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Title: Letter From Major Warburton relative to Exploration around Lake Torrens
Author: Peter Egerton Warburton
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1203701h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2012
Date most recently updated: September 2012

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[No. 159.



Laid on the table by the Hon. the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Immigration.

LETTER, with ENCLOSURE, from MAJOR WARBURTON, relative to EXPLORATION in the neighborhood of LAKE TORRENS.

No. 199-58.               Police Commissioner's Office, Adelaide, December 10, 1858.

Sir—Since I had the honor of transmitting my report of the 3rd instant, I have read Mr. Babbage's official Despatch of the 21st November, 1858. The annexed extract from that Despatch requires some notice from me, because, either I, by the suppression of truth, have assumed to myself a credit which is not due to me, or else Mr. Babbage, by a direct statement of what is not true, has endeavored to conceal his own incapacity by robbing others of such credit as might fairly belong to them. I have underlined* the particular portion of Mr. Babbage's Despatch to which I solicit your attention—

[* This portion is printed in italics.]

Extract.—"I pointed out this place to Major Warburton, explaining my reasons for my belief, and offered to accompany him in an examination of it. As this proposal did not appear to suit his plans, I requested him to let one of my late party, Jones, accompany me, that I might examine the country in this direction, and if I found it practicable, return to Adelaide by Eyre's tracks, on the eastern side of the Lake; and that, if not, I might, at any rate, have a companion in the long ride to Port Augusta, via the Elizabeth, Pernatty, and Beda. The Major, however, refused my request, and I had no alternative but to leave to others to reap the fruits of my own labors."

It would appear from Mr. Babbage's account that the "labor" of discovering a passage across Lake Torrens was his, whilst I have reaped the fruits of labor not my own. I am compelled to give an emphatic contradiction to Mr. Babbage's statement, and I leave you to judge on whose side the preponderating evidence shows the truth to rest.

In the first place, I make my plea, by declaring solemnly and sincerely, on my honor as a gentleman, that in finding the crossing of Lake Torrens, I received assistance from no one excepting my immediate companions, Mr. A. J. Baker and Corporal Coward.

The views I had previously formed received confirmation by what Mr. Forster told me on the 2nd October; he stated, that, when at Stuart's Creek, the native had wished Mr. Stuart and himself not to go further, but to return direct to the northern settlements.

Before leaving Adelaide, I had determined to try to find a passage, but whilst on board the Marion, it struck me that Corporal Burtt of the Mounted Police, stationed at Angepena, might, if I succeeded, be useful in conveying the intelligence to Adelaide, and for this purpose I suggested his being sent to the westward side of Mount Nor-west. You will observe that I did not want the Corporal's aid to find a passage. I neither suggested nor wished that he should go a foot beyond Mount Nor-west, but, as I then thought it probable that my own duties might not allow me to complete the line of communication, I wished the Corporal to be present, so that by our actual meeting on the supposed eastern side of the lake, the Government might feel indisputably certain that the passage had been found. I am not a likely person to select a work for myself, and then allow either my juniors or my subordinates to take it out of my hands. I may readily be believed when I say this, for my conduct to Mr. Babbage (which he states deprived him of the fruits of his labors) proves it, and I may candidly confess, even though I incur public odium by the admission, that I would not have permitted Mr. Babbage to go across.

If anyone is entitled to share with me in the credit due for finding a passage across Lake Torrens, it is Corporal Burtt; I believe we were both on the crossing at the same time; and though my instructions were not followed as they ought to have been, yet I gladly give up to Corporal Burtt any share of credit he, or others for him, may claim.

I will now state a few facts as regards Mr. Babbage. Mr. Babbage did not open the subject of there being a passage to me; I opened it to him on the 5th November. When I opened it, he at first dissented from my views, stating that he did not think there was any passage there.

I then showed him a different map, and repeated to him what Mr. Forster had told me; after this Mr. Babbage changed his opinion, admitting that there might be a passage, and adding that he had ascended his "Hermit's Hill", from which he thought he could see at least fifteen miles (he appealed to his brother-in-law to confirm this extensive range of vision), and no lake was visible. From this hour, it would seem that Mr. Babbage cherished the extravagant idea not only of superseding me in carrying out my own plans, but of expecting me to furnish him with the means of doing so!!

Next day, whilst on the march, Mr. Babbage hinted to me his dislike of travelling in my company, or with the party of which he had lately been the head—he thought it looked as though he were being led captive. I readily understood his sentiments, and offered to let him have his brother-in-law to go down with him. Shortly after this, my well-meant offer was adroitly turned against myself, by Mr. Babbage saying, that as I had offered him a companion he should proceed eastward, and endeavor to find a passage across Lake Torrens; upon this plan I at once placed my decided veto. I informed Mr. Babbage that he should have any one he liked to accompany him to Adelaide by any direct and known route, but that I could not assist him in prolonging his exploration in any direction, and most certainly not in the one I had marked out for myself. Mr. Babbage replied that it was of no consequence, that he would go by himself. I avoided prolonging the discussion, thinking it best to let Mr. Babbage sleep a night on the intention of going alone. Next morning I expressed my hope that Mr. Babbage had changed his mind about going alone, and pointed out what I conceived to be the danger of such a proceeding. Mr. Babbage gave up his plan.

It is true that Mr. Babbage did offer to accompany me, and that I staved off the invitation he gave himself as civilly as I could.

I think it was on the last morning we were together, that Mr. Babbage came to the camp-fire where Mr. Baker, myself, and I believe some others were sitting, and said, as nearly as I can remember the exact words, "Major Warburton, do not let us misunderstand each other, you will understand distinctly that I have expressed my desire to go and find a passage across Lake Torrens, and my reason for wishing to do so is, that the public will say it is an additional proof of my incapacity that I was on the best spot for finding the passage, and yet took no steps to find it." I replied, that "It was very probable the public would say what Mr. Babbage supposed, but that it was no fault of mine that the time for his exploring was past; that the idea of finding a passage never entered his head till I put it there, and that he could not expect me both to give him the idea and the means of carrying it into execution to my own prejudice." This, I believe, ended our conversation on the subject.

Mr. Babbage did point out his Hermit Hill to me—that is, he produced a number of scraps of tracing paper, and, after some search, selected the bit he wanted, on which, I believe, the Hermit Hill was laid down. I took no note of its bearings, and, in truth, neither observed nor cared anything about its position, and for this simple reason, that, the day before I met Mr. Babbage, I had selected the hill from which I intended to commence my search, and all the Hermit Hills in the Colony would not have turned me from my purpose.

Whether the hill from which I started was really Mr. Babbage's Hermit Hill or not I cannot say positively, for it would appear that the whole range is named the Hermit Range, because it stands alone. If its component hills are all little Hermits, also enjoying themselves in social contiguity with their neighbors, then, no doubt, I, as well as Mr. Babbage, ascended a Hermit, Hill; but I can positively assert that there were no tracks about the hill, and, if Mr. Babbage ever went to that hill, or to any other near it, he must be a wonderfully short-sighted explorer not to have seen the extraordinary accumulation of springs which almost surrounds the hill in question And I must further observe, supposing our hills to be one and the same, still that I received no assistance from Mr. Babbage; because, I had selected mine for an express purpose, before I saw Mr. Babbage—whilst Mr. Babbage himself either visited the hill without any definite object, or failed to draw any definite conclusion from his visit until I had broached the subject to him. He left the hill, went in another direction, and, when I met him, was, as he himself tells us, bound for the Elizabeth.

Mr. Babbage, in his letter of the 17th October, 1857, gives us his views of where the crossing (and the only crossing) of the lake was—Mr. Gregory found this crossing. Where and when did Mr. Babbage enunciate any other opinion upon this subject until I had put one into his mind?

Did Mr. Babbage ever express his intention of looking for a passage across the lake?—No. When on a favorable spot for finding the passage, did he make any attempt at it?—No. Why not? Was it not a valuable piece of exploration, and one strictly within his instructions? Mr. Babbage's own words afford the strongest presumptive evidence against him. His map showed Eyre's track to be thirty miles east of his Hermit Hill, and as he and his brother-in-law agreed that they could only see fifteen miles from the top of the hill, there remained unseen an equal distance, and ample room for a Lake Torrens—why, then, should he at that time, when he had never been to Tarawurta, suppose that there was no lake? He says he expected to see it; and, when I first spoke of crossing, he still thought the Lake was there—it was only when I showed him a corrected map, on the 5th November, that he then found, for the first time, how near he had been and then came the fear of its being taken "as an additional proof of his incapacity" (his own words)—a fear from which he seems to have been previously free, as he was again going past the place without trying for a passage. Mr. Babbage's "own belief" about the Lake is given on the 21st November—I was on the crossing-place on the 9th November.

What are the labors, the fruits of which I have taken from Mr. Babbage? He climbed his Hermit Hill—what then?—He thought he saw fifteen miles, and came down again. The Hermit Hills, truly have been in labor—

"Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus."

I enclose copy of a letter addressed to Mr. Baker, and I transmit his answer, which I did not open till my own letter was signed.

I trust Honorable Sir, that, as Mr. Babbage has charged me, in an official paper submitted to Parliament, with having acted in a manner repugnant to the feelings of a gentleman, you will do me the justice to give the same publicity to this, my emphatic denial of the truth of Mr. Babbage's statement.

I have, &c.,


To the Hon. the Commissioner of Crown Lands.        Commissioner of Police.

Police Commissioner's Office, Adelaide, November 9, 1858.   

Sir—I beg to transmit, for your perusal, an extract from an Official Report of Mr. Babbage's, presented to Parliament, and as I think you were present on two occasions when the subject referred to in this extract was under discussion between Mr. Babbage and myself, I should feel obliged if you would favor me with a statement, as nearly as your memory will permit, of what you on these occasions heard.

I have, &c.,


Commissioner of Police.

To Mr. Arthur J. Baker, Kent-terrace, Norwood.

Extract—"I pointed out this place to Major Warburton, explaining my reasons for my belief, and offered to accompany him in an examination of it. As this proposal did not appear to suit his plans, I requested him to let one of my late party (Jones) accompany me, that I might examine the country in this direction, and, if I found it practicable, return to Adelaide by Eyre's tracks on the eastern side of the Lake; and that, if not, I might, at any rate, have a companion in the long ride to Port Augusta, via the Elizabeth, Pcrnatty, and Beda. The Major, however, refused my request, and I had no alternative but to leave to others to reap the fruits of my own labors."

Kent-terrace, Norwood, 9th December, 1858.

Sir—In reply to yours of this date, enclosing an extract from Mr. Babbage's Official Report to Parliament, which I have read—I beg to state that the conversation which I heard between Mr. Babbage and yourself was quite the reverse of the extract now before me, and hereunto annexed. The following is, as near as I can remember, an exact statement, viz.:—You had been giving Mr. Babbage a description of the springs and country you had discovered, and then went on to describe your plans, and stated that you intended to try and find a practicable route from Stuart's Creek into Parry's Country, so that stock might be brought through from the northern runs, and avoid that horrible desert via Beda and the Pernatty Plains. At this time Mr. Babbage would not entertain the idea of a practicable crossing over Lake Torrens; nor did he appear to have any faith in your plan, until you told him that the blackfellow who accompanied Stuart and Forster had tried to persuade them to return that way.

The next day, on our march back to Stuart's Creek, Mr. Babbage said to me that he intended to ask you to allow him to have one man and sufficient provisions to enable him to reach the nearest stocked run east of Lake Torrens.

On the Monday morning, before leaving Stuart's Creek, Mr. Babbage came down while we were at breakfast, and before the whole of the men belonging to both parties, asked you to allow him to have one man and sufficient provisions, that he may try and cross Lake Torrens and return to Adelaide by that route.

Your reply was—"My instructions were to recall you, Mr. Babbage, not to prolong your exploration duties, as I should be doing were I to allow you to seek for a crossing over Lake Torrens; nor do I think I could, in justice to myself and party, send you to reap the credit of my plans, should there prove to be a practicable crossing; nor do I think you ought to expect me to do so, knowing, as you do, that you had no idea of looking for a crossing until after I had laid my plans before you. By any known route you can return; and I shall be happy to allow you to take any one of your late party with you you choose." Mr. Babbage then offered to accompany you, which offer you refused, stating—"That I cannot at present say what course I shall take; in fact, I shall most likely go back by the Elizabeth, after satisfying myself as to the practicability of crossing Lake Torrens. I have desired Mr. Chas. Gregory to plant stores for me at the Elizabeth; I therefore think, for the sake of your own property left at the Elizabeth, you had better return there—however, you are welcome to go by any known route you please, and I shall be most happy to render you every assistance in my power to make your journey agreeable."

Mr. Babbage then made this reply aloud, and before the whole of the men—"But, Major Warburton, only consider what the people of Adelaide will say, when they hear that I have been within a few miles of this crossing for the last three weeks, yet never went to explore it—they will bring this against me as another proof of my incapacity."

I have, &c.,


To Major P. E. Warburton,

          Commissioner of Police, &c., Adelaide.

You may also wish to read a closely related ebook on the same expedition, namely:

"Reports on Exploration into the North and North-Western Interior of South Australia (1858)."

by Peter Egerton Warburton Benjamin Herschel Babbage

This ebook is also available from Project Gutenberg Australia


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