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John Gilbert diary entry

12 January 1845 - 14 January 1845

Page 7. Volume 2

[page 7]

weather, the days are cloudless and very hot.

[in left margin]

Mon 13

11 [miles made]

Tropic Camp


We followed down the left banks of the Mackenzie for 2½ Miles, the scrub again made its appearance on very steep banks and the gullies α ravines increased upon us, we therefore found it necessary to leave the river for a short distance and came upon a clear open streak of country, along which we travelled on very easily occasionally over undulating country about 8½ miles, when we again made the river and camped on a noble reach of water, with again such steep banks, that we had to search a good deal before finding a part of the bank from which we could reach water, the river having taken such a bend to the Eastward, makes our actual distance in a straight line not more than a=bout 7 miles. We again were successful in fishing but the Silurus we caught to day far exceeded in size those we caught yesterday, a very large Eel was caught, it appears the same species as that caught in the Dawson. however more specimens may prove it to be a different species. At length we are fairly in the Tropics232, and we have certainly a fine introduction to this part of Australia in so fine a river, which we all hope will farther con=duct us a great portion of the way towards our destination.

[in left margin]:

Tues 14

10 [miles made]

Coal Camp

Continuing our route down the Mackenzie at 2½ miles crossed a large Flagstone creek running in from the westward, this was the extent of the Drs reconnoitering, and from this we kept the banks of the river, passing many fine reaches of water, the banks very much cut up into deep gullies and ravines, rendered it rather difficult travelling, but our Bullocks have now become so accustomed to this sort of Work, they face the crossings without any attempt to throw off their loads as at first, at about three miles from the Flagstone creek we came upon a sudden bend of the river to the westward on the opposite side of which a large creek from the eastward came in, up to this part the rivers course was about N.E. it now ran West α N.W. for about 5 miles at first very narrow and the bed frequently dry, at the end of a large pool we came upon the rocky shallow bed from the sides jutted out several thin layers of Coal, nodules of Quartz, Iron stone α c were lying in the bed, but the general formation is Sandstone. here we found three new Shells, a Cyclas α a Potomis and a Paludina233. from this we came upon a beautiful clear grassy flat, and where we would have camped, but the bed of the river was dry, we moved on about half a mile farther and camped at the junction of a small creek, the banks of the river still as steep and as difficult to reach water as before, it being but a small pool we did not succeed in catching any fish. Just before coming to Camp234 we saw two Native women who were busily engaged collecting Mussels from the oposite [sic] bank as soon however as they observed us they ran up the bank in the greatest fright. That we are in a country much inhabited seems clear to us all, from the many indications we every where meet with but more particularly from the immense collection of Mussel shells every where met with in heaps on the banks. as yet however we have not met with bones of fish and very few of Kangaroo and other animals. The Dr α Brown set off to explore the river downwards, Charlie accompanying them to lead us a short stage tomorrow. We to day made a discovery which is important to us all particularly those with indifferent teeth, hitherto our dried Beef has always been so excessively hard and ropey, that notwithstanding the different methods of cooking always induced a pain in our jaws and gums. to day we beat the meat with a hammer before stewing, and found a most agreable change in consequence, the general flavour of the meat seemed improved and the soup richer, and the meat not at all stringy.

Note 232

Tropic Camp on the 13th January was indeed just 4 kilometres south of the Tropic of Capricorn, at GR 686 027. They crossed the tropic line on the 14th.

Note 233

Listed in the Register of Natural History Museum in London are several shells from the Mackenzie River, “collected by Mr Gilbert” and received from John Gould in October 1846. These are: “Paludina” (1846.10.7.30-32); “Cyrena” (1846.10.7.57 & 79-81); “Melania” (1846.10.7.82-85); “Vitrina?” (1846.10.7.163-164); “Physa” (1846.10.7.170-173) and “Zonites” (1846.10.7.199-200). It would be very interesting if these could be found, although it would be a difficult task given the size of the NHM’s collection.

Note 234

McLaren put Coal Camp at GR 714 100.