(previous … Captain Charles Sturt)

The Hume Becomes The Murray River

In 1829, along with a naturalist named George Macleay, Captain Charles Sturt again set out to explore the interior, this time carrying the portable boats to Murrumbidgee with his party of eight convicts. They rowed to boats down the river beyond its junction with the Lachlan River. The stream then became narrow and a thick growth of overhanging trees shut out the light from above. The rushing waters sent them over dangerous snags and through swirling rapids until they were suddenly shot out into the broad surface of a noble stream which flowed gently over its smooth bed of sand and pebbles. This river they called the Murray, but it was only afterward that they found it to be the lower portion of the stream which had been crossed by Hume and Hovell several years before.

Interacting With The Natives

Sturt’s manner of travelling was to row from sunrise until sunset, then land on the banks of the river to camp for the night. This exposed the party to some dangers from the suspicious natives, who often gathered in crowds of several hundred. But Sturt’s kindly manner and pleasant smile always converted them into friends, so that the worst mishap he had to record was the loss of a frying pan and other utensils, together with some provisions, which were stolen by the blacks in the middle of the night. After twilight, the little camp was often swarming with dark figures, but Sturt joined in their sports and Macleay especially became a great favourite with them by singing comic songs, at which the dusky crowds roared with laughter. The natives were generously good-humoured if properly managed and throughout Sturt’s trip, the white and the black men both tried to spend a very friendly and sociable time together.

Fishing Stakes

After following the Murray for about 200 miles below the Lachlan River they reached a place where a large river flowed into the Murray. This was the mouth of the river Darling, which Sturt himself had previously discovered and named. He now turned his boat into it in order to examine it for a short distance but after they had rowed a mile or two they came to a fence of stakes, which the natives had stretched across the river for the purpose of catching fish. Rather than break the fence and so destroy the labours of the blacks, Sturt turned to sail back. The natives had been hiding on the shores to watch the actions of the white men and seeing their considerate conduct, they came out of hiding to shout their satisfaction. The party in the boat unfurled the British flag and answered with three hearty cheers, as they slowly drifted down with the current. This humane act was characteristic of Captain Charles Sturt, who in his later life was able to say that he never (either directly or indirectly) caused the death of a blackfellow.

Lake Alexandrina

When they again entered the Murray they were gently carried by a current (first to the west and then to the south). As they went onward, they found the river grew deeper and wider, until it spread into a broad sheet of water, which they called Lake Alexandrina, after the name of Queen Victoria, who was then Princess Alexandrina – Victoria.

Strenuous Journey Home

On crossing this lake they found the passage to the ocean blocked up by a great bar of sand and were forced to turn their boats around and face the current, with the prospect of a strenuous and tedious journey of 1,000 miles before they could reach home. They had to work hard at their oars, Sturt taking his turn like the rest. At length they entered the Murrumbidgee, but they were running out of food and the men were all but exhausted. The labour of pulling against the current was proving too great for the men whose limbs began to grow feeble and emaciated. Day by day they struggled on, swinging more and more wearily at the oars, their eyes glassy and sunken with hunger and their minds beginning to wander as the intense heat of the midsummer sun struck on their heads. One man became insane and others frequently lay down, declaring they could not row another stroke and were quite willing to die. Sturt amused them and with enormous determination succeeded into getting them to a settled district where they were finally safe.

Most Successful Journey Yet

They had in their journey made known the greatest river in Australia and travelled 1,000 miles of unknown territory, making this the expedition the most imprtant that had yet been made into the interior. Sturt by land and Flinders by sea, stands first on the roll of Australian discoverers.

(continues … Major Thomas Mitchell)