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Surveyor's Field Notes

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2082/6a and 2082/6b, Item 1. Victorian Exploring Expedition Records, Botanical, meteorological and astronomical observations of the VEE.
William Wills surveyor's field notes, 17 to 23 September 1860 and 23 to 27 September 1860.

Field notes from Balranald to Bilbarka

Camp No. 30, Darling River.
September 28th, 1860.

The Secretary of the
Exploration Committee.


I do myself the honour to forward to the Committee my first report together with a sketch of the route taken by the party from the township of Balranald on the Murrumbidgee to our current position on the Darling. I also suppose sending if possible any original field notes and a copy of the astronomical observations made during the journey.

With respect to the plan of our route, I would draw your attention to the fact that it is but a very rough approximation to the north as it will be easily seen must be the case from the nature of the survey. It is an exceedingly difficult matter to estimate correctly the rate of travelling of such a party as ours as hitherto been and to allow for the bends and turns in a bush road winding about through dense mallee scrub and box forests. In order to obtain a satisfactory map of the route attempted...




...it will be necessary that all the astronomical observations should be carefully reduced and the dead reckoning checked and adjusted accordingly. The accompanying plan has been roughly constructed in the following manner. A plot of the field notes has been made estimating the rate of progress at three miles an hour and allowing six to seven degrees for east variation (all the bearings being magnetic). By this plot we obtain very nearly the relative positions of the places although their distances may be significantly out, then by removing the stations at which astronomical observations were obtained to their respective parallels of latitude, retaining their bearings, as on the plot, we have a rough approximation to their true positions.

One of the chief objects in view in keeping the field notes has been to make such observations as may be used for ascertaining the levels of all the more prominent points passed. For this purpose and aneroid barometer and the temperature of air has been noted on the tops of the observations and in the lowest parts of the depressions every ten minutes or every half hour according to the nature of the ground.

In regards the astronomical observations, I may state that they have been made with these two objects mainly in view, firstly for our own immediate use and secondly for the purpose of determining satisfactorily at a future day the position of the places visited.




The instruments are all in good order and I have every reason to be satisfied with them. The want of an assistant prevents me from working out any calculations except what are absolutely necessary for our use in travelling, for I consider that I should not be justified in neglecting to make observations that can only be made now for the sake of computations that can be done at any future day.

For our journey across from Balranald we could scarcely have had a more favourable season. The whole of the country is of a very sandy nature and unfit for retaining surface water, but what makes things worse is that it seldom has its capabilities in that respect tested for rain is quite an uncommon thing. At present the greater portion of the land looks very fine and one can scarcely imagine it ever looking as bare and barren as it probably will in a few months. The only rock to be seen is either limestone or sandstone, the former is found of great quality for burning purposes in many places and a dam is being built of the latter near Terrickenkom. It is said to be a good dam but I did not see it.

Salsolaceous plants are very plentiful everywhere, they are the only reliable portion...




...of vegetation in a botanical point of view. There is however a good show of grass in the vicinity of [?] but all evidence is expecting that this has been an extraordinary season, so it is hardly fair to judge from what we have seen.

Subjoined is a list of the camps we have made since leaving Melbourne.

I have the honor to be,
Your most obedient servant,
W J Wills.

August 20th Essendon No 1   September 13th Talbett's 18
  21st Inverness 2   14th Plains 19
22nd Gardner's 3 15 &16th Balranald 20
23rd Lancefield 4 17th near Lake Paika 21
24th Dr Baynton's 5 18th Tinn 22
25 & 26th Mia Mia 6 19th Tcherickenkom 23
27th Matheson's 7 20th Bookoo 24
28th Kennedy's 8 21st Eungin 25
29th Patterson's 9 22nd Goowall 26
30 &31st Terrick Terrick 10 23rd Linklinkwhoo 27
September 1st Mount Hope 11 24th Kormpang 28
  2 & 3rd Booth & Holloway 12 25th McPherson's 29
4th Reedy Lake 13 26th Camp on Darling 30
5th Plains 14  
6 to 10th Swan Hill 15
11th North of the Murray 16
12th McKenzie's Outstation 17

Monday 17 September 1860.
Started from the township of Balranald at noon leaving Mr Burke, Brahe, Ferguson, Langan, McIllwaine and a hindoo with four Camels one horse and some stores. proceeded on the track to Lake Paika with the object in view of finding a short road to Lake Meninda. Rested at 2h 25m pm with the Camels to allow the waggons to overtake us; the country travelled up to that time was chiefly salt bush plains intersected with hills of blown sand, the latter being generally covered with mallee scrub and Porcupine grass, or pines, melaleuca and broom. The more open country supports various kinds of fine salt-bush, Exocarpus, Boree and several other acacias, the ground is throughout very level, the sandhills although very loose and soft seldom exceed 10 or 12 feet in altitude. the soil is all of a sandy nature and the only trace of stone to be seen was a few nodules of limestone cement cropping out on some of the rises. there is at present plenty of graß on all the plains and water in most of the crabholes. the great variety of Salsolaceous plants is very remarkable. Started again at 3h 25m pm passed through a narrow strip of casuarina forest and at 3h 40m came on an extensive plain covered with stunted salt bush and having the soil incrusted with salts (in) which had the taste of common salt greatly preponderated. in the midst of the plain, near the road, is a bank of soft, spongy, white substance, apparently an infusiorial calcareous deposit; in this substance not the slightest trace of a saline flavour could be detected; nor did the particles feel gritty in the mouth, Specimen No 1 on Dr Beckler's collection was obtained from near the top of the rise. We camped at 4h 20m pm on a flat about one mile from Lake Paika. There was rainwater in a crabhole, plenty of feed for the horses and camels. the night was rather cold and windy with a few showers of rain.

Tuesday 18 September 1860.
Left camp shortly after 9 o'clock and after passing over a sand rise, came on the SE bank of Lake Paika. Stayed a few minutes at the Paddock fence (Morris' Station) to inquire about the road, amd then struck off in a westerly direction round the south side of Lake Paika, under the guidance of a black fellow who had been sent to show us the way to Mr Ross' out-station. The lake appears to be very shallow although we were informed to the contrary; the banks slope very gradually up from the edge of the water to a distance of about 700 links (140 metres –DGP). They are composed of a whitish, firm sand, and are very low except on the E & SE side. After passing Lake Paika we found the country much the same as before, for about eight miles, the only great difference being in the extent of the plains, two of which were very large, the ground throughout was not quite as sandy as that on the south side of Lake Paika. We rested from 11h 14m am to 2h 3m pm to allow the camels to feed and the waggons to up to us. I then took the opportunity of making some circum-meridian altitudes of 34º 26' S, this spot being about 4½ miles NWbyW (303.75º -DGP) from the Lake. At 3h 15m being about 8 miles NW of Paika, we came to a belt of dense Box Forest with an underwood op Salsolaceous plants, the soil was here very sandy and of a grey appearance looking very much like the detritus of Granite rocks that I looked about for some further indication of their proximity, but without success. I must say that form the general appearance of the country, the presence would have much surprised me in spite of the look of the sand above mentioned. This belt of timber was five or six chains wide (100-120m –DGP), and there was a slight inclination in the sandy ground from the plain we had been traversing towards that one to which we were approaching. After passing through the above mentioned belt we came to a vary large plain, which appeared to be 6 or 10 feet below the one we had just crossed, this plain contrasted remarkably with the features of the surrounding country. The soil is rather hard and white with a great many holes ands crevices through which the water apparently drained away, it would seem to be a perfect quick sand in wet weather, in some places, judging from the marks of cattle hoofs visible here and there. It probably contained a large per centage of Gypsum and I noticed several places where the “Blacks” appear to have been digging for crystals of selenite which they use for making their white paint. On the NW side of the Plain we found the ground to rise again about 8 feet the whole plain had much the appearance of a large dry lake. The vegetation on this plain was not leß remarkable than its other characteristics, of Salsolaceous plants there were very few but Marsh Mallows were plentiful, also wild Geraniums mixed with a few heaths and grasses. Scarcely a tree could be seen on the plain, but there were few dead sticks standing here and there. Beyond this we found fine plains of Salt-Bush lightly timbered with Box. At 4h 54m we camped near somne water holes called by the “Blacks – Tinn” – where there is an out station of Mr Ross'.

Wednesday 19 September 1860, Tinn.
Obtained last night some latitude observations with “Altair” and some Lunar Distances with “Mars” and “Formalhaut”. Left Tinn with the Camels at 9h40m AM the waggons having been sent on ahead shortly after 8h00m AM as we find they cannot keep up with the camels. The water holes at Tinn appear to be supplied by the drainage from some slight rises, which are scarcely [?] to the appellation of sand hills, as there appears to be such an admixture of clay in them to allow them being almost impervious to the rain water and at the same time not enough to make them crack under the influence of the sun. Our [?] course from Tinn was NNW towards a sand hill distant about 6 miles, having passed on the right hand side of which, we continued in nearly the same direction towards the east end of a belt of timber which we found to be about 5½ miles further. Before reaching the timber we overtook the waggons and at some crab holes filled with water, where we rested for 1½ hours to let the Camels feed. We started again at 2h 51m and found the timber to which we had been steering to be composed chiefly of Pines and scrubby shrubs growing on low sandy rises, on the tops and sides of which could frequently be seen small pieces of Limestone cropping out. there would appear to be a considerable extent of this undulating country. the tops of the rises are mostly covered with Pines, Acacias, small Eucalypt and and [sic] sometimes with Melaleucas + Casuarina the intermediate spaces are lightly timbered and clothed with abundance of Salsolaceous plants. The soil on the plains is a light grey grain, containing as may be imagined very little vegetable matter; that about the rises is reddish and sandy and contains a large quantity of lime. We arrived at another out station of Mr Ross' at 4h21m and camped at 4h32m on a water course which drains into a dry Lake to the westward. The name of this place is “Tcherickinghom”; there is permanent water either here or at “Tinn” and the stations can seldom be occupied for more than three months in each year. A dam is however being now built of brick which it is anticipated will retain sufficient when once filled, for the greater portion of the year, but when it will be filled is a matter of considerable uncertainty. All settlers that we have seen say that they have not seen such heavy rains in several years and judging from the small quantity of water now to be seen around here, I should think it will very likely be two or three years before the dam will be filled. The Blacks that are found here belong to the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan, to which Rivers they retire as soon as the water dries up in the on the Plains.

Thursday 20 September 1860, Tcherickenghom.
Started at 8 minutes past 11 with the camels, the wagons had gone on ahead before, but were late on account of a difficulty in finding the horses. We had the choice of two tracks, with neither of them very direct. The one tending to the eastward and the other to the west; the latter is said to be 20 miles longer than the former, but having been reported to be the best road for the waggons was chosen by Mr Burke. At first we had to go almost SSW for some distance in order to avoid a dense pine scrub; we then changed our course to WSW and at a distance of three miles crossed the bottom end of a dry lake, into which the creek on which we camped last night drains. The depression of the bed of the lake, below the level of the surrounding land, is very considerable for this part of the country, being about 30 feet. Beyond the Lake the sand rises, I cannot call them hills, shewed pieces of Limestone of a more compact nature. The soil was of a light dusty nature – brick coloured and in some places crab holy. The vegetation is chiefly scrubby, Mallee, Quandong, Acacias and Salsolaceous plants. We camped at half-past 6 at a place called by the natives Bookoo, where sufficient water was obtained for supper, but none for breakfast next morning. One of the waggons could not come up to the camp, but remained all night in the Mallee. Obtained during the night some good Latitude & Longitude observations, by the former we find ourselves about 4 miles further south than we were two days ago.

Friday 21 September 1860.
Having no water for breakfast we left Bookkoo at half past 6 AM to go to Eungin, which Martin the black fellow informed us was five or six miles off, but we found it to be about nine miles or at least eight miles. The first portion of the rad was similar to that which we passed yesterday, viz; brick coloured dusty soil mixed with a considerable quantity of limestone. At about 7 miles from Bookoo we came to a low range of Sandstone Hills devoid of timber and scrub excepting a few small trees on one of the peaks. These hills had a remarkable appearance from their baldness and from their running on the narrow line nearly N-S. Below the hills the ground is low and flat, having the appearance of the bed of a dry lake, on the western side of this flat is a water hole called by the natives “Eungin”. I believe it contains a spring but I could not certainly ascertain further as to that point or as to its permanence, for there seems to be great difference of opinion on these points. We arrived with the Camels at “Eungin” at quarter to 10 AM, but six of the waggons did not come up to us until near 5 o'clock in the evening. Owing to difficulties experienced in bringing the waggons through the sandy ground, Mr Burke has determined proceeding with the Camels & Horses and a few weeks rations leaving the waggons to follow at their own rate.

Saturday 22 September 1860.
Started with the Camels and Pack Horses from Eungin at 12h 20m PM and proceeded about 7 miles in a NNW direction. At 4½ miles from Eungin we passed an outstation where there is a well of water; there is also some tolerable water at Goowall, where we camped. In the morning I obtained some good circum-meridian Altitudes of Altair & Markab which place Goowall in Lat 34º 8' 30” S and also some good Longitude Observations. We continued on our journey in the same direction at 7h 49m on Sunday morning. We had as a guide form Eungin “Simon” a blackfellow who took us along an out station track till about 11 miles from Goowall, when we left it on our left. The country from Eungin to about 9 miles beyond Goowall is much the same as that between Eungin and Tcherickinghom, the only difference being that in the former the undulations are greater – varying between 20 and 40 feet in altitude. at 9 miles from Goowall the features of the country undergo a considerable changes for the better. Coarse grasses take the place of numberless horse daisies and everlastings, the salt bushes look fresher and more substantial and the country looks altogether more open and fertile. At a quarter past 3 we reached a water hole containing a small quantity of green putrid liquid [Pintsch Waterhole –DGP] of which the horses drank. As there was plenty of feed for the cattle we rested a short time for refreshment and then proceeded in a N direction for Scotts Plains Station. At a quarter past 5 we arrived at a water hole called Linklinkwho, where we camped. Professor Neumayer did not come up to us last night and as he had my sextant with him, I was unable to observe the position of the camp; but from the dead reckoning it must be about 21 miles NNW from Goowall. Linklinkwho is situated in an extensive plain on the south side of a sand rise, 6000 links [1.2km-DGP] to the west of a point of timber and two miles and a half south of Meramboo (Scott's Plains Station) it is supplied with water only from surface drainage and is not permanent. The country in the neighbourhood is well grassed and carries plenty of fine salt bush.


Monday 24 September 1860.
Professor Neumeyar's cart made its appearance on the plain this morning at half pat eight, just as we were starting from Linklinkwho. It appeared that he had had some difficulty in following the tracks through the scrub and finding it very late and his horses very tired, he camped at the muddy water hole at Pintsch where there was plenty of feed, but the water was so bad that neither he or his man could drink it. At about 2½ miles from Linklinkwho in a northerly direction we passed “Murrambo” a Plains Station of Scott's, near which there is a permanent spring. For about six miles from Murrumbo in nearly the same direction there is fine open salt bush country with a little scattered timber, then there is sixty or seventy chains [1200-1400m–DGP] of sandy ground covered with Mallee and Porcupine grass. Next to this come some fine sand hills covered with picturesque clumps of Pines, [word crossed out] the appearance of which is very interesting and enlivening to one who may be riding a spongy footed Camel; but by no means agreeable to the driver of an American Waggon. At rather more than a mile from the first of these sand rises we came to a gully in which was a muddy water hole called by the blacks Kornpang and as there is no more water on the road for eighteen miles, Mr Burke decided on camping here and going to the Darling tomorrow, said to be distant 30 miles. There is very good feed here for the Cattle but the water is not at all good, it both looks and tastes very like what one would suppose would be the taste of chalk and water with a little ink in it.

Tuesday 25 September 1860.
Started from Kormpang at five minutes past eight AM not very well pleased at the westerly direction the blackfellow was leading us. Crossed at first some salt bush plains and a Polygonum flat. At about seven miles from Kornpang in a WbyN direction we entered the Mallee scrub again and from there we had to traverse and uninterrupted series of sand hills clothed with dense Mallee, Oines and Porcupine grass. In some places the features of the scrub are slightly varied by the appearance of Melaleucas and Acacias. The sand rises vary in altitude from 15 to 40 feet and run in direction mainly east and west. They seem to be large ripples formed by prevailing northerly winds. Two or three years meteorological observations made in the vicinity would I think prove very interesting, especially with regard to the hot winds which are probably very strong here. for five hours we had nothing but these sand hills when we again came on the salt bush plains. About 3 o'clock a thunderstorm passed over, the heavy rain and the noise of the thunder frightened the Camels very much, they seem greatly to dislike the wert but have no sense in getting out of it by sheltering themselves behind a bush or tree, but get first in a fright and then resign themselves patiently to their fate. The country we paßed through was principally salt bush plains until within a few miles of McPherson's Homestead, we then came to some Box Forest and Polygonum ground which was exceedingly heavy to walk on after the rain. Mr Landells remained behind looking for one of the Camels that was bought from Coppin. It had succeeded in doing what it had several times previously attempted, namely to get away and hide in the scrub. We camped in a bend of the River near McPhersons. Mr Landells came without having found the stray Camel. It was squally and rained steadily all the night and it was with some difficulty that the tents were kept up, the ground being so soft as scarcely to hold the pegs.

Wednesday 26 September 1860.
Shifted our camp about five miles up the river in order to get better feed for the horses. Have to stay here a few days to see about bringing on the wagons they cannot possibly come the way we came but will have to go by Scotts Homestation and come in on the river twenty miles lower down. Mr Landells succeeded in [locating?] Mister Coppin he was found three or four miles to the west of where he was lost. There is news from Menindee that the river is rising.


Provenance: A note from Burke & Wills Web.
Wills' first field survey has never been published. It contains meteorological, botanical and astronomical observations and was written when he was third-in-command under Burke and Landells. It covers the period of 16 September 1860 to 27 September 1860 while the lead party of the Victorian Exploring Expedition was traversing the country from Camp XX on the Murrumbidgee at Balranald to Camp XXX on the Darling River at Bilbarka (Pooncarie). The report was taken to Melbourne from the Darling by Professor Neumeyer and the astronomical observations were sent on later by mail.

Edwin Welch, an employee of Georg Neumayer at the Flagstaff Observatory in Melbourne, transcribed the two field-books and reduced the astronomical observations.
This transcription is at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2084/6g.
Victorian Exploring Expedition Records, William Wills meteorological observations.
Transcription of Wills' Field book of Exploring Expedition, 16 September-27 September 1860.
Transcribed by Edwin Welch at the Flagstaff Observatory, Melbourne, 38p. Box 2082/6a Wills' surveyor's field notes, 17 to 23 September 1860.

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