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John Gilbert diary entry

13 November 1844 - 15 November 1844

Page 112. Volume 1

Dawson keeping for the first 4 miles along its bed or flats occasionally having to make a slight detour to avoid patches of Brigalo or brushes of saplings, when about five miles we came upon a great change of character the banks becoming higher and in places very thickly clothed with Melaleuca the first we have seen on this stream, and a long narrow leaved drooping species of Acacia. here the river presented a running stream, our course about North. To day I found a nest of Petroica bicolor, so closely resembling the Eopsaltria externally that had I not watched the bird, I should certainly have supposed it was built by that bird. it contained two eggs94. See Nov 1795. Days Dist. 9 miles.

Eel Camp96.

Thurs Nov 14. Followed down the Dawson about three miles, when the Dr finding it turned round so much to the east crossed the bed in a narrow boggy part and struck off N.W. we had about a mile of sapling brush to pass through then the Brigalo scrub again made its appearance broken oc=casionally with open Iron bark grassy hills, but the scrub drove us off continually to the Southward α Westward that after having travelled over at least ten miles of ground we calculated we must be very near where we started from; and the Dr thinking it necessary to reconnoitre the country left us to pursue about a S.E. course to the river, accordingly in about a mile we came exactly opposite our last night camp, where we halted for the day. In the evening the Dr returned having found a large Creek with Palms running down into the Dawson from a Northerly direction. Days Dist. 9 miles.

See Nov 1797.

Friday Nov 15. Following down the left bank of the Dawson for about 4 miles we came to the junction of Palm Tree Creek98 up the right bank of which we followed in a very devious course 6 miles, when we camped between the water course α a large Lagoon or Lake which with several others the Dr has named Ropers Lakes99. on the whole our course up the creek was about north. for the first 2 miles, it ran along parrallel [sic] with the Dawson then again turned round to West and even some times S.W. then again N. and North East. here it was determined to remain stationary for a few days in order that we may reconnoitre for a passage over the range, which the Dr has named after myself100. In the Lake α creek I found several interesting shells101. From the presence of numerous Bush fires the Natives are numerous all round us but none of them showed themselves.

Note 94

“Petroica bicolor” is the Hooded Robin Melanodryas cucullata. This remark has a pencilled arrowhead over it, probably by John Gould, indicating his interest in this observation. Possibly it could have been made by Alec Chisholm, who made a passing remark about a Hooded Robin nest having being found by Gilbert ( Birds of the Gilbert diary 1945: 188, under “Robins”). There are three Hooded Robin eggs in the Gould Collection in California (WFVZ 179529, which are only listed as being from “Australia”), but one of these eggs may be from another clutch.

Note 95

Here (and at the end of his entry for the 14th of November) Gilbert has inserted an instruction to the reader: that they should refer to a passage he wrote later; this is inserted in the middle of his daily entry for 17th November. The passage concerns catching eels (probably on 13th/14th November) and the death of the kangaroo dogs on November 7th.

Note 96

Eel Camp was located at GR 829 676 on Taroom sheet 8846, and presumably refers to Gilbert's prowess with his fishing line.

Note 97

Their campsite on 14th November, being exactly opposite Eel Camp across the Dawson River, was at approximately GR 827 678.

Note 98

Leichhardt (1847) expressed his delight on emerging from dense scrub to "... the dark verdure of a swamp ... with native companions strutting round, and swarms of ducks playing on its still water, backed by an open forest, in which the noble palm tree was conspicuous ...". Palm Tree Creek has been incorrectly labelled as Plum Tree Creek on Taroom sheet 8846. McLaren (1993) points out another error on this map; the actual junction of Palm Tree Creek and the Dawson River is at GR 840 672, not at GR 855 660. This means that the last section of Palm Tree Creek, which runs parallel to the Dawson for about a mile, is actually an anabranch. This concurs with the sketch in Leichhardt's Field Book.

Note 99

Roper's Lakes were named after John Roper. Their campsite was located not very far north of their camp of the 14th, but they had taken a huge detour eastwards up Palm Tree Creek. McLaren considers that the campsite on 15th and 16th November was most probably at GR 823 705 (Taroom sheet 8846).

Note 100

Leichhardt named the ranges to the south of Palm Tree Creek after his friend Robert Lynd. Gilbert Range, which bounds Palm Tree Creek to the north, was the first geographical feature to be named after this indefatigable explorer, who had already devoted eight years of his life to discovering the wildlife of Australia. Many other places in Australia now bear Gilbert’s name, including most recently an island in the Houtman Abrolhos group off the coast of Western Australia (where Gilbert collected some of his most important material), which was named after him by Ron Johnstone, Western Australian Museum’s eminent Curator of Ornithology. Incidentally Ron also called an island there after William Saville-Kent, a suspect in a famous murder case (see “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, or the murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale, 2008).

Note 101

It may indeed be of interest to try and locate these in the collections of the Natural History Museum. Five Lymnea and seven Physa, donated by John Gould, are listed in the NHM Register; they were collected by Gilbert at "Roper's Lake" (1846.10.7.93-97 & 126-132). Six Physa, four Cyclas, three Planorbis and two Paladina (1846.10.7.116-121; 143-146; 174-176; 181-182) are recorded as being from "Palm Tree Creek".