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John Gilbert diary entry

16 January 1845 - 18 January 1845

Page 9. Volume 2

page 9

[left hand margin]:

Interview with the Natives of the Mackenzie

Third Bullock killed

to about 5 Men α 4 or 5 Women α Children, the Dr with our Black-fellows then went to them, but I be=lieve nothing definite could be gleaned from them, Charlie it seemed understood here α there a word only, and to his general enquiries respecting the course of the Mackenzie, he understood from them to be about N.E. they also seemed very anxious to know where we were going and why we had come here, and by their actions seemed to wish we would immediately go back again. Although they did not render us any assistance it was satisfactory to meet them in so friendly a manner, that they had no hos=tile intentions is proved by their having their wives α children with them and they were very anxious to form their camp near us, but of course we would not allow it, and they at length went away farther down the river. when parting with Charlie whose fine head of hair α large whiskers they seemed to admire, they all wept and seemed all at once quite overwhelmed with sorrow, whether feigned or real, it is dif=ficult to say, at all events Charlie was not at all affected, for he only laughed at them, pro=bably well knowing the true meaning of it although he would or could not satisfy us when we questioned him. In the afternoon we were successful in fishing for Silurus many of which in a short time were captured. in the evening we killed our third Bullock.

[in left margin]

Friday 17.

Lat 23=21=0

Redmans Camp

All engaged cutting up and drying Beef. the day exceedingly hot. the Bullock we have this time killed has been lame from the time of starting and has thus always kept in low condition, the con=sequence is that we shall not get 5 lbs of Fat at this killing, while the last yielded us nearly 30 lbs241. Again successful in fishing both Silurus α the Eel242 being caught. The pool near our Camp has to day been visited by Ichthyaeetus, - Pelecanus - Plotus - α two species of Phalacrocorax, one a Black, the other with white beneath243. Contra[r]y to our expectations the Natives did not pay us a visit today. The pool of water we are camped on is upwards of six miles long with an average breadth of about 40 yards α running near N α S. The camp has its name from the Bullock killed here, he was an old worker under that name.

[in left margin]

Sat 18.

579 [total miles progressed, written in the extreme bottom left-hand corner]244

The Dr α Brown left us this morning to reconnoitre to the N.W. Charlie while out this morning for the Horses found a Magnificent Plant the Blossoms α leaves of which he brought in. the Dr thinks it nearly allied to Nelumbo245 an Egyptian Plant. I α Roper saddled our horses and rode to the Lagoon for specimens, the distance was about 2 miles east of the Camp, it has the habit of the Lotus, the large round leaf lying on the surface of the water quite flat, but on the sides of the bank it grows up to a height of 6 to 8 feet the large crimson blossoms resembling in form a Tulip. the leaves are very large many of them measuring at least 18 inches in diameter. In the evening we were again visited by the Natives, I and Roper with Charlie went out to meet them, as they approached with the emblem of friendship, a green bough I plucked one from a shrub and did the same, as is usual among them the party sat down together while one stepped forward towards us and entered into conversation. Of course we could not understood a word he said but from his gestures it seemed he was very anxious to know why we came here, and whither we were going. Charlie made out a few words only, not sufficient to gain any positive in=formation. the native seemed a very good tempered fellow, and was very anxious at parting to [know]

Note 241

Actually on 22nd December, when they moved off from Brown’s Lagoon after killing their second bullock, Gilbert had recorded that they had 160lbs of fried meat and 40lbs of fat. Fragment 1b of Gilbert’s diary is a list of the bullocks they slaughtered and how much dried meat they yielded – in the case of the third bullock slaughtered, Redman, it was only 117lbs. These fragments are transcribed at the end of this document.

Note 242

Silurus is a catfish; the eel would be of the genus Anguilla. Presumably they would have been more likely to have eaten these fish rather than prepare them as skins. In this period the expedition did collect a new fish to science: Leichhardt recorded that 16th January 1845 (Gilbert recorded the 18th January in his pencilled notes, page 969b and 19th January in his main diary, page 177, Murphy recorded the 19th January (Sprod 2006: 30, see Murphy’s sketch reproduced on page 31)) was the day John Murphy shot the first specimens ever collected of the Southern Saratoga (or Spotted Barramundi), which Gunther later named Scleropages leichardti (Gunther, 1864. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 14 (3): 195-197 & plate vii). Gunther's type description and the plate is based on a specimen now in the Natural History Museum in London (BMNH 1846.8.27.04), which had been "sent by the unfortunate Mr. Gilbert as a specimen collected by Leichhardt … may have been obtained at the same place and time as that in the Sydney Museum … stuffed but considerably larger … 28 inches". As Gunther also included this Australian Museum (Sydney) specimen in his type description, this would make it a paratype. Gunther recorded that the Sydney specimen, which was 15 inches long and of which he had photographs and a scale from the middle of the side, had been collected by Leichhardt in the Burdekin River, but this species does not occur in that waterbody, only the Fitzroy River catchment area, which includes the Mackenzie and Dawson Rivers. Leichhardt himself (1847: 111-112) had recorded under the date 16th January 1845 that “Murphy shot an Ostioglossum, a Malacopterygious fish, about three feet long, with very large scales, each scale having a pink spot”. Leichhardt went on to say that they found this fish again in the waters flowing into the Gulf of Carpentaria, and that it was found at Port Essington, but here he must have been referring to the closely related Northern or Gulf Saratoga Scleropages jardinii. Note the missing "h" in Gunther’s type description from Leichhardt's name (see Berra, T.M. 1989. Scleropages leichardti Gunther. The case of the missing h. Bull. Aust. Soc. Limnol. 12: 15-19). I am going to assume the 19th January is the correct date for collecting the Southern Saratoga for the first time, as both Gilbert and Murphy said so, Murphy being the collector.

N.B. Leichhardt (1847: 293) recorded that on 16th June 1845, when they were on the Mitchell River in Cape York, “Charley … caught several of the broadscaled fish of the MacKenzie; one of which, 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” on 16th June? Need to check 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 (see previous remarks in a footnote to Gilbert’s diary of 15th November 1844). Saville-Kent described the new fish from specimens caught in the Batavia and Gregory Rivers of Cape York. These syntypes 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 243

These were White-bellied Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster, Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus, Australasian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae and two species of Cormorant - either Great or Little Black Cormorant, and either Pied or Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo carboides, P. sulcirostris, P. varius hypoleucos or Microcarbo melanoleucos).

Note 244

Someone (John Gould or Alec Chisholm?) has scrawled over Gilbert’s text in pencil at this point and inserted an arrow, this probably reads "Singular plant".

Note 245

The genus Nelumbo are Lotuses, which do not occur in Australia (incorrectly identified as Nelumbo nucifera in Sprod 2006, footnote 61). This plant was possibly from the water lily genus Nymphaea.