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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter VI. — Second Exploration

page 32

Chapter VI.
Second Exploration.

"Ah God! what fierce extremes encompass life!
Note you phump Sybarite, whose noons are feasts,
Whose midnights dainty banquets! Hedged with gold
He sucks abundance from earth's shores and seas:
He drains the wine of life from jewelled enps,
And fattens we'll for gravo-worim!
Different fares

You child of pain that treads dry furnaced tracts.
Above stretch skies of fire; around him plains,
Bare, moistureless; beneath him, earth—his grave;
For him no rich looms play with curious skill!
No menials crook and cringe; no tempting cates,
Nor rare wines glisten; at Fate's Sibyl-hands
He plucks desire, mistrust, hope, fear, and death.
Ah God! what fierce extremes encompass life!

Through night's long hours Paul trod that hopeless land,
Nor neared the peaks till dawn. Grim tills were they
Whose huge piled blocks seemed poised by giant hands
In high perpetual menace of mankind!
Athwart their base rough gorges stretched, and past
Precipitous steeps, one large, dry, gum creek, paved
With smooth round boulders and worn gravel stones;
Its banks were loose and blistered. Noon's strong heats
Had sucked the streams that once hummed hereabout
True desert music."

Not having discovered any such large stream as he believed must exist, Grey was very anxious to start on a fresh expedition. He spent a few months at Mauritius, recovering from his wounds, and studying the resources of the country. During page 33this time he also learned sufficient of the different dialects to be able to converse with the natives, and to form a vocabulary, which was afterwards transmitted to England. He returned to Swan River on the 18th September, 1838, but owing to many unforeseen difficulties, was compelled to give up the idea of an expedition at that time. After one or two short explorations in the neighbourhood of Perth, Grey decided on a new plan, namely, to follow the coast, both north and south of Shark Bay, in whaleboats, landing at different points and making short trips into the interior.

The little party consisted of twelve men, five of whom had been through the trying experiences of the former expedition. With three whaleboats and provisions for five months, they were conveyed to Shark Bay in a whaler, and landed en Bernier Island on the 25th of February, 1839, where it had been decided to form a depôt for the stores. Two days later one of the boats was wrecked while being launched in order to search for fresh water, as none could be found on the island. Next day, having buried the bulk of the provisions, the whole party went to Dorre Island, where they found a small quantity of water.

In the night a furious gale rose suddenly, and Mr. Walker, Mr. Smith, and Grey had to swim out through the surf to reach the two boats, which were found nearly full of water. One of them soon broke from her moorings, but was hauled safely up the beach. Grey, writing of this night, calls it "one of the most fearful I have ever passed." The storm raged all the night, and a temporary lull at daybreak was followed by an instantaneous change of direction, whence the tempest blew for some hours with the greatest violence, tossing the second boat on shore. By pulling her far up she also was secured without being much damaged. There were no trees on the island, but the bushes were all dragged from the ground, and stalwart men could not keep their feet.

At two p.m., during the short calm, the leader of the party sent men in all directions to collect water from holes in the rocks. Even thus early in the expedition the explorers were placed in desperate circumstances. The perils which menaced them are summed up in an entry in Lieutenant Grey's journal: —

"The men who had gone out for water soon returned and reported that they had been able to find very little which was not page 34brackish from the spray having dashed over the island. I, therefore, again reduced the allowance to one pint a day, and proceeded to inspect damages. Yesterday we had started in good boats, with strong men, plenty of provisions, everything in the best order. To-day I found myself in a very different position, all the stores we had with us, with the exception of the salt provisions, were spoilt; our ammunition damaged; the chronometers down; and both boats so stoved and strained as to be quite beyond our powers of repairing them effectually. Moreover, from want of water, we were compelled to make for the main before we could return to Bernier Island, to recruit from our ample stores there."

Two days having been spent in repairing the boats, the party once more set out for the mainland, and on March 4th, reached it. After a few hours' toilsome walking they found a welcome pool. Coasting along the shore they discovered a river, which they called the Gascoyne. The bed of the river was so choked with shallows and sandbanks that navigation soon became impossible. The explorers, therefore, set out on foot to discover the nature of the country on its banks. To his delight. Grey found it a most fertile district. The rich alluvial soil was, in his opinion, "well adapted for either agricultural or pastoral purposes, but especially for the growth of cotton and sugar." His chief object in braving the perils and privations of these expeditions was to throw open large tracts of unknown territory for human habitation. His feelings at this important discovery are recorded in these words:—

I felt conscious that within a few years of the moment at which I stood there, a British population, rich in civilization and the means of transforming an unoccupied country to one teeming with inhabitants and produce, would have followed my steps, and he eagerly and anxiously examining my charts; and this reflection imparted a high degree of interest and importance to our present position and operations."

A little further to the north, where they had landed to avoid heavy weather, they were attacked by about thirty natives. These were frightened away by firing guns over their heads, but they stole two bags containing the journal and several useful articles which the explorers could ill spare. They were detained at this spot for some time as the surf was too high for them to get out. Every page 35day they became more anxious to leave the place, as their Hour had been spoilt by the salt water, and the men were not only becoming weak, from insufficient and bad food, but were getting demoralized by inactivity.

The picture drawn by the young officer of their situation at this time, presents the first suggestion of despondency: "Day after day did we sit and wait for this favourable moment, until the noise of the hoarse breaking surf had become a familiar sound to our ears; but the longer the men watched, the more dispirited did they become; each returning day found them more weak and wan, more gloom and petulant, than the preceding one; and when the eighth, day of constant and fruitless expectation slowly closed upon ns, I felt a gloomy foreboding creeping over me."

Grey spent that night in walking up and down the beach, "anxiously looking out seaward." About daybreak the longed-for opportunity presented itself, and the two boats were safely launched.

When they reached Bernier Island again, on the 20th of March, they discovered that a terrible calamity had befallen them. Seeing that the land-marks had been altered, and that evidences of the fury of the hurricane were everywhere visible, Grey took with him only two of the party whom he thought he could trust implicitly, and of whose good sense, fidelity, and courage he was sure. He went to visit the depot of provisions. His worst fears were realized, for the sea had reached and destroyed it, and all the stores were gone. A cask of salt provisions and half a cask of flour were found on the top of a rock, more than twenty feet above the reach of ordinary high tide, and this was all that remained of their ample stores.

It is impossible for anyone who has not been in a similar position to comprehend, or even in a slight degree to enter into, the feelings which oppressed the leader of the little band when his suspicious were so terribly confirmed. Of them all he was the most alive to the gravity of the situation—he could foresee dangers and sufferings of which the rest would never think. Accustomed to command, and a profound student of human nature, his heart sank as he contemplated the difficulties of preserving discipline and courage amongst the men. Whatever evils he foresaw he could not allow himself to dwell on them. The whole party looked to him for wisdom to guide, for courage to sustain, and for cheerfulness to page 36inspire. While considering every contingency which might arise, and preparing to meet it, he could never look downcast or appear to expect misfortune. The lives of all depended, under the providence of God, on his coolness, discretion, personal influence, and example. It is not wonderful to read that in such crises of anxiety his greatest comfort was derived from the perusal of a New Testament, which he always carried with him, and ever found a source of strength and encouragement.

The plan he decided upon was to proceed down the coast towards Perth, in the whaleboats, as far as possible, and if anything happened to the boats, to continue on foot in the same direction. The remaining provisions were spoilt by salt water, and really unfit for food, but they were carefully weighed, and equal amounts allotted to each of the party. No time was lost. By noon on the 22nd all preparations had been made, and the explorers set forth on their desperate homeward journey.

In pulling down the coast they were frequently in danger. On the 31st of March they were compelled to make the shore to procure water. Choosing what appeared a most favourable spot, they pulled through the surf. Grey thus describes the catastrophe which followed: "For one second the boat hung upon the top of a wave, in the next I felt the sensation of falling rapidly, then a tremendous shock and crash which jerked me away amongst rocks and breakers, and for the few following seconds I heard nothing but the din of waves, whilst I was rolling about amongst men and a torn boat, oars, and water kegs in such a manner that I could not collect my senses." The men regained their feet and beached the boat without any loss of life. The second boat, misunderstanding the signals which Grey made to them not to venture at the same spot, had some of her timbers shattered from stem to stern. Neither boat was fit to put to sea again, and the party found that they had to walk the rest of the way to Perth, a distance of about 300 miles as the crow flies.

The men were in high spirits. Indeed, their leader had to impress upon them the difficulties of the march which lay before them, in the hope of inducing them to abandon some portion of the loads which they intended to carry. Each member of the party bore his own share of the provisions, one pound of salt meat and twenty pounds of flour which, with its sour, fermented taste and page 37brown colour, would have been uneatable in less desperate circumstances. Beside these burdens, the men encumbered themselves with "canvas, and what else they thought would sell at Perth, and some of them appeared to be resolved rather to risk their lives than the booty they were bending under." Lieutenant Grey, in addition to his rations, carried his own papers, several charts, a large map which he filled in as they journeyed, and a number of instruments. Kaiber, a native who accompanied the party, relieved him of his gun. Chronometers, sextants, and sketching materials were borne by other individuals.

The new mode of travel commenced on April 2nd. The entry in Grey's journal runs thus: —"Our loads having been hoisted on our shoulders, away we moved. I had before chosen my line of route, and the plan I resolved to adopt was to walk on slowly but continuously for an hour, and then to halt for ten minutes, during which interval of time the men could rest and relieve themselves from the weight of their burdens, whilst I could enter what notes and bearings I had taken during the preceding hour."

For a few days the little party pressed onwards in tolerably good spirits, despite toilsome journeyings, rough ways, nauseous and scanty food, heavy burdens, and constant exposure to the weather. They passed through a fertile and beautiful region, but the presence of hostile natives added to their troubles. Grey's humanity in firing over their heads soon taught the blacks contempt for his weapon. "Then," he writes, "I was compelled to act promptly, or blood would undoubtedly have been shed. I therefore took my rifle from Coles, and directing it at a heap of closely matted dead bushes which were distant two or three yards to the right of their main body, I drove a ball right through it. The dry, rotten boughs crackled and flew in all directions, whilst our enemy, utterly confounded at this distant, novel, and unfair mode of warfare, fled from the field in confusion, the majority of our party rejoicing at the bloodless victory."

Before long, the men began to sink beneath their self-imposed burdens, and to rebel against the continuous progress insisted on by their leader. The idea took possession of their minds that they were wasting their strength by long marches, and that it would be far wiser to rest frequently and recruit, "utterly for-page 38getting that most of the party had now only seven or eight pounds of fermented flour left, and that if they did not make play whilst they had strength, their eventually reaching Perth was quite hopeless."

When the majority "not only adopted these views in theory, but doggedly carried them into practice," Grey was forced to separate from the advocates of short journeys and frequent rests. Dividing the party into two, he went forward as quickly as he could, leaving the others, under the guidance of Mr. Walker, to follow at their leisure.

This separation occurred on April 10th. Three days later Grey shared the last morsel of his damper with Kaiber, the native who accompanied the expedition. He had still three spoonfuls of arrowroot in his wallet, but no water to cook it with, and suffered intensely from hunger and thirst. His misery and longing for food were aggravated by seeing the men preparing their evening meal. He was much touched by the action of one of his companions, who offered him a morsel of damper about the size of a walnut. Next day they found a native store of nuts in several holes, one of which only they emptied, the leader holding that they were only justified in taking as much as was absolutely necessary to support life. Grey shot a hawk during the day, and was able liberally to repay the lad who had so generously given him a portion of his scanty store the previous evening.

The sufferings of the little party became almost intolerable. Water could not be found, for although the country was intersected by large river beds, yet they were all dry, and only occasionally were a few muddy pools discovered, where, in the rainy season, immense bodies of water rushed to the ocean. On the 17th they had been three days without either food or water. They could not sleep that night, but roamed wearily about seeking vainly for what they so much needed. Still pushing on, they came to a small mudhole, beside which the men sank on the ground with cries of weariness and of rapture, and their leader had great difficulty in inducing them to move on again.

They were now passing through a fertile and promising country, and game was plentiful, but weakness and exhaustion had so told upon them all, that even Grey found his hand shaking so much that page 39he could not for an instant cover a bird with his gun. Watching where a flock of cockatoos went to roost, he followed them, and, firing into their midst, killed one. Next morning they found some mussels on the bank of a stream. Much as he needed food, Kaiber could not be induced to taste one of these, declaring they were under the protection of a powerful spirit. His master, however, insisted on his procuring some for the rest of the party. A torrent of bitterly cold rain falling that night, gave Kaiber the intense satisfaction, even to an uncivilized mind, of saying "I told you so." Grey's wrath was kindled by the monotonous chant in which the native indulged through the long hours of the wretched night.

"Why would he eat the mussels?" was the burden of his lay, and although he introduced slight variations they in nowise disturbed its monotony. Irritated beyond endurance, the young officer peremptorily forbade any further mention of the mussels. Kaiber knew and respected a tone which did not encourage trifling, and lamented in a much lower key, although, even then, Grey heard a. subdued murmuring at intervals.

After a few more days of starvation and fatigue, toiling wearily onward with blistered and bleeding feet, and enfeebled frames, none of the party seemed to feel any desire to carry on the unequal struggle against death, but showed an inclination to lie down and succumb at once. Only the consideration that they might yet save the lives of the other half of the expedition, by sending assistance to them from Perth, urged them to continue. On the 20th they fell in with a party of natives, some of whom were known to Kaiber, and these men supplied them with food. Next day they reached Perth, and Grey immediately went to see the Governor. The latter did not at first recognize the visitor, but when he heard his story showed great kindness to the six who had successfully performed such a long and trying journey, and sent immediate assistance to those who had been left behind.

The hardships of that terrible three months, had so greatly changed the young explorer, that friends hearing of his return, and hastening to congratulate him, passed him unrecognized in the street. Not one of the men who had pushed forward upon his advice and under his guidance was lost.

The rescuing party, setting out from Perth, found four of the other page 40detachment still alive. The youngest, Frederick Smyth, a lad of eighteen, had perished by the way, and three others when discovered had sunk on the ground in the last stages of exhaustion, unable, as they asserted, to proceed a step further. They had been without food or water for several days. Mr. Walker had left the others and reached Perth by himself in order to send help back to them.

These two years of adventure, of hardship, and of peril, were sufficient to develop those qualities which enabled George Grey to fill with wonderful ability the varied and dangerous positions of his after life. Always surrounded by great difficulties—every sense of comfort sacrificed—facing death in many ways, with a despairing following, and under singularly adverse circumstances, his courage never failed, nor did he ever yield to despondency.

When hope had abandoned every other heart, and his followers lay down to die, he kept resolutely on. The same invincible determination which characterized his after life, was brought into prominence thus early. Bearing patiently with weaker men and without bravado, he kept upon his course with a will of iron. Under the stress of danger and perplexity was developed that lofty faith, which sustained him through all the trying ordeals of his later career. So far as regards this world, his creed was the simplest possible. He believed that the Maker of all had placed every man in a position where the performance of duty was incumbent, and expected that duty to be well done. Following this as a necessary consequence, came the consciousness of a duty to man, only less sacred than the other. The trying circumstances of these expeditions —the necessity ever present for self-control, patience, endurance and self-sacrifice—foreshadowed the greater events and more important deeds of later years.

In this school George Grey learnt to rule himself, his followers, the savage tribes with whom he came into contact, and even the forces of nature. In no scene of his subsequent history—remarkable as that history has been—did he fail to draw encouragement and confidence from his explorations in Western Australia.

Never afterwards was he likely to be called upon to face danger so imminent or circumstances so apparently hopeless. A heart which had borne up against the privations and disasters of those terrible explorations would scarcely be disturbed or beat more page 41quickly under any possible conditions of peril. The foresight which had enabled him in some measure to anticipate every contingency which could arise would not be likely to fail in any future difficulty; and the patience which could bear with the harassing and despairing petulance of men who wished to be allowed to lie down and die could scarcely give way under any future pressure.

That faith in the mercy and power of an unseen God which enabled him, when suddenly confronted with the loss of all the provisions of the party on Bernier Island, to commit himself and his party confidently to the guardianship and care of the Almighty, and which sustained him when in the midst of the waterless desert he. had shared his last remaining piece of damper with the native, would not be afterwards greatly staggered by any difficulties, however insurmountable they might appear to be. The remarkable passage in which he describes his feelings in the second of these appalling situations deserves quotation.

"We halted at noon for about two hours, during which I made my breakfast with Kaiber, sharing my remaining portion of damper between us. It was almost a satisfaction to me when it was gone, for, tormented by the pangs of hunger, as I had now been for many days, I found that nearly the whole of my time was passed in struggling with myself as to whether I should eat at once all the provisions I had left or refrain till a future hour. Having completed this last morsel, I occupied myself for a little with my journals, then read a few chapters in the New Testament, and having fulfilled these duties, I felt myself as contented and cheerful as I had ever been in the most fortunate moments of my life."

The history of these explorations was not published till 1841, when Captain Grey was performing his duties as Governor in South Australia. He wrote to Lord Glenelg, requesting permission to dedicate the record of his travels to him, receiving the following little note in reply:—

Dear Sir,—

I am not a little gratified and flattered by your kind wish, and can only say that I shall feel it an honour to be associated with the history of your expeditions—an honour which I appreciate the more on account of the motives which have induced you to offer it.

It will be always to me a source of sincere satisfaction that I was in any degree enabled to assist your early efforts in the public service, and witness your entrance on a career which is, I trust, destined to be long and honour-page 42able. The new year opens auspiciously for you. I offer to you the best wishes of the season. May a kind Providence be your guide and guard.— I am, dear Sir, yours very faithfully,


The book met with great success, and strengthened the reputation which its writer had already obtained. In itself it is a simple narrative of the facts and circumstances of Grey's two expeditions, to which, are added dissertations upon several scientific subjects. The style is clear, the narrative continuous. There are indications in many places of the leading features of the author's character and purposes. The predominant idea as to the future of these unoccupied territories repeatedly manifests itself.

Upon the banks of rivers, or the shores of the sea, he beheld, in anticipation, great towns arising, filled with commerce and with plenty. Upon the boundless pastures he heard the bleating of the flocks, and the lowing of the cattle. The wealth of nature, which spread itself out before his delighted vision to satisfy the wants of multitudes, and to give homes to the poor and needy, became the possession of the struggling masses, who, in the mother country, were on the brink of starvation. Hope pictured to him, in the future, not far distant, the realization of his brightest dreams.

The love of children, ever a striking feature in his character, was displayed on many occasions. Once, the natives, believing him to be a friend come back from the dead, compelled the little children of the tribe to sit upon his knees, and submit to the touch of his hand. At first this process was accompanied by cries of terror, but so potent and gentle were his caresses, that at last the children strove together to get nearest to him, and to obtain the most of his attention.

Humanity, fortitude, foresight, and determination, were all displayed by him in the arduous circumstances which surrounded both expeditions. Grey made no secret of his intense belief in the over-ruling providence of God, and of the certainty of His interposition on behalf of those who put their trust in His mercy. On returning to Bernier Island, he found that the awful succession of hurricanes, lashing the sea into unbounded fury, had swept away all their provisions, and brought them face to face with death. His own words will best describe the position, and his feelings.

page 43

"The safety of the whole party now depended upon my forming a prompt and efficient plan of operations, and seeing it carried out with energy and perseverance. As soon as I was out of sight of Mr. Smith and Coles, I sat down upon a rock on the shore, to reflect upon our present position. The view seawards was discouraging; the gale blew fiercely in my face, and the spray of the breakers was dashed over me; nothing could be more dismal and drear. I turned inland, and could see only a bed of rock, covered with drifting sand, on which grew a stunted vegetation, and former experience had taught me that we could not hope to find water in this island. Our position here was, therefore, untenable, and but three plans presented themselves to me: —First, to leave a notice of my intentions on the island, then to make for some known point on the mainland, and there endeavour to subsist ourselves, until we should be found and taken off by the colonial schooner; secondly, to start for Timor or Port Essington; thirdly, to try and make Swan River in the boats. I determined not to decide hastily between these plans, and, in order more fully to compose my mind, I sat down and read a few chapters in the Bible.

"By the influence these imparted I became perfectly contented and resigned to our apparently wretched condition, and, again rising up, pursued my way along the beach to the party. It may here be remarked by some that these statements of my attending to religious duties are irrelevant to the subject, but in such an opinion I cannot at all coincide. In detailing the sufferings we underwent it is necessary to relate the means by which those sufferings were alleviated; and, after having, in the midst of perils and misfortunes, received the greatest consolation from religion, I should be ungrateful to my Maker not to acknowledge this, and should ill perform my duty to my fellow-men did I not bear testimony to the fact that under all the weightier sorrows and sufferings that our frail nature is liable to, a perfect reliance upon the goodness of God and the merits of our Redeemer, will be found a sure refuge and a certain source of consolation." *

After having been attacked by the natives, and hedged in by the surf on the mainland, they sat day and night upon the lonely page 44beach watching the wares until some favourable moment might enable them to embark. When the whole party was plunged in gloom and despondency, Grey thus writes: —

"It may be asked if, during such a trying period, I did not seek from religion that consolation which it is sure to afford? My answer is, Yes; and I further feel assured that but for the support I derived from prayer and frequent perusal and meditation of the Scriptures, I should never have been able to have borne myself in such a manner as to have maintained discipline and confidence amongst the rest of the party; nor in all my sufferings did I ever lose the consolation derived from a firm reliance upon the goodness of Providence.

"It is only those who go forth into perils and dangers, amidst which human foresight and strength can but little avail, and who find themselves, day after day, protected by an unseen influence, and ever and again snatched from the very jaws of destruction by a power which is not of this world, who can at all estimate the knowledge of one's own weakness and littleness, and the firm reliance and trust upon the goodness of the Creator which the human breast is capable of feeling. Like all other lessons which are of great and lasting benefit to man, this one must be learnt amid much sorrowing and woe; but having learnt it, it is but the sweeter from the pain and toil which are undergone in the acquisition."

And when the advance party had triumphed over every difficulty and arrived near the town of Perth, and meeting friendly natives received a plentiful supply of frogs and nuts, eating as they had not eaten for weeks before, knowing that the next day they should be able to reach Perth—Grey writes: "We all lay down to sleep, and in the silence of the night I rendered fervent thanks to my Maker who had again brought us so near the haven where we would be."

The enterprising explorer did not deceive himself as to the value and suitability for settlement of the lands he traversed, although the first attempts to discover the fertile territory which he described were unsuccessful.

A letter, written nearly half a century later, by Commodore Coghlan, who speaks of himself as "one who has read your journals many times, and is personally acquainted with much of the ground described (having seen in Vansittart Bay similar buffalo tracks, or page 45spors, to those seen by you in Prince Regent Inlet, and having also seen the spot where brave Frederick Smith lies buried)," says: — "Since that day there have been many Australian expeditions, but, to my mind, none in which so many personal hardships were endured, as during that memorable journey you made by sea to Gantheaume Bay, and thence, on foot, to Perth. To-day, Gascoyne is comparatively a flourishing place. It is the outlet for sheep stations, some of which are as far back as four hundred miles from the coast. Steamers call frequently, carrying men and stores, en route to the newly discovered Kimberley goldfields."

* "Two Expeditions in North-West and Western Australia," pp. 393 394 1841. G. Grev