Charles Napier Sturt

(previous ... Edward John Eyre)

Sturt Expedition

Charles Napier Sturt, Two years after the return of Eyre, Captain Charles Napier Sturt, the famous discoverer of the Darling and Murray, wrote to Lord Stanley offering to conduct an expedition into the heart of Australia. His offer was accepted ; and in May, 1844, a well equipped party of 16 persons was ready to start from the banks of the Darling River. Places which Sturt had explored 16 years before , when they were a deep and unknown solitude, were now covered with flocks and cattle; and he could use , as the starting place of this expedition, the furthest point he had reached in that of 1828. Mr Poole went with him as a surveyor, Mr Browne as surgeon an the draughtsman was Mr J Mc Douall Stuart, who, in this expedition, received a splendid training for his own great discoveries of subsequent years. Following the Darling, they reached Laidley's Ponds, passed near Lake Cawndilla and then struck northward for the interior. The country was very bare( one dead level of cheerless desert) and when they reached a few hills which they called Stanley Range, Sturt, who ascended to one of the summits, could see nothing hopeful in prospect. In this region he had to be very careful how he advanced, for he had with him 11 horses, 30 bullocks, 200 sheep and water for a great multitude could with difficulty be procured. He had always to ride forward and find a creek or pond of sufficient size, as the next place of encampment, before allowing the expedition to move on; and as water was often very difficult to find, his progress was but slow. Forunately for the party, it was the winter season and a few of the little creeks had a moderate supply of water. But after they had reached a chain of hills, which Sturt called the Grey Range, the warm season was already upon them. The summer of 1844 was one of the most intense on record; and, in these vast interior plains of sand, under the fiery glare of the sum, the earth seemed to burn like plates of metal; it split the hoofs of the horses; it scorched the shoes and feet of the men; it dried up the water from the creeks and pools and left all the country parched and full of cracks. Sturt spent a time of great anxiety, for the streams around were rapidly disappearing; and when all the water had been dried up, the prospects of his party would, indeed, be gloomy. His relief was great when Mr Poole found a creek in a rocky basin, whose water seemed to have a perennial flow. Sturt moved forward , and formed his depot beside the stream; and here he was forced to remain for 6 months. For it appeared as though he had entered a trap; the country before him was absolutely without water, so that he could not advance; while the creeks behind him were now only dry courses and it was hopeless to think of returning. He made many attempts to escape , and struck out into the country in all directions: in one of his efforts , if he had gone only 30 miles further , he would have found the fine stream of Cooper's Creek, in which there was sufficient water for the party; but hunger and thirst forced him to return to the depot. He followed down the creek on which they were encamped, but found that, after a course of 29 miles , it lost itself in the sand.

Death of Mr Poole

Meantime the travellers passed a summer such as few men had ever experienced. The heat was sometimes as high as 130 degrees in the shade and in the sun was altogether intolerable. They were unable to write, as the ink dried at once on their pens; their combs split; their nails became brittle and readily broke and if they touched a piece of metal, it blistered their fingers. In their extremity they dug an underground room, deep enough to be beyond the dreadful furnace-glow above. Here they passed many a long day, as month after month passed without a shower of rain. Sometimes they watched the clouds gather and they could hear the distant roll of thunder, bit there fell not  drop to refresh the dry and dusty desert. The party began to grow thin and weak; Mr Poole became ill with scurvy, and, from day to day, he sank rapidly. At length, when the winter was again approaching, a gentle shower moistened the plain; and, as the only chance of saving the life of poole, half of the party was sent to carry him quickly back to the Darling. They had gone only a fe hours when a messenger returned with the news he was already dead. The mournful cavalade returned, beaqring his remains and a grave was dug in the wilderness. A tree close by, on which his intials were cut, formed the only memorial to the hapless explorer.

Journey to the Centre

Shortly afterwards there came a succession of wet days and as there was now an abundance of water, the whole party once more set off; and having travelled north-west for 61 miles further, they formed a new depot and made excursions to explore the country in the neighbourhood. McDouall Stuart crossed over to Lake Torrens; while Sturt, with Dr Browne and three men , pushing to the north, discovered the Strzelecki Creek, a stream which flows through very agreeable country. But as they proceeded further to the north their troubles began agian; they came upon a region covered with hill after hill of fiery red sand, amid which lay lagoons of salt and bitter water. They toiled over this weary country in hopes that a change for the better might soon appear; but when they reached the last hill, they had the mortification to see a great plain, barren, monotonous and dreary, stretching with a purple glare as far as the eye could reach on every side. This plain was called by Sturt the "Stony Desert", for, on descending, he found it covered with innumerable pieces of quartz and sandstone, among which the horses wearily stumbled. Sturt wished to penetrate as far as the tropic of Capricorn; but summer was again at hand, their water was failing and they could find neither stream nor pool. When the madness of any further advance became apparent, Sturt, with his head buried in his hands, sat for an hour in bitter disappointment. AFter toiling so far , and reaching within 150 miles of his destination, to be turned back for the want of little water was a misfortune very hard to bear, and, but for his companions, he would have still gone forward and perished. As they hastened back their water was exhausted, and they were often in danger of being buried by moving hills of sand; but at length they reached the depot, having traversed 800 miles during the eight weeks of their absence.

Sturt Pays a High Price

It was not long before Sturt started again, taking with him McDouall Stuart as his companion. On this trip he suffered the same hardships, but had the satisfaction of discovering a magnificent stream, which he called Cooper's Creek. On crossing this creek, he again entered the Stony Desert, and was once more compelled relunctantly to retrace his steps. When he reached the depot he was utterly worn out. He lay in bed for a long time, tnederly nursed by his companions; and when the whole party set out for the settled districts, he had to be lifted in and out of the dray in which he was carried. As they neared their homes his sight began to fail. The glare of the burning sands had destroyed his eyes and he passed the remainder of his days in darkness. His reports of the arid country gave rise to the opinion that the interior of Australia is one vast desert; but this was afterwards found to be far from correct.



History of Australia