Sturt’s Report on Tracing the Course of the Murrumbidgee

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser

13 May 1830

Government Order. Colonial Secretary's Office, (No. 5.) Sydney, May 10, 1830.

His Excellency the Governor has much satisfaction in publishing the following report of the proceedings of an expedition undertaken for the purpose of tracing the course of the river “Murrumbidgee,” and of ascertaining whether it communicated with, the coast forming the southern boundary of the colony.

The expedition, which, was placed under the direction of Captain Sturt, of His Majesty's 39th Regiment, commenced its progress down the "Murrumbidgee”on the 7th Day of January last, having been occupied twenty-one days in performing the journey from Sydney.

On the 14th January they entered a new river running from east to west, now called the “Murray” into which the “Murrumbidgee” flows.

After pursuing the course of the “Murray”for several Days, the expedition observed another river (supposed to be that which Captain Sturt discovered on his former expedition), uniting with the “Murray,” which they examined about five miles above the Junction.

The expedition again proceeded down the "Murray,” and fell in with another of its tributaries flowing from the south east, which Captain Sturt has designated the "Lindesay"; and on the 8th February the "Murray” was found to enter or form a lake, of from fifty to sixty miles in length, and from thirty to forty in breadth, lying immediately to the eastward of Gulf St. Vincent, and extending to the southward, to the shore of "Encounter Bay."

Thus has Captain Sturt added largely, and in a highly important degree, to the knowledge previously possessed of the interior.

His former expedition ascertained the fate of the rivers Macquarie and Castlereagh, on which occasion he also discovered a river which, there is every reason to believe, is, in ordinary seasons, of considerable magnitude.

Should this, as Captain Sturt supposes, prove to be the same river as that abovementioned as uniting with the "Murray,” the existence of an interior water communication for several hundreds of miles, extending from the northward of "Mount Harris” down to the southern coast of the colony, will have been established.

It is to be regretted, that circumstances did not permit of a more perfect examination of the lake (which has been called "Alexandrina"), as the immediate vicinage of Gulf St. Vincent furnishes a just ground of hope that a more practicable and useful communication may be discovered in that direction, than the channel which leads into "Encounter Bay."

The opportunity of recording a second time the services rendered to the colony by Captain Sturt, is as gratifying to the Government which directed the   undertaking, as it is creditable to the individual who so successfully conducted it to its termination. It is an additional cause of satisfaction to find, that every one, according to his sphere of action, has a claim to a proportionate degree of applause.

All were exposed alike to the same privations and fatigue, and every one submitted with patience, manifesting the most anxious desire for the success of the expedition. The zeal of Mr. George M'Leay, the companion of Captain Sturt, when example was so important, could not fail to have the most salutary effect; and the obedience, steadiness, and good conduct of the men employed, merit the highest praise.

By His Excellency's Command, Alexander M'Leay, The Hon. the Colonial Secretary.


“Banks of the Murrumbidgee, April 20th, 1830.

“SIR,-The departure of Mr. George M'Leay for Sydney, who is anxious to proceed homewards as speedily as possible, affords me an earlier opportunity than would otherwise have presented itself, by which to make you acquainted with the circumstance of my return, under the divine protection, to the located districts; and I do myself the honour of annexing a brief account of my proceedings since the last communication for the information of His Excellency the Governor, until such time as I shall have it in my power to give in a more detailed report.

“On the 7th of January, agreeably to the arrangements which had been made, I proceeded down the Murrumbidgee in the whale boat, with a complement of six hands, independent of myself and Mr. M'Leay, holding the skiff in tow.

The river, for several days, kept a general W. S. W. course; it altered little in appearance, nor did any material change take place in the country upon its banks. The alluvial flats had occasionally an increased breadth on either side of it, but the line of reeds was nowhere so extensive as from previous appearances I had been led to expect. About twelve miles from the depot, we passed a large creek junction from the N. E. which, from its locality and from the circumstance of my having been upon it in the direction of them, I cannot but conclude originates in the marshes of the Lachlan.

On the 11th, the Murrumbidgee became much encumbered with fallen timber, and its current was at times so rapid that I was under considerable apprehension for the safety of the boats. The skiff had been upset on the 8th, and, although I could not anticipate such an accident to the large boat, I feared she would receive some more serious and irremediable injury.

On the 14th, these difficulties increased upon us. The channel of the river became more contracted, and its current more impetuous. We had no sooner cleared one reach, than fresh and apparently insurmountable dangers presented themselves to us in the next. I really feared that every precaution would have proved unavailing against such multiplied embarrassment, and that ere night we should have possessed only the wrecks of the expedition. From this state of anxiety, however, we were unexpectedly relieved, by our arrival at 2p.m. at the termination of the Murrumbidgee; from which we were launched into a broad and noble river, flowing from east to west, at the rate of two and a half knots per hour, over a clear sandy bed, of a medium width of from three to four hundred feet.

“During the first stages of our journey upon this new river, which evidently had its rise in the mountains of the S. E. we made rapid progress to the W. N. W. through an unbroken and uninteresting country of equal sameness of feature and of vegetation.

On the 23d, as the boats were proceeding down it, several hundreds of natives made their appearance upon the right bank, having assembled with premeditated purposes of violence. I was the more surprised at this shew of hostility, because we had passed on general friendly terms, not only with those on the Murrumbidgee, but of the new river. Now, however, emboldened by numbers, they seemed determined on making the first attack, and soon worked themselves into a slate of frenzy by loud and vehement shouting.

As I observed that the water was shoaling fast, I kept in the middle of the stream; and, under an impression that it would be impossible for me to avoid a conflict, prepared for an obstinate resistance.

But, at the very moment when, having arrived opposite to a large sand bank, on which they had collected, the foremost of the blacks had already advanced into the water, and I only awaited their nearer approach to fire upon them, their impetuosity was restrained by the most unlooked for and unexpected interference. They held back of a sudden, and allowed us to pass unmolested.

The boat, however, almost immediately grounded on a shoal that stretched across the river, over which she was with some difficulty hawled into deeper water, when we found ourselves opposite to a large junction from the eastward, little inferior to the river itself.

Had I been aware of this circumstance, I should have been the more anxious with regard to any rupture with the natives, and I was now happy to find that most of them had laid aside their weapons and had crossed the junction, it appearing that they had previously been on a tongue of land formed by the two streams.

I therefore landed among them to satisfy their curiosity and to distribute a few presents before I proceeded up it. We were obliged to use the four oars to stem the current against us; but, as soon as we had passed the mouth, got into deeper water and formed easier pulling. The parallel in which we struck it, and the direction from which it came, combined to assure me that this could be no other than the 'Darling.'

To the distance of two miles it retained a breadth of one hundred yards and a depth of twelve feet. Its banks were covered with verdure, and the trees overhanging them were of finer and larger growth than those on the new river by which we had approached it. Its waters had a shade of green, and were more turbid than those of its neighbours, but they were perfectly sweet to the taste.

“Having satisfied myself on those points on which I was most anxious, we returned to the Junction to examine it more closely.

“The angle formed by the Darling with the new river is so acute, that neither can be said to be tributary to the other; but more important circumstances, upon which it is impossible for me to dwell at the present moment, mark them as distinct rivers, which have been formed by natives for the same purposes, in remote and opposite parts of the island.

Not having as yet given a name to the latter, I now availed myself of the opportunity of complying with the known wishes of His Excellency; the Governor, and, at the same time, in accordance with my own feelings as a soldier, I distinguished it by that of the ' Murray.'

“It had been my object to ascertain the decline of the vast plain through which the Murray flows, that I might judge of the probable fall of the waters of the interior; but by the most attentive observation I could not satisfy myself upon the point.

The course of the 'Darling now confirmed my previous impression that it was to the South, which direction it was evident the Murray also, in the subsequent stages of our journey down it, struggled to preserve; from which it was thrown by a range of minor elevations into a more westerly one. We were carried as far as 139° 40' 00”of longitude, without descending below 34 ° 00' 00”in point of latitude; in consequence of which I expected that the river would ultimately discharge itself, either into St. Vincent's Gulf or that of Spencer, more especially as lofty ranges were visible in the direction of them from the summit of the hills behind our camp, on the 2d of February, which I laid down as the coast line bounding them.

“A few days prior to the 2d of February, we passed under some cliffs of partial volcanic origin, and had immediately afterwards entered a limestone country of the most singular formation. The river, although we had passed occasional rapids of the most dangerous kind, had maintained a sandy character from our first acquaintance with it to the limestone division. It now forced itself through a glen of that rock of half a mile in width, frequently striking precipices of more than two hundred feet perpendicular elevation, in which coral and fossil remains were plentifully embedded. On the 3d February it made away to the eastward of South, in reaches of from two to four miles in length.

It gradually lost its sandy bed, and became deep, still, and turbid; the glen expanded into a valley, and the alluvial flats, which had hitherto been of inconsiderable size, became proportionally extensive. The Murray increased in breadth to more than four hundred yards, with a depth of twenty feet of water close into the shore, and in fact formed itself into a safe and navigable stream for any vessels of the minor class. On the 6th the cliffs partially ceased, and on the 7th they gave place to undulating and picturesque hills, beneath which thousands of acres of the richest flats extended, covered however with reeds, and apparently subject to overflow at any unusual rise of the river.

“It is remarkable that the view from the hills was always confined. e were apparently running parallel to a continuation of the ranges we had seen on the 2d, but they were seldom visible. The country generally seemed darkly wooded, and had occasional swells upon it, but it was one of no promise; the timber, chiefly box and pine, being of a poor growth, and its vegetation languid. On the 8th the hills upon the left wore a bleak appearance, and the few trees upon them were cut down as if by the prevailing winds. At noon we could not observe any land at the extremity of a reach we had just entered; some gentle hills still continued to form the left bank of the river, but the right was hid from us by high reeds. I consequently landed to survey the country from the nearest eminence, and found that we were just about to enter an extensive lake which stretched away to the S. W., the line of water meeting the horizon in that direction.

Some tolerably lofty ranges were visible to the westward at the distance of forty miles, beneath which that shore was lost in haze. A hill, which I prejudged to be Mount Lofty, bearing by compass S. 141 W. more to the northward, the country was low, and unbacked by any elevations. A bold promontory, which projected into the lake at the distance of seven leagues, ended the view to the south along the eastern shore; between which and the river the land also declined. The prospect altogether was extremely gratifying, and the lake appeared to be a fitting reservoir for the whole stream which had led us to it.

“In the evening we passed the entrance; but a strong southerly wind heading us, we did not gain more than nine miles. In the morning it shifted to the N. E. where we stood out for the promontory on a S. S. W. course. At noon we were abreast of it, when a line of sand hummocks was ahead, scarcely visible in consequence of the great refraction about them; but an open sea behind us from the N. N. W. to the N. N. E. points of the compass. A meridian altitude observed here, placed us in 35 ° 25' 15”S. lat. At 1 I changed our course a little to the westward, and at 4 P. M. entered an arm of the lake leading W. S. W. On the point, at the entrance, some natives had assembled, but I could not communicate with them.

They were both painted and armed, and evidently intended to resist our landing. Wishing, however, to gain some information from them, I proceeded a short distance below their haunt and landed for the night, in hopes that, seeing us peaceably disposed, they would have approached the tents; but as they kept aloof, we continued our journey in the morning. The water, which had risen ten inches during the night, had fallen again in the same proportion and we were stopped by shoals shortly after starting.

In hopes that the return of tide would have enabled us to float over them, we waited for it very patiently, but were ultimately obliged to drag the boat across a mud flat of more than a quarter of a mile into deeper water; but, after a run of about twenty minutes, were again checked by sand banks.

My endeavours to push beyond a certain point were unsuccessful, and I was at length under the necessity of landing upon the South shore for the night. Some small hummocks were behind us, on the other side of which I had seen the ocean from our morning's position; and whilst the men were pitching the tents, walked over them in company with Mr. M'Leay to the sea-shore, having struck the coast at Encounter Bay, Cape Jarvoise bearing by compass S. 81 ° W. distant between three and four   leagues, and Kangaroo Island S. E. extremity S. 60 ° W. distant from nine to ten.

“Thirty-two days had elapsed since we had left the depot, and I regretted in this stage of our journey, that I could not with prudence remain an hour longer on the coast than was necessary for me to determine the exit of the lake. From the angle of the channel on which we were, a bright sand-hill was visible at about nine miles distance, to the E. S. E.; which, it struck me was the eastern side of the passage communicating with the ocean.

Having failed in our attempts to proceed further in the boat, and the appearance of the shoals at low water having convinced me of the impracticability of it, I determined on an excursion along the sea-shore to the southward and eastward, in anxious hopes that it would be a short one; for as we had had a series of winds from the S. W. which had now   changed to the opposite quarter, I feared we should have to pull across the lake in our way homewards. I left the camp therefore at an early hour, in company with Mr. M'Leay and Fraser, and at day-break arrived opposite to the sand bank I have mentioned.

Between us and it the entrance into the back water ran. The passage is at all periods of the tide rather more than a quarter of a mile in width, and is of sufficient depth for a boat to enter, especially on the off side; but a line of dangerous breakers in the bay will always prevent an approach to it from the sea, except in the calmest weather, whilst the bay itself will always be a hazardous place for any vessel to enter under any circumstances.

“Having, however, satisfactorily concluded our pursuit, we retraced our steps to the camp, and again took the following bearings as we left the beach, the strand trending E. S. E. (?) E:- Kangaroo Island, S.E. angle S. 60° W. Low rocky point of Cape Jarvoise S. 81° W. Round Hill in centre of Range.. S. 164 ° W. Camp, distant one mile S. 171 ° W. Mount Lofty, distant forty miles N. 9° E.

“Before setting sail, a bottle was deposited between four and five feet deep in a mound of soft earth and shells, close to the spot on which the tent had stood, which contained a paper of the names of the party, together with a simple detail of our arrival and departure. “It appeared that the good fortune, which had hitherto attended us was still to continue, for the wind which had been contrary, chopped round to the S. W. and ore sun-set we were again in the mouth of the river, having run from fifty to sixty miles under as much canvass as the boat would bear, and with a heavy swell during the greater part of the day.

"The lake which has thus terminated our journey, is from fifty to sixty miles in length, and from thirty to forty in width. With such an expanse of water, I am correct in stating its medium depth at four feet. There is a large bight in it to the S. E. and a beautiful and extensive bay to the N. W. At about seven miles from the mouth of the river, its waters are brackish, and at twenty-one miles they are quite salt, whilst seals frequent the lower parts.

Considering this lake to be of sufficient importance, and in anticipation that its shores will, during her reign, if not at an earlier period, be peopled by some portion of her subjects, I have called it, in well meant loyalty, "The Lake Alexandrina."

"It is remarkable that the Murray has few tributaries below the Darling. It receives one, however, of considerable importance from the S. E. to which I have given the name of the “Lindesay,'' as a mark of respect to my Commanding Officer, and in remembrance of the many acts of kindness I have received at his hands.

"Having dwelt particularly on the nature of the country through which the   expedition has passed in the pages, of my journal, it may be unnecessary for me to enter into any description of it in this place, further than to observe, that we carried, the limestone down to the very coast, and that although the country in the neighbourhood of the Lake Alexandrina must, from local circumstances, be rich in point of soil, the timber upon it is of stunted size, and that it appears to have suffered from drought, though not to the same extent with the eastern coast.

It is evident, however, that its vicinity to high lands does not altogether exempt it from such periodical visitations; still I have no doubt that my observations upon it will convince His Excellency the Governor that it is well worthy of a closer and more attentive examination than I had it in my power to make.

"In a geographical point of view, I am happy to believe that the result of this expedition has been conclusive; and that, combined with the late one, it has thrown much light upon the nature of the interior of the Vast Island ; that the decline of waters, as far as the parallel of 139 ° E., is to the South, and that the Darling is to the N. E. as the Murray is to the S. E. angle of the coast, the main channel by which the waters of the central ranges are thrown or discharged into one great reservoir.

"Our journey homewards was only remarkable for its labour: in conclusion, therefore, it remains for me to add that we reached the depot on the 23d of March.

"Our sugar failed us on the 18th of   February, and our salt provisions, in con- sequence of the accident which happened to the skiff on the 8th of March; so that from the above period we were, living on a reduced ration of flour; and as we took few fish, and were generally unsuccessful with our guns, the men had seldom more than their bread to eat.    

"I regretted to observe that they were daily falling off, and that although unremitting in their exertions they were well nigh exhausted, ere we reached the Murrumbidgee.

"We were from sun-rise to five o'clock on the water, and from the day that we left the depot to that of our return we never rested upon our oars. We were thirty-nine days gaining the depot from the coast, against a strong current in both rivers, being seven more than it took us to go down.

From the depot to this station we had seventeen days hard pulling, making a total of eighty-eight, during which time we could not have travelled over less than two thousand miles. I was under the necessity of stopping short on the 10th instant, and of detaching two men for the drays, which happily arrived on the 17th, on which day our stock of flour failed us. Had I not adopted this plan, the men would have become too weak to have pulled up to Pondebadgerry, and we should no doubt have suffered some privations.

"This detail will, I am sure, speak more in favour of the men composing the party than anything I can say. I would most respectfully recommend them all to His Excellency's notice; and I beg to assure him that, during the whole of this arduous journey, they were cheerful, zealous, and obedient. They had many harassing duties to perform, and their patience and temper were often put to severe trials by the natives, of whom we could not have seen fewer than four thousand on the Murray alone.

"I am to refer His Excellency the Governor to Mr. M'Leay for any more immediate information he may require,   to whom I stand indebted on many points-and not less in the anxiety he evinced for the success of the undertaking, than in the promptitude with which he assisted in the labours attendant on our return, and his uniform kindness to the men.  

"I have the honour to subscribe myself,

 Sir, your most obedient humble Servant,

“Charles Sturt, Captain of the 39th Regt.”