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Taking it to the edge: Land: Calvert expedition

Setting out

The Calvert Exploring Expedition was financed by Albert Calvert in an attempt to explore largely unknown areas of Western Australia.  It is included in this website as it was led by a South Australian, Lawrence Allen Wells and managed from Adelaide by the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch). The expedition consisted of Larry Wells, leader, Charles Wells (his cousin, and second in command); George Jones (mineralogist and photographer); George Keartland (naturalist) and James Trainor.  Bejah and Said Ameer were engaged as camel drivers.

The expedition left Mullewa in Western Australia 13 June 1896 heading north towards the Fitzroy River.  Following on the practice established on the Elder Expedition, Wells established a base from which he scouted ahead for water.  In the early stages they travelled within the bounds of settlement, where water was good and feed for the camels adequate.  These early stages were over territory Wells had covered on the Elder Expedition.  Wells noted in his diary that Jones and Keartland had begun to collect specimens.  All these were later abandoned as will be seen.  By 21 July they had reached latitude 26 24' and filled the water-kegs as they were about to move into unexplored territory and could no longer be sure of water supplies.  The country was sandy with porcupine grass, desert gums and bloodwoods.  Mulga thickets and small forests of desert gums were encountered, as were occasional sand ridges.  On 23 July a lagoon was discovered which Wells named after Adam Lindsay Gordon, the poet.  Birds of all kinds were plentiful here.  The immediate area was in stark contrast to the monotonous mulga scrub beyond.  There were many indications of Aboriginal people in the area, but none were seen.  The party crossed a low range of hills that Wells named the Princess range, and which he realised divided the watershed of the Murchison River from the country to the east.  Several notable hills were named, and Wells noted that the creeks drained into a salt lake.  The country was by now becoming rougher, broken sandstone and ironstone, with claypans and poor vegetation.

Into the Great Sandy Desert

On 29 July the first of their camels were stricken after eating poisonous plants.  While Bejah and the others remained to dose the sick camels, Wells went ahead with George Jones and Charles Wells to look for a forward campsite. (See Did you know section Camels in Australian exploration for more information about plants poisonous to camels)  The country ahead conisted of barren sandridges and the lake found by John Forrest in 1874 was dry.

The following day Wells struck out in another direction and found a good waterhole.  A depot was established here and the sick camels coaxed towards it.  The expedition recuperated here for a week, then Wells with Jones and Bejah, made a flying trip to the north, searching for water supplies.  The party was advancing into the Great Sandy Desert.  The sandridges and the weight of water they carried, exhausted the camels.  There was also a shortage of good feed for the camels, but plenty of the poisonous variety.  The party crossed the line of Ernest Giles' expedition and continued north-east.  From a high point the view ahead was of more sandridges and porcupine grass, but no prospect of water.  A small group of Aboriginal people was met  but they fled in terror at the sight of the camels.  A small supply of water was found nearby.  Wells also sighted nearby the extremely rare Princess Alexandra parrot.  The eyes of both Wells and Bejah were affected by the bright light and Wells recorded that it was only with great difficulty that he could take latitude readings.  He also wrote 'water is far too precious a commodity for bathing [their eyes].'

A few drops of rain fell
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Bejah searched for water
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Decision to abandon outfit and collections
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Insufficient firewood to boil the billy : diary 27 May
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Poor camel feed
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Saw crows and footprints
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Separation Well and cache of meat: diary 26 May 1897
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Shallow watercourse seen
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Six camels reported ill
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Some camel feed found
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Still some four days from Joanna Springs
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The expedition nears Joanna Spring
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