Burke & Wills Web
The online digital research archive of expedition records
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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 XVI

Search by Landsborough & Walker

The leader chosen for the Queensland Relief Party, was William Landsborough, another Scot, well-known as a squatter and highly successful explorer on private work, during which he had opened up large areas of country for pastoral purposes in the west of that colony, and traced many rivers to their sources. With a party of four white men, and two blacks, he left Brisbane in August, 1861, in the brig Firefly, convoyed by Captain Norman in the Colonial Steam Sloop Victoria.

On the passage northwards, the Firefly got into difficulties on a reef and had to be towed to the Albert River in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where the Victoria was ordered to remain for the purpose of assisting any of the land parties that might reach that spot.

Landsborough's work began there, and he made a thorough search up and down the numerous rivers flowing into the Gulf, in the hope of discovering signs of the missing men. They were away for three months, and returned to the depot on the Albert without having found any. Walker, who in the meantime had been sent out from Rockhampton, had been successful to the extent of finding tracks on the Flinders River, and Landsborough started again at once, hoping to find them there. Again he was disappointed and made for the Barcoo, where they came into conflict with the blacks; who it may be presumed were just beginning to feel irritation the constant invasion of their territory by parties of white men, armed with superior weapons to their own, and ready to use them with deadly effect when offended. The Barcoo blacks, resentful of their presence, made an attempt which narrowly escaped being successful, to surprise their camp during the night, but were driven off with no casualties on the side of the defenders.

Landsborough being in country which was familiar to him through former visits then struck across to the Warrego, and there learned that the fate of the Victorian Expedition had been decided, upon which he went to Melbourne. On arrival he met with no great amount of approval for the excellent search he had actually made, and the important discoveries of large areas of country fit for pastoral occupation that accrued from it. In fact he was unjustly accused of making those discoveries the chief object of his search, though he certainly neither sought nor received any benefit from them. He was, however, presented with a valuable service of plate, and on his return to Queensland was appointed Government Resident in the Burke district. The Royal Geographical Society also presented him with a gold watch.

Frederick Walker, alluded to above as having found Burke's tracks on the Flinders River, was another good bushman, and well known in connection with the Native Police of Queensland, a body which he was largely responsible for calling into existence.

With a compact Party of native troopers, he was despatched from Rockhampton at about the same time, and on a similar duty to Landsborough, viz., to cut Burke's tracks, if possible, follow him up and render every available assistance. He headed straight for the Barcoo as being the most likely locality in which to find them, but in this he was disappointed, Burke, as we know, having struck a nearly north-west course for Eyre's Creek after leaving Brahe at the Depot on Cooper's Creek. From the Barcoo, Walker crossed to the Alice, and saw only some old horse tracks which he concluded might have been made by Leichhardt, the mystery of whose disappearance was, and still is, exercising the public mind.

Following the Alice to its source, Walker struck another river which he named the Barkly, in honor of the Governor of Victoria, but the name was not destined to be perpetuated, as the stream referred to was afterwards found to be identical with the Flinders.

Keeping northwards towards the Gulf, he was on frequent occasions attacked by the blacks, who, it may be assumed, were taught the usual lesson by the native troopers; and on again meeting with the Flinders as he approached the coast was delighted to find the camel tracks which satisfied him that Burke had been successful in crossing the Continent, and afforded a hope that he was then safely on board the Victoria.

He at once, buoyed up with this hope, shaped his course for the Albert, only to be disappointed on his arrival there at learning that they had neither been seen nor heard of. Getting a fresh supply of rations at the depot he promptly returned to the Flinders and once more picked up the tracks determined to follow them in whatever direction they might go. Good trackers, as his boys unquestionably were, they were not able to accomplish this, and many differing opinions were expressed as to "which way that fellah bin go?" Failing in this effort and getting into stony country, with rations falling short and his horses knocked up, Walker at length came to the conclusion that Burke must have made for home by way of Queensland, and decided to return himself by that route. He reached a station on the Don River early in April, 1862 and learnt the facts on arrival.

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