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John Gilbert diary entry

11 January 1845 - 12 January 1845

Page 6. Volume 2

[in top left margin]

[552 = total miles progressed, repeated from bottom of previous page]

Camp of Charlie's choice

for they travelled on in the most easy, docile α regular manner possible, a large Natives Camp or village was passed by us to day; and around most of the pools of water are numerous tracks some of which are very recent they must evidently be in our immediate vicinity, it certainly seems strange they do not show themselves perhaps it may be accounted for, that at this particular season they are more scattered about in small com=munities, and from not having any knowledge at all of the White man, may have frequently observed us α have been so alarmed, as to induce them to avoid us, it is to be hoped they will ever continue so, although it would be exceedingly interesting to occasionally meet them if they could at all times α places be depended on, but the uncertain character of a savage, requires very great caution, in all communications with him that for the general safety of ourselves α Cattle α Horses it is much more satisfactory to us we do not see them at all, although it must be admitted could we occasionally meet with an intelligent Native he could be of great value to us in acting as our guide; The sandy nature of the country we have travelled over to=day seems particularly favorable for the incubiting [sic] habits of the Merops, for at no time have I observed such large flocks of the species as I observed to day, particularly in the evening, the Malurus Lambertii - Estrelda Phaeton α Geophaps scripta were also particularly abundant around our Camp, of the latter no less than 25 were shot by two of us. the Myiagra and Plectorhyncha are becoming more abundant, the Oreica [sic] gutturalis α Cincloramphus227 are still sparingly met with. The Dr returned in the evening having ridden a distance of 45 miles, and discovered that the Comet is after all our prognostics only a tributary creek to a large river running a little east of North, and in which we shall see the largest sheets of water since leaving Brisbane228.

[in left margin]

Sunday 12.

7 [miles made]

Silurus Camp

23=33=0

Following down the Comet Creek for five miles we came to its junction229 with the fine River the Dr had discovered. when about three miles from our Camp we crossed the Creek; at the junction with the Mackenzie, we fortunately found an excellent Rocky crossing place, and travelled on the left Bank for about 2 miles where we camped230, on the remaining part of the Comets banks although the scrub does not come down so much on the edge of the bank [it] still exists to the junction a little back, while about a mile back there is generally clear open undulating country, but we were for the most part enabled to travel along the bank α flats. at the crossing of the Mackenzie we saw a fine reach of water on either side the one above us was however the broadest water and on which were Pelicans. at the crossing was iron stone, and Coal, α Fossilised wood, except at the crossing the banks are very high α steep, so much so, that when we camped we could with difficulty find a place where we could even reach the water. here we were all anxious to again taste fish, and all our lines were soon in requisition, we were amply repaid in catching not only a plentiful supply but in addition a new species of Silurus231. neither the Dr or myself having ever seen this form till now in fresh water. The Mackenzie is certainly by far the most considerable stream we have seen since leaving the Dawson, and in some respects is far superior to the latter, in the first place it has a deeper bed, and has certainly a much greater supply of water, from the light clayey colour of the water it would seem to have been very recent=ly in a flooded state probably from the earlier part of the rainy season, where we crossed it had ceased running, another singular and interesting circumstance as almost showing that we are not only on a Northern stream but in a valley most probably reaching to the Gulf of Carpentaria is, that for the last 3 nights since fairly emerg=ing from the dense scrub, we have regularly had a sea breeze, which comes up with a strong cool gust about 8 O'Clock, and has regularly increased till midnight, it generally drops about 2 in the morning, all the late symtoms [sic] of approaching rain seems now to have again cased, instead of cloudy threatening

Note 227

The birds Gilbert listed were: Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus, Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti, Crimson Finch Neochmia phaeton, Squatter Pigeon Geophaps scripta, probably the Leaden Flycatcher Myiagra rubecula, Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata, Crested Bellbird Oreioca gutturalis and a songlark (probably the Rufous Songlark Cincloramphus cruralis). So far no specimens have been found with this collection date, but Gilbert did not actually say he had collected any birds that day.

Note 228

This was the river named the Mackenzie by Leichhardt after Sir Evan Mackenzie, a Scot from Ross-shire who had presided over the farewell dinner given in Leichhardt’s honour by the citizens of Brisbane in August, 1844 (Chisholm 1941: 158).

Note 229

Gilbert had previously referred to this watercourse as “Comet River”, but wrote here in error “Comet Creek”. The junction was of the Comet, Mackenzie and Nogoa Rivers, at GR567 939. A “Leichhardt Tree” is marked at this point on the 1: 100,000 Comet sheet 8650.

Note 230

Silurus Camp on the night of 12th January was estimated by McLaren to be at GR 579 944, although this is only just over a kilometre east of the junction of the three rivers. It was named after the Catfish they caught.

Note 231

“Silurus” is a catfish.