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Title: Expedition to ascertain the course of the River Victoria.
Author: Edmund Kennedy.
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1305191h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2013
Date most recently September 2013

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Production Notes:

Kennedy's markings on trees and elsewhere, rendered in the original thus:
, are here rendered K/IV.


Edmund Kennedy was second in command of Sir T.L. Mitchell's exploration party, which started in December 1845 to endeavour to find a route to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Read about Mitchell's expedition, "Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia", on Project Gutenberg Australia.

On their return at the end of 1846, Mitchell suggested that Kennedy should be sent to explore the course of the Victoria River (now the Barcoo River). This expedition, which took place in 1847, is the subject of the present work.

It was also hoped that Kennedy might find a convenient route to the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria. His fatal second expedition to the tip of Cape York commenced in April 1848. It is described in "Narrative of an Expedition Undertaken Under the Direction of E. B. Kennedy" by William Carron, a survivor of the expedition, also available on PGA.

A notice of Kennedy's death appears at the end of the present work.

Read a biographical sketch of Edmund Kennedy from the "Dictionary of Australian Biography", here.

Also visit the "Edmund Kennedy" page.

Expedition to

ascertain the course of the

River Victoria.


Mr. Edmund Kennedy,



Expedition of Mr. Assistant-Surveyor Edmund Kennedy to ascertain the course of the River Victoria.

{Page 193}

[Extract from
Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London
Volume XIX, Pages 193-199.]

Communicated by the Colonial Office.

[Read Jan. 8, 1849.]

Having reached the lowest point of the Victoria attained by the Surveyor-General, I was directed "to pursue the river, and determine the course thereof as accurately as my light equipment and consequent rapid progress might permit." Accordingly, on the 13th of August we moved down the river, and at 4 miles crossed over to its proper right bank; the Victoria is there bounded on the south by a low sandstone ridge, covered with brigalow; and on the north by fine grassy plains, with here and there clumps of the silver-leaf brigalow. At 7 miles we passed a fine deep reach, below which the river is divided into three channels, and inclines more to the southward; at 13 miles we encamped upon the centre channel: the three were about half a mile apart, the southern one under the ridge being the deepest. We found water in each, but I believe it to be only permanent in the southernmost, which contains a fine reach, one mile below our encampment, in latitude 24 17' 34". An intelligent native whom we met there with his family, on our return, gave me the name of the river, which they call "Barcoo". I also obtained from him several useful words, which he seemed to take a pleasure in giving, and which I entered in my journal.

Between the parallels of 24 17' and 24 53', the river preserves generally a very direct course to the S.S.W., and maintains an unvaried character, although the supply of water greatly decreases below the latitude 24 25'. It is divided into three principal channels, and several minor watercourses, which traverse a flat country lightly timbered by a species of flooded box; this flat is confined on either side by low sandstone ridges, thickly covered with an acacia scrub. In latitude 24 50' we had some difficulty in finding a sufficiency for our own consumption, but after searching the numerous channels, the deep (though dry) lagoons and lakes formed there by the river, we at length encamped at a small water-hole in latitude 24 52' 55" and longitude 144 11' 26".

Being aware that the principal view of the Government in sending me to trace the Victoria was the discovery of a practical route to the Gulf of Carpentaria, I then began to fear that I should be unable, with my small stock of provisions, to accomplish the two objects of my expedition. My instructions confined me to the river, which had now preserved, almost without deviation, a S.S.W. course for nearly 100 miles; the only method which occurred to me, by the adoption of which I might still hope to perform all that was desired, was to trace the river with two men as far as latitude 26, which the maintenance of its general course would have enabled me to do in two days, and then to hasten back to my party, to conduct them to the extreme northern point attained by the Victoria, and endeavour to prolong the direct route carried that far, from Sydney towards the Gulf of Carpentaria, by Sir Thomas Mitchell.

With this intention I left the camp on the 20th of August, and at 12 miles found several channels united, forming a fine reach, below which the river takes a turn to the W.S.W., receiving the waters of rather a large creek from the eastward, in latitude 25 3'. In latitude 25 7', the river, having again inclined to the southward, impinges upon the point of a low range on its left, by the influence of which it is turned in one well-watered channel to the W. and W. by N. for nearly 30 miles; in that course the reaches are nearly connected, varying in breadth from 80 to 120 yards; firm plains of a pure white soil extend on either side the river; they were rather bare of pasture, but are evidently in some seasons less deficient of grass. In latitude 25 9' 30", and longitude about 143 16', a considerable river joins the Victoria from the N.E., which I would submit may be named the "Thomson", in honour of E. Deas Thomson, Esq., the Hon. the Colonial Secretary. It was on one of the five reaches in the westerly course of the Victoria that I passed the second night; the river there measured 120 yards across, and seemed to have a great depth; the rocks and small islets which here and there occurred in its channel giving it the semblance of a lasting and most important river: this unexpected change, however, both in its appearance and course, caused me to return immediately to my camp for the purpose of conducting my party down such a river whithersoever it should flow.

On the 25th of August we resumed our journey down that portion of the Victoria above described, and made the river mentioned from the N.E. three miles above its junction; following it down we found an unbroken sheet of water in its channel, averaging 50 yards in breadth; we forded it at the junction, and continued to move down the Victoria, keeping all the channels, into which it had again divided, on my left. At about 1 mile the river there turns to the S.S.W. and S., spreading over a depressed and barren waste, void of trees or vegetation of any kind, its level surface being only broken by small doones of red sand, resembling islands upon the dry bed of an inland sea, which, I am convinced, at no distant period did exist there.

On the 1st of September we encamped upon a long, though narrow, reach in the most western channel, at which point a low sandstone ridge, strewed with boulders, and covered with an acacia scrub, closes upon the river. This position is important, as a small supply of grass will (I think) in most seasons be found on the bank of the river, when not a blade, perhaps, may be seen within many miles above or below; my camp, which I marked K/IV was in latitude 25 24' 22", longitude 142 51'. Beyond camp IV the ridge recedes, and the soil becomes more broken and crumbling; our horses struggled with difficulty over this ground to my camp, at a small water-hole, in lat. 25 43' 44", where I found it necessary to lighten some of their loads by having buried 400 lbs. of flour and 70 lbs. of sugar, still retaining a sufficient supply to carry us to Captain Sturt's farthest, on Cooper's Creek, to the eastward (to which point I was convinced this river would lead me), and from thence back to the settled districts of New South Wales, which was all I could then hope to accomplish. At about 16 miles farther, the ground becoming worse, so that our horses were continually falling into the fissures up to their hocks, I was compelled to leave 270 lbs. more of flour and sugar at my camp of the 4th of September, in lat. 25 51', at another small water-hole found in the bed of a very dry and insignificant channel. Here a barren sandstone range again impedes the river in its southerly course, and throws it off to the westward, thus causing many of its channels to unite and form a reach of water in lat. 25 54'; this, the lowest reach we attained, I did not discover until my return, having found a sufficient supply in a channel more to the westward. In lat. 25 25', and long, by account 142 23', the river, having rounded the point of the range which obstructs it, resumes its southerly course, spreading in countless channels over a surface bearing flood-marks 6 and 10 feet above its present level; this vast expanse is only bounded to the eastward by the barren range alluded to, which ending abruptly runs parallel with the river at a distance varying from 4 to 7 miles. On the 7th of September I encamped upon a small water-hole in 26 0' 13" in the midst of a desert not producing a morsel of vegetation; yet so long as we could find water, transient as it was, I continued to push on with the hope of reaching sooner or later some grassy spot, whereon by a halt I might refresh the horses; however, that hope was destroyed at the close of the next day, for although I had commenced an early search for water when travelling to the southward, with numerous channels on either side of me, I was compelled at length to encamp in lat. 26 13' 9", and long, by account 142 20', on the bank of a deep channel, without either water or food for our wearied horses. The following morning, taking one man and Harry with me, we made a close search down the most promising watercourses and lagoons, but upon riding down even the deepest of them, we invariably found them break off into several insignificant channels, which again subdivided, and in a short distance dissipated the waters, derived from what had appeared the dry bed of a large river on the absorbing plain; returning in disappointment to the camp, I sent my lightest man and Harry on other horses to look into the channels still unexamined, but they also returned unsuccessful. We had seen late fires of the natives at which they had passed the night without water, and tracked them on their path from lagoon to lagoon in search of it; we also found that they had encamped on some of the deepest channels in succession, quitting each as it had become dry, having previously made holes to drain off the last moisture. My horses were by this time literally starving, and all we could give them was the rotten straw and weeds which had covered some deserted huts of the natives. Seeing then that it would be the certain loss of many, and consequently an unjustifiable risk of my party to attempt to push farther into a country where the aborigines themselves were at a loss to find water, I felt it my imperative duty to at once abandon it. I would here beg to remark, that although unsuccessful in my attempt to follow it that far, from the appearance of the country, and long continued direction of the river's course, I think there can exist but little doubt that the "Victoria" is identical with Cooper's Creek of Captain Sturt; that Creek was abandoned by its discoverer in lat. 27 56', long. 142, coming from the N.E., and as the natives informed him, "in many small channels forming a large one"; the lowest camp of mine on the Victoria was in lat. 26 13' 9", long. 142 20'; the river, in several channels, trending due S., and the lowest point of the range which bounds that flat country to the eastward bearing S. 25 E.; Captain Sturt also states that the ground near the creek was so blistered and light, that it was unfit to ride on, but that before he turned he had satisfied himself that there was no apparent sign of water to the eastward.

Having marked a tree EK/1847 we commenced our return journey along the track at 2 p.m. of the 9th of September; at 8 miles I allowed one of the horses to be shot, for, being an old invalid and unable to travel farther, he must have starved if let alive. At 13 miles we reached the water; some while after dark the following day we made our next camp, but it was with much difficulty that my private horse and two or three others were brought to water, one being almost carried by three men the latter part of the day. Upon discovering the reach, in lat. 25 54' near the range, and finding a little grass in the channel about the water, I gave the horses two days' rest. My camp on the reach is marked K/III it is in lat. 25 55' 37", long, by account 142 24'; the variation of the compass 8 E.; water boiled at 214, the temperature of the air being 64. On the 14th of September we proceeded on our journey, and reached the firm plains beyond the desert; on the 22nd, having halted a day, we again moved on, and arrived within 5 miles of the carts; on the 7th of October, leaving my party on the S. channel, I rode to the spot and found them still safe, although a native had been examining the ground that very morning. Lest he should have gone to collect others to assist him in his researches, I brought my party forward the same evening, had the carts dug out during the night, and at sunrise proceeded to our position of the 4th of August on the South Channel. Five natives were observed in the morning following on our track, and before the tents were pitched they drew near and ordered us away from the water; they had all their implements with them, and from their surly and untractable manner appeared to have been lately disappointed in a mining speculation. Pursuing our course up the river, we reached the Nive on the 18th of October; there was but little water in the hole near the Brigalow Creek, and none to be procured but by digging at the junction of the Nivelle. On leaving Camp 77, we found no water until we reached the first pool in the Warrego, a distance of 40 miles, all the intervening watercourses having become dry.

Finding upon my arrival on the Warrego that we had still 756 lbs. of flour remaining, and feeling anxious to make some discovery, which might, at least in a small degree, palliate the bad tidings of which I was the bearer, I determined upon following that river down, with the view not only of finding an available country, but also of adding to what little is known of the range which divides the waters of the Darling from those of the interior. The "Nive" being the only watercourse of any importance between the Victoria and the Warrego, I conceived, that should the latter river be found to fall to the westward, or be joined by the "Nive" in an easterly course, in either case the form and position of that range would, to a certain extent, be established. With these views, I accordingly left the pond on the Warrego, in lat. 25 16' 10", on the 25th of October, and continued to travel down that river until the 18th of November, with the following results:—

So far as my camp, marked K/15 in lat. 25 55' 57" and long. 146 44' 7", the Warrego maintains its deep sandy bed, averaging 40 feet in breadth; it intersects an open forest country with good pasture, the forest being generally composed of several varieties of Eucalypti, such as the iron-bark, box, &c, the acacia, and pine; the trees on the immediate bank of the river are chiefly the flooded gum and oak, which wear a healthy appearance and attain a growth very remarkable on the banks of a channel in which water can never lodge. The river is joined in lat. 25 35' by the creek before mentioned as being the next to the eastward; its channel is broad and sandy near the junction, and contains small but permanent water-holes; the country bordering it resembling in every respect that on the Warrego. In lat. 25 51' 22" another creek enters the Warrego from the eastward, at the junction of which water may at all times be found; the river again receives the waters of a creek which I called the "Yo-Yo" Creek, in lat. 25 55' 57"; this creek has its source in the range of which Mount Boyd is a fixed point, and contained an abundance of water in its chain of holes: of the Warrego thus far, I may in a word say, that its grassy banks and clear forest land render it available for either sheep or horse stock, but it is unfit for cattle from there being no surface water; we obtained a supply on travelling down the river, either from wells sunk 2 or 3 feet by ourselves, or caused by the uprooting of a large tree on a level with its bed. Water can be procured in almost any part of its whole course, by clearing away the sand to the depth of from 1 to 5 feet, more especially at the junction of a creek, however small.

From camp XV to lat. 28 15' 44" and long. 145 28' 52", the river contains deep reaches of water occurring at short distances, and increasing in proximity as we advanced; this inexhaustible supply of water is bounded by open forest for the first 40 miles, and from thence by extensive plains thickly covered with the most luxuriant pasture, and broken here and there by clumps of "acacia pendula". I have never seen in the colony any country which surpasses it, and but very little to equal it, either as being adapted for the depasturing of cattle or any kind of stock. In lat. 28 3', we encamped upon a reach, but found the country much fallen off in appearance; between that camp and K/XXII in lat. 28 15' 44", the river rapidly diminished by throwing off water-courses to the eastward, and it was only after a long search that we found a spot at which we could procure a supply of water by digging. At 13 miles beyond, or in about latitude 28 25', the river, now much reduced, splits into two equal parts, the one running directly to the eastward, the other in the opposite direction to the westward; the eastern channel, however, after a circuitous turn, rejoins that to the westward, without improving, what the river had here become, the insignificant dry bed of a watercourse: the country on either side, being flat and subject to inundation, was of a poor crumbling soil, void of grass and thickly wooded by a species of small stunted box and acacia.

I was then in lat. about 28 25' and long. 145 28', having ventured again that far to the westward with the hope of carrying the fine country we had lately traversed the whole way to the Barwan.

Being now unable to procure water in either channel of the river, even by sinking wells, once more disgusted and disappointed, as all travellers will ever be who put their trust in the interior rivers of New Holland, I decided upon leaving it and moving towards the Culgoa, for, although 80 miles distant, it was the nearest water to the position I was then in; accordingly, on the evening of the 18th of November, I left the Warrego, steering S. 37 E., and at 8 a.m. of the next day we encamped on a watercourse from the N.E., containing shallow holes of water; on the 20th I followed the watercourse for about 3 miles, when finding it reduced and turning sharp to the eastward, I resumed my course for the Culgoa, which river I reached with the horses on the morning of the 22nd; but in travelling that distance the ground and weather proved so very unfavourable, that I lost three of my best draught horses before I could accomplish it, which loss led to the death of three others in bringing the carts to the river. This loss was the first of any kind we had sustained on the journey, with the exception of the horse left on the desert. At about 30 miles from the Culgoa we had to traverse hills of bare red sand partially covered by spine-fir and a low kind of brush, which, being on fire in every direction, was kept raging within a few yards of us by the hottest wind I have experienced this season; the thermometer in the shade was that day 110.

It was the 15th of December before my carts were brought up and the horses sufficiently recovered to continue our journey, and on the 16th we left my first camp on the Culgoa, in lat. 29 29' 41", long. 146 36' 52", moving by short stages down the river. In lat. 29 35' the Birie, another outlet of the Balonne, joins the river from the eastward; in lat. 29 50', having crossed the river, I struck off for the Barwan, which we reached in 6 miles, our position being 40 miles above Fort Bourke and 9 below Mr. Lawson's station; proceeding up the river for supplies, I returned to my first camp on the Barwan, marked K/XXVII and on the 27th of December crossed over to the Bogan, following that river up to Mr. Andrew Ker's station, at which we arrived last evening.

With respect to the aborigines, I beg to state we have been generally on the most friendly terms, making them presents and establishing a kind feeling, which I trust may be beneficially felt by those of our countrymen who may follow me into that portion of New Holland. On two or three occasions only we had to exercise what I believe to have been unparalleled forbearance, to avoid collision with them, but finally succeeded.

The Victoria language is spoken on the Warrego with only a slight difference in the pronunciation; on the shallow watercourse (70 miles from the Culgoa, and 95 from the Barwan) we met a tribe who spoke a different language, but understood that of the Victoria; the natives of the Barwan and Bogan appear to know nothing of the interior language.

In conclusion, it is my pleasing duty to make a few brief observations on the remarkably good conduct of every member composing my party, of whom collectively I need only state, that they have undergone the hardships and privations experienced on this journey, toiling frequently on foot through the desert (upon a ration of 75 lbs. of flour equally divided among nine men) with a constant and ready obedience, and without a murmur.*

[* Extract of a letter addressed to Earl Grey, by Governor Sir Charles Fitzroy, dated Sydney, 25th April, 1849:—

"My Lord,—It becomes my painful duty to report to your Lordship the melancholy fate of the expedition which was despatched in the early part of last year for the further exploring of the northern portion of this colony, from Rockingham Bay to Cape York. The party, comprising eleven Europeans and an aboriginal native, was intrusted to the direction of Mr. Assistant-Surveyor E. B. C. Kennedy, who had on former occasions manifested peculiar fitness for such a duty, and whose noble conduct throughout this expedition amply justified the confidence reposed in him. Of the thirteen persons forming the party, but three have returned. The fate of three is still uncertain, and the gallant leader himself was speared to death by the natives when on the very eve of accomplishing the principal object of his mission.

"I have arranged with the master of the brig 'Freak', now on her way to Port Essington and China, to land a number of his crew, firstly at Melbourne Bay, and then at Escape River, in order that, under the guidance of the native 'Jackey Jackey', who, with two other aborigines, has been sent for the purpose, they may endeavour to ascertain the fate of the unfortunate men left at the former place, and, if possible, recover Mr. Kennedy's journals,** which were on his death secreted by 'Jackey Jackey'. Should this latter effort prove successful, the cause of geographical science will, in some measure at least, reap the advantage of Mr. Kennedy's labours; and even should it fail, still much valuable information may be anticipated from a detailed account of the expedition (now in course of preparation) by one of the survivors, Mr. Carron, who was attached to the party in the capacity of botanist."—Ed.]

[** Information of the recovery of these Journals has since been received at the Colonial Office.—Ed.]


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