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John Gilbert diary entry

5 June 1845 - 7 June 1845

Page 115. Volume 2

[in left margin]

Thursday 5th

W. by N.

11 miles

First Malacorhynchus membranaceous649

To day we moved on a further stage of about 11 miles down the river, for the first 3 miles the river kept about an N.W. course at this distance it was turned off to the Westward by a short range650 and kept nearly a West course the remainder of the stage, at 2 miles we crossed a large tributary coming down from the N. East651. at 7 miles a second large creek well supplied with water, came in on the opposite bank from about South652, on the whole we had tolerably good travelling country by keeping close to the banks of the river, stony hills occasionally drove us off into the bed of the river, and which we frequently crossed α recrossed, occasionally the banks spread out into mod=erate grassy flats, with undulating country at the back; but the hills were generally stony, the bed of the river still preserves its usual appearance, but increases occasionally in breadth, when it gets clear of the rock. To day we killed for the first time in the Ex=pedition the Malacorhynchus membranaceous, although a common New South Wales species, I also observed the Buteo melanosternan653 [sic].

[in left margin]

Friday 6th.

W by N.

10 miles

First Geophaps plumifera


To day we made a further addition of 10 miles down the River, during the whole stage we had tolerable good travelling, there were several rocky ranges still coming upon the river bank, some of which we crossed without difficulty, and one or two of the worst parts we avoided altogether by taking the bed of the river, several large creeks came in from the N α East654, during the stage I was fortunate enough to kill for the first time Geophaps plumifera655, a species hitherto only known from a single specimen sent home by Mr Bynoe of the Beagle, the irides were bright orange, naked skin before and surrounding the eyes bright crimson, Bill dark greenish grey, scales of the legs α toes greenish grey, the naked skin separating the scales light ashy grey656, in its flight α actions on the ground it precisely resembles the two other described species of Geophaps657. I only saw the single specimen killed, but I afterwards learned from Brown, that he had just before observed a flock rise, as do the G. scripta. at the Pool of water we camped beside658. a second pair of Tadorna rajah659 was killed. The morning set in with very cloudy weather which continued during the day, with a tolerably strong breeze from the Eastward.

[in left margin]

Sat 7th


To day we had another disagreable days stage over stony hills, or in the heavy sand of the bed of the river, we could only make about 8 miles; at 3 miles a large creek came in the left bank from S.W660. at a mile farther down we came upon the junction of a creek coming in from the Southward α Westward, this presented a running stream, running slowly over the rocks into the river661.

Note 649

Pink-eared Duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus, which according to Leichhardt (1847: 282) was shot by Brown. No specimen has been found, but Gilbert is unlikely to have prepared any individuals of this rather large species of duck as a scientific specimen.

Note 650

Mount May is on the west side of this range, which Leichhardt named “Kirchners Range”, after W. Kirchner, a supporter of the expedition. According to Chisholm (1955: 192) Kirchner was Austrian Vice-Consul in Sydney.

Note 651

Reedy Creek.

Note 652

Rocky Creek, which forms two “Lily Lagoons” in the area where it runs into the Lynd. McLaren, extrapolating from Leichhardt’s sketch map, thought the expedition must have camped a short distance to the west of this junction, on the south bank of the Lynd at GR 852 585, on 5th June 1845. This campsite was not named by anyone in the expedition – perhaps “Pink-eared Duck Camp” would be appropriate?

Note 653

Black-breasted Buzzard Hamirostra melanosternon.

Note 654

Kangaroo Creek being the first of these.

Note 655

Leichhardt (1847: 284) recorded that Brown had shot two of these “pretty little pigeons” on 6th June, but they were “too much mutilated to make good specimens”. Perhaps Gilbert did succeed in preparing the “single specimen” he mentioned, though: two Spinifex Pigeons Geophaps plumifera collected by Gilbert at the Lynd River in June 1845 are now in National Museums Liverpool (LIV D4153s and LIV D4162s, an unsexed bird and a female). Another Spinifex Pigeon collected on the Leichhardt Expedition, without a collecting date but undoubtedly also from the Lynd area, is in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, and was therefore probably collected by John Murphy. Two birds in Philadelphia, ANSP 13563 (male) & 13564 (female), are from “Interior of Australia” and could also be from this period, they need to be checked to see which subspecies they are from. Note that Gilbert collected and prepared specimens of this pigeon, rather than allow them to be dismembered for eating, as he realised the species had only previously been known from Benjamin Bynoe’s specimen. Bynoe was Surgeon on H.M.S. Beagle when he collected the first specimen of G. plumifera 150 miles upstream on the Victoria River in north-west Western Australia, probably in October 1839. According to Gould, who described the species Lophophaps plumifera in 1842 from Bynoe’s single specimen, it was kept in Bynoe’s own private collection and its present whereabouts is now unknown.

Note 656

Inserted over the top of the entry for the 6th June is the pencilled comment: "Copy out soft parts of plumage", with two pencilled arrows over the text (one of these arrows is possibly Alec Chisholm’s). The sentence and at least one of the arrows are probably in John Gould’s hand, and relate to Gilbert’s list of the soft part colours of the Spinifex Pigeon. Chisholm (in “Birds of the Gilbert diary” 1944: 145, under “Plumed Pigeon”) recorded that Gould had copied these colours for the entry for “Lophophaps plumifera” in the “Handbook to the birds of Australia” (1865, vol.ii: 135-136), but that Gould had got the collecting date completely wrong, giving “March 6” (when they were on the Suttor River) instead of June 6th. Gould did record “Lat. 17o 30’” correctly. Incidentally Leichhardt recorded (1847: 284) that the Spinifex Pigeons were seen in small groups of between two and six, “running with great rapidity and elevated crest over the ground, and preferring the shady rocks along the sandy bed of the river”.

Note 657

Squatter Pigeon Geophaps scripta and Partridge Pigeon Geophaps smithii.

Note 658

Geophaps Camp (Leichhardt actually wrote “Geophaps Camp (Bean coffee)” on his sketch map) was tentatively placed at GR 068 638 on the 1: 100,00 Blackdown map 7663 by McLaren, who could not access the extremely broken area by motorcycle. McLaren incorrectly called it “Jeophaps Camp”. The “Bean coffee” refers to the fact that William Phillips had experimented that day with roasting and pounding the beans of the Mackenzie River Acacia, and made an “excellent substitute for coffee” (Leichhardt 1847: 282-3).

Note 659

Gilbert at first wrote “Sarkidiornis regia” (= Sarkidiornis melanotus, the Knob-billed Duck of Africa and Asia), but he then deleted this name and wrote “Tadorna rajah” ( Burdekin or Radjah Shelduck) over the top.

Note 660

Probably White’s Creek, which joins the Lynd from the south-west at GR 036 652.

Note 661

According to McLaren this was Pillar Creek, which joins the Lynd from the south at GR 020 680 shortly downstream from where Pinnacle Creek joins from the east. After this junction the Lynd is turned more to the north by ridges outcropping on both sides of the river. These steep spurs forced the expedition to travel in the wearisome bed of the river.