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John Gilbert diary entry

14 April 1845 - 15 April 1845

Page 73. Volume 2

[in left margin]

10 miles

N.W. by W.507


First new Eopsaltria508

a little south of west, from this it afterwards kept N W; W: α W.N.W. till the last two miles, when it turned up rather more Northerly, the general features of the river does not yet change, if any thing the bed is more open and clear of banks, during the whole stage we had the ridge of Basaltic formation running parrallel with the river and had occasionally to cross it, with the exception of this horrible rocky ridge the country generally was good, fine open flats, clear forest, and a great improvement in the size of the trees which consist principally of Blood wood - Box - Iron bark and Flooded Gum, with occasionally a few small trees of the new Gum. about five miles we crossed a narrow creek, coming in from the S. α W. In a ramble with my Gun I shot a new Bird, assimilating to Petroica and Eopsaltria, in its actions erecting the tail like Petroica, but in its notes resembling the Eopsaltria, like the latter too it is more retired in its habits, than the true Robins, this new species inhabits the dense Jungle like vegetation beneath the shade of the Fig tree; on the banks of the Burdikin. I succeeded in shooting two specimens, but unfortunately both so mutilated, that I prefer waiting till I get other specimens before describing it.

[in left margin]

Tues 15th

9 miles

N.W. by N.


Red Rock Camp509.

First yellow Ptilotis510


Nine miles up the river to day, keeping between the ridge of Basalt and the bank of the river, in one part it came so much upon the river and presented such a steep wall, that we preferred taking the bed of the river for half a mile, when we had descended to the river, we saw sand, stone511 cropping out beneath the Whinstone and in the river a broad belt of sand stone extended. Our course to day was not so favorable the river taking a bend to the northward after 5 miles, our medium course probably about N.W. by N. the river is now somewhat narrowed, its average breadth for the day probably about 500 yards, and the breadth of the running stream about 50 yards. several low sugar loaf hills were passed on the opposite side of the river. In a ramble with my Gun I shot either a new Ptilotis or the P. flava, a species killed by Mr. Bynoe on the North Coast. I also killed Sittella leucoptera512, a Port Essington species, and Zosterops dorsalis513, a southern species. while out, I saw Bowers of the Chlamydera, and from the general structure of which I am almost sure we have here a change of species, it being Chlamydera nuchalis, while in the scrub of the Isaacs, we saw bowers of C. Maculata514.

Note 507

Gilbert did not name or describe their campsite of 14th April, but Leichhardt called it “Lions Return Camp” after one of their bullocks, who had wandered back to West Hill Camp. McLaren put Lions Return Camp at GR 931 178 on the Hillgrove 1: 100,000 map 8058. He found there a broad terrace above the main bed of the river, but below the top of the upper bank. It was about 30-40 feet long and had good grass, so McLaren thought they had probably camped here. If so, they would have been directly opposite the point where Kelly Creek runs into the Burdekin from the north.

Note 508

This indeed was a new species to science, the White-browed Robin Poecilodryas superciliosa. It is in the Australian robin family Petroicidae, as indeed are birds of the genera Petroica and Eopsaltria. The new species was described by John Gilbert’s employer John Gould in 1847, from specimens Gilbert and Murphy had collected in April and May 1845 while they was in the Burdekin River area, and possibly some birds which were obtained from the River Lynd in June 1845. Gould gave the type locality as “the neighbourhood of the Burdekin Lakes, in the interior of Australia”. There are at least seven type specimens (single birds in Exeter, Melbourne and Leiden, and pairs in Philadelphia and Liverpool) but only the pair in Liverpool (LIV D1983 & D1983a) still have their original labels with any sort of a date on them: these labels read: “Port Essington Expedition. Male / Female. April, 1845 River Burdekin" - Irides Reddish Brown". These are possibly the two which Gilbert shot on 14th April 1845 and rather mutilated in doing so, as they are both rather raggedly specimens. Gilbert also recorded shooting single birds on the 18th & 19th April and may have obtained more specimens on 7th June 1845, when they were on the River Lynd. The bird is found in the north-eastern coastal part of Queensland and Cape York; they were just moving into the southern part of its range. It is rather an uncommon bird.

Note 509

Red Rock Camp was estimated by McLaren to be at GR 831 239 on the Hillgrove 1: 100,000 map 8058. It was named after a wall of a flinty red conglomerate which crossed the river from south-west to north east near the camp (Leichhardt 1847: 218), but in 1991 McLaren found that the central third of this wall had disappeared. The Hillgrove map shows two rock bars, both with a central gap through which the main stream must flow, but the more southerly bar does not reach the west side of the Burdekin. McLaren recorded this second bar as being of igneous rock.

Note 510

Not in fact a new species but, as Gilbert thought possible, the Yellow Honeyeater Lichenostomus flavus. Collectively the Yellow Honeyeaters Gilbert and Murphy collected while they were on the “Port Essington Expedition” are responsible for the many puzzled references in the literature and in field guides to historical records of Yellow Honeyeaters occurring in Northern Territory (where the actual Port Essington is). Gilbert always referred to the “Port Essington Expedition” on his labels rather than the “Leichhardt Expedition”, which has caused confusion ever since – with other species too. There are at least seven Yellow Honeyeaters collected in 1845 by Gilbert and Murphy from the Burdekin and Lynd Rivers; they are in museums in Exeter, Tring (the Natural History Museum’s ornithological outstation), New York, Philadelphia and Liverpool. Benjamin Bynoe, Surgeon of H.M.S. Beagle, did indeed collect the type specimen (probably from the coast of Cape York Peninsula), but this cannot now be found. Incidentally, one of the Lynd River Yellow Honeyeaters (National Museums Liverpool LIV D927, collected by Gilbert in June 1845) actually revisited its collecting locality in 1990, this time by coach, when I took five of Gilbert’s original birds on the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland’s “Following in the footsteps of Leichhardt” tour.

Note 511

Presumably Sandstone.

Note 512

The Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera leucocephala, which has a white head, as opposed to Daphoenositta chrysoptera leucoptera, the subspecies found at Port Essington. A Varied Sittella with a white head now in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia (ANSP 9178) is a Leichhardt Expedition specimen which was labelled by ANSP curator Meyer de Schauensee as coming from Peak Range Camp (much further south), but this may actually be the specimen Gilbert recorded as having been collected on the Burdekin River.

Note 513

Zosterops lateralis, the Silvereye. This specimen has not yet been located, although it might be one of those in Philadelphia labelled “New South Wales” (Queensland was not so named until after the Leichhardt Expedition). The Natural History Museum’s BMNH 1881.5.1.639, which an adult bird is labelled “N.S.W.” (or is it labelled “Moreton Bay”?) also needs to be checked.

Note 514

As remarked before, the expedition members were in the area of overlap between these two species, the Spotted and Great Bowerbirds.