The Fate of the Explorers [poem by Henry Kendall, A Tribute to the Memory of Burke and Wills, 1862]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall, about the Burke and Wills expedition, was published in A Tribute to the Memory of Burke and Wills (broadsheet), 1862.]

The Fate of the Explorers.

By Henry Kendall.

John King. Sole survivor of the Advance Party of the Expedition, and the only living Man that ever crossed the Australian Continent.

Set your face towards the darkness, tell of deserts weird and wide,
Where unshaken woods are huddled, and low languid waters glide;
Turn and tell of deserts lonely; lying pathless, deep, and vast,
Where, in utter silence, ever Time seems slowly breathing past;
Silence only broken when the sun is flecked with cloudy bars,
Or when tropic squalls come hurtling underneath the sultry stars!
Deserts thorny, hot, and thirsty, where the feet of men are strange,
And eternal Nature sleeps in solitudes which know no change!

Weakened with their lengthened labours, past long plains of stone and sand,
Down those trackless wilds they wandered, travellers from a far-off land!
Seeking now to join their brothers, struggling on with faltering feet,
For a glorious work was finished, and a noble task complete;
And they dreamt of welcome faces, dreamt that soon unto their ears
Friendly greetings would be thronging with a nation’s well-earned cheers;
Since their courage never failed them, but, with high, unflinching soul,
Each was pressing forward hoping, trusting all should reach the goal!

* * * * * * * *

Though he rallied in the morning, long before the close of day,
He had sunk, the worn-out hero, fainting, dying, by the way!
But with death he wrestled hardly, three times rising front the sod,
Yet a little further onward, o’er the weary waste, he trod;
Facing Fate with heart undaunted, still the chief would totter on
Till the Evening closed about him — till the strength to move was gone!

Then he penned his latest writings, and before the life was spent,
Gave the records to his comrade; gave the watch he said was lent;
Gave them with his last commandments, charging him that night to stay,
And to let him lie unburied when the soul had passed away!

Hearken to the brave words spoken when he felt the coming end,
When he turned and told his wishes to the firm and faithful friend:
“Closer, sit where you can hear me — this will surely soon be past,
We have struggled hard against it, but I’m too far gone to last!
You must try to bear up longer, there is succour on our track,
If you live till it arrives here, take this watch, they lent me, back;
Take it and the note-books with you; from the note-books they will learn
Something of our baffled movements — something of our sad return!
I have been too weak to write much, hence the records are but few,
But you’ll tell them what I cannot, and I hope and trust in you!
And for God’s sake stay beside me! in this wild and lonely place,
It is now a comfort to be near a friendly human face!
Tarry here till all is over, so that you may see me die;
I shall pass away contented, knowing some one lingers by!
When you find that I have left you, do not move from hence my bones;
Do not hide them in the darkness of a heap of dust and stones;
Let them lie uncovered, comrade, bare and bleaching on the land —
But this pistol, which I give you, leave it loaded in my hand!”

Through that night he uttered little, rambling were the words he spoke;
And he turned and died in silence, when the tardy morning broke!
Many memories come together whilst in sight of death we dwell,
Much of sweet and sad reflection through the weary mind must well!
As those long hours glided past him, till the east with light was fraught,
Who may know the mournful secret — who can tell us what he thought?

Very lone and very wretched was the brave man left behind
Wandering over leagues of wasteland, seeking, hoping help to find;
Sleeping in deserted wurleys, fearful many night-falls through,
Lest unfriendly hands should rob him of his meal of wild nardoo!

When he reached their old encampment, when the well-known spot was gained,
He had yet a hope within him that his other friend remained!
So he searched for food to give him, trusting they might both survive
Till the aid so long expected from the cities should arrive;
So he shot three crows and took them to the gunyah where he found
Him, whom he had thought to succour, still and lifeless on the ground!

Weak and wearied with his journey, there the sole survivor stooped,
And the disappointment bowed him, and his heart with sadness drooped,
But he rose and raked a hollow with his wasted, feeble hands,
Where he took and hid the hero in the rushes and the sands;
But he, like a brother, laid him out of reach of wind and rain,
And for many days he sojourned near him, on that wildfaced plain,
Whilst he stayed beside the ruin, whilst he lingered with the dead,
Oh! he must have sat in darkness — gloomy as the tears he shed.

* * * * * * * *

Where our noble Burke was lying — where his sad companion stood —
Came the natives of the forest — came the wild men of the wood:
Down they looked and saw the stranger — him who there in quiet slept —
Down they knelt, and o’er the chieftain bitterly they moaned and wept,
Bitterly they mourned to see him, all uncovered to the blast,
All uncovered to the tempest as it wailed and whistled past,
And they shrouded him with bushes so in death that he might lie,
Like a warrior of their nation, sheltered from the storm and sky.

* * * * * * * *

Ye must rise and sing their praises, O ye bards with souls of fire,
For the people’s voice will echo through the wailings of your lyre;
And we’ll welcome back their comrade, though our eyes with tears be blind,
At the thoughts of Promise perished, and the shadow left behind!
Now the leaves are bleaching round them, now the gales above them glide,
But the end was all accomplished and their fame is far and wide;
Though this fadeless glory cannot hide a grateful nation’s grief;
And their laurels have been blended with a gloomy cypress wreath!

Let them rest where they have laboured! but my country mourn and moan;
We must build with human sorrow grander monuments than stone.
Let them rest — for oh! remember, that in long hereafter time
Sons of science will be wandering o’er that solitary clime,
Cities bright must rise about it — age and beauty there shall stray,
And the fathers of the people, pointing to the graves will say,
“Here they fell, the glorious martyrs, when these plains were woodlands deep;
Here a friend — a brother laid them; here the wild men came to weep!”



Source:
A Tribute to the Memory of Burke and Wills (broadsheet), South Sydney (NSW): W. T. Baker, [1862]

Editor’s notes:
Differences exist between this poem and the poem of the same name published in Henry Kendall’s Poems and Songs (1862), “The Fate of the Explorers (A Fragment)”. There are some significant differences in some lines, as well as many differences in punctuation throughout; however, the major difference is the inclusion of the stanza beginning “Hearken to the brave words spoken”, which does not appear in the 1862 book.

Significant differences between the two texts (aside from the “Hearken” stanza):

Lest unfriendly hands should rob him of his meal of wild nardoo! [broadsheet]
Lest unfriendly hands should rob him of his hoard of wild nardoo. [book]

When he reached their old encampment, when the well-known spot was gained, [broadsheet]
’Ere he reached their old encampment — ’ere the well-known spot was gained, [book]

He had yet a hope within him that his other friend remained! [broadsheet]
Something nerved him — something whispered that his other chief remained: [book]

So he shot three crows and took them to the gunyah where he found [broadsheet]
So he searched for food and took it to the gunyah where he found [book]

Him, whom he had thought to succour, still and lifeless on the ground! [broadsheet]
Silence broken by his footfalls — death and darkness on the ground. [book]

Oh! he must have sat in darkness — gloomy as the tears he shed. [broadsheet]
Oh ! he must have sat in shadow, gloomy as the tears he shed. [book]

Like a warrior of their nation, sheltered from the storm and sky. [broadsheet]
Like a warrior of their nation, sheltered from the stormy sky. [book]

Sons of science will be wandering o’er that solitary clime, [broadsheet]
Sons of Science oft shall wander o’er that solitary clime; [book]

[Editor: Line breaks have been inserted before “Hearken to” and “Very lone”, so as to break up the longer stanzas, as well as to match the stanzas with the essentially-same poem (albeit with some differences), “The Fate of the Explorers (A Fragment)”, published in Henry Kendall’s Poems and Songs (1862) — it should also be noted that sometimes broadsheets would include text without line breaks, so as to fit the available space. Replaced the ordinary dash after “hear me” with an extended dash; replaced the full stop with a comma after “solitary clime” and “shall stray”, in line with the poem in the book (as well as in line with the flow of the poem), and in consideration of the possibility that the full stops may have been typographical errors.]

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