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John Gilbert diary entry

16 June 1845 - 17 June 1845

Page 122. Volume 2

[in left margin]

1503

Eighth Steer Killed.

saw its presents an even breadth of about 150 yards. and every where deep water, the banks are all well clothed with the Velasia, and the banks are somewhat steep. All our stock of dried meat being expended we have to make this a killing Camp; We have to day to regret the loss of another horse, and that too in as singular and unaccountable manner, as in the case of poor Crib our little Terrier Dog, and singular enough it is the smallest horse and belonging to Murphy. When Charlie brought in the horses in the morning, he reported that John's Poney was missing, this struck us all with surprise, as he was of all the others the most fidgetty α uneasy when away from the other horses; although it struck us all as singular still I believe no one imagined any harm had happened to the pony, our Bullocks were Packed and we mounted our horses, and left the Camp at the same time Charlie set out in search of the missing creature, he did not rejoin us till after we came to Camp and stated that he had found it lying dead and very much blown, but shewing no external wound or bruise; it is therefore difficult to imagine what may have been the immediate cause of so sudden a death, for the little creature was in excellent order α usual spirits on coming to Camp yesterday. it is however very probable that one of two common occurrences may have killed the poor beast either from having eaten of some deleterious plant, or that it may have been bitten by a Snake. it is without doubt a great loss to the expedition, for although he was but small, he was one of the hardiest and best of all the horses in the Party.*697 we are thus three horses less than when starting two dead, and one lamed on the Suttor's Creek can but just crawl ever since. if we should come to the necessity of packing horses before arriving at our destination, and which now daily seems more probable, we shall certainly feel these several losses greatly. In the evening we killed our eighth beast a fine little Steer.

* the Dr contrary to the wishes of several of us, and of Murphy particularly, did not consider the death of the Pony in such a mysterious manner of sufficient importance to let any one go back to ascertain the cause of death.

[in left margin]

Tues 17th.

Cutting up and drying our meat during the morning; In the afternoon I tried with my hook α line, but was only successful in catching, a few small species to add to my general collection698, I was rather surprised to day, to meet with my new Platycercus of the Downs, a species which has not been observed with us since leaving deception Camp on Comet Creek699. I also observed the Melopsittacus700. At night we had a few drops of rain.

Note 697

The asterisk Gilbert put at this point refers to an addition he made in small writing at the end of his diary entry for this day, regretting Leichhardt’s failure to send anyone back to see if they could find out what had killed the pony.

Note 698

Leichhardt gave a rather fuller account of the fish they had come across that day (Leichhardt 1847: 293). He recorded that Murphy “caught the small striped perch of the Lynd; and another small perch-like fish, with a broad anal fin, wich had already excited our admiration at the Lynd, by the beauty of its colours, and by the singularity of its movements. Charley saw the Silurus [catfish] and the guardfish, and caught several of the broadscaled fish of the MacKenzie; one of which, a most beautiful specimen, has been preserved and send to Mr Gould”.

The “small striped perch of the Lynd” were probably Banded Archerfish Toxtotes jaculator. Archerfish have strongly compressed bodies and take insects from the water surface, often squirting water at their prey to knock it into the water. A specimen of the Banded Archerfish in the collection of the Natural History Museum, BMNH 1846.8.27.10, has a Register entry which reads: "Toxotes. Collected by Mr Gilbert in Dr Leichardt's Expedition for Port Essington. Purchased of Mr Gould with shells". It is a dried skin, right hand side.

“Another small perch-like fish, with a broad anal fin … beauty of its colours, and … singularity of its movements” sounds like a rainbowfish, several species of which occur in the waterways of Cape York. “Silurus” is a catfish. “Guardfish” were longtoms or gars? The “broadscaled fish of the MacKenzie” must have been the Northern Saratoga Scleropages jardinii of northern Queensland and Northern Territory, but note that Leichhardt recorded on 16th June 1845 (Leichhardt 1847: 293) that “a most beautiful specimen, has been preserved and send to Mr Gould”. Did Leichhardt mean the specimen they had collected in January on the Mackenzie River, or did he mean they collected “the most beautiful specimen” within the period 16th - 18th June? Check with James Maclaine that BMNH 1846.8.27.04, the type of Scleropages leichardti Gunther, is not actually a Northern Saratoga Scleropages jardinii, which was named in 1892 by William Saville-Kent, who described it from specimens caught in the Batavia and Gregory Rivers of Cape York. These syntpes are also in the Natural History Museum (BMNH 1911.4.1.33-45, four specimens and a scale, four specimens missing according to the California Academy of Science’s Catalog of fishes).

Note 699

Another pencilled arrowhead over the text probably indicates this parrot-sighting entry, and may be Chisholm’s. There is another arrowhead over the bird species list (and one below this) on the following page, the entries for 18th & 19th June. “My new Platycercus” cannot be the now-extinct Paradise Parrot Psephotus pulcherrimus, which Gilbert had discovered on the Condamine River of the Darling Downs, southern Queensland on May 17th 1844 (see his pencilled notes for this date, also the date on the original Gilbert label on the adult male bird now in National Museums Liverpool, LIV D789a). Even the Comet Creek record is hotly disputed. It must have been a Golden-shouldered Parrot Psephotus chrysopterygius, an increasingly rare species which is only found in a small area of Cape York, and which Gilbert would never have seen. This parrot is superficially similar to the Paradise Parrot in size, shape and tail length, and in the arrangement of its colours, although the bright red of the wing and forehead in adults is replaced with bright yellow.

Note 700

Budgerigar. This is an interesting field record, as this jolly little parrot does not usually inhabit Cape York.