1844 - 1845: The Port Essington Expedition (First Leichhardt Expedition)

1 October 1844

The official start of the expedition. They left Jimbour, crossing Waterloo Plain. After Jimbour the whole of journey would be through previously uncharted land, which was blank on Arrowsmith's 1838 map of New Holland. Gilbert already had two horses and he added so many provisions at Jimbour that they took up room on the horses as well as the bullocks and the party had to walk for a while until the provisions had been eaten down. Partly because of this, the first part of the journey was slow compared to the rest; they took 2 months to travel the first 330 miles, but then averaged 230 miles per month.

2 October 1844

Gilbert's daily record on the expedition started (Chisholm 1941: 163). He was then 9 miles N.W. of Jimbour Station. A clutch of eggs of White-necked Heron Ardea pacifica were collected “in the vicinity of Jimbour House” (clutch of four eggs, two of these are now BMNH 1962.1.94 and WFVZ 178875). A clutch of three Whistling Kite eggs were also collected “in the vicinity of Jimbour House” (two of these are now BMNH 1955.5.78 & WFVZ 178691. BMNH 1955.5.79 is possibly the third egg). Some (but not all) of a clutch of four Nankeen Kestrel Falco cenchroides eggs that Gilbert collected near Jimbour House on 2nd October 1844 may be amongst four eggs in WFVZ (178823).

6 October 1844

Camp at Lat. 26o 56'S. Leaden Flycatcher Myiagra r. rubecula collected 30 miles north-west of Jimbour House (LIV D1977a). An egg of the Painted Button-quail Turnix v. varius collected “north of Jimbour Station” (BMNH 1962.1.202). An egg of the Australian Grebe Tachybaptus n. novaehollandiae collected near Jimbour Station (BMNH 1962.1.45).

In the next few days they travelled along the Condamine River, then crossed Charley's Creek in the vicinity of the modern township of Chinchilla.

10 October 1844

Stopped at Kent's Lagoon, which formed their base for some days, due to bolting animals which Leichhardt had tried to force to pass through "Flourspill Scrub".

15 October 1844

Still repairing equipment at Kent's Lagoon.

Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus c. chrysops collected at Kent’s Lagoon on the 15th October 1844 according to Gilbert’s original label on the bird (LIV D1036s), but note that Gilbert's journal says this was collected on the 17th October. 

18 October 1844

A clutch of eggs of the Apostlebird Struthidea cinerea collected at Kent’s Lagoon is now divided between WFVZ (178690) and BMNH (1962.1.365).

19 October 1844

A clutch of two eggs of White-throated Gerygone Gerygone a albogularis were collected by James Calvert in Queensland; from the date the locality was Kent’s Lagoon. These eggs have not yet been located.

20 October 1844 

Gilbert recorded the names of 59 species of birds observed at long stay at Kent's Lagoons (26o 42' 30"S). 

21 October 1844

The expedition finally left Kent's Lagoon, travelling north-west.

22 October 1844 

Fuscous Honeyeater Lichenostomus f. fuscus collected north of Kent’s Lagoon (LIV D1019s).

23 October 1844

They travelled past Acacia and Dogwood Creeks, both of which joined the Condamine River.

2 November 1844

An egg of the Squatter Pigeon Geophaps scripta were collected at Dried Beef Creek (= Back Creek) (WFVZ 178688).

3 November 1844

Leichhardt decided that there were too many people in the party; although Gilbert had been the last to join the party Pemberton Hodgson offered to leave instead as he was very fatigued. Hodgson and the American Caleb returned on the 4th, apparently carrying letters from the others (and probably all the eggs that Gilbert had collected up till then). An egg of Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus was collected at Dried Beef Creek (= Back Creek) (WFVZ 178689).

5 November 1844

The party discovered the Dawson River, just south of Taroom. They followed it, despite its confusing windings, until the 17th. On November 14th Leichhardt named some ranges they crossed after Gilbert.

6 November 1844

2 eggs of the Squatter Pigeon Geophaps scripta were collected in the Dawson River area (BMNH 1865.2.3.60).

18 November 1844

They crossed a new broad sandy watercourse, named the Robinson after the young Quaker philanthropist Joseph "Humanity" Robinson. They followed this for several days in a north-west direction, the way being very mountainous.

23 November 1844

The party entered the area forming the present-day Robinson Gorge National Park. Over the next few days they struggled over the table-tops of the range along a watercourse which ended in a stupendous ravine hundreds of feet below.

24 November 1844

“Unio” shell collected in the sandy bottom of the Robinson River (Register for BMNH 1846.10.7.10).

28 November 1844

They came across the Boyd River, a broad river with precipitous banks.

29 November 1844

Several shells of “Physa” were collected at Rocky Seat Camp on 19th November 1844, according to the Register for BMNH 1846.10.7.157-162, but Rocky Seat Camp was the expedition’s campsite for 28th – 29th November, when they were on Glenhaughton Creek.

30 November 1844

Gilbert collected a new species, Sericornis laevigaster Gould (Buff-breasted Scrub-wren), the first new form discovered on the expedition. The locality of both specimens collected on 30th November 1844 can be defined as Expedition Range, near the Valley of the Ruined Castles, on the headwaters of the Dawson River (ANSP 17632 & 17633).

1 December 1844

Leichhardt came across the Valley of the Ruined Castles. For the next few days the party began to struggle along the steep banks of Zamia Creek.

6 December 1844

The party was stationary all day due to the horses wandering about 20 miles back to Ruined Castle Valley. Gilbert wrote that he killed on this day: "Ptilotis auricornis, Chlamydera maculata, Euphema pulchellus, Amadina modesta, Cinclorhamphus rufesecens, Oreica gutturalis" and several other birds. None of these have been definitively located yet.

8 December 1844

4 Helix shells were collected at "Fresh water Lagoon, Straying Camp, Decr. 8th. 1844" (from Register for BMNH 1846.10.7.53-56).

9 December 1844

The expedition were within four miles of Expedition Range, having travelled north-west up Mimosa and Erythrina Creeks and camping on Expedition Creek.

Australasian Figbird Sphecotheres v. vielloti (LIV D5531s) and White-plumed Honeyeater Lichenostomus p. penicillata (LIV D1015s) collected at Erythrina Creek, "just south of Expedition Range". 

10 December 1844

Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus c. chrysops (LIV D1063s), two Plum-headed Finches  Nechmia modesta (LIV D5550s & D1757d) and a Drongo Dicrurus b. bracteatus (LIV D5527s) collected at Erythrina Creek (LIV BMS).

11 December 1844

An egg of Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus m. melanocephalus collected in Queensland (BMNH 1962.1.58), may be from the Leichhardt Expedition.

13 December 1844 

The attempt on Expedition Range began up a spur reconnoitred by Leichhardt and Charley. It took them 6 hours.

16 December 1844

Camped by a large lagoon, called Brown's Lagoons after the Aborigine Harry Brown. They stayed here for nine days (16-26th December), occupied with the slaughter and drying of Isaac's fat bullock. 

20 December 1844

Singing Honeyeater Lichenostomus virescens sonorous collected [at Brown’s Lagoons] (BMNH 1881.5.1.5587)

23 December 1844

Gilbert noted in his diary that he had been appointed deputy leader by Leichhardt. A Black-throated Finch (White-rumped form) Poephila c. cincta was collected at Brown’s Lagoons, probably by John Murphy (EXEMS 5/1944/16).

25 December 1844

Leichhardt returned from scouting with Calvert and Brown just as the others were sitting down to a Christmas dinner of "suet pudding and stewed cockatoos". This spot was later the settlement of Rolleston.

27 December 1844

A number of shells of the genera “Physa”, “Planorbis” and “Lymnaea”  were collected (BMNH 1846.10.7.112-115, 1846.10.7.187-193).

28 December 1844

Entered Albinia Downs and found a large creek, which was named Comet Creek, due to a comet the party saw that day (see appendix 2 to the critical edition of Gilbert’s diary).

1 January 1845

In January Gilbert started to write his diary on broad loose-leaf pages loosely strung together, having used up his little note-book.

11 January 1845

Leichhardt and Brown found a river which flowed to the north-east through a deep and winding valley bounded by high, level land.  This they called the Mackenzie; it made a sharp junction with the Comet River.

15 January 1845

Leichhardt reached a basalt dyke which crossed the river at Lat. 23o 18'S, where today's stock route crosses the river at Bedford Weir. He realised that the Mackenzie was flowing east, not north, and decided to leave it after less than 20 miles and strike north-west. 

19 January 1845

The type specimen of the Southern (or Spotted) Saratoga Scleropages leichardti [sic], a large fish, was collected by John Murphy in the Mackenzie River (BMNH 1846.8.27.4).

26 January 1845

The expedition passed into a very open grassy country ascending into ranges and mountains. In the distance was a "succession of almost isolated, gigantic, conical, and dome-topped mountains, which seemed to rest with a flat unbroken base on the plain below". These were called the Peak Range; many are named after members of the Leichhardt Expedition - including Gilbert's Dome.   

27 January 1845

Weebill Smicrornis b. brevirostris was collected at Peak Range Camp (BMNH 1881.5.1.294). A Black-faced Woodswallow Artamus cinereus dealbatus is also inferred to have been collected on 27th January 1845 (ANSP 15492, one of the types of Artamus albiventris Gould, 1847), as was Daphoenositta chysoptera leucocephala ANSP 9178, according to John Gould in "The birds of Australia" (vol.4, text and plate 102).

30 January 1845

White-winged Fairy-wren, blue race Malurus leucopterus leuconotus, inferred to have been collected on this date in the Peak Range (EXEMS 5/1944/8, probably collected by John Murphy).

1 February 1845

Black-faced Dotterel Elseyornis melanops collected at Crinum Camp (LIV D5174s).

9 February 1845

The party were about 6 miles north of Mount Phillips. They camped at Hughes Creek (Bitter Tea camp).

12 February 1845

Leichhardt and Roper explored the other branch of Hughes's Creek, and found a huge watercourse near the present Seraji homestead. They named it the Isaacs. A Black Honeyeater Sugomel niger was collected at Crow Camp (LIV D5482s).

13 February 1845

Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis (LIV D4863s) and a Brown Honeyeater Lichmera indistincta ocularis (LIV D5483s) collected at Crow Camp.

17 February 1845

Five shells of the species Physa proteus were collected in the Isaac River (BMNH 1846.10.7.58-62).

22 February 1845

Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla palustris collected at the Isaacs River (LIV 5343s).

2 March 1845

Two shells of “Helix” collected in the eastern branch of the Isaac River [= Anna Creek?] (BMNH 1846.10.7.91-92).

3 March 1845

Two Western Gerygones Gerygone fusca mungi collected at Lumbago Camp (BMNH 1881.5.1.291 and .297).

4 March 1845

The party were on the northern arm of Isaacs, from its junction with Skull Creek. They camped under the range now known as Dedham range.

5 March 1845

Gilbert and Charlie scouted to the west and south and came to the head of the Isaacs through a mountain gorge. The source of another river was discovered only a few miles away, with an intervening ridge which meant the two rivers flowed in opposite directions. Within seven miles the new river was as big as Comet Creek had been. They named it the Suttor River.

14 March 1845

Gilbert's birthday. The party camped by a Aborigine’s camp that had been deserted the day before, on a large pool on the new river: they called it "Gilbert's Birthday Camp". Gilbert was suffering from boils, especially on one knee. 

23 March 1845

Easter Sunday. The expedition came across a new branch of the Suttor, they named it Emu Creek.

27 March 1845

A new river was found at Lat. 20o 49'S, which came in from the south-east to join the Suttor. Leichhardt named it the Cape after the captain of the Sovereign which had bought the party from Sydney to Brisbane. 

1 April 1845

Charlie discovered the Burdekin River while searching for the horses. It was a large river - indeed a magnificent sight at over 1,000 feet wide - coming down from north-west and receiving the Suttor. It wound, unfortunately, through extremely rocky ground and was hard to travel along.

5 April 1845

Rufous Whistler Pachycephala r. rufiventris collected at the "Burdikin River" (LIV D1640g).

12 April 1845

They reached the Great Basalt Wall; on crossing Big Sandy Creek they came up against a basalt dyke and then found themselves in the midst of many stony ridges. 

14 April 1845

Gilbert collected two rather mutilated specimens of what Gould later described as the White-browed Robin Poecilodryas superciliosa, a new species (LIV D1983 & D1983a).

16 April 1845

Leichhardt and his men came across a new river, named after the Rev.W.B. Clarke, who had long been labouring on the meteorology and geology of New Holland. 

24 April 1845

4 miles on from their overnight camp, the Burdekin was joined by a river coming from the north. Leichhardt named it the "Perry" after the Deputy Surveyor-General. The going was extremely heavy over the next few days.

30 April 1845

Two Red-capped Robins Petroica goodenovii collected [by John Murphy, south of the Valley of Lagoons] (EXEMS 5/1944/6 & 7).

2 May 1845

Red-backed Kingfisher Todiramphus pyrrhopygius collected at the "Burdikin River" (LIV D1623a). 

3 May 1845

Red-backed Kingfisher Todiramphus pyrrhopygius collected at the "Burdikin River" (LIV D1623). 

4 May 1845

The expedition came across the Valley of Lagoons. Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata castanotis collected by John Murphy at Reedy Brook, Valley of Lagoons (EXEMS 5/1944/19)

6 May 1845

Gilbert and some others spent the whole day trying to communicate with the Lotus Eaters of the Valley of Lagoons. There is a total of 1,500 words for this day in Gilbert's diary.

11 May 1845 (Whitsunday)

Leichhardt realised the Burdekin was turning eastwards, so he scouted for another stream to follow. They eventually found a dry creek coming down from the north and decided to follow it; this was Big Anthill Creek. 

15 May 1845

While the rest of the party were waiting for Leichhardt and Charley, who were out scouting, Gilbert set down the names of 106 species of birds he had seen in the district.

20 May 1845

The party were finally beginning to cross the Great Dividing Range and approach the Gulf of Carpentaria. They made their longest daily stage yet, over 20 miles.

23 May 1845

They turned onto a new river, which Leichhardt called the Lynd.

The scenery and the going was extremely rugged, with the hills around composed of separate blocks of stones, in "grotesque forms".

2 June 1845

Gilbert discovered a new Poephila, "nearly allied to my new Port Essington P. personata ...". This was Poephila personata leucotis Gould, a new subspecies of the Masked Finch. 

7 June 1845

The Lynd at last became a running stream, eventually going into grassy flats.

9 June 1845

The whole bed of the Lynd was at least a mile in breadth, with about a dozen channels. During the day's search Gilbert killed a Climacteris which he thought was melanurus, one of Bynoe's species. This was probably his type specimen of a new subspecies of the Brown Treecreeper, Climacteris picumnus melanota Gould, 1847 (LIV BMS).

10 June 1845

The party passed the point where the present Terwood Creek enters the right bank of Lynd.

11 June 1845

The Lynd began to turn northwards; Gilbert became concerned they were going the wrong way.

15 June 1845

Brown reported that Lynd joined another river which came down from the north-east.

16 June 1845

They left the Lynd at Lat.16' 30'S and, after travelling 12 miles, encamped at the west side of a very long lagoon, having cut the angle of two rivers and joined a new one. This was named after Sir Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor-General of New South Wales. This unfortunately ran northwest and the party should have left it to travel southwest long before they actually did.

18 June 1845

The expedition celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo by boiling saturated rags of sugar bags with their tea. They pitched camp halfway along the west bank of the long lagoon west of the Mitchell, where the modern landing strip of Highbury station approaches the lagoon. 

20 June 1845

The party made 12 miles by the Mitchell; they had to travel at a distance from the river because of the gullies. Today's road from Highbury homestead to Dunbar homestead follows their path.

23 June 1845 

Gilbert stated that: "Today I killed a new species of Honey-sucker, the specimen is an immature bird and I cannot rightly determine which genus it belongs to, but from the appearance of its cheeks I believe it will prove to be Ptilotis, it is a small but elegant addition to the genus... in the evening I visited the brush of the river and shot a second new species of Honey-sucker, it is very like Ptilotis fusca, but is in its whole style of colouring much lighter, having a good deal of yellow about the head, and in being much smaller in size....While in the scrub I killed a second specimen of the banded Ptilotis.... ".

24 June 1845

Camped on a lagoon which forms part of the watercourse that becomes Dunbar Creek.

25 June 1845

The expedition finally left the Mitchell; Leichhardt stating that his time and provisions did not allow him to go further northwards at the east side of the gulf.

26 June 1845

Leichhardt tried to work out the longitude; apparently the party were 30 miles out to sea. They travelled for 8 miles south-west on the north side of the Nassau River. 

27 June 1845

A kite stole the only specimen Gilbert had collected of one of the new honeysuckers. The two expedition aboriginals fired on the local natives, ostensibly because they were creeping up on the bullocks. Black Honeyeater Sugomel niger (BMNH 1881.5.1.4252) and Spectacled Monarch Symposiarchus trivirgatus [albiventris] (ANSP 1077) collected [west of the Mitchell River, Cape York Peninsula].

28 June 1845

The party struggled through a well-wooded area and after four miles came across a considerable creek, the Nassau. The upper portion is known as Dunbar Creek. There seemed to be much aboriginal activity in the area, Gilbert particularly noted that there were many rings of fire. The men camped at "Tea-tree Lagoon". Gilbert had retired to his tent when the aborigines attacked the camp, killing him with a single spear which hit him as he stooped to get out of his tent.

29 June 1845

John Gilbert was buried at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon; the funeral service of the English Church being read over him by Leichhardt. Owing to the hardness of the ground and the lack of proper tools, the grave could only be dug to a depth of three feet six inches. The men finished by smoothing the earth over and then lit an immense fire to disguise the grave from the natives. Phillips and Murphy carved the name and age of Gilbert on a large tree overhanging the grave.

30 June 1845

Leichhardt sorted out Gilbert's things. He kept for himself Gilbert's gun and housewife (a mending kit), the specimens and the two portions of Gilbert's diary.

1 July 1845

The remaining members of the expedition finally moved off again.

2 July 1845

Leichhardt named a new river the "Gilbert River" after his "unfortunate companion". 

Gilbert’s Dome in the Peak Range and Gilbert’s Range in the Dawson Valley were also named after John Gilbert by Leichhardt.