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Title: Mount Abundance: or The Experiences of a Pioneer Squatter in Australia Author: Allan Macpherson * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0900601h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2009 Date most recently updated: August 2009 Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
CONTENTS. CHAPTER I. A Picturesque Station—Pastures New—The Early Days of Squatting—A Roadless Journey—A Start—Two Months on the Road—The Beginning of Troubles—Lost Working Bullocks—The Expedition Recruited—St. George's Bridge—Pegging Away—The Party Divided—A Reconnaissance—The Natives—The Cogoon River—Mount Abundance—Return to Camp—The Land of Promise Reached at Last CHAPTER II. Forming a New Station—Preparations for Shearing—Ye Manneres and Customes of Shearers—The Line to Brisbane—Return to Keera—Heat on the Balonne—A Flood in the Low Districts—The Big River—A Risky Swim—A Home-sick Horse—A Flood in the Higher Country—Short Supplies at the Mount—How to Relieve It—Among the Sloughs Again—Punting Stores Across a River in a Tub—Return to the Mount—Things Better than Might be Expected—An Absence of Six Months CHAPTER III. Another Start for Mount Abundance—Black Charley—St. George's Bridge Again—Terrible News—Two Men Killed—A Flock of Sheep Taken by Blacks—Station Deserted—Party in Full Retreat—Wanted a Volunteer—Our First Camp—Our First Conflict—The Deserted Station—The Re-occupation—Exploring a Line of Road to Brisbane—Rough Surveying—Another Deserted Station—Companions in Misfortune—The Return Journey—An Unlucky Camp—Charging the Ring—Poor Charley CHAPTER IV. Return to Keera—Another Journey to the Mount—All Wrong—Return of Sheep to Keera—Non-arrival of Cattle Party at the Mount—The Reason Why—Three more Men Killed by the Blacks—Murder Camp—A Night Watch—A Solitary Ride—Spoiling the Trail—A Lucky Awakening—Commissioner Durbin—Obstinate Carriers—More Horrors—"Look under the Wool"—Escorting the Wool Drays—The Moral of It All—Sic vos non vobis
A Picturesque Station—Pastures New—The Early Days of Squatting—A Roadless Journey—A Start—Two Months on the Road—The Beginning of Troubles—Lost Working Bullocks—The Expedition Recruited—St. George's Bridge—Pegging Away—The Party Divided—A Reconnaissance—The Natives—The Cogoon River—Mount Abundance—Return to Camp—The Land of Promise Reached at Last.
On looking over some old papers lately, I came across a journal of mine written upwards of thirty years ago, giving an account of the many difficulties and dangers which I experienced in taking up the now well-known pastoral station of Mount Abundance, in the colony of Queensland; and in the hope of its having sufficient interest to merit publication, I have compiled from this old diary the following narrative.
In the year 1847 I was a struggling young squatter (Anglicè, cattle and sheep owner) in the Gwydir district of New South Wales. My station, called Keera, was on the Gwydir or Bundarra River (it had both names), and was distant about three hundred miles from Newcastle, the seaport of the Hunter, which is about seventy miles by sea from Sydney, so I was already some little distance away from the capital.
My station, although of considerable extent (somewhere about a hundred square miles), was of a very hilly—I may almost say in parts mountainous—character, although the hills, dear to a Highlander by birth and descent, were very unlike true Highland hills, in that they were covered with grass and open forest to their summits. In short, Keera was justly described by a friend of mine as a highly picturesque, but by no means profitable, station—the reason being that it required too many shepherds and stockmen to look after my flocks and herds, and economy of expenditure was then, as now, the only mode of making squatting pay in Australia.
About the time I speak of, an old friend of my father's and mine—the late Sir Thomas Mitchell, then Surveyor-General of New South Wales—had just returned from one of his exploring expeditions into the interior of Australia, which particular expedition he described in a book he afterwards published in 1848, called "Tropical Australia," but long before he published the book he had inspired me with a most vehement desire to seek "pastures new" in the beautiful country which he had just discovered; but more particularly to sit down upon a particular tract of country, which he afterwards described in his work in the following glowing terms:—
"I ascended an elevated north-eastern extremity of Mount Abundance, and from it beheld the finest country I had ever seen in a primeval state—a champagne region, spotted with wood, stretching as far as human vision or even the telescope could reach. It was intersected by river lines from the North, distinguishable by columns of smoke. A noble mountain mass arose in the midst of that fine country, and was so elongated in a S.W. and N.E. direction as to deserve the name of a range."
Such a description was quite enough to inspire a sanguine young squatter with a desire to seek out this goodly land, and to possess it—the right of possession in those days, as to some extent at present, being first come first served, the exclusive right being granted by the Government to the first actual occupant with sheep and cattle; and the extent of his occupation being pretty much left to his own moderation, if he had any, which a good many of the earlier pioneers had not; and I am afraid I shall not be included amongst the most moderate. They have changed all this now, and new runs are put up for lease to the highest bidder, and are hemmed in with all sorts of regulations; and new runs are now so far distant in the interior, and are generally so badly watered and have so many disadvantages in comparison with the old ones, that they may be said to be like a certain Highland laird's geese, hard to get, and worth very little when they are got.
But it was not so in all the forties. The squatting districts of New South Wales and Queensland were still in their golden prime, and a very few thousands would then do the work in the way of founding a fortune which tens of thousands will not do now. But even then it will be seen that, although there were a good many prizes, there were a good many blanks too; and it was by no means the first pioneers who generally reaped the golden returns, but those who followed in their wake, and were prudent enough, and fortunate enough, to be able to profit by the labours and toils of those who had borne the first heat and burden of the day.
But I thought of none of these gloomy forebodings when I organised my first expedition to Mount Abundance in the middle of the year 1847. I obtained from Sir Thomas Mitchell a sketch of the route between the last occupied station in New South Wales and the Land of Promise which I proposed to occupy. The distance, after all, will not appear very great to people who are accustomed to railway journeys in this country, as the whole distance from Keera to Mount Abundance did not exceed 360 miles. But when it is remembered that there was not a mile of road (in the home sense of the term) the whole distance; that there was not the vestige of a bridge across a single river, creek, or gully crossing the line of march; that there were scrubs of all kinds to drive through—sometimes to cut through—for miles, and, added to all this, various waterless wastes of greater or less extent; when, on the whole, five miles a day was considered a good day's journey for cattle, sheep, and teams—when all these things are taken into account, the difficulties of such an expedition are by no means small, even when everything goes well and there is neither a drought nor a flood on the journey. I had my own share of both at different times—but this is anticipating.
My expedition started from Keera in the first days of July, 1847. It originally consisted of upwards of twenty men and a superintendent besides myself, of between eight and ten thousand sheep, of several hundred head of cattle (I do not now exactly remember the numbers of either), of four drays loaded with provisions drawn by ten working bullocks each, of a small horse team, and of a considerable number of saddle horses. As is usually the case in starting, the drays were fully too heavily laden, but I felt no doubt they would be lightened a good deal before they reached Mount Abundance—a prognostication which was very fully realised.
As a beginning of the end, I may say that it occupied nearly a fortnight to get the whole expedition a distance of about five-and-thirty miles—lost working bullocks, lost horses, lost cattle, and occasionally lost flocks of sheep or parts of them, forming the detaining causes; but lost working bullocks formed the greatest and most constantly recurring nuisance of all. At this time it was necessary for me to leave the expedition in charge of the superintendent, and to make a long journey on business into the Darling Downs district, with the certainty that I should catch up the expedition again long before it got into the new country.
I returned to the expedition after about a month's absence, during which time I had ridden on an average twenty-five to thirty miles a day, and three nights out of the four slept in the open air, which I preferred to the dirty huts I should otherwise have had to have slept in. I thought myself specially fortunate if my servant could find the horses in the morning without more than an hour's hunt for them, during which time I prepared our rather rough breakfast, or vice versâ. I find the following entry in the diary I always kept during these wearisome days: "21st August, 1847. Went thirty miles to-day, to Weyland's Creek, a station of Mr. Richard Wiseman's, and camped there. Heard dreadful news of my drays and expedition, viz., that two drays had been left behind, and that half the bullocks were lost and the other half knocked up." The vanguard of the party, stock, etc., had only advanced about one hundred miles in a week short of two months, being an average of about two miles and a half a day; and two of the drays were left behind about fifty miles for want of bullocks. Here was a pretty business, and did not look at all like reaching Mount Abundance in time for the lambing in October. However, there was nothing to be done by taking it easily. I accordingly find by another entry in my diary, 23rd August: "Sent back the superintendent to endeavour to get on the other drays, and I myself started on a search in the neighbourhood to endeavour to purchase or hire working bullocks to replace those lost, and to assist the miserable remains of those which were left." It will be remembered that they were forty strong, besides spare ones, at starting. These delays, and waiting till the superintendent came up with the two drays which had been left behind, occupied till the middle of September; and, as yet, we had not accomplished half the journey to Mount Abundance.
I had by this time succeeded in purchasing a fine team of four Clydesdale horses and a light dray, and rented one team of eight bullocks for the journey, and bought some others; and again my shattered expedition was somewhat recruited. But it was anything but plain sailing, even then. To begin with, the farther I got on, the more the men's fears began to grow, as I drew near to the confines of settlement—that is to say, towards the last occupied station on the line to the far North and West.
By the end of September I contrived, by great personal exertions, to force on the expedition to a natural rocky bar or ford across the River Balonne, which had been called by Sir Thomas Mitchell, St. George's Bridge. A station had recently been formed there for cattle, and it, and a neighbouring one, may be said to have then constituted the outstations of New South Wales. The St. George's Bridge station was distant about 220 miles from Keera, and I had still about 150 miles before me—between it and Mount Abundance. The intervening country was, at that time, wholly unoccupied by squatters, and bearing a somewhat evil reputation for the numbers and character of the natives scattered over its length and breadth. The fears of my men as to what might happen to them in venturing into an unknown country, or known only to Sir Thomas Mitchell and his party, increased daily. To say that they were mutinous and insolent, and willing to do anything whatever except to look after the stock and to do their work, is merely to say that they were what men generally are under similar circumstances. But although the expression of "pegging away" had not been invented in those days, the practice had, I can most positively answer in my own case, fortified also by the additional determination to "keep on never minding."
At St. George's Bridge, or a little beyond it, may be said to have been commenced our journey into the unoccupied interior. By this time the lambing season was approaching, and it was necessary to halt the ewes (about 5,000 in number) till this process was over.
The whole expedition accordingly proceeded some twenty miles higher up the Balonne River, where we erected temporary rough yards for drafting the sheep preparatory to the division of the expedition.
I left the superintendent in charge of the lambing sheep, and prepared to start with the remainder of the expedition for Mount Abundance under my own charge, aided by an overseer.
By this time it was the first week in October, upwards of three months having elapsed since the expedition first left Keera, and there were still about 130 miles to accomplish to reach our destination.
After proceeding a few stages on the road with the diminished party, matters getting on pretty well—although our progress was, as usual, very slow indeed—I determined to leave the second party in charge of the overseer, and to make a preliminary visit myself to Mount Abundance to see what the country was like, and what would be the best line of route for the drays and stock to take to get there. Accordingly, on the 11th of October I started on my exploring expedition, accompanied only by my personal servant.
I find from my old diary that we took no pack-horse, but simply carried our blankets and "about fifteen or sixteen pounds of damper, and a little bacon and some tea and sugar in our saddle-bags," and prepared for what turned out to be a ten days' absence from our party. We were, of course, armed also, but we might have just as well, in those days, gone quite unarmed. The natives were few in number, and I think we only came across small parties of them two or three times in the course of our expedition. Of course they could not understand us, or we them, but they seemed harmless enough, and to be a good deal more interested in our horses' heads than in ours—much surprised, apparently, that the voice came from the smallest head of the two.
The only precaution we took was to tether our horses at night instead of hobbling them or letting them graze loosely, as would have been the case at the camp. Here is a memo. of our fourth day, 14th October: "Had great trouble to-day with the horses. Having taken off the tethers while we were at breakfast, they strayed out of sight on stony ground where we could not track them, and at last, after a long hunt, we got them. Struck across the Cogoon River to explore the Balonne River, which I presumed to be not far off. Could not get across the range from the tremendously scrubby nature of the country. Returned, following a waterless gully, through fine but poorly watered country. Found horse tracks at junction, which I presumed to be either Dr. Leichhardt's1 or Mr. Charles Coxen's, as they had both expressed their intention of exploring a road from Darling Downs to Fitzroy Downs. Camped a little above the junction of waterless gully."
[1. This was the well-known German explorer, who had already distinguished himself by several expeditions into the interior of Australia. He had just returned from the Gulf of Carpentaria, and was preparing to start on his last expedition into the far West, from which he and his party never returned. It was supposed they had all been killed by the blacks between one and two hundred miles to the westward of Mount Abundance, the last place at which he and his party were seen by white men, some time after the station had been formed by me, during one of my absences at Keera.]
"Friday, 15th October. Crossed the Cogoon River and came on the Eastern Downs, facing Mount Abundance. A glorious prospect! Certainly the most magnificent country burst upon view that it has ever been my lot to see in the colony of New South Wales, from North to South, from East to West. Truly, I was delighted, after all my troubles, to see the prospect of so splendid a termination, so far as a station, at all events, was concerned."
I spent this and the next two days in surveying the country round and in the neighbourhood of Mount Abundance, which I proposed to take up as a sheep and cattle station; and I may say, once for all, that the little farm which I subsequently claimed as a run, and which claim the Government subsequently recognised, consisted of about thirty miles' frontage (and say five to ten miles back) of the Cogoon River for a sheep station, and of twenty miles' frontage to the creek I subsequently found out was called the Bunjeywargorai Creek, on which, or near which, I think the modern township of Roma is situate. The whole run, including the intermediate downs, consisted of about 600 square miles, or say somewhere about 400,000 acres of the most beautiful land that ever sheep's eyes travelled over. Beautiful undulating downs covered with the richest barley grass, and intersected with creeks and gullies, with just enough timber on their banks to give the whole breadth of the downs—somewhere about twenty miles by thirty—the appearance of a few scores or hundreds of gentlemen's parks rolled into one. Such was my first impression of Mount Abundance.
On the ninth day I got back to the camp, and found they had not made much progress on their route to our destination, but still had not remained actually stock still during my absence.
Among the next entries in my journal, I find the following on the 24th October (1847): "For four months now I have been sleeping every night under the canopy of Heaven, with the exception of about ten days at intervals, as my journal will show; and still, thanks be to God, I preserve my health, and hope to continue to do so, although I suspect the next six months of my life will be passed in much the same manner."
Here is the next entry in my journal: "25th October. Some few blacks made their appearance in the evening, who fairly frightened my men into convulsions. I laughed at them as cowards and faint-hearted creatures, and, as I might have expected, got sulky looks and expressive growls for my pains. To show them how little I feared the blacks, I told my men that in the morning I intended to start ahead by myself, and to camp out alone for two or three nights, exploring the water, and finding out the best spot for forming the head station. One of the ringleaders remarked on this that 'if I was tired of my life, he was not tired of his.'"
I, however, contrived to get them into better spirits—or at all events better temper—and induced them to agree to move on, while I myself kept to my resolution to spend a night or two with the proposed object.
These are the next two entries I find worth quoting: "26th October. Started ahead by myself. Went in a straight direction to Mount Abundance, and then followed the river or water-course every mile of the way up to its head in Mount Bindyego. Found the water nearly run out at the place where Sir Thomas Mitchell's sketch no longer shows its course; then followed the river back to about four miles north of Mount Abundance. Camped there; saw blacks several times to-day, but had no intercourse with them." "Wednesday, 27th October. Started back to the drays and stock. Had an interview with thirty-two blacks (all men). My horse dreaded them very much, and the blacks seemed to dread him more than me, if possible. They were all armed, but seemed very well disposed, but in tremendous fear of my double-barrelled carbine, of myself, and of my horse. We, however, made signs to each other of peace—green bushes, etc.—and they knew the words 'white fellow' and 'wheelbarrow' (their corrupt word for drays)—words got from some semi-civilised tribes on the Lower Balonne—and after more chat and friendly signs I left them. Met the drays within about five miles of the spot I had fixed on for the head station, and I accordingly made them come on to-night, viz., to a bend of the river where there is a long reach of water, about one and a half miles south of the south spur of Mount Abundance."
Here was the advanced guard (so to speak) of the expedition arrived at the Land of Promise, and it now remains to be told what we did when we got there, and all that followed till the eventual break-up of the station.
Forming a New Station—Preparations for Shearing—Ye Manneres and Customes of Shearers—The Line to Brisbane—Return to Keera—Heat on the Balonne—A Flood in the Low Districts—The Big River—A Risky Swim—A Home-sick Horse—A Flood in the Higher Country—Short Supplies at the Mount—How to Relieve It—Among the Sloughs Again—Punting Stores Across a River in a Tub—Return to the Mount—Things Better than Might be Expected—An Absence of Six Months.
The following couple of months were spent in the usual occupations incident to the formation of a new station—building huts—building sheep and cattle yards—a little fencing—all, in fact, that was absolutely necessary for the slightest of shelters for the men, and the necessary accommodation for drafting the stock. Some out-stations were also formed, including a cattle station—distant about twenty miles from Mount Abundance—being the site of what is now the flourishing little inland town of Roma, to which I am informed a railway from the city of Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, is now in the course of construction.
Some very rough preparations had also to be made for the approaching shearing, which would necessarily be very late; but still it was a case of better late than never. There was not much doubt of getting shearers, even at this great distance beyond the settled parts of the colony. A shearer in my days (as a squatter) would go anywhere for a job, merely expecting so much a score more in proportion to the distance of the station from the nearest public-house. Many of these men, by two or three months' work during the shearing season, earned, and no doubt earn still, not only sufficient to make work unnecessary during the remaining nine months of the year, but sufficient, if they so employed their earnings, to enable them to start in various occupations on their own account. But to quote a witticism of their own, as a general rule, their investments of their earnings were all "in houses"—public being understood; and during the nine off months they loafed about from station to station, sometimes doing a few weeks' work at splitting, or fencing, or other odd jobs, but more generally travelling by slow stages of a few miles a day from one station to another (living on the hospitality extended to all travellers), but seldom doing much work—working like horses for three months, spending like asses during another—and living as they best could during the rest of the year. The approaching shearing, then, was not my difficulty, but the fact that there was only a sufficient amount of supplies to last the Mount Abundance establishment till the end of February was a serious consideration.
I had hoped to have been able to discover and mark out a line of road between Mount Abundance and the settled part of Darling Downs, which would have reduced the distance to the nearest seaport—Brisbane, the present capital of Queensland—to about 350 miles; but there was so much to be done in the necessary business of forming the station, that it was impossible at this time to attempt it; and, moreover, deaths and losses had reduced my working bullocks to a mere handful.
I accordingly determined to return myself to Keera, to start more drays and provisions from there, and at the same time to establish communications with Brisbane by the longer but established road from the Barwin River, about half-way between Mount Abundance and Keera.
Accordingly, on the 22nd December, 1847, I left Mount Abundance, with a couple of saddle horses for my own use, in company with my horse team of four powerful horses, and the empty dray and the driver. I may say that this constituted the party, as I had, some time previously, sent my own servant to Keera with letters, and no other man could be spared from the Mount, where we were short-handed rather than otherwise. The weather at this time was fearfully hot, and portended either a tremendous drought or a tremendous flood—both were on the cards—but the latter turned up with a vengeance on this occasion, as will be seen. We proceeded at the rate of about twenty miles a day, which was about as much as we could accomplish. Fortunately, the horses never strayed away, and at this time we were in no fear of the natives—at least, I was not—and the driver did not say much about it, whatever he thought. But the heat on the Balonne River, when we got there, was such as I have never experienced, before or since, in any part of the world I have ever been in, the Red Sea not excepted. Here is a note on the 26th of December: "The hottest day I think I ever felt in my life. The loose horses, which follow the dray of their own accord without being driven, were in a lather of perspiration."
As we proceeded down the Balonne we came upon a new cattle station (Fitzgerald's) which had been recently formed there, and found, so says my journal, "that the blacks had already begun to kill his cattle, and that the whole river abounded with harbours for them." I also found that another new station (Hall's) had been formed higher up the Balonne, and distant about seventy miles from Mount Abundance. So it appeared that we were gradually getting neighbours.
We proceeded onwards on our way, making pretty good progress till the 4th of January, 1848, and I do not think I can give a better idea of what a flood means in the Low Districts of the interior of New South Wales than by giving a few extracts from my journal:—
"Tuesday, 4th January. Started to go across from the Mooni Creek to Grover's, on the Barwin River. Got over the first twelve miles of the road very well; then (it having looked cloudy all the morning) it began to rain violently. Further we could not move, the whole country becoming rapidly under water, and the roadway being invisible. Having no tarpaulin with us, and as the rain caught us before we could make a sort of tilt with blankets, everything got wet through, and it rained violently and incessantly the whole of the night."
"Wednesday, 5th. Managed to move on about three miles during the whole day, the empty cart bogging up nearly to the naves of the wheels. Raining violently off and on. Made a sort of a blanket tent, and stopped at a vile place, surrounded on all sides but one by standing pools of water. Even in walking we got up to our knees in mud. Obliged to walk without boots. Cart bogged in a deep marsh."
"Thursday, 6th January. Again made a start by dint of making the horses draw the cart backwards out of the marsh. Carried our little luggage and my trunk and our bedding to a comparatively dry piece of ground. Went up to our knees every step. I myself nearly exhausted, but do not care to show it. Got on, with great difficulty, three miles further to the weir, four miles from Grover's, on the Barwin. It cleared up bright, thank God; but the ground is so rotten that the poor wretched horses, when loose from the cart, are up to their knees in mud." The next day we contrived to get to Grover's "by tremendous exertions—dray literally going axle deep, and horses breast deep, in mud and water."
Here I determined to leave the dray and dray horses and driver, and push on myself to Keera, leaving the driver to go on to Brisbane for the provisions, etc., which he would find there, while I would start other drays and provisions from Keera. To take leave of the dray, I may say that the floods increased so greatly that I subsequently found that the driver had been obliged to wait several weeks at Grover's before he could start for the Downs, and that he himself and the rest of the occupants of the station had passed nine days and nights on the roof of the hut, the whole country for sixty miles round having been from three to six feet under water! People hear in this country more of Australian droughts than Australian floods, but this description may give an idea of what they are like in the low parts of the interior—those parts which supply Sydney with its finest and fattest beef.
To return to myself. Nothing daunted by rain or flood, after a single day's rest, I started on the 9th of January on my homeward journey, having to ride, walk, wade, and swim the 150 miles which intervened between the Barwin and Keera. I continued my amphibious progress for a couple of days, wading through a sea of mud, driving my poor saddle horses before me; and if I could have laughed at anything at the time, it would have been at the fact that they could not get away from me, because from the circumstance of my having only two feet and a greater breadth of sole than they had; that if it had come to a trial of speed in the mud, that I could have distanced them, although they had no weight to carry but my saddle and blankets!
In those days I had, certainly, rather a wiry constitution, but it seemed as if I had just stretched it a little too far, as, on the third day of my homeward journey (it having rained almost incessantly the two previous ones), I was obliged to take a day's rest, or rather unrest, for I had serious threatenings of a severe attack of fever and ague. I felt, however, that I must press on, and hoped to get better as I got into the higher and drier country. Higher it certainly got during my next week's journeyings, but drier certainly not, so far as the heavens were concerned, as it rained nearly incessantly every day. Of course, I had to swim every creek, gully, and water-course on the route, and my horses got so used to it that they latterly seemed just as comfortable off their legs as on them. Here is the memo. of "Tuesday, 18th January. By dint of violent exertions, bogging the whole way, got home to Keera—i.e., I went first to Molroy, then followed the river (the Gwydir) up on the same side to Keera, left my horses, etc. (the etc. on this occasion including all my clothes), on the one side, and swam across, where I found dry clothes, etc., which the people from the cottage, in answer to my shoutings, had brought down. It was nine o'clock at night before I got up to the cottage. It rained all night." I may observe that from the tremendous force of the current I had the narrowest squeak for my life that up to that time I had ever had, and but for the aid of a number of kindly blacks (camped at the river) who helped me, I should not now be writing this narrative. It is quite one thing to swim an odd dozen or two of creeks—quite another to swim a great river like the "Big River" in a flood, as it used familiarly to be called in that district.
Here is another curious memo. from my journal: "Found my lost horse, Don Juan, had come in to Keera all the way, 360 miles from the Mount, by himself. Reports at this time were rife at Keera that seven of my men had been killed by the blacks, and that I myself had been wounded to death."
The arrival of the horse seemed to give colour to the story, but the curious fact is that the horse had not travelled to Mount Abundance by the direct road, because I had, as it will be remembered in the earlier part of my narrative, performed a long detour, something like the loop of a 'D', round by Darling Downs and back to the direct line of road; but the horse was too wise to take such an unnecessary bend in coming back to the place of his birth, where one morning he trotted up to the gate either to announce his return or to get a piece of damper, of which he was particularly fond. Any way, his return caused great consternation, and it had been seriously proposed to organise a party to go out to Mount Abundance to see what had happened. Here are my next two entries in my journal:—
"Wednesday, 19th January. Blacks got my saddle, etc., across the river. Raining again most of the day. The cattle which are going to Mount Abundance have been waiting to start for three or four weeks, and no likelihood yet of their being able to move."
"Thursday, 20th January. Flood at its maximum to-day. Garden totally under water. Flood within eight inches of the level of the house. Fencing and sawn timber all swept away, also boilers and boiling-down place. Mount Abundance out of provisions by the end of February next. When shall I be able to get supplies there?"
This was the important question I had to solve—the penalty of not solving it being probably the entire loss of the whole stock out there, and the desertion of the stations. I knew perfectly well that when the floods abated, and the country became moderately passable, that I should find no difficulty whatever in getting hired carriers to take out any supplies that were required, with the promise of return loads of wool, an arrangement subsequently carried out. But the question was how was a single dray load to be forced out, in spite of rain, floods, bogs, mud, and all other difficulties, on or before the last days of February? To accomplish this difficult task, I felt that I could trust no one but myself, and accordingly on the 1st of February I find this entry: "At last started a dray with rations, which I accompany myself to Mount Abundance."
The dray had ten bullocks, a bullock driver, an assistant, and a Keera black called Jemmy, and was not heavily loaded; and I fondly hoped that if the rain would only stop, that by dint of perseverance, I might force it out in time. I will not give details of the miserable journey, but simply say that we accomplished about 100 miles in three weeks. There I came across the driver of the horse team on his way to Darling Downs, he having been detained up to that time by the floods, as before narrated. Up to this time, although our progress had been very slow, diversified by the usual amount of trouble from lost bullocks (which, however, were always tracked and recovered by Black Jemmy), still we were getting on; and the ground, though very soft and slushy, was still passable. But now we were again getting into the horrible low, soft, boggy country, and my troubles again began. As a sample of a day's work, which might serve for a description of many days, I give an extract .from my journal of "February 28th: Employed all day in getting part of the stores across the Boomai River in a tub, and wrapped up the flour in the tarpaulin, and got the bullocks to drag the dray through the shoalest part of the river. They, however, stuck on the opposite bank, bogging up to their middle. With much difficulty carried the flour on to the bank from the middle of the river, and in vain attempted to get the dray on the west bank to-night. The bullocks being too much exhausted, they turned in the stream, and, in spite of our efforts, dragged back the dray to the other side, where we had to leave it for the night, and let them out. Twenty-two times to-day did I swim this—unpleasant—river myself, and, to sum up troubles, we had another tremendous thunder shower. It was not expected, and the sugar was not under shelter. I had to get up in the middle of the night, and with the assistance of Jemmy got the bags under shelter; but still it got rather wet. The men were on the other side of the river."
By dint of a good deal of persuasion I induced the men to keep on, and in the course of ten days we contrived to get on by inches—so to speak—about a dozen miles. I then resolved to leave the dray and the two white men and Black Jemmy to get on by themselves when the ground got drier, and to proceed by myself to Mount Abundance to announce that the supplies were on the road, and to endeavour, if possible, to purchase or borrow some supplies from the nearest of the Balonne stations if my station was actually in extremis for the want of flour, tea, and sugar, etc. On the 25th of March I reached Mount Abundance. "I found things much better than I expected; the men were not grumbling much at the shortness of the rations, and our losses by the wet weather had been absolutely nothing; but ten more working bullocks had been lost, having got away from the rest of the cattle, so that out of all the working bullock stock brought to Mount Abundance there are only six very indifferent ones left." I found that from the delays occasioned by the floods and other causes, the superintendent had not quite completed his shearing, which, under ordinary circumstances, should have been finished three months previously. But I was very particular in my enquiries as to how they had got on with the blacks, and found that, up to this time, they had had little or no intercourse with them; the fact being that my servants and the blacks were mutually in great fear of each other, under which circumstances it occurred to me that the less they came in contact the better, till they came to a better understanding, which they could only do through the medium of friendly blacks who understood both parties, who were rather difficult to find, as nearly every large tribe has a separate dialect.
I, however, left Mount Abundance with a tolerably strong belief that the blacks in the neighbourhood were not numerous, and that they were not disposed to meddle with my people—who were certainly not disposed to meddle with them—and I accordingly left, with a tolerably easy mind, for what turned out to be an absence of upwards of six months, during which time I was under the necessity of visiting Sydney, and remaining there some time.
Another Start for Mount Abundance—Black Charley—St. George's Bridge Again—Terrible News—Two Men Killed—A Flock of Sheep Taken by Blacks—Station Deserted—Party in Full Retreat—Wanted a Volunteer—Our First Camp—Our First Conflict—The Deserted Station—The Re-occupation—Exploring a Line of Road to Brisbane—Rough Surveying—Another Deserted Station—Companions in Misfortune—The Return Journey—An Unlucky Camp—Charging the Ring—Poor Charley.
On my return to Keera, I started at once for Mount Abundance, accompanied by a number of new men—shepherds, etc.—to fill up the establishment there, and also by my own servant, and by a civilised black named Charley, who understood a good many native dialects, and who also spoke English as well as a good many whites. I shall have a good deal to say about him, poor fellow, in this narrative, and I may begin by saying that he was as brave as he was intelligent, and faithful to the death. My own party started from Keera on the 8th of September, 1848, and we made fair progress on our route till we got near St. George's Bridge, on the Balonne; on the 30th of September, when, in the words of my journal of that date, "I heard of the severest misfortune it has been my lot to encounter during the last thirteen or fourteen months. I met two of the men in my employment at Mount Abundance, who stated that they had just come in from there with the following news, viz., that on the 9th of September, the day after the drays arrived at the station, the blacks had attacked Lowe's stock of about 2,000 ewes in lamb; had killed Lowe (one of my shepherds), and at the same time had gone to the sheep station within about three miles of the head station, and killed Gore, the hut-keeper, and had taken away with them 800 to 1,000 sheep. They also informed me that the rest of the men (fifteen in number) had compelled the superintendent to desert the station without any attempt to deal with any of the blacks or to recover any of the sheep; and that, accordingly, they had all left, taking with them the rest of the sheep and the stores, but leaving behind all the cattle, and about thirty bales of wool in the shed. On enquiring where the party were, I was informed that they were all at the junction of the Cogoon and the Balonne, about fifty to sixty miles on this side of Mount Abundance, and that they (my informants) had left them there, being unwilling to remain any longer. They had met the party I was taking up, who were a few miles ahead of me, but did not appear to have succeeded in inducing them to bolt also." On getting on to the station at St. George's Bridge I met another deserter from the Mount Abundance party, who confirmed the horrid news.
I made what haste I could to join the routed band of faint-hearted pioneers at the junction of the Cogoon and the Balonne, and succeeded in partially calming their fears, and in inducing them to promise to return, under my guidance, with the stock to Mount Abundance. I could not, however, induce any one of them—my own servant being the first to refuse—to accompany me on a preliminary visit to Mount Abundance to see how things were getting on there, and, among other things, to ascertain whether the blacks had burned down all the huts after the establishment had bolted, and also the temporary wool-shed, wherein there were between thirty and forty bales of wool. The only volunteer for this somewhat hazardous expedition was my friend Black Charley, who, after applying to my whole party every possible term of contempt that his knowledge (very considerable) of the English language afforded, remarked, in the coolest manner, that "'neither master nor he wanted such cowardly wretches with us; white wretch only in the road.' And, accordingly, Charley and I started by ourselves, taking with us a semi-wild Balonne black (mounted) to lead the pack-horse, and to find the horses in the morning and to bring them to our camp."
We went the first day "to a lagoon near XIX. Camp, the Lake Turanonga of Mitchell." (Had I been disposed to pun on this occasion, I might have adopted the pronunciation given to it by my men on the way up, and called it the Lake "Tired and Hungry.")
"Saturday, 7th. Left camp a little after seven a.m., having got breakfast and got the horses early. No signs of blacks yet, but about one or two o'clock—." And here follows the description of my first conflict with the blacks—evidently the advanced division of a large party coming from Mount Abundance to complete, if possible, the task they had begun a month before.
To any person of proper feelings, the remembrance of taking human life must always be a painful one, even if taken in self-defence, or to protect the lives of others, or as the recompense of murder under circumstances where the majesty of the law is entirely powerless. I must own that it was a great consolation to me in the first conflict we had with the natives (and it was not the only one before we reached the Mount two days afterwards), that my keen-eyed friend Charley found on the person of one of the blacks who had fallen a pocket-knife with the initials "J.G." engraved on the handle—being that of the poor hut-keeper, John Gore, who had been brutally murdered, at the door of his hut, only a month before. Certainly, in this case, if the retribution was not swift, it was at all events sure.
On our arrival at Mount Abundance, on Sunday, 8th of October, "we found the wool all safe and just as they had left it, and the huts unentered, proving that the blacks were, if possible, greater cowards than my own men. We found some milking cows and a few cattle about, and drove a steer into the stock-yard, which I shot with a pistol, intending to cure it by cutting it into strips and drying it (jerking it) in the sun, as we had no salt. Camped in the larger hut or store, which was full of every sort of rubbish, showing the disgraceful hurry in which the whole party had left. To make all sure, we put three of the horses in the stock-yard to-night, leaving one outside."
Monday, 9th. Charley and I scouring the country round the Mount to ascertain if there were any blacks lurking in the neighbourhood, and, finding the coast clear for the time being, I determined to send Charley back the next day to the camp to try and bring up a dray or two and some of the party at the junction, to get things ready for the reception of the whole party when the lambing was over. I may say that I had the greatest difficulty in persuading Charley to agree to leave me at the Mount by myself (the Balonne black didn't count for much), but he said he was willing to stop there till I could get up the drays and party—an offer which of course I could not accept, as I looked on the Mount as the post of danger. I accordingly passed the three following days all alone but for the company of the Balonne black (Friday), who looked after the horses. I passed most of these days in riding round the Mount in search of signs of the blacks, which I will own I was not anxious to see—at all events till the return of Charley, which took place on the morning of Friday, the 13th of October. "He said he had been travelling day and night since he left. He brought a letter from the superintendent and some young horses with him. Charley said that two drays, with their drivers, and Dan (my servant) would be here to-morrow night, but that he did not like to stop with them longer for fear the blacks might be attacking me at the hut. He told me with a grim smile that when he left the drays the drivers threatened to turn back to the camp, but that he had told them 'plenty smoke behind,' meaning to inform them that it was as safe to come on as to turn back." On the following day the two drays and men arrived at eleven o'clock at night, having travelled incessantly, without unyoking their bullocks, since they left the camp.
Between this time and the 27th of October, 1848, we contrived to get a second detachment of men and some sheep from the camp at the junction of the two rivers, a considerable body having to remain there on account of the lambing. It was a curious coincidence that the Mount Abundance station may thus be said on this day to have been reoccupied for the second time on the very same day that it was first occupied by me the year before.
It now occurred to me that it would be in every respect desirable to find out a practicable line of road for drays, etc., between Mount Abundance and Brisbane, the seaport of Queensland, distant between 300 and 350 miles; the unknown country, so to speak—that is to say, the distance between Mount Abundance and Birrell's, on the Condamine or Upper Balonne—then being estimated by me at about 130 miles. There was also a vague report from the friendly Balonne blacks that somewhere or other to the east of my cattle station (as I have before stated, the site of the present township of Roma), a sheep station had been recently formed by people from the Darling Downs district. With the double object, therefore, of finding the station, or at all events of finding a practicable route to Darling Downs, I resolved at once to start on this new expedition.
On the 29th of October, accordingly, I left Mount Abundance, taking with me my friend Charley, an active stock-keeper of mine named John Byrnes (familiarly known by the men as "Dublin Jack "), and the Balonne black, Friday. I need scarcely say that we were fully armed, and we also took a pack-horse with eight days' rather scanty supply of provisions, and I also took with me a Kater's compass and a few simple necessaries for making a rough survey of the road. I may say that in all my explorations I made a rough survey of the country and plotted my work when and how I best could, the basis of the measurements being my horse's footsteps, which I sometimes counted; and for rougher work estimated his rate as fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen minutes to the mile, according to the country travelled over, and the pace of the horse used. I was also enabled, by cross bearings, to fix pretty accurately the positions of the peaks of various hills on the line of route. I may say, once for all, that the survey notes and sketches that I subsequently gave to the Surveyor-General's Office, in Sydney, formed for a good many years afterwards the only plan in that office of the country round Mount Abundance, and of the country between it and Darling Downs. But this is anticipating. The first and second days of our expedition were employed in hunting about for the supposed new sheep station in the neighbourhood of my cattle station, and late on the evening of the third we came across a dray track, which we followed as long as it was light; and here I may as well quote my journal: "1st November, 1848. Started early this morning upon the dray track, following its inland course. Came, in about three miles, upon the evident signs of a station partially formed and afterwards deserted, viz., a set of sheep-yards on the right bank of the Bungil Creek, and also sad proof of the cause of the disaster—a grave, hastily dug, evidently that of a white man! Who the unfortunate owner could be I could form no conjecture. I could see no initials cut on trees, or any other signs to enable me to form a guess as to the name of the owner of the stock, and consequently determined to run the dray track coastways (eastwards), and find whether the routed party had gone back to Darling Downs, or had mustered up resolution to stop halfway."
I may say that I ascertained, by my survey, that the deserted station was something under fourteen miles to the east of my cattle station. Had the men at the two stations known of their mutual proximity, it might not only have saved a good many lives, but its probable effect would have been to have saved two fortunes—mine and my unfortunate neighbour's. On such apparently trifling circumstances TEN THOUSAND A YEAR often depends in a new country; that was the stake I was playing for, and very nearly won it, too—only, unfortunately, not quite.
After examining all round the deserted station we found their return dray tracks, in the direction of Darling Downs; and surveying as we went along, and camping at night at suitable places, we followed the track for four days, at the rate of about twenty-two miles a day, which was as much as we could do without getting off the track, which was faint and worn out in places. The last day we had nothing to eat but a small bit of dry crust each, in the morning.
On the fifth day, "Sunday, 5th November. After about three miles' riding, heard the welcome sound of a gun, and came upon a hut, which I found to be a temporary station of Mr. Blythe, who turned out to be the unfortunate individual who had been driven, by the ferocity of the blacks, and by the abominable cowardice of his party, to desert the beautiful station he had taken up on the right bank of the Bungil Creek, about S.E. by E. of my cattle station, on the Bunjeywargorai. This is the second shearing since Mr. Blythe had left the Mudgee district, where he had been a squatter, and since that time he has been leading an erratic, or rather nomadic, sort of existence, seeking a resting place and finding none. His men seemed, if possible, in a worse state than even mine—lazy, insolent, overbearing ruffians, who seemed to be killing Mr. Blythe by inches; he seemed quite worn out and broken-hearted, from constant worry and care. As a sample of the character of the men by whom he was surrounded, I may mention that when we had gone to bed, about nine or ten o'clock, we heard great bursts of occasional laughter from the adjacent men's hut, which we could not at first account for; but at last distinguished one voice reciting the story of my mishaps at Mount Abundance, and particularly dwelling upon the mode the blacks had adopted in killing the shepherd and hut-keeper, on which he seemed to enter into all manner of horrid details. We could hardly comprehend how this could be a source of pleasure or amusement to these men, till we heard a stentorian voice shout out: 'Well, if this 'ere don't keep up wages, I'm blowed!' This, of course, explained the mystery."
I spent a few days resting ourselves and horses at Mr. Blythe's, and, during my stay, so says my journal, "I got a long and detailed account from Mr. Blythe of the outrages the blacks had been perpetrating in this particular neighbourhood. They had taken away the whole of Mr. Isaac's sheep, about 3,000, from their hut, which he had recently formed, on the head of the Emu Creek; but had been followed by a party of seventeen men, who had tracked the sheep from place to place, where the blacks had taken them, as far as the Grafton Range, making bough-yards for them every night, as well as white men could have done. The party came on the blacks at the edge of the Grafton Scrub, and had recovered all of the sheep but about 150, which the blacks had eaten. The blacks themselves, on being overtaken, all disappeared in the impenetrable scrub; in number they (the blacks) were stated to be between three and four hundred. A Mr. Birrell had also had a man recently killed, and a number of sheep taken away; so also had a Mr. Ewer. Captain Barney, a new settler (a brother of Colonel Barney, of Sydney), had had his station plundered while he was preparing to take his wife and family there; and he was so disgusted with this commencement that he had resolved to give up squatting and return to Sydney. Numerous were the other mishaps and misfortunes all round which Mr. Blythe related to me, but I cannot now record them."
Mr. Blythe having hospitably supplied us with an ample store of provisions, I arranged for proceeding on my homeward journey, feeling that a good deal had been accomplished, as we had found a perfectly good and practicable road through good and fair country to a seaport just half the distance from Mount Abundance that Newcastle is. On the third day of our homeward journey I find the following entry in my journal:—
"Saturday, 11th November, 1848. Started this morning (which was cloudy, and a little drizzling) intending, if possible, to have gone to my deserted cattle station, and early to the Mount to-morrow, but to-day turned out one of the most adventurous and hazardous, and also one of the most painful, of my life, it having cost me my poor faithful friend Charley; and what made it the more painful was the reflection that this sad occurrence was, in a great measure, owing to my own reckless foolhardiness. Towards the middle of the day, just as we were approaching an old camp of 31st October (within about three miles of Mr. Blythe's deserted station), we came upon a considerable number of hostile blacks, all in their war paint."
And here follows an account of a skirmish we had with them, in which we had so far the best of it that they eventually retreated, and left us masters of the field. As I now view the matter, I think that any sensible person would, under the circumstances, have made the best of his way to Mount Abundance, out of such a decidedly unpleasant neighbourhood; but as there were not above thirty or forty warriors in the party who had retired, and as our horses were rather tired, I resolved to camp for an hour at the blacks' camp by the side of the creek, which I thought they would not be in a hurry to return to. Accordingly (here again I quote my journal):
"I gave the (as it turned out to be) sad and unhappy order to turn out the horses—taking off the pack and other saddles—and began to prepare for dinner, rendered unusually sumptuous by the addition of an immense number of fish (cooked and uncooked), roasted bandicoots, opossums, and though last, not least, five snakes ready cooked, which we found at the fire and in the mongas at the blacks' camp. Just as the saddles were all off, the horses hobbled, and our quart pots on the fire boiling, Charley observed a black in the distance, and called my attention to it, adding, 'You had best get up the horses, as I think there are a mob coming.' Not in the least anticipating what was to follow, but still believing Charley's advice to be salutary, we each took up our bridles and proceeded in different directions to catch our horses. Four of the horses (my own, Dublin Jack's, Friday's, and the pack-horse) were pretty close to us on the same side of the creek as we were at camp at. Charley's was just on the opposite bank of the creek, in sight also, the animal having gone into the creek to drink. Just as I was going to lay my hand on my horse's head I happened to turn round, and saw, with much surprise and a little horror, an immense line of blacks drawn up in a semi-circle, of which the radius was about 300 yards—the line of the creek, on the bank of which I was standing, forming the diameter of the semi-circle. The blacks, as nearly as I could guess in the coup d'oeil glance I gave them, greatly exceeded 150. The moment they perceived I had observed them, they set up a tremendous war shout, 'Waugh, waugh, waugh, tirrrr, tirrr, tirrr!' all in unison, which fairly seemed to make the air vibrate; but they were not at this moment advancing. I perceived just at this moment that Jack had caught his horse, and that Charley was close to his horse on the other side of the creek.
"My horse did not gallop off, as I feared he would, but stood gazing at the black cordon with distended nostrils and fixed eyes, evidently in doubt whether to run or to stand—as, although an old warrior, a war-cry sounded from the throats of 150 blacks simultaneously was something new even to him. I took advantage of his indecision, and, speaking gently to him, put on his bridle, took off his hobbles, and led him up to my saddle just as Jack flew by me on his horse with his gun in the air and his saddle girths flying loose, which it appeared he had not taken time to buckle. The blacks by this time (i.e., about three minutes after their first appearance and war-shout) had begun advancing after their manner—two steps forward and one backwards—and, just as Jack fired a shot at them, whizz came a shower of spears, boomerangs, nulla-nullas, etc., they being still between one and two hundred yards from where I was standing. As Jack flew by me I shouted to him to ask if he had taken my gun, as it was not with my saddle, where I had left it. He shouted as he passed, 'Charley took it.' Another minute had elapsed; I had girthed my saddle and holsters, vaulted into my seat, and drawn a pistol—the blacks within one hundred yards—and Jack just on the outside point of the circle, I being at this moment at its centre. One black, seeing me mount, rushed out of the ring towards me, and as I dashed at him he flung his nulla-nulla at me, which just grazed my hat, and I at the same instant fired. We were under twenty yards apart. Jack was at this moment just clear of the ring. I charged through it at a hand-gallop—another shower of spears, etc., passed me innocuously; but one spear passed between my bridle and the horse's mane, and another grazed the crupper of my saddle, sundry others flying by me just as I got up to Jack, nearly opposite to the spot where I last saw Charley near his horse.
"The blacks wheeled round just as I cleared them, and the shower of spears and the war-shouts frightened Jack's horse so that he had at this moment lost his saddle and his gun, but, strange to say, he did not wholly lose his seat, as he was very active and on his horse again in a twinkling; but at the moment I observed that he had lost his saddle the blacks in force had closed on it, so Jack and I dashed across the creek somewhat higher up than where Charley had been seen by me close to his horse. All this occupied about five minutes from the moment the blacks first appeared. Friday had disappeared unaccountably at the moment Charley went for his horse. After a rapid search for Charley round the spot where I last saw him (I could not persuade Jack to wait longer, as the whole band were closing on us again) we proceeded slowly up the creek, just keeping out of spear-shot of the blacks, and shouting 'Charley!'—Jack all the while persisting that Charley had left us (as he saw him with his hand on his horse's head before either he or I had caught ours), and that he was confident that he would be at the cattle station (distant about fourteen miles) before we should. We then proceeded slowly on, examining the ground for his horse's tracks (as the blacks' shouts got fainter), and reached the deserted hut several hours after sunset. There was a bright moon; but, alas! I could see no fresh horse tracks—no signs of poor Charley.
"I forgot to mention that the two spare horses (not Charley's) dashed up to us in hobbles just as I cleared the ring of the blacks, and I took off their hobbles and drove them before us as we searched up the creek for Charley. We then went on a few miles further, and camped about sixteen miles from Mount Abundance. Sad was the night I passed in alternate hopes and fears as to poor Charley's safety, not unmingled with fears for Friday also, although from his being unarmed, and, so to speak, a next-door neighbour of the Fitzroy Downs blacks, I was in hopes they might imagine that he was only compulsorily accompanying us. If anything could have amused me on this painful occasion, it would have been the one-sided virulence with which Jack abused the treachery of the wild blacks. I endeavoured to explain to him that there was not much treachery in the matter. We were at war with the blacks; they had certainly killed my men and Mr. Blyth's, and driven away vast numbers of sheep and cattle without any provocation on our part, but simply from the desire to plunder. We certainly only wanted that our sheep and cattle should eat some of the grass which was of no use to them; but then, on the other hand, they no doubt thought they had a better right to the land than we had. Jack did not seem to see the force of my reasoning; and as I thought an hour or two of rest would be a pleasanter occupation than endeavouring to explain the law and practice of civilised and uncivilised races to an Australian stockman, I dropped asleep till my turn to watch came—being the first I had ever thought it necessary to keep, or to have kept, in all my wanderings among the tortuous waters of the Balonne system."1
[1. I fancy my readers will hardly fail to be struck with the similarity of the event above described to one which recently happened in Zululand which saddened all Europe.]
"Sunday, 12th November. Arose early enough. Got horses easily—Jack riding on my great coat by way of a saddle. Got in early to Mount Abundance; found men in a great stew, as they had almost given us up. Determined to start again at once to try to learn something of poor Charley's fate. Took another Balonne black named Bobby, a white man named Paddy McEnroe, and Jack with me (all fully armed and mounted of course), and proceed back to the deserted cattle station to-night."
The next five days were spent in an ineffectual search for poor Charley, and, I must also add, in sundry conflicts with the hostile blacks in the neighbourhood of Blyth's station. We tracked Charley's horse from the place where we last saw Charley near him, to where we actually came on the horse grazing quietly with his hobbles still on; and the black, Bobby, maintained that the horse had fallen in hobbles with Charley on his back, and pointed out the place; but we could find no traces of Charley himself—leaving still the hope, although a very faint one indeed, that he might have escaped on foot and joined the sheep party below Mount Abundance, a hope which, alas! was never realised.
Near the camp we came across the horribly mutilated body of a black—the face so battered that we could scarcely recognise it; but Bobby declared, with great lamentations, that it was his poor brother Friday, whom his neighbours had not spared, though his only offence was that of being with us and leading our pack-horse. I have since heard from the blacks that Charley ran for miles after his horse fell with him (in hobbles), and that he was killed near the Grafton Range.
Return to Keera—Another Journey to the Mount—All Wrong—Return of Sheep to Keera—Non-arrival of Cattle Party at the Mount—The Reason Why—Three More Men Killed by the Blacks—Murder Camp—A Night Watch—A Solitary Ride—Spoiling the Trail—A Lucky Awakening—Commissioner Durbin—Obstinate Carriers—More Horrors—"Look under the Wool"—Escorting the Wool Drays—The Moral of It All—Sic vos non vobis.
Up to the end of December was spent by me at Mount Abundance in superintending the preparations for the return of the whole sheep party and the superintendent from the junction, in preparations for shearing, and in collecting the scattered cattle, and those never-ending pests, the working bullocks. By this time things had got pretty well into their ordinary course again, and I thought I might with tolerable safety leave the establishment in charge of the superintendent while I paid a visit to Keera on important business connected with both establishments. On my journey to Keera, which occupied about a fortnight, I had special occasion to notice a climatic feature specially peculiar to the Northern districts of Australia, viz., the partiality of the rainfall—here and there green oases of ten to twenty miles in width, with burned-up deserts on each side.
By the end of January another party (of whose fate I shall have to speak presently) left Keera en route for Mount Abundance with another herd of cattle, and, in the middle of February, I myself started for Mount Abundance with a friend of mine, with whom I proposed to make arrangements for the management of both establishments during a projected visit of mine to Great Britain. On our journey to Mount Abundance we passed the cattle party, and arrived without accident at Mount Abundance by the end of February. On our arrival "I found everything as wrong as could be expected; shearing not finished—no grass to speak of near the Mount—but sheep still in good condition from the myal and salt bush they eat." I saw plainly enough that the matter was too hard for me—to keep on the sheep establishment at Mount Abundance during my absence in Great Britain; and the shepherds declared to a man that they would not remain an hour after their periods of engagement expired. In vain I told them that I had recently met Mr. J. H. Durbin, the newly-appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands for the new district (to be called the Fitzroy Downs or Maranoa District), and that he said I might soon expect to see him at Mount Abundance with a strong body of police, and that very probably he would establish his head-quarters near there. It was all in vain—perhaps if he had actually been there it might have been different—but stay they would not any longer than till the shearing was over; and, accordingly, on the 13th of March the superintendent started with all the sheep on the return journey to Keera. I may say, in round numbers, that my losses in sheep and lambs during these two years, from blacks, losses, native dogs, and deaths of sheep and young lambs from overcrowding, etc., did not amount to less than ten thousand; and, consequently, fewer sheep returned to Keera than left on the 1st of July, 1847.
I determined, however, to keep up Mount Abundance as a cattle station, which the promise of very high wages, and keeping up an extra number of men, enabled me to do. Much of the wool had yet to be pressed, and arrangements made for forwarding it to a seaport—Brisbane, if possible, and if not to Newcastle. It was with a very sad heart that I saw the sheep party start; but I hoped for better times when the Commissioner, with his police, had established their head-quarters, and that then Mount Abundance might for the THIRD time be re-established as a great sheep station. But it was not to be—in my case, at all events. Things got worse and worse, as will be seen. Becoming somewhat uneasy from the non-arrival of the cattle party from Keera, which I had passed so long ago, on the 19th of March I "dispatched Byrnes (Dublin Jack), the head stockman here, the most resolute man I had, to meet the cattle party, and to hurry them on."
"Thursday, 22nd March, 1849. At about twelve o'clock two of the cattle party came galloping in here on horseback, frantic with fear and horror, bringing the horrible intelligence of the blacks having attacked their party on the night before, and killed two out of the five, and they believed three; the third being my poor stockman, Byrnes. The account they gave of the attack was as follows:—The party with the cattle had arrived at XXII. Camp (about twenty miles from Mount Abundance) about one hour before sunset, horses and cattle quite knocked up, and unable to proceed any further that day. Four of the party, they said (after their arrival at camp, and after the horses were turned out), were walking round the cattle and camping them, the fifth man being left in charge of the camp and the arms, the whole of these four having been (according to the survivors' account) foolish enough to leave the camp without arms, and to scatter, themselves about all round, on foot. Suddenly they heard cries of 'Murder! murder!' at the camp, and saw a large body of blacks rushing down upon them. Byrnes, the stockman, who had a pistol, called out, 'Save yourselves—run for your lives!' running himself at the same time. By this time, they said, it was dark, and that they (the survivors, King and Ryan) managed to escape on foot; but the last they saw of Byrnes, four or five blacks were pursuing him. They said they walked about for several hours in the bush, not knowing where they were, but at last they found themselves on the road between XXI. and XXII. Camps in the middle of the night; that they hid themselves during the night, and in the morning had gone on the road back to the 'Murder Camp,' where they found the horses close to the place where the blacks had attacked them, which they caught; that they then found the bodies of two of the men quite dead, but could not see anything of Jack (Byrnes), whom they believed was also killed. They said they found all the herd of cattle just as they left them; that the blacks had taken away all their clothes, bedding, provisions, etc., but that they found a couple of riding-saddles and the packsaddles, one of which last they put over the body of one of the murdered men, and had then ridden as fast as they were able along the road which they knew must lead to the head station of Mount Abundance. While they were relating these horrible events, I was mounting and arming a strong party to proceed to the scene of the murders, to ascertain the worst, and to go on to the sheep party (lower down the river), for fear the blacks might have gone straight there and attacked them after the murders at XXII. Camp. I took with me seven mounted and well-armed white men and a Balonne black. We were only an hour in getting ready, and thus got off by about one p.m., leaving five men at the Mount, including the two who had escaped out of the cattle party. We rode on to XXII. Camp and found the horrible tale too true, finding the bodies of the two men (McCafferty and Ball) as they had been described, but could find no signs of the third man, Byrnes. We also found the cattle and horses just as they had been left. We buried the two unfortunates in the best way we could, and then proceeded onwards as well as our tired horses allowed (some of them at least being poor and done up before starting), and arrived at the sheep party at XIX. Camp, Turanonga Lagoon, about two hours before daylight on the morning of Friday, 23rd of March. I had tried a good deal to persuade the party (ordered they would not be) to camp about nine or ten miles before we reached the sheep, and I said if they would do so I would myself ride on to the sheep party and put the superintendent on his guard; and then, if there were any signs of blacks' fires, I would at once return to them. If not, I would return after waiting at the sheep camp an hour or two. They one and all said my object in not wanting them to go with me was for fear they should tell the sheep party of what had happened, and so alarm them and perhaps make them bolt and desert the sheep; but promised, if I told the superintendent only, they would not say a word to any of the men. As I saw they were determined to go whether I let them or not, I thought it better to allow what I could not prevent."
After seeing the sheep party "through a small scrub on to the open plains near XVIII. Camp, we ourselves returned to XX. Camp, or rather a few miles beyond it, on our way back to collect the herd of cattle, and, if possible, to find out the whereabouts of the blacks. Kept a double watch all night."
The next few days were spent with the double object above referred to, and to some extent we succeeded. There were still, however, a number of cattle missing, and I again took to my old habits of solitary exploration when I could not spare a party to accompany me; but it would appear that on the 29th of March I had induced one of the survivors of the cattle party to accompany me to what got the name of the "Murder Camp" (twenty miles from Mount Abundance), near which we found a number of the scattered cattle, and afterwards lost them again as it was growing dark; "and I accordingly determined on camping where we were, to the inexpressible horror and dismay of the man King, who loudly expressed his fears that he would certainly be killed before morning. I was unkind enough to laugh at his fears, and insisted on remaining. However, we kept watch and watch, lighted no fire, and all was quiet till the middle of the night, when I heard the horse which was tethered break its rope and gallop off with great violence, the hobbled one following him. I quietly told King that the horses had seen or heard the blacks, and, taking our arms, we followed in the direction the horses had taken, which after a mile or two of a walk and a good hour's search we found; and, as I thought it possible, it had been a false alarm. To King's utter terror and disgust I returned to our camp, which we had some difficulty in finding; and as he said he could not sleep another wink I enjoyed the advantage of a sound sleep till morning, when—
"Friday, 30th March—to my great satisfaction the cattle I was in search of came down to drink. Found another horse, being that of McCafferty, one of the men who had been killed (a short distance from here), and returned to Mount Abundance early with the cattle."
The following three weeks were spent in keeping a sharp look-out for our friends the blacks, in collecting cattle, in preparing the wool—which was not entirely packed—in the invariable business of hunting for working bullocks (including those of two carriers who had brought up two dray-loads of provisions and were to take down two loads of wool), and in preparing the hut, stock-yard fencing, etc., for the use of the men who were to remain; more, so to speak, to "hold the fort" than to look after the considerable herd of cattle now on—or supposed to be on—the station. As up to this time there were no news of Mr. Commissioner Durbin and his police, I determined to start by myself to Hall's station, some seventy miles or more by the road, to see if I could learn anything about him, and as my journey was a somewhat adventurous one, I give an extract from my journal:—
"Saturday, 21st April. At three a.m. I started, armed to the teeth, riding one horse and leading another to carry my blankets and something to eat, as I felt confident that from the low condition of my over-worked horses, I should have to camp one night at least at the junction of the Cogoon and Balonne Rivers (distant fully fifty miles from Mount Abundance). Breakfasted at XXI. Camp. Kept my horses saddled close to me, thinking some of my friends might skulk down the ridge round me. Left about one p.m., being obliged to give my horses some food and rest. Reached Lake Turanonga, a little beyond XIX. Camp, a little after sunset. Determined to camp here, having travelled nearly fifty miles, and my horses weak; but, before doing so, determined to examine all round to see if there were any traces of blacks. I had seen the track of one black some hours before. Just as I began my reconnaissance I saw, to my great annoyance (as my horses were very tired), just at the back of the ridge (on the edge of the lagoon), some seven or eight fires in a small scrub; but I hoped I had not gone near enough to alarm the blacks, whom I was in no condition to face with my tired horses, one of which would not stand fire well. I accordingly moved off, and doubled and entangled my trail to throw out the blacks if they followed it, and then went on about four miles in a straight course. I once thought I saw the glare of fire-sticks behind me, but I was not sure. I however hoped I had effectually dodged my friends (by spoiling my trail), and led down my horses to a water-hole near XVIII. Camp to get a drink and to get one for myself; and then going on a little further, a good way off water, I short-tethered my horses, and lay down (without fire) for an hour or two of sleep, which I much required. I might have slept till about midnight, when I half awoke, and, jumping up, to my considerable disturbance saw one fire-stick within two to three hundred yards of me, and the glare of several others. Being only half awake I fancied I had my servant with me, and called to him in a loud whisper to get up, as the blacks were round us. My own voice thoroughly awaking me, I immediately remembered where I was, and saddling my horses and mounting, moved off about three miles further, as near as I could guess, it being almost dark, as there was no moon. I then sat down, keeping my horses saddled and close to me till morning. Verily I had cause to thank God that neither of them had neighed or made any noise while I was asleep, as the blacks had evidently tracked my horses' footsteps (by aid of flaring fire-sticks) from the lagoon; but from the crosses and bends in my trail they had got weary, and laid themselves down on the trail intending to follow it up in the morning. Had they persevered for three hundred yards further they must inevitably have caught 'Muckadilla Maaster' (as they called me) napping, and verily a nice spectacle they would have made of me—but they have not got me yet!"
"Sunday, 22nd April, 1849. Started as soon as it was light across the Cogoon (or Muckadilla, the native name for it) in a south-easterly course, to make the Balonne. Had to go about eight miles, chiefly through a more or less thick cypress pine scrub, before I made the river. I made it at a very bad crossing-place, where there were very steep banks on both sides, and masses of reeds near the edge of the water; but as the country was close on the right bank, and the bush on fire in places near me; I strongly suspected either my friends of last night had been before me, or had sent a messenger to announce me to another party here. I therefore determined, coute qui coute, to get across the river into more open forest country while the coast was clear, and accordingly plunged into the river. Just as I got into mid-stream, which was not very deep, I heard a 'C-r-r-r-r' in the reeds not very far from me, but for my life I could not exactly say where. Thinking, however, prudence was the better part of valour, I dashed at the opposite bank with my horses, although it was so frightfully steep that under ordinary circumstances I should have thought I ran a considerable risk of breaking my own neck and those of my horses (in ascending it). Once on the bank I did not care, as I had the vantage ground and clear country ahead. I then immediately dismounted, unslung my double-barrel, and gave a series of shouts to my friends, determined to fire at the first moving thing I saw in the reeds; but my friends' hearts either failed them on seeing the advantageous position I had taken up, or they did not feel themselves in sufficient force to face 'Muckadilla Maaster' awake. In a couple of miles further I made Hall's road, about thirteen to fourteen miles from the station. When within about seven miles of the station I met a couple of Mr. Hall's stockmen, who informed me that Mr. Commissioner Durbin and his party of police had arrived there three or four weeks before. On arriving at Mr. Durbin's quarters he was greatly delighted to see me after all the frightful stories he had heard of the terrible doings at Mount Abundance, and told me he had been preparing shortly to come up to Mount Abundance with his police. He promised, if I would wait a day or two here, that he and three of his policemen would accompany me to the Mount; that he would do what he could in restoring subordination among my men, and that when we were ready he and his party would assist in escorting my wool teams safe out of the stronghold of the Philistines."
There is a good deal of interesting matter in my journal during the next week, but as my narrative is becoming rather lengthy I must hurry on towards the conclusion. Suffice it to say, that when we arrived at the Mount we found things nearly ready for a start, but for the same never-ending nuisance—working bullocks. The carriers' two teams were now all found, but a number of mine had got astray again, and it was impossible to make a start with the wool till they were recovered; the carriers, however, grumbled at the delay. I find the following entry in my journal of 30th of April: "We told the carriers that my drays would start positively on this day week under the escort of Mr. Durbin's party. The answer the carrier Foley gave was 'that if he liked to chance his life that I might chance my wool; and that if I did not give him the wool he could travel all the easier empty.' I certainly felt that there was some risk, but as he and his mate came up safe before, I thought that as he said he never intended to take out his bullocks till he got to the junction (comparatively safe country) that it was well to let them go with the wool as without it."
Accordingly the two carriers, Foley and Flaherty, started with their two drays, and two teams of bullocks, and twenty-four bales of wool down the Cogoon towards the junction, and we were preparing for a start with four drays loaded with wool, and four teams of bullocks, when on the morning of Sunday, 5th of May, "one of the cattle herdsmen came galloping in to the head station with the horrid intelligence that one of Foley's working bullocks which he knew had come into the herd with a spear in his shoulder. God knows how I looked, but Durbin turned as white as a sheet, as we both instinctively knew what had most probably happened, viz., that Foley and his mate had been attacked and killed; as it was clear that even if the bullock had been speared when out feeding that the men would have been here before looking for him, as, from the description, it was one of his leading bullocks, which he could not do without. Too late to start to-night."
"Sunday, 6th of May. Drizzling rain in the morning. Durbin and myself and three mounted troopers, and his black, and two of my men, all mounted and armed, started in the rain this morning, keeping our arms as dry as possible. The rain ceased after we had got about a dozen miles down the river. We proceeded along, narrowly examining the ground for traces of blacks or footmarks of the carriers. We found no signs of either till we got about three miles below XXII. Camp, when the following horrible scene presented itself to our view:—The two drays a little off the road alongside the river; one close to it with marks of the team having broken from it and dashed down the bank; the other dray overset and two bullocks dead in the pole, and two more fastened to it by the chains; the wool bales scattered in all directions, seven or eight ripped up, the canvas taken away, and the wool scattered in large piles on the ground; at the back of the dray the horse on his back, and his body covered with wounds of spears, nulla-nullas, etc. Durbin uttered the joyful exclamation, 'The men have escaped.' I said, 'Look under the wool.' Under it—horrible to relate—we found the bodies of the two unhappy men enveloped in piles of wool, mutilated in the most horrible manner, and in a dreadful state of decomposition—one of the bodies being wholly stripped, the other partially so. We also found under the wool their bulldog speared through the body. Close to the drays we found the extinguished fires of a large camp of blacks, and the remains of one or two of the bullocks which they had roasted and eaten on the spot, having apparently camped there the night on which the murders took place (which was probably last Wednesday). By what we could observe, the men had not been at camp, but had apparently pulled up to get a drink in the river, and had either gone down without arms or the blacks had rushed upon them so suddenly that they had not been able to see them, as the arms were not discharged. We found the arms and sundry papers, hobbles, straps, and rags. The provisions and clothes the blacks had taken away, as also one of the dray tarpaulins. As we had no means of burying the unhappy men till we returned to Mount Abundance, we determined forthwith to return there, and to bring back bullocks and an extra dray to bring back the loose wool—which, by the way, we found the blacks had made an ineffectual attempt to burn. Arrived at the Mount at about midnight, where of course the former state of things among the men was Heaven to what it was now."
The next day was spent in collecting working bullocks and horses, and on the following day, Tuesday, May 8th, "got horses, as usual, late, and afterwards as many working bullocks as were absolutely necessary; but it was late in the day before we could get off, that is to say, Durbin, myself, his three policemen, his black boy, and five of my men, eleven in all—leaving four men at Mount Abundance—all of us armed, and most of us mounted. The bullocks travelling slowly we could only get to Mount Inviting old sheep station to-night, where we remained till two next morning; but I should mention that just before we got there we saw the hut in a blaze. It appeared that although we could make out no signs of the blacks yesterday (the rain having washed out their tracks), they had not been far from us when we were at the drays. They had followed us up, and some of them had camped in the hut, the thatch of which had apparently caught fire during the night, as we found where they had made a fire in the corner of the hut, and where they had broken a hole in the chimney in their hurry to get out when the burning roof fell in on them. I fear I should have been tempted to suggest to them not to hurry themselves had I been there when it occurred. We sat down and rested ourselves 'by my own fireside' till the moon rose, and—
"Wednesday, 9th May, at two a.m., we started by moonlight, Durbin and I keeping ahead in hopes of seeing fires or other signs of our friends near the river, and keeping beyond the noise of the drays and bullocks. We were quite confident our friends were in the neighbourhood, although where we could not exactly say. By a little after sunrise we reached the 'Murder Camp' (which might well be so called, as within two months it and its immediate neighbourhood had been the scene of five murders) and buried the two poor men, over whom Durbin read prayers, keeping a mounted patrol of two men to mind the horses and working bullocks, and to keep a look-out in case the blacks might be lurking about in force. After burying the bodies we breakfasted, and then commenced loading the loose wool as best we could. I do not think I ever worked so hard in my life as I worked to-day while it lasted, and I must do my men the justice to say they worked pretty well too. The wool was wet by the recent heavy rain, and the whole atmosphere was polluted by the vapours from the corpses and the carrion of the dead bullocks and the horse; and although we had them dragged away by the other bullocks, the wool and everything round exhaled ghastly odours of the charnel house. By dint of very hard work, at half-past three p.m. we had everything packed up as well as we were able, and ready to start again; but from the wetness of the wool and the heaviness of the loads, and the short number and intractableness of the bullocks, it was past midnight again before we reached the burned down sheep-station hut. It may be imagined hardly a man of the party was able to keep his eyes open. Although the men had a little sleep last night Durbin and I had none, and we have now had forty-two hours of it straight off."
"Thursday, 10th May. Started at day-dawn to get the jaded horses and working bullocks home to the Mount in order to let the latter out to grass, as they have hardly had a mouthful to eat since the day before yesterday. Got to the Mount early in the day."
The remainder of the month of May, as my doleful journal records, was spent in making preparations to remove the wool down to Hall's station, where Mr. Durbin had resolved to establish his head-quarters—for some time to come, at all events. He remained at Mount Abundance all this time, and volunteered (with his police) to escort my drays down when they were ready to start; and even now I cannot refrain from expressing the great personal obligations I felt myself under to him in the very difficult situation in which I was placed. He certainly not only did his duty as a public servant, but a great deal more than his duty.
It will be seen throughout this doleful narrative that no small portion of my difficulties arose from losses and deaths of WORKING BULLOCKS. Transport of produce and provisions was in those days—in the far interior, at all events—as great a difficulty with pioneer squatters as provisioning an army in a hostile country is with the Commissariat Department.
If those people who lived at home at ease and were always abusing the Transport Service during the days of the Crimean War, and a later generation of the same kind of critics who are now speaking their minds as to deficiencies in the Transport Service in connection with the Afghan and Zulu Wars—if any of these people had ever had any experience in forming a new station in the far interior of Australia—perhaps they would be somewhat milder in their denunciations of a branch of the military service of Great Britain which is naturally kept at a low ebb in time of peace, and is necessarily overstrained and overworked in time of war.
This is certainly rather a digression from my narrative of my fortunes, or rather my misfortunes, at Mount Abundance; but I resume by saying that prior to our departure I made up my mind that for some years to come—that is, until the country between the Mount and Darling Downs became occupied by squatters—I would only occupy the Mount as a cattle station, keeping what was left of my sheep at Keera till quieter times. I left a sufficient amount of men at Mount Abundance to keep possession, and then Mr. Durbin and I proceeded on our journey to more civilised country after we had seen the drays with their loads safe at his head-quarters. Shortly afterwards, for a consideration no doubt, he induced another Commissioner of Crown Lands to exchange with him, and I do not think he ever again visited the somewhat dangerous neighbourhood of Mount Abundance.
I myself not very long afterwards returned to look after my patrimonial acres at the foot of the Grampians in fair Perthshire, not very long after married, and remained in Scotland till the middle of 1856.
During the interval the Keera station and the Mount Abundance station had been carried on as such properties very frequently are carried on where the owner is at the other end of the world—that is, very expensively and very unprofitably. I felt it necessary to return to Australia to see how matters were going on. What we did during our two years' absence, is it not chronicled in a little book written by my wife on our return to Scotland, called, "My Experiences in Australia, by a Lady"?
During our stay at my old head station of Keera, I found that, although Mount Abundance was not quite such a dangerous place of abode as during my time there, still it was not a place to which to take a young wife and children; and accordingly after a good deal of consideration I resolved to part with all my pastoral property in Australia for anything I could get for it, and to return for good to the old country.
I have heard quite recently that my old station of the Mount is at the present time in the hands of a company belonging to Aberdeen, and is producing an enormous income to its present possessors; thus my toils, troubles, and dangers as a Pioneer are only another proof of the truth of the proverb, "Sic vos non vobis!"
I am now verging towards the period of the "sere and yellow." I have several sons to start in life, and as that battle gets year by year harder and yet more hard for those who have not much to rely on but their own energy in fighting it, I cannot help feeling sometimes a pang of regret that, while I was yet in the prime and vigour of life, I parted for a song with my beautiful station of Mount Abundance.
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