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October 1861

Edwin James Welch,
1. Journal of Contingent Exploration Party, ML C332 (CY 1115) State Library of New South Wales
2. Field book No 1. Box 2087/7, Item a, MS13071, State Library of Victoria

Edwin Welch, surveyor and second in command of Howitt's Victorian Relief Expedition, found John King at Cooper Creek.

Tuesday, 1 October 1861.
Left Camp at 6.55 AM and continued retracing our track, over a country already described. At 11.30 passed Camp XXVII, but all the water was dried up. We accordingly struck in to the creek and in about 1.7 miles reached a fine large pool in the main channel. We camped here, and found ourselves near a very large camp of blacks, the main portions of which however, were out fishing. On taking a stroll up the creek with the gun, I unconsciously surprised two of the ladies bathing, who at first appeared rather frightened, without being in the least bashful, and soon recovered their equanimity and invited me to come in and join them. We also passed a large camp on the bank of the creek while travelling today, members of whom came to us with nardoo cakes and pitcheri, and an invitation to their camp, which however, circumstances prevented our accepting. I got a nardoo cake from one of them and gave him in return a strip of my pocket handkerchief, which pleased him exceedingly, I think on account of the colour, it being red silk. Their kindness was certainly not altogether disinterested; with the exception of one man, these same people had run from us on our approach, when going down the creek, but one of the tribe King had lived with, was now with them, and his representations of our gifts &c.- at Camp XXXII, had doubtless wrought this wondrous change. Towards evening, the men belonging to the tribe, near which we were camped, returned from their fishing excursion and one by one they stealthily approached our camp to have a look at us. Mr Howitt gave some of them had the remainder of the packet of knives and looking glasses, the latter of which produced very ludicrous effects on many of them. They soon became very friendly, and one or two of the "party" imbued with this spirit of trade, soon started them trading their nets and boomerangs &c.- for old rags or matches. For an old pair of trousers, I obtained one man's wardrobe conflict, consisting of a girdle grass rope and a grass net for confining their hair; and unfortunately nothing of the sort could be obtained from the ladies as they ran about in a perfect, state of nature, untrammelled by either girdles or nets. One of the men had a broken arm just above the wrist, which the Doctor set and bandaged up for him, the others gathering round deeply interested in the operation. Just as it became dark, we startled and amused them greatly by sending up rockets and burning blue lights, for had they not seen us stand so close to them, they would doubtless have run into the scrub, which as it was they seem greatly inclined to do, but seeing them handled and fired, they satisfied themselves with expressions of great astonishment. We shortly after sent them away to their camp, but they made their appearance several times after.

Wednesday, 2 October, near Camp XXVI.
Almost immediately after daylight and this morning, our friends of last night made their appearance and sat down yabbering close to the camp, desperately intent on trade, but by this time most of us were satisfied. I had the greatest possible fun with some of them by showing my watch, the tick of which they could not at all make out, but the finishing stroke was by touching the spring and letting the case fly open, this frightened them so much they got up and ran away, and did not return until I left the spot. When the horses were brought up, they shifted farther away, ejaculating loudly "Yarramandy, Yarramandy" and would not again come near us. We left the camp shortly before 8.00 AM, and continued on the track to the sand ridges near which we had previously formed Camp XXVI. On a small pool of muddy surface water, we camped, greatly annoyed by the flies, mosquitoes and ants. Fine day with a gentle breezes from south eastward, cloudless sky. King getting very fat, but regaining strength slowly.

Thursday, 3 October.
Started at 7.30 AM and proceeded on the track over earthy plains to Camp XXV, wishing to shorten as much as possible the distance from this place to the tank, we pushed on about 2 miles and camped on a small pool of brackish water in the bed of a billabong of the creek. A few light drops of rain during the day and closed in towards evening, very threatening, with livid lightning from NE and NW but distant. Between 7 and 8 PM a heavy squall came up from the westward, lasting for about 20 minutes, chain and forked lightning very vivid. At this time Phillips was away from the camp on horseback, Mr Howitt having sent him about 10 miles on the track to look for water, and as he had not returned as soon as expected, we lit large fires and sent up several rockets. Shortly after we heard at cooey and he soon made his appearance, but unfortunately had not found water. A little after 8.00 PM it became quite fine and clear, the squalls having travelled rapidly to the southward having cooled the air very much but not left enough water behind to fill a pint pot. A blackfellow's fire which had been visible at some little distance, after dusk, was extinguished immediately the first rocket was fired and not seen afterwards.

Friday, 4 October.
As great doubts were entertained about finding water on ahead, the camels were sent in to the creek this morning at sunrise and all the bags filled with good water. On the return at 12.20 PM we started, left Cooper's Creek and traversed the last earthy plains, and on to the sand rises. The country seems much fresher and greener, with more grass than when we came up, but water not nearly so plentiful. We however found enough for the horses in a polygnum channel between two sand rises, where we camped having come about 11 miles, or half-way to the tank. Just after the sun set, I observed while yet daylight, that disappearance only of a splendid meteor, quite half the size of the moon, of a bright white light, and throwing off a shower of sparks. Disappeared at about 8° above the horizon W20°S having been travelling in an apparently perpendicular course to it.

Saturday, 5 October, Tank Camp.
When we were about ready to start from camp this morning, King's bridle could not be found, which seemed very extraordinary as he was quite soon after having left it near his saddle. After the packing was finished, all hands commenced a search and eventually it was found in six or seven different pieces scattered about in the polygnum. Fresh native dog tracks and marks of teeth on the bridle showed plainly enough the authors of the mischief, but too late as it was completely destroyed. Left the camp at 7.45 AM and proceeded to the Tank Camp, where we arrived at 10.15 AM, and finding plenty of water, both in the tank and channel in which it was dug, we camped here. Passed plenty of small muddy water holes on the road and found excellent feed on the sand rises over which we travelled. Fine day, with a cloudless sky and fresh cool breeze from south easterly, gradually veering to the northward.

Sunday, 6 October, Surprise Creek.
Left Camp at the tank at 7.15 AM and proceeded on our old track for three miles, over a grassy undulating sandy country, lightly scrubbed and bearing a variety of beautiful shrubs in flower. We left these rises and the tracks almost at the same time, the latter on a small stony plain, bearing away to the southward. Continued on a S50°E course, intending to cross the Stokes's Ranges at a gap appearing in that direction, that being where the depot party had crossed after leaving Cooper's Creek, and which had been found a much easier road to travel than the one we had come. After traversing about 7 miles of clay plains, thickly covered with loose stones, we crossed a dry creek from the westward, in a bend, and shortly after re-crossed it in another place. From this, we ascended the ranges by a gradual slope, finding them the same in detail as where we crossed higher up, but not nearly so steep or rugged; and the horses being now shod we appeared to travel much more easily. In a little more than 6 miles, struck a fine channel of surface water, about 16 feet wide and 3 feet deep, extending for a great distance, nearly north and south; contained in a creek bed apparently a continuation of the deep creek we had before crossed just previous to getting out of the ranges. We camped here at 1.00 PM, and named it "Surprise Creek", as it certainly very much astonished us, to see so much water, where we had calculated on finding none. Latitude of camp 28°9' S. Longitude 142°15' E. Fine day, wind shifted shortly after noon from east to east northeast and became much warmer.

Monday, 7 October, Keppel's Creek.
Left Camp at Surprise Creek at 8.00 AM, and proceeded to cross the ranges on a nearly south easterly course. We found them much more open, less scrubby. In fact better in all respects for travelling than on the track to the westward. Crossed three creeks and at 3.00 PM camped on the fourth, of the same nature as the Surprise Creek, and each containing a tolerable supply of good storm water, but the soil does not appear capable of holding it long. The first two of three creeks, Mr Howitt called respectively Duncan's Creek and Wood Duck Creek. The third I named after my old shipmate J H Jaggs, and the fourth, on which we are had camped, after Mr Keppel. The probability of finding water on this track, at any time of the year, will of itself proved a great recommendation for its adoption by future travellers, to or from Cooper's Creek; it is decidedly the best of the three, being much shorter than the one by Bulloo, and better to travel than either that, or the one to the westward. The weather this morning was fine, clear and calm till about 8.00 AM when a light breeze sprang up on the south eastward, which gradually veered round to the northward, eventually settling at north half west, blowing in furious gusts all the afternoon, with a very threatening sky. Distance travelled 18 miles. And latitude 28°17' S. Longitude 142°30' E. Shortly after 6.00 PM a heavy squall of wind, thunder and lightning passed over to the south eastward, lasting only a few moments.

Tuesday, 8 October, Camp XXI, Junction Camp.
Left Camp at Keppel's Creek at 7.15 AM and proceeded on a SSE course out of the Stokes's Ranges, and at 9.00 AM came on open clay plains, very dry and destitute of vegetation, and covered with patches of small loose stones. Kept the same course and travelled over a succession of clay pan plains and low sand rises for nearly 10 miles, when we entered a patch of open gum forest, after this came to a high red sand ridge, east and west, nearly covered with mesembryanthemum in full flower, crossing which we struck the old track at Camp XXI. Formed camp again at the same place, naming it the "Junction Camp". Feed and water may, I think, being generally depended on here. Distance travelled 22 miles. Latitude 28°33'S. Longitude 142°32' E. Fine, clear and pleasant day with a gentle breeze from SE. Appearance of the gap in the Stokes Range is, where the track enters from the southward as seen from the camp at Keppel's Creek.

Wednesday, 9 October. Poria Creek.
Left camp at 6.40 AM and proceeded on the old track to Poria Creek where we camped at 1.00 PM, and found that Conn's party had paid the place a visit and dug up a letter for the Committee, which had been planted by Mr Howitt when he left. Fine and pleasant weather.

Thursday, 10 October.
Remained in camp at Poria Creek to give the horses a rest, and prepare despatches for town. Fine day, gentle breeze from south westward.

Friday, 11 October, Camp XIX, Kurlijer.
Travelled from Poria to Kurlijer and camped near old Camp No XIX. Plenty of water in a clay pan drain, and very fair feed. At Poria this morning, just at daybreak, observed a splendid meteor near the zenith, size of Venus, with a long train of sparks E to EbyS. Brahe and Phillips left the party with despatches for Melbourne, the former only to go right through, Phillips remaining at Menindie. King getting so fat he can hardly see, and for anyone who had not seen him day after day since he was found, he might set recognition at defiance. Splendid weather for travelling.

Saturday, 12 October.
Proceeded southwards on the track from Kurlijer, from 8.15 AM to 4.00 PM making a distance of 22 miles and camped 4 miles SSE of the Carryapundy Swamp, or about 5 miles past Camp XVII. Carried water for the stock. Country looking very dry, although signs of rain are visible since we passed up. Very fine weather, clear with cool breezes, and temperature much lower, having been down to 39°F after midnight. Picked up a Warrigle puppy on the road. Had a yarn today with King, about the blacks on Cooper's creek, and learnt that the Pitcheri, which is the roasted stems of a certain sort of scrub, is used by them in the same way as tobacco by the whites. They chew it after roasting, and it has the sort of stupefying effect; so much so, that he says after chewing it for a few minutes, he felt quite happy and perfectly indifferent about his position, in fact much the same effect as might be produced by two pretty stiff nobblers of brandy. After chewing it, they do not throw it away, but place it behind the ear, much in the same style as a sailor places his quid in his hat, until it has lost all its goodness. Offering of this Pitcheri pill to a stranger, is the greatest expression of amity, which however we did not at first understand, and felt rather disgusted than otherwise when they used to force upon our acceptance, their nasty dirty looking balls of that chewed grass, as it appeared to be. It is however only used amongst themselves, by the senior portion of the community, both men and women, and for young man to use it he is made a subject of ridicule.

Sunday, 13 October, Cannilta Creek.
Travelled to Cannilta, found the country much drier than it was. Water is still in the clay pans and at the camp, but not so much, also good as before.

Monday, 14 October.
Left Cannilta at 8.20 AM, carrying a full supply of water. Passed Camp XVI (Flagstaff) and proceeded for about 8 miles where we found a good supply of muddy water in some holes near the small tank of Wright's: about 3 miles north of Altoka. Camped here, not much feed, but water is just now the principal consideration, a great deal of which has dried up since we were here. Beautiful weather, clear sky and light breeze from south eastward.

Tuesday, 15 October, Camp XIV, Chance Waterhole.
Travelled from Camp near Altoka to Torowoto, and camped on the "Chance Waterhole" (at former Camp XIV). Not so much water by one half, and the country all looking very dry and parched. I felt very unwell and was taken in hand by the Doctor on coming to camp, who said I had symptoms of colonial fever; took from him one of the vilest compounds in the shape of medicine that ever was perpetrated, and turned in. In addition, the cut on the back of the hand which I got the other day at Cannilta, in breaking a dead bough for firewood, has poisoned and become a case of poultice and sling. Hot wind since noon.

Wednesday, 16 October.
Remained in camp today to give the horses and camels rest, also King who was a little knocked up with the long ride yesterday. Felt very seedy all day. Arm very painful from the wound on the hand; did not take any meteorological registrations, the first day missed since leaving the depot at Menindee. Boiling hot day, with a strong hot wind from N to NWbyW. Cloudless sky and the sun hot like a furnace.

Thursday, 17 October, Camp XI, Benkalagee.
Left the Camp at the "Chance Waterhole" at 8.00 AM, carrying a full supply of water and struck a SW compass course for Camp XI, near Mount Benkallagee, distant about 36 miles, and with the intention of making the same in two stages. Mr Howitt however in going off the track to look for water, could not find as again, and we accordingly went on, to within about 9 or 10 miles of the camp, before he overtook us. We had then been back to the camels, which were a long distance behind us; one of them (Samla) knocked up principally from a bad foot, the result of a fight with Coppin, senior for the command. Being so near certain water and the horses quite fresh from yesterday's spell, it was decided to proceed, and at 8.30 PM we reached the Benkallagee Camp, and found plenty of water in the channel. Some blacks who were here on our arrival, told our black boys that the water is permanent, a fact with which we were not before acquainted, but the appearance of the channel is very likely, and the supply of drainage water after the rains, must be enormous. Estimated travelled a distance 37 miles, the first 20 of which from Torowoto is of a very undulating sandy nature, well grassed, with fine herbage, and thickly scrubbed with Mulga. We found it very dry, and the sand rises are generally very hard travelling on account of the way in which they are undermined by of rats, leaving only a thin crust on top, which gives with a slight weight and down goes man or beast, sometimes as much as 18 inches in the sand. The country between this and the camp is fine open plains, with patches of small gravelly quartz, gradually giving place to clay pans on nearing the channel, which is evidently the central drain of this part, for a large radius. The place is well marked by a small clump of timber, larger than any other, to be seen near it, standing at one end of the channel. The feed is very good all round in a region where water is so scarce, the place affords a first rate camp. The early part of the day was warm, but tempered by a breeze from the southward, which however changed to the WSW shortly after noon, and blew in gusts, like hot blasts from a furnace, just the same as if from N or NW, the first time I have ever noticed it from that quarter. Arm very sore, still obliged to wear it in a sling.

Friday, 18 October.
Remained in Camp all day to rest the horses and camels, the latter of which did not arrive until afternoon, having being camped about 10 miles behind us; and were much knocked up. Fine day, very warm with variable wins.

Saturday, 19 October, Remaining in camp.
Mr Howitt and one man went with a couple of niggers over to the Goningberri Mountains to examine the country. Fine day but very warm, 100°F in the shade (highest yet). View taken from the marked tree at this Camp (XI).

Sunday, 20 October.
Remained in Camp. Fine day with an unpleasant hot wind from north eastward. Mr Howitt and party returned in the evening.

Monday, 21 October.
Remained in Camp, nearly dead with [fever], and to add to the general discomfort, a violent hot wind from NE to NW and blowing all day. Camels went on to Wonnominta, been compelled to travel short stage is only. Heavy but distant thunderstorm and between 9 and 10 PM to the westward, travelling northwards.

Tuesday, 22 October, Camp IX, Conn's Creek.
Left Camp at Benkallagee at 8.25 AM. Proceeded on the track to Camp X at Wonnominta Creek. From here we struck a SbyW compass course, over a low the gravelly quartz rises, well grassed but dry. In 12 miles reached Camp No IX at Conn's Creek and at 3.45 PM camped here, water not so plentiful as before. Camels were already here when we arrived, having been had camped last night on some fine water holes about 1.2 miles S26°W of Camp X at Wonnominta.

Wednesday, 23 October, Camp VIII, Nuntharungee.
Left Camp at 8.00 AM and proceeded on the track to Camp VIII where we arrived and camped at 3.00 PM (Nuntherungee Creek). Found no water in the hole, which was partly filled in, but after clearing it about 6 feet down, octane had a plentiful supply running in as fast as it could be bailed out with a quart pot. Very clean, but are decidedly unpleasant [overall] taste. Very dull and threatening weather with a few scattered drops of rain at long intervals and looking very much like thunder.

Thursday, 24 October, Nonthangbullo.
Left Camp at Nuntherungee Creek at 8.00 AM, and proceeding on the old track southwards, in 21 miles, camped at Nonthangbullo at 3.15 PM. Found the water less since our last visit by about 3 feet, and evident sign that no spring exists, and that's the permanency of the water as described by the blacks, depends entirely on the amount of rain, which failing, I much question, whether after long drought, water would be found here at all. When about 3 miles distant from the ranges this morning, Mr Howitt and I he left the track and struck him towards them on a S45°E course, with a view of intercepting the head of the Tirtinga Creek, which we did, but found it perfectly dry, another proof that the statement of the blacks with regard to the permanent water are not to be depended on; in fact in the state act as they do in most other matters, and so as they think will be most likely to please the Enquirer, with a "Mine think it" and "Not mine think it" without the slightest regard to what they really do think. Weather very dull and heavy. Aneroid down to 29.150, but only a few scattered drops of a light rain.

Friday, 25 October, Camp VI, Mutwongee.
Travelled from Nonthangbullo to Camp VI at Mutwongee and gave the cattle a spell for the rest of the day. Water has decreased, but not so much as at Nongthanbullo, and of the two, I should feel inclined to say this is the most permanent. Weather fine and pleasant.

Saturday, October 26.
Left Camp at 9.15 AM and proceeded on the track, carrying a full supply of water. At 3.15 PM arrived at Botrieka, which we found perfectly dry, and accordingly went on to about 2 miles past Botoja (also dry) and camped on a sand rise at 4.40 PM, with very good feed, but dry, and no water anywhere near. Gave the horses a small quantity from the bags, and watched them during the night. Fine and pleasant day.

Sunday, October 27, Kokriega.
Left Camp at 6.10 AM and proceeded past Bilpa at 10.15 AM (water all gone), and at 1.15 PM camped in the cave at Kokriega. Found about three buckets of water in the two wells, which when bailed out, ran in so slowly, that we were obliged to give the horses the small remaining quantity in the bags, which only ran about ½ a bucket each. Everything thing seems very dry and parched and the permanency of the water here, evidently depends as much on rain, as does that in Daubeny Ranges. Fine in the forenoon, afternoon a few light showers, and evening closed in very threatening. The horses being so much in want of water would not feed, we accordingly drove them into the gully and lit fires at each end, to watch them until moon rise and make a start, but shortly after 11.00 PM a light steady rain set in, and prevented the arrangement.

Monday, 28 October, Depot Camp, Ptomarmora Creek.
Rain continued until about 6.00 AM, in spite of which we breakfasted at 3.30 AM, packed up and started at 5.30 AM, and before going many miles found several small deposits of water in the clay pans near the track; this quenched the thirst of the horses, and apparently knowing where they were, they struck out in good earnest, and at 11.45 AM we struck the head of the Ptomarmora Swamp, and camped for dinner and gave the horses a short spell. At 3.00 PM we again packed up and proceeded, and at 6.30 PM arrived at the depot camp, near Menindee. Found the river flooded to a great height, and the surrounding flats totally submerged.

Tuesday, 29 October.
Employed fixing camp &c.- &c.- Weather fine and pleasant, with a fresh breeze from northward.

Wednesday 34 October.
In camp. Employed as requisite. Fine and days, with a fresh westerly breeze.

Thursday, 31 October.
In camp. Employed as requisite. Had a pleasant bedfellow last night, in the shape of a scorpion, 4¾ inches from the clause to the stinger, the largest I have yet seen.

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