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» Great excitement was occasioned…

Great excitement was occasioned…

Transcribed from The Argus, 1 July 1861, p. 4
View this article online at the National Library's "Australian Newspapers" website

Great excitement was occasioned in Melbourne on Saturday night last, by a rumour that information had reached town of the failure of the Exploration [sic] Expedition and the death of several of the party. The report assumed various forms but all were sufficiently alarming. On inquiry yesterday, we found that the hon. secretary of the Exploration Committee, Dr. Macadam, had received a telegram late on Saturday, forwarded from Sandhurst by Mr. C. Howitt, stating that, at the inn known as the ‘Durham Ox,’ on the Loddon, between Sandhurst and Swan Hill, he had met Mr. Brahe, one of Mr. Burke’s party, returning from Cooper’s Creek.  Mr. Brahe had informed him that three men of the party under Mr. Wright had died on the road from Menindie northwards- namely, Dr. L. Becker, the artist of the party, whose sketches were so much admired; and Messrs. Purcell and Stone. A fourth, named Patton, who had accompanied Mr. Burke to Cooper’s Creek, and formed one of the depot party there, had also died after joining Mr. Wright’s party, on the retreat of the depot party towards Menindie. In all these cases, the disease was scurvy and dysentery. To make the narrative intelligible, it is necessary to remind the reader that when Mr. Burke started from Menindie, it was with a party of eight, and that the larger body, under Mr. Wright, were to follow on his track to Cooper’s Creek with the great bulk of the stores, there to form a depot in which the advanced party could fall back. Cooper’s Creek is about 480 miles northwards from Menindie; and this distance, a Mr. Brahe reports, Mr. Burke travelled in twenty days. He was favoured by the state of the waterholes as far as Camp 53, near Mount Bullo, where he found permanent water, in a fine district of country within twenty miles of the 28th parallel of latitude. Once on Cooper’s Creek, a depot was established, which Mr. Burke placed in charge of Mr. Brahe and three men.  Attempts were made to find a direct route from the creek towards Carpentaria, between 141deg. and 142deg. of longitude, but Mr. Wills who penetrated ninety miles northwards, was unable to find water, and, losing his camels, was obliged to return on foot to the camp. Mr. Burke then, with Mr. Wills and two men (King and Gray), and six camels and one horse, on the 16th December last, proceeded westward down the creek, intending to make for Eyre’s Creek (a few miles south from Sturt’s farthest), and from that point to start direct for the Gulf of Carpentaria. There had been heavy thunderstorms, and he hoped to find the waterholes replenished by the rains. In a dispatch, dated the 13th December, he states his intentions. He carried with him full supplies for three months, within which period he intended to fall back on the depot, and Mr. Brahe states that the leader's last instructions were - "Tell Mr. Wright that I shall run no risk." He intended, in short, to proceed cautiously, and with no intention of making a rush for the Gulf, in the hope of being succoured from seaward, or of falling back upon Queensland. He directed Mr. Brahe to remain at the depot for three months, and then, if unrelieved, to return to Melbourne. Mr. Burke not having returned in four months and a half, and Mr. Wright not having come up with the remainder of the stores, and scurvy having broken out in his small party, Mr. Brahe buried some provisions close to a tree in the depot, and cut the word "dig" in large letters on the wood, and set out on his return.

Taking a track to the south-east, he reached Bullo, and there found Mr. Wright’s party in a helpless state, so prostrated by sickness that he was unable to move in any direction. Assisted by the three survivors of the depot party, Mr. Wright was enabled to make his way back with the remainder of his party to Menindie, where it remains for the present, Mr. Wright himself having passed on to Adelaide by steamer. The state of matters, therefore, is, that Mr. Burke and his three companions have been out for nearly seven months, having had full rations for only three months when they started. Dr. Mueller calculates that, with such chances of food as the country might supply, the last of the stock of provisions may only now be running out. The party may have returned to Cooper’s Creek, and they may find the small stock of provisions deposited there; but it is so small that it could only serve them during the period they might, in ordinarily favourable circumstances, take to perform the journey to Menindie. If they should reach Cooper’s Creek, however, in a state of exhaustion, they would not have rations enough left to sustain them during the period of rest necessary to recruit their strength, and would have only the wild-fowl and fish of the creek to trust to. It is possible, also, that the natives might find the buried provisions, though it is re-assuring to know that Mr. Wright went on to Cooper’s Creek when joined by Mr. Brahe, and satisfied himself that though the natives had visited the stockade, they had not disturbed the concealed stores. But there are great sources of fear, that the illness that prostrated Mr. Wright’s men, and visited and found one victim in Mr. Brahe’s small party, may have broken out in Mr. Burke’s, and that the disease which attacked the camels at Cooper’s Creek and Bullo, and under which several of them died, may have attacked Mr. Burke’s camels, and so left him helpless in the interior. That is the view that Mr. Brahe takes of Mr. Burke’s situation. It is satisfactory to find that the Exploration Committee of the Royal Society, fully impressed with the importance of taking instant measures, yesterday resolved to increase Mr. Howitt’s party to twelve men (including two natives and a surgeon); and that Mr. Howitt will proceed direct to Cooper’s Creek with ample stores. There, if he does not find Mr. Burke, he will establish a depot, which he will leave in charge of six men, and with the remainder he will follow up Mr. Burke’s traces “as far as safety will permit,” always bearing in mind that the primary object of his mission is to carry relief to the missing party. Mr.Howitt leaves Melbourne this evening, in pursuance of these instructions, and Mr. Brahe accompanies him as one of the party. It is probable that Mr. Hodgkinson and one or two of the strongest of the men now at Menindie will be selected by Mr. Howitt to join him. We know that every effort will be made to reach Cooper's Creek without delay, and we trust that the needed help may yet be supplied in time to be of service to those for whom it is meant. Professor Neumayer, we may add, has offered to head a small party to search the north coast, starting from Port Denison, and that subject will be discussed at a meeting of the Royal Society, to be held to-day. We may also add, that Mr Wright's party had the advantage of preserved vegetables amongst their stores, and that the poor men who have died (with the exception of Patton) had the assistance of the medical skill of Dr. Beckler, though, unfortunately, that skill was unavailing against the strength of the diseases which preyed upon them. So far as the information of which we are in possession goes, there is not the slightest reason to suppose that Mr. Burke's management of his expedition has not been judicious, or that his arrangements were otherwise than good. The accidents of the season, however, and the incidents of the journey, while highly favourable to the leader himself up to his departure from Cooper's Creek, have been most unfavourable to the party which was left to follow him, and have defeated plans that seem to have in reality been wisely laid. We may note, in conslusion, that it is now apparent that Trooper Lyons, and Macpherson, the saddler of the party, who attempted to carry to Mr. Burke the despatches of the society on Mr. Stuart's success becoming known, had not reached Cooper's Creek. They mistook the water at Wright's Creek, or Bullo, for the more distant sheet of water, and had they been able to hold out for three or four days longer before they turned back, they would have reached the depot party. The impression left by their narratives (unfavourable as it was to Mr. Burke) is now removed - namely, that the leader had dashed onwards from Cooper's Creek, trusting to the accidents of a favourable season.