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February 1862

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2085/6a, Item 2.
A W Howitt’s diary from 2 January 1862 [Jamieson’s Station on the Darling to the Cooper Depot and then to Blanchewater] 16 March 1862. Received by the EC 12 April 1862.

Tuesday, 15 April 1862, page 2S.

Exploration: Mr Howitt's Diary

The unfortunate expedition and of Burke and Wills has been the cause of our obtaining a large quantity of information relative to the interior of the Australian continent beyond that which was gained from the diary of Wills himself. And we are now in possession of the diary of Howitt, giving as a further knowledge of the country in the neighbourhood of Cooper's Creek.

Thus Exploring Expedition undertaken by Victoria, if it was unfortunate to some of the members who compose it, has at least had become lateral effects of widening the bounds of our knowledge of the geography of the vast interior, and of proving that the dangers to be encountered in its exploration, and I were sufficiently numerous, are not so formidable as we have hitherto supposed.



Monday, 3 February 1862.
Returned from Torowoto this morning, intending to have removed to the lower waterholes (Youngcanya), but found seven of the horses away. Several of the party out all day, but two horses still missing, and no signs of them. In going to Torowoto I followed the creek down for five miles, where I left it, and struck NW. for about twenty miles across very fine sand hill country, but destitute of surface water. I made my former Camp No. 14 about 4.30. In the last journey I had thought Torowoto could not possibly be more dry; but I was deceived, as everything, grass and bushes, are as brittle as glass with the drought. The Chance Waterhole only contained about a bucket of mud, and by the greatest good fortune we found a small quantity of bad water covered with a green scum in a small hole - just sufficient to give our horses a drink. From the number of birds and native dogs that were around the water during the time we were there, I am inclined to believe that it was the only drop for miles. Returned in the morning to the camp, the country gradually becoming greener as we approached Macadam Range. Hot wind all day.

Tuesday, 4 February - Camp 7, Youngcanya Waterholes.
Got the horses up the creek, but had a late start. Two Youngcanya blacks we had picked up, and were going to take on to show us water, persisted that there was no water lower down the creek than five miles, and would camp. The water in two holes, some thirty yards long by ten, and a yard at the deepest, but impregnated with some saline substance, which makes it anything but a satisfactory beverage. One of our guides is a tall old fellow, with a sinister eye, and a tall spear - his whole conversation with me consists of "Bolera Yarraman" - the other one is lame.

Wednesday 5 February - Camp 8, Koortooloo Waterhole.
30° 5', 142° 32'
Had a late start again, owing to trouble with the waterbags. The old man altered his mind about going with us, and returned to his lubras. The lame guide took the long spear and limped in front very slowly. Made very poor progress round the slopes of Macadam Range, which are stony. The country open, and of good quality to the W. On rounding the NW. end of the range the country changed to sandhills thinly covered with bushes, and of good grazing capabilities, and a large extent of claypan country extending to the E of N for some ten miles to a long somewhat broken range, which I have named after my friend Mr Myers, of the Darling, to whom I am indebted for most valuable aid and information. The rain seems to have been heavy, and grass is growing on all sides. Below Myers' Range is a long line of timber, probably a large creek. Camped at a pool of water in the claypans. Distance, twelve miles. Very hot during the morning; thunder and, apparently, rain, to the NE.

Thursday, 6 February - Camp 9, Altoka.
29° 50' 45", 143° 32'
Left camp at 8.20, and travelled over very fine open sandhill country with occasional patches of claypans in the flats. The grass in profusion, and every sign of heavy rains having fallen as we proceed. About eleven am came to the first creek promised by our guide, who, by-the-bye, was mounted on a horse for the first time in his life. The creek, Tarakeera, might have been passed without suspecting it to be more than a chain of claypans; it contains, however, a good supply of water in several holes, and the ground is well adapted for retaining it. Watered the horses here, About one pm I came to the second creek, Keera, which also has much the appearance of a well-defined chain of claypans, and which collects the drainage of a large area, spreading out and reforming among small box flats and clay pans between sandhills. We here found a good pool of water, which will last some time. Feed still very fine, the country looking far better than when I saw it last August. Made Burke's Camp 46 at Altoka, the lower end of Keera Creek, about three pm, and camped at a long channel. Day close and sultry. A heavy thunderstorm some miles to the NW, but only a few drop with us.

Friday, 7 February - Camp 10, Canilto Creek.
This morning about four o'clock our black boy Dick and our lame guide both absconded: why or wherefore it is hard to say. Dick answered me when I called the party up about 3.45, but was missing directly after. They took nothing but their rations and half a blanket each, and some saddle straps. I fancy that the attraction of a large gathering of blacks at some flooded creeks to the NE., who are collecting papar seed, was too much for Dick's philosophy; at any rate, he forfeited everything coming to him, and our guide went minus the promised tomahawk. The country from Altoka to the mud plains covered with young grass. The day cool and cloudy - a most fortunate circumstance: the mud plains on a bright day are unbearable. Made Canilto about 4.30. Everything here burnt up to chips. The showers seem to have done no good but to grow portulac and leave some water for us.

Saturday, 8 February - Camp 11, Carriapundy Swamp.
Camped near our 18th camp upwards. The country very green, and water wherever the ground can retain it; Day cool and cloudy; a heavy thunderstorm on the Grey Ranges all day, the tail end of which passed over us and provided enough water in ten minutes for our use.

Sunday, 9 February - Camp 12, Koorlejur.
The country to within two miles of this camp flooded, from the rain of last night. No rain before this for a long while as there is not a green blade to be seen.

Monday, 10 February - Camp 13, Poria Creek (one mile and a half SW. of Camp 20).
28° 45' 50", 142° 40'
For some miles this morning everything scorched up. Then came to extensive claypan flats, flooded, and, crossing the sandhills into the fall to this creek, found ourselves once more in green grass, and with more water in the flats than I have yet seen. The travelling in consequence very bad, our horses sliding about on the clay- pans, as if on ice, and the camels continually falling. In a quarter of a mile we passed from the drought of summer into spring, and again when within a mile of Poria Creek found the country as dry as possible, and not only devoid of green grass, but even of anything at all. Went down to our old camp, but had to return a mile and a half to the edge of the rainfall. Day gleamy and hot.

Tuesday, 11 February - Camp 14, Wilkie's Creek.
28° 36' 20", 142° 32' 45"
We were visited by a pretty smart fall of rain for the greater part of the night, with a little thunder. This morning the flat by the camp was covered with water. Travelled for seven miles along the track, through some of the best looking country I have seen since leaving the Darling; and I was struck by the fact that the summer rains produce grass and portulac in great abundance, but no flowers or herbage, as do the winter rains. The flats were flooded with water and covered with wild fowl. From here to Wilkie's Creek the country was much more dry, and the feed poor, as if the rain had been less. We have apparently crossed the tracks of several heavy falls of rain, from five to fifteen miles across, since leaving the Darling, all of them, as far as I can see with a NE and a SW course. On reaching Wilkie's Creek, I was exceedingly surprised to find it running bank and bank. I at first supposed that the rains might have caused it to flood, but on considering, I find that it is not likely, they have been too patchy, and the body of water, and its color, would lead me to believe that it has come from a more distant source. Poria Creak has not been flooded, indeed it is lower than when I last saw it, although equally near the heavy rainfalls we have passed through. The difficulty now is to cross - it is somewhere about thirty yards wide and as many feet deep, with steep boggy banks and no timber of size to reach across, if felled. It is, in fact, at present a river to all intents and purposes. Day warm, but pleasant. No signs of natives anywhere.

Wednesday, 12 February - Camp 15, Wilkie's Creek.

Thursday, 13 February - Camp 15, Wilkie's Creek.
Hard at work these two last days crossing our things. The only practicable place with the means at our disposal seems to be here, as a quarter of a mile below the creek forks into two channels, one going S the other nearly W, and running into extensive timbered swamps, which are now partly under water. At this place is a small island, and by means of an overhanging tree we have slung our things across; the camel-loading in one day, crossing the camels the same afternoon - about as disagreeable a job as any one could have, I have never seen any animals so afraid of, or so helpless in, the water, as the camels; we had to make them lie down on the bank and then push them in bodily, some of the party on the opposite side towing them across by a rope. I was thankful when they were all safe across, as the banks are very boggy. Today we have been hard at it from sunrise crossing the horse baggage - a seemingly endless job, as we had to hand it over a small back-water before crossing to the island and from the island to the opposite bank. However, in time everything has been got over without any injury; we have only now to cross the horses. The day very hot; the creek still rising, and if it continues to rise all the flats will be under water in another week, and in that case it would be impassable. The mosquitoes here are of a most blood-thirsty breed, and in millions; they kept us all awake last night, even biting us through our blankets. All night long there is a concert of water-fowl, frogs, and mosquitoes. It is so unlike what this country was when I saw it before, that I can hardly get used to it. All the party have stuck to the work manfully, and deserve great praise.

Friday, 14 February - Camp 16, Junction Creek.
28° 33' 40", 142° 30' 18"
We had considerable trouble with the horses last night, only getting 10 across by dark. Each horse had to be put in singly, as the mob would not face the boggy banks This morning early we commenced crossing the remainder, and only finished a little before noon. Several of the horses had to be put in the water by main force, floundering through the bog into the deep water. It has taken more out of them than a week's travelling. Started late, intending to camp at the Junction Creek, where our two tracks to and from Cooper's Creek meet. Found the flats north of Wilkie's Creek partly under water, forming a swamp full of green grass. The country looks well to within a mile of this camp, where it again becomes dry. Plenty of water here, however, and all the channels full along the track. Day very hot, cool breeze towards evening.

Saturday, 15 February - Camp 17, Keppel's Creek.
28° 19' 24", 142° 25'
Shortly after leaving camp got into the track of a thunderstorm, which must have been very heavy. The amount of water and feed on the country it had passed over was surprising, and not a little of the effect was produced by passing so abruptly from the dry stretches of country. We reached the north edge of the storm about Keppel's Creek, and at our camp found neither feed nor water. Fortunately I found a small quantity a little way back, which sufficed to give the riding horses a drink, and to replenish our water bags. Watched the horses all night. It is very annoying to travel all day through feed and water, as we have done, and in the afternoon to get into some strip where there has been no rain; but it has happened several times that we have had to camp out of the feed, although as yet not without water.

Sunday, 16 February - Camp 18, north side of Stokes' Range.
31° 9', 143° 11' 45"
Left camp at sunrise, the horses looking miserable - the poor feed for some days past, and the knocking about they had at Wilkie's Creek has told on them. At daybreak a crane landed on a tree in the camp, and then flew NW - a good omen. On crossing the camp at Mount Shillinglaw we suddenly came into the track of another storm, also having come from the W or NW. The gullies and small flats among the hills vere covered with grass and portulac. Watered the horses at three pools in a small creek, which is still running underground. Lost this storm-water in three miles, and for the remainder of the way to Surprise Creek (now dry), over a tract of country so dry and parched that it is difficult to believe that it has had rain for years. On crossing the fall to Cooper's Creek I found three tufts of green grass, and in a hundred yards was again in the track of a violent thunderstorm, which had made the creek run and filled the hollows with grass. Camped by a fine pool of water, in a rock basin. Very thankful to have for once good feed and water at the same place. Day hot and gleamy; towards evening a heavy thunderstorm over the sandhills between us and Cooper's Creek.

Monday, 17 February - Camp 19, the Tank.
30°, 142° 2'
The stony plains from Stokes' Range to the sandhills look splendid after the rains; covered with green grass they have the appearance of an immense field of oats about six inches above ground. The gullies and little hollows are knee deep in grasses of various kinds. Blackfellows' Creek, at the head of which we camped last night, is a bed of green grass, with numerous waterholes, some of which are of considerable size. The sandhills to the Tank are luxuriant with grass, but I am afraid that we are again on the edge of tlte rainfall.

Tuesday, 18 February - Camp 20, Cooper's Creek, half a mile above Camp 60 of Burke.
27° 51', 141° 44' 30"
On leaving camp this morning we soon got out of the rainfall and into a burned-up tract of country. I left the old track at about four miles, and struck nearly west for a line of timber which I had seen on the return journey from a distance. Ten miles through sandhills, cane-grass flats, and gum and box forest brought us to a high sand ridge, running east and west, beyond which lay the immense earthy plains through which Cooper's Creek runs. I crossed them for some four or five miles, and finding that the travelling was too much for our cattle - the plains still continuing to the horizon in front of us - I turned more to the northward, and struck the first channel of the creek at the place where we camped on our return. The plains were infinitely more cracked and rotten than I had yet seen them, and fully bore out the character given of them by Sturt For miles the horses had literally to flounder through them, the ground giving way at every step, and falling into the deep crevices with a hollow rumbling noise. Found the water at our old camp, as I had expected, dried up. Went on to Camp 60 of Burke, where we had left a fline reach of water. Found this also quite dry - apparently for some time, as beds of green plants were growing where the water had been. Camped here, as there was some grass in the channel; the horses wanting water very much, although they all drank this morning; the hot day, and heavy work floundering across the plains in a cloud of fine dust, has been as severe as two ordinary days' travelling. I felt very thankful that the rain had extended as far as our tank, or we should have had to push for the permanent holes lower down. These waters drying up so much looks very unpromising, as there is no chance of the holes being replenished in such a porous springy country, except by the next flood, whenever that may be - perhaps not for years. Such a fact entirely closes this route for stock excepting in favorable seasons, and as this water at Camp 60 was the first Burke found for some distance down, it is very unlikely that any waterholes above it have escaped the drought.

Wednesday, 16 April 1862, page 4.

Exploration: Mr Howitt's Diary



Wednesday, 19 February 1862 - Camp 21, Two miles below Camp 61 of Burke.
Started by moonlight this morning, about one am. Crossed the earthy plains and made Camp 61 of Burke about seven am, the horses travelling fast, knowing the road to the next water. A few drops of rain seem to have fallen, as on one sandhill I saw a few blades of grass. Excepting this, the country looks the picture of drought and desolation. Found the water at this camp fallen about four feet, and not calculated to last more than six weeks, it is rapidly turning to mud, and has a most unpleasant taste. When this water is gone there will be forty miles added to the distance between the permanent waters. Two blackfellows, the first we have seen, came to the end of the waterhole, and had a look at us.

Thursday, 20 February - Camp 22, Two miles above Camp 62 of Burke.
Finished our stage by noon, and camped at the lower end of the first large reliable reach of water on the creek. It has fallen much less than the others, and is some seven feet deep in the middle, and probably three miles long Abundance of portulac here indicates more rain. No signs of natives anywhere. Tried our net, but only caught six fish. As the water retires from the banks, distinct stages of vegetation are produced, by which the fall of the water can be accurately seen. Polygonum grown on the bank, couch grass half-way down, and now on the water's edge, anywhere the bed has dried up, a tall green plant, resembling a young wattle. It grows in beds six and seven feet in height, and very thick and rank. In the dried mud, the last remains, of waterholes, only a few salsoaceous plants grow, which, I suppose, find something congenial in the saline mud which gives such an unpleasant taste to the water.

Friday, 21 February - Camp 23.
Travelled about four miles this morning, and came to a large branch coming from the NE. Found that it had been flooded, and was still running slowly. In fording it I and the horse got a thorough ducking, the bottom being little better than a quagmire. The horses and camels crossed the main creek just above the junction of this branch. Below this point Cooper's Creek has been running, filling the holes and some of the smaller backwaters, and producing an abundant crop of grass and nardoo everywhere within the influence of the water. Followed down the south bank for some time, until we came to the lower end of some large waterholes, where the flood seemed to have ran out, in the numerous flat sandy channels common to this part of the creek. Being not far above the saltwater reaches, I camped. In the evening, walked across the varions channels of the creek, not feeling satisfied that we were at the end of the flood, and at half-a-mile came on the main creek, in a wide channel between steep banks, grown with tea-tree, and unbroken sheet of water, as far as I could see, up and down its course. No sign of natives. The creek seems deserted.

Saturday, 22 February - Camp 24, the Fishpond.
Made a long stage today for the purpose of being able to spend Sunday at the Fishpond, to which we have been long looking forward. Found that the creek had been running for about ten miles below our camp, and that it had ceased at the lower end of the salt water. Crossed at our 28th camp of last journey. Found here four natives, who received us with shouts of "Gow" when I rode up to the bank, and informed us that there was plenty of fish and water lower down. Below the influence of the flood the holes are as much wasted as they are above; many are dry, and the evaporation I believe to be at an average rate of 9 inches per month. No feed anywhere - worse than when I saw it last.

Sunday, 23 February - The Fishpond.
Halted today, and caught more fish than we could eat. The creek banks here are dotted with native villages, now all deserted.

Monday, 24 February - Camp 25, Depot Waterhole.
27° 41', 140° 52'
Made a long stage today to our intended Depot. No inducement in the way of feed to stay by the road. No natives anywhere. Several holes dry, and some that were fine reaches of water when. I last saw them are now only shallow extents of muddy water. The large reach by which we are camped, and which must be four miles long, has shrunk least of all - not more than two feet in five months. Found a good place for a depot at the lower end; that is, good for Cooper's Creek. North wind all day, thunder to the south.

Tuesday, 25 February.
Showers last night and today.

Wednesday, 26 February.
Showers all last night, but not heavy enough to leave any water on the surface. Getting ready for putting up a stockade, and commencing a garden. This morning about thirty natives passed up the creek, but gave our camp a wide berth, and had after all to wait and cooee for some one to see them safe past the camels, which were feeding just on their track. Gale of wind from SE.

Thursday, 27 February - Camp 26, Cooper's Creek, Wills's grave.
27° 45' 45", 140° 36' 30"
Left the depot at eleven am, with Galbraith, O'Donnell, and M'Williams, and six horses, with five days rations, to endeavour to find water in the direction of Mount Hopeless. The party at the depot engaged in putting the stores in order, and other work. Travelled down the creek to Camp 31, where I found Mr McKinlay's mark ('MK' conjoined, 'DIG under' in square) on the tree, at Burke's grave. Some two miles lower down passed where he had camped, and a small tree marked (MK conjoined, arrow under in square). The rain had obliterated the tracks to a great extent, but from what I saw I believe that Mr McKinlay was only accompanied by a small party. My time is being devoted just now to a special object prevents my being able to run the tracks down the creek. However, that can wait, as they cannot be more indistinct than they are now, and are not likely to lead in the direction in which I am going. Made the waterhole at Wills's grave at 4.30 and found Mr McKinlay's mark, and that of others of his party. From the direct manner in which he had gone from point to point, I conclude that he has had some native to point out the places where the graves of Burke and Wills are situated. This waterhole is one of a number, the remains of what has been a fine sheet; even now they are respectable. The creek here shows to great advantage being confined by high banks, timbered with box, gum, bean trees, and native oranges, and is 185 paces from watermark to watermark. The country, since we have left the hills among which our depot is situated, has been gradually becoming very dry and burned up. Rain has evidently fallen, but it here seems powerless to produce anything. Nothing green to be seen, except the extraordinary bed of green plants in the creek bed, and of which the camels are very fond, and the native orange trees, which are now covered with fruit and flowers. Wind from SE, driving up clouds and damp muggy atmosphere, but unable to rain. The flies are a dreadful nuisance.

Friday, 28 February - Camp 27, Tungurilla Water channels.
27° 52' 18", 140° 15'
Started this morning on a S to SW course, hoping to cut some of the south-west branches of the creek. We carried three days' water for ourselves one day's for the horses. During the morning crossed high red sandhills and plains, subject to flood, but at present so deeply cracked by the drought as to make them in places next door to impassable. The sandhills just looking green since the showers of the last few days, which seem to have been the first for some time. Crossed a large branch with a deep channel and well-timbered banks; its course was SW, but after a few miles it could be seen to break up on plains covered with dry grass, and intersected with watercourses, many of which, turning more to the westward, crossed our track. Halted at noon on the edge of one of these plains. The sandhills quite bare of everything but a few Acacia and Hakea bushes. Even the cotton bush withered up. On starting crossed a plain seven miles, covered with tufts of dry grass. Plains, patches of yellow sandhills and clumps of timber marking the watercourses all round us. lt new came on to rain heavily, but produced very little effect on the spongy soil. At three pm. ascended a fine of sandhills, and through the drizzle had a cheerless prospect of an immense bare plain; a distant clump of trees, and yellow sandhills on either hand. Scarcely even the remains of vegetation were to be seen here. The very surface of the ground had been dried to dust, and blown away, and only a few bushes were half-alive; dead bushes were everywhere. No rain could have been here for a long period; Cooper's Creek itself would look luxuriant after this. Not seeing a chance of feed for the horses, I turned more to the north, towards a well marked line of timber, running close by some sandhills, where, the clay-pans evidently contained water. Found that the timber lined the banks ot one of the watercourses we had crossed in the morning, and which now was going almost west, with an inclination to bear northward. After floods these channels would probably hold water for 18 months. Came across the tracks of natives, who could not have passed more than an hour. Followed them some distance towards the clay-pans, and camped by some shallow pools at 4.30. While unsaddling, two natives and two lubras came up and were very friendly, being anxious that we should go to their camp and be entertained, and that I should have my face painted with red earth. I gave them some matches, and one of them promised to go with me in the morning and I show me some more water. Rain ceased about sandown, but still cloudy. The fifth night now that I hare not seen a star. Heavy clouds all day drawing to the north.

Saturday, 29 February - Camp 27, Tungurilla.
This morning, early, all the blacks came down to our camp as we were loading up, shouting "Gee" and waving branches. They had brought all their wives and children, and were particular that we should admire the piccaninnies. When about to start we had a great discussion, principally in pantomime, with our guide and his particular chum, who both insisted that there was no water where I wanted to go - to the W of S, and that there was plenty to swim in to the W and N. Hereupon we commenced drawing plans of the country on the ground, which they perfectly understood, and explained where there was water and where there was none. At last, seeing that I was determined to go my own road, my guide (Pardree) suddenly remembered that there was a small pool which the showers must have filled, to the south of us, and we started, all the other natives being sent back by him, I suppose lest they might have to share in his promised reward - a knife and some matches. Half a mile from the camp his courage failed him: first he wanted me to go alone, pointing the direction to me; then he wanted to go back and leave a tame "Warregal" next he turned suddenly lame, and limped about with a most doleful face; but finding that I was obdurate he scratched his head and went on again. To make sure of him I dismounted, and after walking a short way with him, explaining that I only wished to see the water and would then return with him, he said "Gew, gew," with great satisfaction. I got him on my horse, as the best mode of securing him, and he was a very comical sight, and with the aid of a stick went so fast that I had to take it from him and lead the horse by the bridle. We proceeded across an extensive plain to a range of sand-hills about eight miles distant, the other blacks keeping in sight for some time, when they returned. Among the sandhills, in a small flat between two high red ridges, he showed us a small pool with sufficient water for half a dozen horses for a night. Near it were two winter wurleys and a native grave. We then returned; but after halting for dinner, at which Pardree devoured a snake in a ravenous manner; be suddenly fancied that I did not mean to go back, and walked off with a firestick homewards. We reached Camp 27 about four pm. In the evening I crossed the sandhill close by, and found the water at which the natives are encamped, in several polygonum channels in a small box flat, surrounded by high loose ridges of red sand. Pardree had reached home, and I was saluted with a chorus of "Gew, gew!.' Weather the same - cloudy, with an occasional light shower.

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