortunately they were in time to find a little muddy fluid left, just enough to serve their needs. Here, though most anxious to get on, they were forced to camp the whole of one day, on account of an extremely fierce hot wind.

Sturt's vivid account of the day spent during the blast of that furnace-like sirocco has been oft quoted. But the reader should remember when reading it that the man who wrote it was in such a weakened condition that he had not sufficient energy left to withstand the hot wind, whilst the shade under which the party sought shelter was of the scantiest description.

They had still a distance of eighty-six miles to cover to get back to Fort Grey, with but little prospect of finding water on the way. After a long and weary ride they reached it, only to find the tents struck, the flag hauled down, and the Fort abandoned. The bad state of the water and the steady diminution of supply had forced Browne to fall back to Depot Glen, riding day and night Sturt reached the old encampment, so exhausted that he could hardly stand after dismounting.

The problem of their final escape had now to be resolved. The water in Depot Creek was reduced so low that they feared there would be none left in Flood's Creek. If this failed, they were once more imprisoned. Browne, now much recovered, undertook the long ride of one hundred and eighteen miles which would decide the question. Preparations had been made for his journey by filling a bullock skin with water, and sending a dray with it as far as possible. On the eighth day he returned.

"Well, Browne," asked Sturt, who was helpless in his tent, "what news? Is it good or bad?" "There is still water in the creek," replied Browne, "but that is all I can say; what there is is as black as ink, and we must make haste, for in a week it will be gone."

The boat that was to have floated over the inland sea was left to rot at Depot Glen. All the heaviest of the stores were abandoned, and the retreat of over two hundred miles commenced.

More bullock-skins were fashioned into water-bags, and with their aid and that of a scanty but kindly shower of rain, they crossed the dry stage to Flood's Creek in safety. Here they found the growth of the vegetation much advanced, and with care, and constant activity in searching ahead for water, they gradually increased the distance from the scene of their sufferings, and approached the Darling. Sturt had to be carried on one of the drays, and lifted on and off at each stopping-place. On the 21st of December, they arrived at the camp of the relief-party under Piesse, at Williorara, and Sturt's last expedition came to an end.

In taking leave of this explorer, we quote a short extract from his Journal to show the exalted character of the man whom Australians should ever regard with the greatest of pride: -

"Circumstances may yet arise to give a value to my recent labours, and my name may be remembered by after generations in Australia as the first who tried to penetrate to its centre. If I failed in that great object, I have one consolation in the retrospect of my past services. My path among savage tribes has been a bloodless one, not but that I have often been placed in situations of risk and danger, when I might have been justified in shedding blood, but I trust I have ever made allowance for human timidity, and respected the customs of the rudest people."

Sturt's health and eyesight had been greatly impaired by his last trip, but although he was for a time almost totally blind, he still managed to discharge the duties of Colonial Secretary. He was at last pensioned by the South Australian Government, and soon afterwards returned to England. He died at his residence at Cheltenham. Though the Home Office had treated him disgracefully during his life, and ignored his services, he lives for ever in the hearts of the Australians as the hero and chief figure of the exploration of their country. When he was on his death-bed, in 1869, the empty title of knighthood was conferred upon him. As he could not enjoy the tardy honour, his widow, who lived until 1887, was graciously allowed to wear the bauble.