Kennedy’s ill-fated expedition [chapter 25 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 25 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 2 December 1934.]

The story of Australia — XXV.

Kennedy’s ill-fated expedition

Edmund B. Kennedy, explorer, came to Australia early in life, and was appointed surveyor in August, 1840. He was second in command under Sir Thomas Mitchell in his last exploring expedition in 1845. On Mitchell’s return to Sydney he had reported that he had discovered Victoria River, which had its outlet in the north-west coast. As he had failed to investigate this river, it was thought advisable to send an exploring party to settle the matter in one way or other.

Kennedy was chosen to lead this expedition, and on August 13, 1847, having travelled up the Warrego, he reached Mitchell’s farthest point on the Barcoo, and started to follow the river down. He traced its course for 150 miles, past its south-westerly turn to its junction with the Thomson. The river here turned southwards, and the country became flat and inferior. He had now gone far enough to satisfy himself that the Victoria River and Cooper’s creek were one and the same stream.

Kennedy had intended to make an attempt to reach the Gulf, but the destruction of a large quantity of provisions by the blacks made it imperative for him to get back to civilisation as soon as possible. He came back by the way of the Warrego, and after a very distressing journey over dry country reached the settlement in safety.

Towards Cape York

On April 29, 1848, Kennedy set out on his tragic expedition towards Cape York. His object was to find a road up the York Peninsula, so that the Southern settlements should be in touch with those of the far north. The party consisted of Mr. W. Carron, botanist, Mr. T. Wall, naturalist, nine men, and a native called Jacky Jacky, 28 horses, and 100 sheep.

Beset with difficulties

They were landed from the Tam o’Shanter at Rockingham Bay on May 30, and it was arranged that H.M.S. Rambler should pick them up at Cape York. From the very commencement the expedition was beset with difficulties, which never ceased till nearly all the party found rest in death. Impenetrable marshes, scrubs full of lawyer-cane, and stinging trees, hostile blacks, and hunger faced them all the time.

On December 9 they reached Weymouth Bay, and Kennedy determined to leave eight men on Puddingham Hill, and to push on with three men and the black boy, in an endeavour to reach the ship at Cape York. For three weeks their progress was very unsatisfactory, a gun accident being the cause of precious time being lost. Kennedy, knowing the danger of delay, resolved to leave three of the men near Shelborne Bay, and to push on with only the black for company. But his own strength was failing, and the blacks were becoming more hostile.

Kennedy murdered

He almost reached the end of his journey, for he caught a glimpse of Port Albany from one of the heights. It was here that the blacks closed in and killed him. Jacky Jacky, though wounded, managed to make his way to Port Albany. Immediate steps were taken to rescue the rest of the party, but the three men left at Shelborne Bay could not be traced, and they were never heard of again. On reaching the depot at Weymouth Bay, two survivors out of the eight were found, the rest having died of starvation. Thus ended the most disastrous expedition in the history of Australian exploration.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 2 December 1934, p. 5 of “The Sunday Mail Royal Supplement”

[Editor: Corrected “lawyercane” to “lawyer-cane”, with reference to the same article as published in The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 15 September, p. 28, The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 14 June, p. 18, and The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 20 November, p. 21.]

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