Mitchell’s second journey: Exploration of the Darling River [chapter 21 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 21 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 4 November 1934.]

The story of Australia — XXI

Mitchell’s second journey

Exploration of the Darling River

Mitchell did not discover the mythical Kindur, but the exploration work which he had gained was going to stand him in good stead later on. It has already been mentioned that the Bogan River had been discovered in 1829, and that Sturt was convinced that the Darling flowed into the Murray. Sturt’s decision in respect to the latter had been disputed, and for years formed a subject of bitter controversy.

The growing need of the colony for western expansion had in nowise abated, and public opinion demanded that a further attempt should be made to settle the question of the courses of these two rivers. Mitchell, who had ridiculed Sturt’s reasoning, was appointed to conduct the expedition, and on March 9, 1833, a start was made from Parramatta. The party consisted of 24 persons, and included Richard Cunningham, brother to the more celebrated Allan Cunningham, botanist, a young surveyor, and 21 convict servants.

Lost in bush

On April 13 Mitchell crossed the Goobang, a tributary of the Lachlan, and on the 15th the Bogan was reached. While here a distressing event occurred. Two days after arriving at the Bogan, Cunningham left the party to pursue some scientific question. Not being a good bushman he lost himself, and was not seen again.

A diligent search was made, but it was not till the 23rd that tracks both of himself and his horse were discovered. Four men were sent to follow up these tracks, but to no purpose. They returned in three days to report that they had found his horse dead, but had seen no signs of Cunningham.

Mitchell now personally conducted the search, and tracks of the missing man were traced as far as the Bogun, where some natives stated that he had gone west with the wild blacks. Mitchell had now spent 14 days in fruitless searching and tracking, and as the success of the expedition might be endangered, he very reluctantly resumed his journey. Later on Lieutenant Zouch of the mounted police was dispatched from Sydney to investigate the matter. He found the place of his death, and discovered the dead man’s bones, which had been decently buried. From the natives he ascertained that the white man sought refuge with them, and they gave him food, but during the night four of them murdered him in his sleep. A stone memorial has since been erected on the spot, and there is a tablet to his memory in St. Andrew’s Church, Sydney.

The Darling reached

Mitchell followed the course of the Bogan, and on May 25 he came to the junction of the Bogan and the Darling River. Mitchell was gratified to find the water fresh and sweet, and the country well grassed. The party had now travelled 300 miles, and were in need of rest. Mitchell determined to form a depot and erect a stockade of logs, as the blacks who had assembled in great numbers on both sides of the river were inclined to be hostile. This he named Fort Bourke, in honour of the Governor of the Colony. It is interesting to note that the town of Bourke stands on this site.

It was found impossible to use the boats, as the stream was too low, and the channel too much impeded to allow navigation with the smallest craft. Mitchell made a short journey down the river to the farthest limit of Sturt and Hume in 1829. Then the party found a tree marked by Hume, “H.H.” On June 8 the camp was dismantled, and the whole party started down the Darling to follow its course to its junction with the Murray. By July 11 they had followed it for 300 miles, through very inferior country only moderately valuable for pastoral or agricultural purposes.

Troublesome Blacks

Mitchell was now practically convinced from the direction in which the river was flowing, and the short distance that lay between the point they had reached and Sturt’s junction, that the Darling joined the Murray, as stated by Sturt in 1830. But it was impossible for him to continue the journey as the lives of his men were in great danger from the blacks. They had been troublesome all along the route, and were now becoming defiant. On the day fixed for the return journey a serious affray took place during which some of the blacks were shot. A hasty retreat was made to Bourke, which was reached without further trouble.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 4 November 1934, p. 29

[Editor: Corrected: “only moderately purposes” to “only moderately valuable for pastoral or agricultural purposes” (corrected with reference to two almost identical articles by the same author in The Sunday Mail, 13 March 1927, p. 28, and The Sunday Mail, 21 October 1928, p. 28).]

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