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3-137 (Original)

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addressee author,male,Gregory, Charles Augustus,38
Narrative Discourse
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Private Written
Fitzpatrick, 1958
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20th November - Commenced shoeing the horses and made preparations for a journey up the Victoria, to reconnoitre the country previous to starting for the interior.
24th November. [...] At 2.0 p.m., left the camp, accompanied by Messrs. H. Gregory, Wilson and Mueller, with seven horses and twenty days' provisions, the object being to examine the country through which the exploring party will have to travel on the route to the interior; at 6 a.m. bivouacked at Timber Creek; in the principal channel of the creek there were many small pools of water, and the grass was fresh and green on the flats. Except on the banks of the river and creeks, the country is very poor and stony [...]
26th November. [...] At 3.0 p.m. reached the south-west end of the Fitzroy Range, which is a narrow ridge of sandstone hills ten miles long and one to two miles broad; at the north end of the range we found a small pool of rainwater, and, having watered the horses, pushed on towards the Victoria River, at the base of Bynoe Range; but although the country was level, we were so much retarded by the soft nature of the soil that the river was not reached till sunset, and the banks of the river were so steep that the water was not accessible for the horses, and we therefore encamped at a small hole of muddy rain-water. Our camp was about four miles above the furthest point attained by Captain Stokes, and consequently in Beagle Valley, which we had traversed for more than thirty miles, the greater part of which was well grassed and openly wooded with box, bauhinia and acacia. The Fitzroy Range is almost isolated, and there is a level plain five or six miles wide to the south-east, beyond which there is a high sandstone range surmounted by an almost unbroken cliff of sandstone near the summit, and which appeared to be quite impassable. [...]
28th November. - Started at 6.15 a.m. and followed the river, which first came from the east, then south-east and south-west until 10.40, when we crossed to the right bank and halted. The valley of the river is much narrower, and does not exceed half-a-mile, and is bounded by cliffs of sandstone varying from 50 to 300 feet high. The waters of the river occasionally rise 100 feet, as the marks of the floods extended to the base of the cliffs; the regular channel of the river is about 200 feet wide, the water forming deep reaches often more than a mile long and separated by dry stony bars of shingle and rock. [327] [...] 
29th November. [...] The valley of the river is still bounded by sandstone cliffs; but as the strata are horizontal, and the bed of the river rises, the shales are not much exposed, and the alluvial banks reach to the base of the cliffs, which are so continuous that I have not yet seen a spot where we could have ascended the tableland in which the valley is excavated. [...]
4th December. - About 5.45 resumed our journey up the river, passing through wide grassy flats and over a sandstone ridge which was covered with triodia; from this ridge there was an extensive view of the country to the south and east, but no hills of greater elevation than the sandstone tableland were visible, and for twenty miles the valley of the river expanded into a wide plain thinly timbered with boxtrees.
6th December... As we had now examined the country sufficiently to enable the main party to advance a whole degree of latitude without any great impediment, and ascertained the general character of the country and the nature of the obstacles to be encountered and on which the equipment of the party would in some measure depend, we turned our steps towards the principal camp. [...] 
15th December [...] The horses are now much improved, and, with the exception of three which are still very weak are now in a serviceable condition, though few are capable of carrying heavy loads or performing long journeys; but as grass and water are now abundant for the first 200 miles of the route towards the interior, I hope that by travelling easy stages the horses will improve, and preparations are being made for commencing the journey early in January. The country being impracticable for drays, and as the sheep cannot be driven with advantage, owing to the high grass and reeds, it is necessary to constitute the party so that the whole equipment can be conveyed by pack-horses, to accomplish which the party proceeding to the interior must not exceed nine in number, for which the horses are capable of conveying five months' provisions and equipment. [328] The remaining half of the party will have full employment in the repair of the schooner and care of the stores - points of vital importance to the Expedition [...]
3rd January [1856] - All arrangements being complete, the party commenced their journey at 11 a.m..
6th January. - It rained continuously during the night, with thunder and lightning. At 8.0 a.m. steered 160 degrees and soon came on a small creek with water-pandanus on its banks; followed it to the south-south-east; at 11. 0 crossed it and changed the course to south-east, and at 11.30 encamped in a small gully; I then went with Mr. H. Gregory to look for a practicable ascent of Stokes' Range; having been successful in the search, we returned to the camp at 6 p.m. [...]
7th January. - The day again commenced with heavy showers, which lasted till 7 a.m. At 7.30 started on a course of 120 degrees; reached the foot of the sandstone range at 8.50, and the summit at 9.30, the tableland on the top of the' range being intersected by deep ravines trending to the south-west; we steered east till 11.40, when we came to a deep valley trending east-south-east; having made the necessary observations for elevation, commenced the descent of the hills, which was practicable in few places, as the valley was walled-in by steep hills crowned by sandstone cliffs 20 to 200 feet in height, with only an occasional break. At 1.0 p.m., reached the base of the hill, and encamped at a small gully. The summit of the range is nearly a level tableland, the undulations not exceeding 200 feet, but is intersected by deep ravines with perpendicular sides, which vary from 100 to 600 feet in depth. The upper rock is sandstone, and the soil on it very poor and sandy, producing small eucalypti, hakea, grevillia, and a sharp spiny grass (triodia); this is the spinifex of Captain Sturt and other Australian explorers. The character of the country is similar to that of the interior of some parts of the western coast. [...] 
12th January. [...] At 12.25 p.m. camped on a small creek between the Fitzgerald and Jasper Ranges; marked a gum-tree at camp No. 9. The general character of this part of the country is good and well suited for stock, though not equal to the basaltic country to the eastward of the Victoria. [329] [...] 14th January. - Followed the river to the west-southwest, crossing two large tributary creeks from the north-west, approaching the sandstone ranges On the western side of the plain; the soil did not improve, but became very sandy; the country is thinly wooded with box-trees and bauhinia of small size; grass is abundant and good. The continuance of fine weather and forward state of the grass led to the supposition that the wet season had already terminated, though only two months have elapsed since the first rains. [...] 
17th January. - Started at 7.5 a.m., and steered a southwest course till 10.30 a.m., passing over a level grassy flat the whole distance; but the soil became more sandy as we proceeded up the river; there is very little wood. of any description; the few trees that exist are white-stem eucalypti and a few acacia with pinate leaves; the horse 'Sam' is very weak, and two other horses are lame and can scarcely travel; since the 3rd of January the distance travelled has not exceeded ten miles per diem; water and grass everywhere abundant, and the loads not heavy, yet the greater part of the horses appear to be unable to perform a greater amount of work.., 21st January. [...] The course of the river was from west-south-west, the channel being bounded by sandstone cliffs 100 to 200 feet high. The general aspect of the country was wretched in the extreme, as little besides a few small gumtrees and triodia clothed the rugged surface of the red sand stone. The weather continues fine, with only an occasional cloud or flash of lightning in the early part of the night. The temperature is increasing, being 104 degrees at 1.0 p.m. Some catfish and a small tortoise were caught in the river. [...] 
28th January [...] As the valley was completely walled-in by steep rocks, it appeared to be a suitable spot for a depôt camp, as it would prevent the horses from straying; and, from the rapidity with which the water in the creeks was drying up, it became desirable that no time should be lost in pushing to the head of the Victoria while it was practicable to cross the ranges in which it was supposed to rise; but as many of the horses were quite unfit for the journey, it became necessary to leave them in some convenient spot while a small party pushed on with a light equipment. [330]
29th January. - Preparing equipment for the party proceeding to the interior and making arrangements for the formation of the Depot camp; the party to consist of myself, Mr. H. Gregory, Dr. Mueller, and C. Dean, Mr. Baines remaining at the Depot in charge [...]
30th January. - Left the camp at 7.30 a.m. and steered an average course south-south-east till 10.20, over Stony ground, at the junction of the sandstone and trap formation, and camped at a fine running creek which came from a rocky gorge in the sandstone range to the west of our course.
1st February. - Steered north 160 degrees east from 6.25 a.m. till 7.0 across the basaltic plain, then crossed a large creek trending east, in which there were some large pools of water. We then entered the sandstone country, and crossed several rocky ridges; at 9.10 we had a good view from one of the ridges to the north and east. Fine grassy plains extended almost to the horizon; to the south the country consisted of sandstone ranges, and to the south-east large grassy plains and rocky ridges appeared to alternate with each other. Changing the course to south-east, traversed a fine plain covered with grass, beyond which was a rocky ridge, and then a second plain, in which we halted at 11.10, as I was unable to keep on my horse, owing to an attack of fever.
3rd February. [...] Continuing an average south course, at 10.10 a.m. came to the Victoria River; the whole channel did not exceed 150 yards in breadth, of which only twenty to fifty were now occupied by water, and the rest by dry rocks and gravel, overgrown by bushes.
5th February. [...] The valley of the river has contracted to about fifteen miles, and turns to the west, but a branch seems to come from the south, and a second from the northwest. The country is, however, nearly level, and it is difficult to ascertain the limits of the valley, as many portions of the original tableland exist as detached hills and ridges. Though the horses are well shod, they are becoming lame and foot-sore from continually travelling over rough and stony country, as more than half of the last 200 miles has been so completely covered with fragments of rock that the soil, if any exists, has been wholly concealed. [331] [...]
9th February.. [...] Taking advantage of the cool cloudy morning, we steered south at 6.5 a.m. to ascertain if the water of the creek, after spreading on the grassy flat, collected again and found an outlet to the southward, but found the ground rise in that direction; observed a slight hollow to the west, for which we steered, but found it terminate on the sandy plain, and the country became a perfect desert of red sand, with scattered tufts of triodia and a few bushes of eucalypti and acacia. At noon, finding it hopeless to proceed further into the desert, we turned our steps to the north-north-east, and returned to our camp of last night. In returning to the camp we ascended a slight elevation, from which there was an uninterrupted view of the desert from east to south-west. The horizon was unbroken all appeared one slightly undulating plain, with just sufficient triodia and bushes growing on it to hide the red sand when viewed at a distance. The day was remarkably cool and cloudy; the temperature at noon 86 degrees. Though the rain at the camp had been abundant during the previous night, it had not extended more than five miles into the desert, which is more remarkable, as the clouds were moving to the south.
10th February. [...] As there was no practicable route to the south, and the sandstone hills to the north seemed to diminish in elevation to the east, I decided on following the northern limit of the desert to the west till some line of practicable country was found by which to penetrate the country to the south. In selecting a westerly route I was also influenced by the greater elevation of the country on the western side of the Victoria, and the fact that all the larger tributaries join from that side of the valley. It is also probable that, should the waters of the interior not be lost in the sandy desert, they will follow the southern limit of the elevated tract of sandstone which occupies north-west Australia from Roebuck Bay to the Gulf of Carpentaria, both of which points are nearly in the same latitude as our present position, from which it may be assumed that the line of greatest elevation is between the 17th and 18th parallels. [332] [...]
21st February. - As we were now three days' journey from the last water which could be depended on for more than a few days, and the channel of the creek had been so completely lost on the plain that it was uncertain whether the marks of inundations near this camp had been caused by the creek flowing to the west, or by some tributary flowing to the east, I determined to attempt a south-west course.
South of the grassy plain, the western limit of which was not seen, the country rose gradually to eighty or 100 feet, and presented an extremely level and unvaried appearance. It was evident that our only chance of farther progress was to follow the grassy plain to the west till some change in the country rendered a southerly course practicable, it being probably that some creek from the north might join the grassy plain, and that the channel which had been lost might be reformed. [...] We have thus been a second time compelled to make a retrograde movement to the north, after reaching the same latitude as in the first attempt to penetrate the desert; but I did not feel justified in incurring the extreme risk which would have attended any other course, though following the creek is by no means free from danger, as very few of the waterholes which have supplied us on the outward- track will retain any water till the time of our return [...]
22nd February. - Leaving the camp at 5.40 a.m., followed the creek to the west-south-west and crossed a small gully from the south, close to its junction with the principal creek; which we named after Captain Sturt, whose researches in Australia are too well known to need comment [...]
25th February. - The small number of water-fowl which passed up or down the creek during the night indicated that water was not abundant below our present position, and we therefore prepared for a dry country, in which we were not disappointed, for leaving the camp at 6.15 a.m., we traversed a level box-flat covered with long dry grass; at 9.10 a.m. again entered the usual channel of the creek, which was now a wide flat of deeply cracked mud with a great quantity of atriplex growing on it, but which had lost all the leaves from the long continuance of the dry weather. [333] The flat was traversed by numerous small channels from one to two feet deep, but they were all perfectly dry and had not contained water for' more than a year; there were, however, marks of inundations in previous years, when the country must have exhibited a very different appearance, and had it been then visited by an explorer, the account of a fine river nearly a mile wide flowing through splendid plains of high grass, could be scarcely reconciled with the facts I have to record of a mud flat deeply fissured by the scorching rays of a tropical sun, the absence of water, and even scarcity of grass.
1st March. [...] Immediately below the camp the country beyond the effect of inundation changed to a nearly level plain of red sand, producing nothing but triodia and stunted bushes. The level of this desert country was only broken by low ridges of drifted sand. They were parallel and perfectly straight, with a direction nearly east and west. At 11.50 camped at a fine pool of water three to five feet deep and twenty yards wide. That we had actually entered the desert was apparent, and the increase of temperature during the past three days was easily explained; but whether this desert is part of that visited by Captain Sturt, or an isolated patch, has yet to be ascertained, and the only hope is that the creek will enable us to continue our course, as the nature of the country renders an advance quite impracticable unless by following watercourses.
5th March. [...] As some low rocky hills were visible to the east we steered for them. At 2.10 halted half-a-mile from 'the hills, and then ascended them on foot. They were very barren and rocky, scarcely eighty feet above the plain, formed of sandstone, the strata horizontal. From the summit of the hill nothing was visible but one unbounded waste of sandy ridges and low rocky hillocks, which lay to the south-east of the hill. All was one impenetrable desert, as the flat and sandy surface, which could absorb the waters of the creek, was not likely to originate watercourses.
8th March. [...] At 12.15 p.m. camped at a shallow pool, near which there was a little grass, the country generally being sandy and only producing triodia and acacia. [334] Thus, after having followed Sturt's creek for nearly 300 miles, we have been disappointed in our hope that it would lead to some Important outlet to the waters of the Australian interior; it has, however, enabled us to penetrate far into the level tract of country which may be termed the Great Australian Desert.
xo March. [...] As the whole country to the south was one vast sandy desert, destitute of any indications of the existence of water, it was clear that no useful results could arise from any attempt to penetrate this inhospitable region, especially as the loss of any of the horses might deprive the expedition of the means for carrying out the explorations towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. I therefore determined on commencing our retreat to the Victoria River while it was practicable, as the rapid evaporation and increasing saltness of the water in this arid and inhospitable region warned us that each day we delayed increased the difficulty of the return, and it was possible that we were cut off from any communication with the party at the Depot by an impassable tract of dry country, and might be compelled to maintain ourselves on the lower part of the creek till the ensuing rainy season.