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John Gilbert diary entry

30 January 1845 - 1 February 1845

Page 18. Volume 2

[in left margin]:


=tonous level of the country we have come up from, towards the confluence of the two ranges there appears to be a very great fall in the land. In looking towards these two fine ranges I could not see that that [there] was the slightest hope of our finding a route in this direction, and felt a regret at the probability of our being obliged to leave such an interesting country, lying as it does so exactly in our course. The whole morning was excessively hot, more particularly on the open Plains, and our horses seemed to feel the effects of it very much, taking their saddles off we tyed them to a tree under the shade of which they became a little more cool, and fortunately the sky became cloudy α threatening for a thunder Storm, which with a slight breeze brought on a cool refreshing afternoon, from the general features of the country around us I thought it useless to proceed any farther, and from this turned back well persuaded that no prac=ticable route for our Bullocks could be found in this direction. Charlie in returning made one of his extraordinary short cuts, we had in consequence a great deal more of the Scrub to go through, but it saved us nearly two miles of open plain. While on the Plain I killed Malurus leucopterus, a Myrafra, and in the scrub the Caprimulgus - I believe the same species as killed by me at Port Essington270. On our return to our water hole (for not a drop was of course seen during the day) we were fortunate in killing several Ducks enough for our supper and Breakfast tomorrow, here also I killed a new species of Porzana271. On the Plains I observed Cincloramphus cruralis - Nymphicus Novae-Hollandiae - Artamus cinereus - Artamus sordidus - Elanus the new species first observed at Darling Downs, Circus Jardinii - Milvus affinis - Accipiter torquatus - Ieracidea Berigora - Dicaeum hirundinaceum - Cracticus nigrogularis - Gymnorhina - Platycercus Paliceps [sic] - Otis Australis α c272 - It being too late for us to make the camp to night and the horses being rather fagged after 9 hours in the saddle over such a country I determined on remaining out for the night, and returning in the morning. Thunder Storms during the evening all round us but we escaped the rain from them all.

[in left margin]:

Friday 31

To day we steered back direct to the Camp in a N N E direction which for the most part kept us on the left Bank of the Creek. On our arrival at Camp I found the Dr still suffering under his weakening malady, and of course still unable to reconnoitre, Calvert has recovered. Very soon after our arrival Roper with Brown was sent off to find a route to the Northward α Eastward and from the character of the Country generally will doubtless be more successful than I have been to the Southward α Westward. In the evening wishing if possible to get more specimens of the new Porzana, I searched the water-holes near the Camp, and was rewarded by shooting another species, but which I do not think new, still it may prove to be so. I also killed a third species like that before met with and which I believe is the common Rallus Phillippensis273. Thunder storm at night but very little rain.

[in left margin]:

Sat 1 Febr

Long 148=19=0

The Dr to day made out two sets of Lunar observations and the result was not a little startling to us all, it is the first occasion of the Drs being enabled to fairly make out his Longitude with certainty α satisfaction in=stead of being as we supposed in 144 we are thrown back to 148-19-0 thus within about 100 miles of the coast, or at least 240 miles more east than supposed, and instead of being nearly a third of the distance we thus find ourselves about one fourth only after 4 months travelling. the result of these observations however is attended with

Note 270

The birds Gilbert killed were a White-winged Fairy-wren Malurus leucopterus leuconotus, Horsfield’s Bushlark Mirafra javanica horsfieldii and possibly a Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus schlegelii. The fairy-wren is probably one in Murphy’s collection in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter; another possibility is BMNH 1881.5.1.698, which is labelled only “Australia”. Could the bird Gilbert killed on the 30th January 1845 have been Gould’s 1865 type of Malurus leuconotus? The vagueness of Gould’s type locality (“Interior of Australia; precise locality unknown”) could be the result of Gould not finding this particular entry in Gilbert’s diary. The bushlark is probably now in Philadelphia (ANSP 14768) and must be the one mentioned by Gould in “The birds of Australia” (vol.3, text to plate 77): "A specimen procured during Dr Leichardt's [sic] overland expedition from Moreton Bay". The Large-tailed Nightjar, if that is what it was, had not been found.

Note 271

The “new species of Porzana”: could this possibly be Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis BMNH 1881.5.1.5614 “Australia”, or Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla palustris ANSP 6241, F, “Port Essington” or BMNH 1881.5.1.5601 & .5603, “New South Wales”? It could even be Australian Crake Porzana fluminea ANSP 6251, F, “Port Essington”. Baillon’s Crake seems the most likely - on 24th February, on the Isaac River, Gilbert wrote that he had “obtained a second example of the little Porzana, I first killed on Crinum Creek” (29th January campsite), and a male Baillon’s Crake in LIV (D5343s) is labelled Isaac River, 23rd February 1845.

Leichhardt (1847: 132) wrote that Gilbert had “found the skull of a large kangaroo, the nasal cavity of which appeared unusually spacious”. This skull has not so far been found; the two kangaroo skulls found so far in the NHM from the Leichhardt Expedition are both from medium-sized kangaroos. Leichhardt continued: “He brought home a new Malurus, and a Rallus: he also shot another species of Rallus on the water-hole near our encampment; he also brought in a true Caprimulgus”. Murphy also recorded that Gilbert had collected a “Malurus leucopterus or white-winged warbler found by Sir Thomas Mitchell on the plains of the Bogan” on January 31st (Sprod 2006: 34).

Note 272

On the plains Gilbert saw these species: Brown Songlark, Cockatiel, Black-faced & Dusky Woodswallows, Letter-winged Kite, Spotted Harrier, Black Kite, Collared Sparrowhawk, Brown Falcon, Mistletoebird, Pied Butcherbird, Australian Magpie, Pale-headed Rosella and Australian Bustard.

Note 273

The only bird specimen found so far which was collected at Crinum Camp is a male Black-fronted Dotterel Elseyornis melanops, but this is dated 1st February, and is also misdated 1844 (LIV D5174s). “Rallus Phillippensis” is the Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis, but no such specimen has been found. Murphy recorded in his diary that he had shot a number of birds and mammals on 1st and 2nd February, while they were at Crinum Camp (Sprod 2006: 35). These included pigeons, ducks, 5 “brush kangaroos”, a rail and a plover. The latter well might be the Black-fronted Dotterel now in World Museum and the “rail” may have been the Buff-banded Rail which Gilbert mentioned, but which has not yet been found.

Gilbert also collected several shells at Crinum Camp, which are now in the Natural History Museum (BMNH Register: “Physa” 1846.10.7.194-197 and “Helix” 1846.10.7.36-37, Crinum Creek, no date recorded). Leichhardt recorded in his journal entry for 30th January 1845 (1847: 130) that "Mr Calvert collected a great number of Limnaea in the water-holes: its shell is more compact that those we have before seen, and has a slight yellow line, marking probably the opening at a younger age". Where are these shells now – also in the NHM, or perhaps Leichhardt had a separate collection of shells which are elsewhere?