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John Gilbert diary entry

9 June 1845 - 10 June 1845

Page 117. Volume 2

our old friend of the Burdekin is reappearing, the large Fig tree with clusters of fruit664.

[in left margin]

Monday 9th.

8 N.W.

10 miles.

First Climacteris melanura?665

Ten miles of country travelled over to day, and without the exception the most singular and remarkable we have yet seen, the whole aspect of the country is changing, during the whole of to days stage the country is exceedingly broken, by Sandstone ridges α hills all however very low, and for the most part decomposing, showing a greyish appearance on the upper sides, and more whitened bel=ow, they all more or less present a bare and barren appearance, which is strongly contrasted with the rich verdure of the flats α valleys intervening. none of these ridges or isolated hills were of sufficient height to obtain a view of much extent, every part of the surrounding country appearing of the same character, while there appears an evident fall of the land to the N α Westward, several tolerably large creeks came in on the left bank, on which side we travelled the whole day, we camped in the bed of the river near its right bank666, where the whole bed of the Lynde (the name applied to this river)667 is very little short of a mile in breadth, having perhaps at least a dozen channels. during the days march I killed Climacteris melanura another of Bynoe's species. and I obtained two more specimens of Geophaps plumifera668. This species is in every character like the other two, going together in small flocks α feeding on the ground, when approached they squat, and allow you to pass very near them, one difference however I have as yet re=marked, it does not like G. scripta when disturbed from the ground fly into a tree, but takes to an ant hill or a rising mound of earth or a stone, it would thus appear to be more a ground bird than even the other two species. however it will require a little more acquaintance with the species, before determining this point with certainty; Several new species and forms of Fish are now for the first time making their appearance. as we get lower down the river and meet with deeper α larger pools, we shall in all probability be enabled to make them out and collect specimens.

[in left margin]

Tues 10th.

N.N.W.

8 miles

1239

In consequence of making a late start, we made but the short stage of 8 miles669, the Lynd to day kept a much more Northerly course, the medium for the days route being about N N W. To day I again met with Geophaps plumifera in great numbers, one very large covey in the sandy bed of the river enabled me to see more of them than on any previous occasion, they were rather shy running very rapidly over the ground, with their long slender crests, perpendicularly erect, giving to them quite a grotesque appearance, in every instance (and I remained with them some time shooting specimens) when ever they rose on the wing, they in every case again perched on

Note 664

McLaren considered that it was difficult to place the campsite of 8th June as “Gilbert’s creek numbers and Leichhardt’s configuration do not agree” (typed mss. page 329). However both Leichhardt and Gilbert listed four creeks entering the Lynd from the south, and if one considers that the campsite of 7th June might have been about a mile upstream from where McAllan has it, then these four creeks according to Gilbert’s mileages would have been Publican Creek, an unnamed creek entering the Lynd at GR 926 763, the creek running down from Red Lagoon, and Troopers Creek. “Craggy Hillcamp” was placed by McLaren at GR 813 814, on the west bank of the Lynd and under some prominent sandstone crags. All the expedition members missed the junction of the Tate River with the Lynd, and (as McAllan wrote), they also missed by a little over a mile to the west a tributary of Red River, which would have taken them directly to the Staaten River and the Gulf of Carpentaria, and avoided much pain, misery and death.

Note 665

Gilbert’s question mark indicates he was not sure about the identification of this bird. Indeed it was not a Black-tailed Treecreeper Climacteris melanura (the type specimen of which had been collected by Benjamin Bynoe on the north-west coast of Australia, but a species which Gilbert had never himself seen) but a new bird to science, the northern Queensland race of the Brown Treecreeper, the Black-backed Treecreeper Climacteris picumnus melanotus. This new subspecies was described from Leichhardt Expedition specimens by John Gould in 1847, who gave the type locality as the “Neighbourhood of the River Lynd”. Four type specimens have been found: a Murphy Collection specimen now in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter (which is mislabelled Climacteris superciliosa North), a pair in the Gould Collection in Philadelphia, which were presumably collected by Gilbert (ANSP 9214 & 9215, both labelled “Port Essington, i.e. Port Essington Expedition), and an adult female in National Museums Liverpool (LIV D5542s), which still bears Gilbert’s original label: "Port Essington Expedition. Female. June 1845 River Lynd" - "Irides Brown". Alec Chisholm referred to the specimen Gilbert recorded in his diary as having being collected on 9th June as a Black-tailed Treecreeper (“Birds of the Gilbert diary1945: 193-194, under “Tree-creepers … useful record … of the extension of the range of the Black-tailed Tree-creeper”), but thought those Gilbert collected on the 11th and 13th June were of the new bird “C. melanota” (Black-backed Treecreepers Climacteris picumnus melanotus). However, they must have all been Black-backed Treecreepers, as the only populations of Black-tailed Treecreepers in Queensland are far to the west.

Chisholm further confused the issue with a footnote on page 201 of the revised edition of “Strange New World” (1955): “There is no reference to this bird in Gilbert’s diary for 28th June, but a specimen which he shot, and which bore a label with that date, was sent to John Gould by Leichhardt. Apparently Gilbert was killed before completing his entry for that day”. Here Chisholm seems to have assumed as accurate Gould’s account in “The birds of Australia” (volume 4, text and plate 96, published on June 1st 1847). In this Gould wrote: “For this … Climacteris … we are indebted to Dr. Leichardt’s Expedition … It was killed in latitude 15o 57’ south, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and is rendered particularly interesting to me as being one of the birds procured by poor Gilbert on the day of his lamented death, the 28th of June 1845, which untoward event prevented him from recording any particulars respecting it”. Chisholm has assumed that, if Gould wrote that Gilbert collected a specimen of the Black-backed Treecreeper on the 28th June 1845, then it must have borne a label with this date. However, this appears to be yet another instance where Gould did not read Gilbert’s diary carefully - he did not pick up on the possibility that Gilbert’s treecreeper of “Bynoe’s species” could be the new Black-backed Treecreeper, specimens of which Gilbert probably collected on 9th, 11th and 13th June. The only evidence that Gilbert collected another Black-backed Treecreeper on the 28th June 1845 is a line in John Roper’s letter to Gould of 12th May 1846 (published in Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1846: 79-80), which was written to explain the circumstances of Gilbert’s death: “Gilbert, taking his gun, sallied forth in search of something new – he procured a Climacteris and a Finch, which he skinned before dinner”. Gould must have thought that Gilbert had not mentioned the new treecreeper in his diary at all, and seems to have then made the assumption that Gilbert’s specimens must therefore have been collected for the first time on Gilbert’s last day of life and that he had not had time to record so. However, after dinner on the 28th June Gilbert had spent some time learning to plait palm leaves to make a hat, before retiring to his tent for the night at about 7pm (Leichhardt 1847: 308), the inference being that Gilbert had completed his diary for that day before going to his tent.

In conclusion, the first specimens of the Black-backed Treecreeper Climacteris picumnus melanotus were collected by Gilbert much further south than otherwise recorded by John Gould, and a little further to the south than recorded by Alec Chisholm.

Note 666

The campsite of 9th June 1845 was not named – surely it should be “Black-backed Treecreeper Camp” or “New Treecreeper Camp”? McLaren placed this campsite by a long pool in the bed of the Lynd at GR 734 952. However, Gilbert recorded in his diary for the 10th June that “Charlie this morning in fetching in the horses came upon numerous small Lagoons on the right bank, nearly opposite the Camp”. Perhaps they had camped more towards the middle of the river bed and so missed these lagoons, the longest of which must be the one where McLaren has placed the campsite.

Note 667

This may indicate that Leichhardt, finally sure that the Lynd was a river not a tributary, actually named it on the 9th June 1845. Philips recorded that “Our leader has at length named the stream The Lynd” in his diary on the 10th June (Sprod 2006: 72).

Note 668

See the footnotes for 6th June which concern Gilbert’s specimens of the Spinifex Pigeon Geophaps plumifera.

Note 669

Leichhardt (1847: 286) recorded only five miles travel on the 10th June.