FIRST OF THE OVERLANDERS.
Centenary of Edward John Eyre. Stirring and Romantic History.
Across the pages of Australia's history are writ large the names of its explorers. No soldiers of the sword or rifle these, but, nevertheless, true warriors who fought grim Nature and conquered. No wars of aggression have stained the soil of the Commonwealth but the men who battled with drought, famine, and the loneliness of the deserts, and sometimes laid down their lives in the tangled bush, were true pat- riots. They blazed the trail; and the settlers came after. With dogged perse- verance and dauntless courage they faced the terrors of weary marches in unknown and often waterless lands, and, the fruits of their toil are the widespread settlements of the continent. Conspicuous in the re- cords of this band of heroes is the name of Edward John Eyre, the centenary of whose birth occurs this year, for he was born at Hornsea, Yorkshire, on August 5, 1815. —A Romantic Career — Of the great explorers of Australia whose lives were full of adventure and bold enter- prise, the personality of Edward John Eyre is probably the most attractive and romantic. First of the overlanders he was called, for it was he who discovered the cattle track from New South Wales to the new settlements of Adelaide, and the pages which tell of his journeying beneath the Southern Cross show the fibre of the man — true and strong as steel. Eyre was awarded the first "Gold Founder's Medal" of the Royal Geographical Society for Aus- tralian exploration in 1842. Subsequently he endured great persecution for his man- ner of dealing with an uprising in Jamaica, but was acquitted by a grand jury, and exonerated from blame by a select com- mittee of the House of Commons. He died at Walreddon Manor, Tavistock, England, on November 30, 1901, at the advanced age of 86 years. "Thus," said the Hon. John Lewis recently, in an address to the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Austra- lasia, of which he is President, "ended the chequered career of a remarkable man, whose memory will, I hope, before many years have elapsed, be perpetuated by a suitable statue in a prominent position in this city, as one of the founders of this State. At the time of his death he was the oldest surviving recipient of the 'Foun- ders Medal' of the Royal Geographical So- ciety of London." Thomas Carlyle, one of the most vigorous champions of the great explorer at a time of animated de- nunciation said. "Eyre was a just, hu- mane, and valiant man, faithful to his trusts everywhere, and with no ordinary faculty for executing them." It was in South Australia that Eyre's most import- ant and courageous work was done, and it is fitting that Adelaide should possess an appropriate memorial to keep the memory of his labours green in a land to which he gave so much in splendid sacrifice. —Summary of Fine Work.— The President of the Geographical So- ciety summed up Mr. Eyre's work to 1842 when he handed the 'Founder's Medal' to the explorer's representative in London. He said:— 'In presenting to the representa- tive of Mr. Edward John Eyre the Foun- der's Medal, awarded to him by the coun- cil of the Royal Geographical Society, the council are happy to mark it as the first in- stance in which such token of their appro- bation has been bestowed for discoveries in a part of the world first made English by our great circumnavigator Capt. Cook, and which throughout its immense extent has already been the scene of many a daring adventure and hardy enterprise, not sur- passed by any of those which have been exhibited by our countrymen in every other portion of the globe. In 1837-8 Mr. Eyre distinguished himself by an attempt to penetrate into South Australia from New South Wales by the Murrumbidgee. Australia Felix, and the Wimmera follow- ing down the latter river until it should fall into the Murray, Lake Alexandrina, or the sea. In this journey he discovered the fresh water Lake Hindmarsh, but could only reach South Australia by retracing his
steps through Australia Felix, and by the Murray. In 1839 Mr. Eyre started from Port Lincoln, in South Australia, to deter- mine the practicability of an overland route to Western Australia, but he was driven back by want of water and the dif- ficulties of the country; and on his route directly across from Streaky Bay to Spen- cer's Gulf he discovered a mountain range trending from north-west to south-east to- ward the different points from Middle Back Mountain to Elbow Hill. Proceeding to the north of Spencer's Gulf he discovered that extraordinary geo- graphical feature, Lake Torrens. This put an end to his progress in a northerly direction, on which he returned to Spencer's Gulf and struck across the country to the Murray. Again, in June, 1840, ever ready to the call of the colonists, who wished to know what were their locomotive powers, what bounds were set to them, and whether the tra- versing of the great continent from south to north was in truth feasible or not, Mr. Eyre returned to the head of Spencer's Gulf, where, at the foot of Mount Arden, he had formed a depot; thence having ad- vanced for 400 miles along the eastern bank of Lake Torrens he was again obliged to desist, and, in the view of making a second struggle (as he could do nothing to the northward) to penetrate towards Western Australia, he sent some of his drays by his old track to Streaky Bay, and himself repaired to Port Lincoln to complete his preparations for a second at- tempt to reach King George's Sound. —Hardships Beyond Description.— The hardships and sufferings experienced by Mr. Eyre in carrying out this project were beyond description, the whole dis- tance being above 1,000 miles, full one half of it entirely destitute of water, and consequently of herbage or fruit, the only scanty supply of the former in this dreary waste being obtained by digging in the
drifts of pure white sand found along the coast at places where the great fossil bank receded a little from the immediate margin of the sea. Mr. Eyre describes this table- land of the interior to be of the most desolate and barren character imaginable, almost entirely without grass, destitute of timber, and in many parts densely covered by an impenetrable scrub. On two different occasions the party were entirely without water for seven days, and almost the same time without food. In the latter half, of the journey Mr. Eyre was only accompanied by an aboriginal native of King George's Sound, two native youths having deserted from him in despair after they had murdered the overseer, who was attempting to detain them. Mr. Eyre mentions in terms of merited thanks the kind conduct of Capt. Rossiter, com- mander of the Mississippi, a French whaler, when near the western extremity of the Great Australian Bight, who gave him hospitality on board his ship, re- cruited his horses, and provided him with supplies for prosecuting his journey to King George's Sound. The expedition from Fowler's Bay on the frontiers of South Australia and Western Australia occupied the whole time from February 25,1841, to July 7, and though, as Mr. Eyre confesses, his labours had not been productive of any discovery likely to prove beneficial to the colony, we, as geo- graphers, are not the less inclined to give him our tribute of applause for the obstacles he overcame, and for having sent home a large addition to our knowledge of the geographical features of this ano- malous portion of the globe." —Sydney to Adelaide.— Mr.Eyre was the son of the Rev. An- thony William Eyre, rector of Riston, in Yorkshire, and was educated at Louth and Sedburgh Grammar Schools. At the age of 17 he emigrated to Sydney, and settled on a station on the River Hunter, where
he obtained some experience with stock. On November 8, 1837, he left Sydney with a small party of six men and three drays, taking a herd of 300 cattle to prove the practicability of driving cattle overland to Adelaide. He travelled first towards Port Phillip, and on February 9, 1838, passed Mount Alexander, and proceeded westward until he met the River Wimmera. He dis- covered and named Lake Hindmarsh (after Governor Hindmarsh), but owing to the drought and absence of water he lost six horses, and was unable to travel any dis- tance from the lake, consequently he had to retrace his steps to Yarrayne River, which he followed to the Murray. Eyre was the first to attempt the overland jour- ney between New South Wales and Ade- laide, but owing to the detentions on the march he did not arrive at Adelaide until July 13, 1838, after Messrs. Hawdon and Bonney, who also came overland from Syd- ney with 330 cattle. Eyre returned to Syd-
ney, and on December 5, 1838, again left Monero, in New South Wales, with 1,000 sheep and 600 cattle for Adelaide, where he arrived on February 23, 1839. During the year 1839 Eyre engaged in two expedi- tions of discovery. He left Adelaide on May 1 with five men to explore the country northwards. The furthest point he reached was Mount Eyre, 36 miles north of Mount Arden. He was absent about nine weeks, and returned to Adelaide on June 29. On July 8, 1839, he left Port Adelaide by sea for Port Lincoln, and examined the coast country about 230 miles from Port Lincoln to a little beyond Point Bell. Returning to Streaky Bay he proceeded easterly and crossed south of lofty rugged ranges of barren appearance and devoid of timber, which he named Gawler Ranges (after Go- vernor Gawler), thence to the head of Spencer's Gulf, and found water in Baxter Range (named after his overseer), now Coroona Station. —Overland to Perth.— There being a demand for stock in Perth, Mr. Eyre and Messrs. A. M. Mundy and E. B. Scott left Port Adelaide on January 30, 1840, with sheep and cattle by sea for King George's Sound. Landing there, Eyre and his companions drove the stock through the bush to Perth, a dis- tance of 320 miles. All the party returned to Adelaide. Before Eyre returned to Adelaide, Capt. (afterwards Sir) George Grey, and later Governor of this State, had arrived on his way to England from King George's Sound, and he called public attention to the importance of opening an overland communication between Ade- laide and Perth with a view of extending the pastoral interests to Western Austra- lia. In April, 1840, several meetings were held in Adelaide, and a committee was appointed to make arrangements to ex- plore the country and open up an over- land route to Swan River. The Chairman was Capt. Charles Sturt, and the Secre- tary Mr. Charles Bonney. Mr. Eyre reached Adelaide in May, 1840, and on April 23 wrote a letter to The Register giving his opinion that the proposed tran- sit of stock overland to Perth near the coast was impracticable, and suggested the exploration of the northern interior as the most likely course to benefit the colony. He also volunteered to take com- mand of the party and find one-third of the horses required, and pay one-third of the expenses of the expedition. His offer was accepted, and on May 18 his party were ready. —A Memorable Journey.—
On that day Governor Gawler and Mrs. Gawler provided the party with a break- fast at Government House, North ter- race, when the Governor reminded the visitors that it was the twenty-fifth anni- versary of the Battle of Waterloo, in which he had been engaged. He hoped that Mr. Eyre would succeed in planting the British flag in the centre of Austra- lia. A Union Jack, neatly worked in silk by some ladies in Adelaide, was pre- sented to Mr. Eyre by Capt. Charles Sturt. The party consisted of Mr. Eyre, Mr. E. B. Scott, John Baxter, Cpl. Coles (who had accompanied Capt. George Grey on his north-west Australian expedition). John Houston, R. M. Robert, and two aboriginal boys to drive the sheep, track, and so on. Thirteen horses, three drays, and 40 sheep, and three months' supply of stores were taken. Mr. Eyre defrayed half the cost of the expedition, the colonists subscribed £582 4/9, and the S.A. Government supplied £100, together with arms, ammunition, and various stores. He passed through Gawler and the valley of the Light, and named the Gilbert, Hill, Broughton, and Rocky Rivers, Crystal Brook, Mount Remarkable, Mount Deception, Termination Hill. The Scott, and Mount Nor'-West. — Cheerless Outlook.—
Forty miles north of Mount Nor'-West he was stopped by Lake Torrens (named after Col. Torrens), and then returned to Ter- mination Hill. Altering his course to the east he named the Mundy, the Burr, the Frome, Mount Scott, and Mount Serle, and then proceeded north-east to Mount Dis- tance and Mount Hopeless. On Septem- ber 2 Eyre ascended the last named, and says— ''Cheerless and hopeless was the prospect before us. As I had anticipated, the view was both extensive and decisive. We were now past all the ranges; and for three-quarters of the compass, extending from south, round by east and north, to west, the horizon was one unbroken level, except where the fragments of tableland or the ridge of the lake interrupted its uniformity. . . . This closed all my dreams as to the expedition and put an end to an undertaking from which so much was anticipated. I had now a view before me that would have damped the ardour of the most enthusiastic, or dissipated the doubts of the most sceptical. . . . With bitter feelings of disappointment I turned from the dreary and cheerless scene around me, and pushing the horses on as well as cir- cumstances would allow, succeeded in re- tracing 10 miles of my course by a little after dark." Eyre returned to the depot south of Mount Arden, then shaped his course to Baxter Range, now Coroona Sta- tion, and from there sent two teams in charge of the overseer across the country on the old tracks to Streaky Bay, then proceeded south, passing Refuge Rocks on the way to Port Lincoln, which place he reached on October 2, 1840. After re- plenishing his stores at Port Lincoln he determined to explore the country to the west of Streaky Bay naming on the way Mount Hope, Lake Hamilton, Wedge Hill. Lake Newland, Mounts Hall and Coo- per, the Gawler Ranges, and Mount Sturt. Eyre sent back to Adelaide Cpl. Coles and John Houston by the Waterwitch on De- cember 18, 1840, and asked for a supply of bran and oats for the horses, and he would wait there for the return of the vessel. On January 26 the Hero arrived, having been substituted for the Water- witch, which was found to be leaky. Dur- ing the interval Eyre made two attempts to examine the country beyond the Great Australian Bight. On the second attempt he lost three horses, the country travelled over being totally destitute of surface water. On a third attempt Eyre succeeded in travelling about 50 miles beyond the Great Australian Bight. As it appeared to be useless to penetrate into the interior in a northerly direction he returned to Fowler's Bay on January 31, and decided to send back to Adelaide Mr. Scott and one of the men with the dray and then make another attempt to explore the country with packhorses. His party would then consist of himself, John Baxter, and three native boys, but before proceeding westward he made a short excursion north- ward for about 20 miles. As the weather was hot and unfavourable and the pros- pect uninviting he decided to return to Fowler's Bay. —"Compelled by Duty."— Having completed all arrangements, and just as the party were leaving on February 24, 1841, they heard shots, and were astonished to find the captain of the Hero and Mr. Scott coming towards them. They had been sent back by the Governor with letters desiring Mr. Eyre to return to Adelaide. Numerous letters were also re- ceived from private sources to the same effect, but Eyre said, 'It was with much pain and regret that I found myself unable to comply with their requests. I felt compelled by duty to adopt a course at variance with their wishes." On the following day, having bidden Mr. Scott and the captain a final adieu, he set off on his explorations westward. The party consisted only of Mr. Eyre, the
overseer (Baxter) three native boys, nine horses, one Timor pony, one foal born at Streaky Bay, and six sheep. On March 28 the Timor pony was the first to suc- cumb, having been five days without a drink of water. About midway between Fowler's Bay and King George's Sound water was discovered after seven days' travelling, one horse having also succum- bed. A camp was formed here, when Eyre and a native boy walked back to where some of the stores had been buried. Two bundles were made up — one of 32 lb., which Eyre carried, and one of 22 lb., carried by the native. They returned to the camp on April 13, after having walked 76 miles, and carried heavy weights. One of the horses being too weak and ill to stand was killed for food, and on the 23rd the last sheep was killed. — A Fateful Night.— The most eventful part of Eyre's journey was the fateful night of April 29. Eyre's own words vividly tell the story . "The
overseer (Baxter), asked me which of the watches I would keep, and as I was not sleepy, though tired, I chose the first. At a quarter before 6, I went to take charge of the horses, having previously seen the overseer and the natives lay down to sleep at their respective breakwinds, 10 or 12 yards apart from one another. The arms and provisions, as was our custom, were piled up under an oilskin between my breakwind and that of the overseer, with the exception of one gun, which I always kept at my own sleeping place. I have been thus minute in detailing the position and arrangement of our encampment this evening, because of the fearful conse- quences that followed, and to show the very slight circumstances upon which, the destinies of life sometimes hinge. Trifling as the arrangement of the watches might seem, and unimportant as I thought it at the time, whether I undertook the first or the second, yet was my choice in this respect the means, under God's providence, of my life being saved and the cause of the loss of that of my overseer. The night was cold, and the wind blowing hard from the south-west, while scud and nimbus were passing very rapidly by the moon. The horses fed tolerably well, but rambled a good deal, threading in and out among the many belts of scrub which intersected the grassy openings, until at last I hardly knew exactly where our camp was, the fires having apparently expired some time ago. It was now half-past 10, and I headed the horses back in the direction in which I thought the camp lay, that I might be ready to call the overseer to relieve me at 11. While thus engaged, and looking steadfastly around among the scrub to see if I could anywhere detect the embers of our fires, I was startled by a sudden flash, followed by the report of a gun not a quarter of a mile away from me. Imagin- ing that the overseer had mistaken the hour of the night, and not being able to find me or the horses, had taken that method to attract my attention. I imme- diately called out, but as no answer was returned I got alarmed, and, leaving the horses, hurried up towards the camp as rapidly as I could. About a hundred yards from it I met the King George's Sound native (Wylie) running towards me, and in great alarm, crying out, 'Oh, Massa! Oh, Massa! come here!' but could gain no information from him as to what had occurred. Upon reaching the encampment, which I did in about five minutes after the shot was fired, I was horror-stricken to find my poor overseer lying on the ground weltering in his blood, and in the last agonies of death. Glancing hastily around the camp I found it de- serted by the two younger native boys, while the scattered fragments of our bag- gage, which I had left carefully piled under the oilskin, lay thrown about in wild dis- order, and at once revealed the cause of the harrowing scene before me. Upon raising the body of my faithful but ill- fated follower, I found that he was beyond all human aid. He had been shot through the left breast with a ball. The last con- vulsions of death were upon him, and he expired almost immediately after our ar- rival. The frightful, appalling truth now burst upon me, that I was alone in the desert. He who had faithfully served me for many years, who had followed my for- tune in adversity and in prosperity, who had accompanied me in all my wanderings, and whose attachment to me had been his sole inducement to remain with me in this last, and to him also, fatal journey, was now no more. For an instant I was almost tempted to wish it had been my own fate instead of his. The horrors of my situation glared upon me in such startling reality as for an instant almost to paralyse the mind. At the dead of night, in the wildest and most inhospitable wastes of Australia, with the fierce wind raging in unison with the scene of violence before me, I was left with a single native, whose fidelity I could not rely upon, and who for aught I knew might be in league with the other two, who perhaps were even now lurking about with the view of taking away my life as they had done that of the overseer. Three days had passed away since we left the last water, and it was very doubtful when we might find any more. Six hundred miles of country had to be traversed before I could hope to ob- tain the slightest aid or assistance of any kind, while I knew not that a single drop of water or an ounce of flour had been left by these murderers, from a stock that had previously been so small." —A Dreadful Plight.—
The two natives had stolen both guns, some ammunition, the whole of the baked bread (about 20 lb.), some mutton, tea, and sugar, the overseer's tobacco, and pipes, one-gallon keg full of water, some clothes, and other articles. Eyre and Wylie hur- ried away to search for the horses, knowing that if they got away there was no chance of saving their lives, and remained with them all night. Eyre records:— 'With ach- ing heart, and in most painful reflections, I passed this dreadful night. Every mo- ment appeared to be protracted to an hour, and it seemed as if the daylight would never appear. About midnight the wind ceased, and the weather became bitterly cold and frosty. I had nothing on but a shirt and a pair of trousers, and suffered most acutely from the cold; to mental an- guish was now added intense bodily pain. Suffering and distress had well nigh over- whelmed me, and life seemed hardly worth the effort necessary to prolong it. Ages can never efface the horrors of this single night, nor would the wealth of the world ever tempt me to go through similar ones again." The next morning it was found that about 40 lb. of flour, a little tea and sugar, and four gallons of water were left, also two pistols and a rifle, with a ball stuck in the breach, which could not be dislodged, when the barrel was removed, and Eyre decided to melt it out, as he was under the impression that the powder had been washed out of the barrel. While he held it in the fire with the muzzle in his hand, the fire having dried the powder, the rifle went off and the ball whizzed close to his head. The rifle was thus again made serviceable. The place on which they had camped was one vast unbroken sheet of rock, which extended for miles in every direction, so that it was impossible to dig a grave to inter the remains of Baxter. Eyre says:— "I could only, therefore, wrap a blanket around the body of the overseer, and leaving it enshrouded where he fell, escape from the melancholy scene, accompanied by Wylie, under the influence of feelings which neither time nor circum- stances will ever obliterate." —A Welcome Meeting.—
Silently and sorrowfully Eyre turned his back on the ill-fated camp, and with Wylie riding and leading one of the horses he fol- lowed behind, driving the others. At 10 miles, the weather being warm, a halt was made until the cool of the evening, and at 4 o'clock the two native boys who had fol- lowed Eyre made their appearance and en- deavoured to persuade Wylie to join them. Eyre and Wylie pushed on that evening for about 18 miles, and then camped on a patch of grass without water, and did not see the two native boys again. On May 3, after travelling 150 miles over a rocky, barren, and scrubby tableland, water was found at a native well. On May 8 a horse was killed for food. On May 16 some islands were seen, and inland a jagged peak was named Mount Ragged. On May 26 lofty and abrupt mountain masses were seen and named the "Russell Range," after the Right Hon. the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Lord John Russell). With only a little flour in stock Eyre had decided to kill the foal for food, and while he was searching for water in Thistle Cove of Flin- ders, where a fresh water lake was said to exist, two boats were seen sailing in the bay, but although every signal was made Eyre could not attract the attention of the crews. Shortly after the masts of a ves- sel were observed about six miles distant. Pushing on the horses Eyre was soon on a rocky cliff opposite to a fine large barque lying at anchor in a well-sheltered bay, which he subsequently named "Rossiter Bay" after the captain of the whaler. A smoke was made on a rock, when a boat instantly put off, and in a few moments Eyre had the inexpressible plea- sure of being again among civilized beings, and of shaking hands with a fellow-countryman in the person of Capt. Rossiter, commanding the French whaler Mississippi. Capt. Rossiter extended the greatest hospitality to Eyre, keeping him and Wylie on board for nearly a fort-
night, and supplying Eyre with ample pro- visions for the remainder of his journey to King George's Sound, where he and Wylie safely arrived on July 7, 1841. Wylie re- mained with his relatives and subsequently received a pension from the Western Aus- tralian Government for his fidelity and good conduct while with Mr. Eyre. — Subsequent Events.— Mr. Eyre remained only a few days at King George's Sound, and left there on July 13 in the schooner Truelove. On his arrival in Adelaide on July 26, 1841, he was heartily welcomed back, and was tendered a public dinner on August 26. Capt. Sturt occupied the chair. After Mr. Eyre's re- turn from Western Australia he was ap- pointed in October, 1841, as a Special Magistrate and Protector of Aborigines at Moorundi, which office he held until No- vember, 1844. Moorundi was on the line of route of parties coming from New South Wales with stock, and the dread of the natives on the Murray was so great that in 1841 there was not even one settler on the
river from Wellington to beyond Overland Corner, but on Eyre's retirement in No- vember, 1844, the whole line of the river was settled and occupied by stock. This was owing to Eyre's influence on the natives. Mr. Eyre offered his services to Governor Gipps in November, 1844, for the exploration of the interior of New South Wales, should Sir Thomas L. Mitchell de- cline. In December, 1844, Mr. Eyre re- turned to England and published his book, "Journal of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia, Overland from Adelaide to King George's Sound, London, 1845." He was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand as second to Sir George Grey in December, 1846, and while there married Miss Ormond, daughter of Capt. Ormond, R.N. He remained in New Zealand for six years. At the end of 1854 he was ap- pointed Lieutenant-Governor of St. Vin- cent, which post he held until March, 1861. He then became Lieutenant-Governor of Antigua, and early in 1862 was appointed Governor of Jamaica. He was recalled from Jamaica in 1866, and was bitterly persecuted in England for quelling a negro insurrection, and was tried for murder of the negroes before the Queen's Bench. After a very long trial, which involved Mr. Eyre in heavy legal expenses, he was ac- quitted by the grand jury. A select com- mittee of the House of Commons also exonerated him from blame. The English Government subsequently granted Mr. Eyre a pension, upon which he retired into private life.