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by Edwin James Welch

Edwin James Welch, The Tragedy of Cooper's Creek
ML:MSS 314/225 filed at A1928 (ML CY1115) n.d, c. 190-?, Angus & Robertson Collection.
State Library of New South Wales

Chapter V

The leaders reach the sea

To preserve the sequence of this narrative it is now necessary to follow the fortunes of Burke and his three companions on their way to the shores of the Indian Ocean, and this can best be done by reference to Wills's fieldbook.

They left Cooper's Creek on the 16th December 1860, with six camels, one horse and provisions estimated to be sufficient for three months. From the record referred to it is evident that they were exceptionally fortunate in striking a good line, of country, on an average north-westerly course, which was calculated to take them to Eyre's Creek - discovered and named by Sturt in 1845. Striking this creek, or one of similar dimensions which they believed to be it, after celebrating Christmas-Day on the banks of another which they called Gray's Creek - described as;- a really agreeable place for a camp, having all the advantages of feed and water, with freedom from ants, flies and mosquitoes", they followed it for several days, when, finding that it made too much easting, they kept away on a more northerly course.

The fieldbooks, however, continue to afford descriptions of excellent, well watered country, with plenty of bird-life and luxurious vegetation, and natives, who if not actually friendly, showed no disposition to become antagonistic. In places, dates only are given, with no mention of the day's journey or in¬cidents of travel attached, and it is not until January 30th that we get any intimation of a check to their onward march. But on that day the diary contains the information that "Golah Singh", one of the best camels became bogged in the bed of a creek where they had to leave him owing to the impossibility of effecting his release. The next entry is undated, the heading being merely - "Sunday, February" and is fairly exhaustive. In consequence of continuous heavy falls of rain the other camels were unable to travel and it was decided to leave them in camp, with Gray and King, while Burke and Wills tried to reach the coast on foot. Taking the horse with three day's provisions this arrangement was put in practice, but the horse got bogged in a quicksand whilst crossing a creek near its junction with a large river. They got him out, however, with much labor and difficulty but the ground "was so soft and rotten, that with only a saddle and twenty-five pounds upon his back, he could scarcely walk over it" After covering five miles he got bogged again, and though again released he was so weak that they had great doubts about taking him any further, Ultimately they struck a well worn path leading to a blacks' camp, the occupants of which "shuffled off in the quietest manner possible", after standing staring at them for some time. Here they found themselves on the edge of an extensive marsh, flooded by sea water, with hundreds of wild geese; plover, and pelicans in the water, and presently came to a channel through which the ocean waters flowed on a rising tide. But they could get no farther on account of the dense growth of mangroves which hid the open sea from view. At the same time they recognized that their mission had been accomplished; and after a day's rest in camp, prepared for the return journey.

From the few entries made by Burke in his fragmentary notes in an ordinary memorandum book, subsequently obtained from King, he made this note on the 28th of March following, during the return to Cooper's Creek:

At the conclusion of report, it would be well to say that we reached the sea, but we could not obtain a view of the open ocean, although we made every endeavour to do so.

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