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Taking it to the edge: Land: Edward Eyre

'From my present elevation, the lake was seen bending round to the N. E., and I became aware that it would be a barrier to all efforts to the north.'
Eyre, Edward John Journals of expeditions of discovery into Central Australia… 1845
vol. 1, p. 100

1839

Edward Eyre overlanded sheep and cattle from New South Wales in 1838-39. Following this he decided to explore to the north of Adelaide.  He set out in May 1839 with a party of five men and provisions for three months.  After crossing the Wakefield and Hutt Rivers he discovered and named Crystal Brook.  Shortly after the country became more and more barren and water supplies more infrequent.  Some distance beyond the head of Spencer Gulf, Eyre camped for a week and examined the region.  From a nearby mountain he viewed arid ranges blocking his progress north and east.  To the west stretched apparent desert.  To the north-west he saw salt lakes. 

Discouraged by this he returned to his depot where his overseer John Baxter reported that his foray to the south-west had also failed to find water, and that the country was inhospitable.  With Baxter, Eyre then explored to the west of the Gulf, but without water they were forced back again to their depot.  Eyre then decided to return to Adelaide along the River Murray, and in doing so found the stretch of river at Moorundie where he would later settle.

Eyre then went to Port Lincoln in July 1839 and explored the coast to Streaky Bay and some way beyond.  Expected supplies were not delivered and Eyre decided to return to Adelaide.  Travelling east he discovered and named the Gawler Ranges and then reached his former depot at Mount Arden.  Eyre travelled on a further 200 kilometres and again from the top of a mountain saw the glittering salt pans of Lake Torrens apparently barring his way north. Disappointed, he returned to Adelaide.  He had failed yet again to find 'fertile and valuable country.' Governor Gawler named Eyre Peninsula after him in November 1839.

1840

'...cheerless and hopeless indeed was the prospect before us. …for three quarters of the compass, extending from south, round by east and north, to west, the horizon was one unbroken level, except where the fragments of table land, or the ridge of the lake, interrupted its uniformity.'
Eyre, Edward John Journals of expeditions of discovery into Central Australia… 1845
vol. 1, p. 127

The South Australian government was still hoping to find good country to the north, and once more Edward Eyre volunteered to lead a party north.  He also contributed financially to this expedition.  Eyre left Adelaide in June 1840 and travelled to his depot at Mount Arden. While waiting for the colonial cutter Water Witch to arrive with supplies he reconnoitred ahead.  He attempted to cross Lake Torrens, but although dry on top, it was boggy below the surface, and he abandoned any further attempt.  Moving his depot further north from Mount Arden, he continued to explore to the north, and was continually thwarted by the glittering expanses of salt lakes.  He then travelled to the east, naming Mount Serle, and then north-east to a point he named Mount Hopeless, because of the bleak outlook.  It seemed to Eyre that a glittering band of salt lakes curved from west to east in a large arc blocking any further progress north.

Eyre and his party moved back down to the Mount Arden depot and considered their options. 

1841- To the west

Eyre was determined to travel to Streaky Bay and try to go north from there.  However once at Streaky Bay, he continued to follow the coast, but was severely handicapped by the lack of water, with the government cutter Water Witch essential to supply the expedition with water. Eyre made several attempts to travel to the Head of the Bight, but was continually forced back by lack of water and feed for his horses. The replacement cutter Hero brought instructions from the Governor that it could not carry supplies for Eyre beyond the Western Australian boundary.  Accordingly Eyre changed his plans and sent back to Adelaide some of the men, keeping with him only his overseer John Baxter and three Aboriginal men. He would travel with packhorses only. He made one last attempt to travel north, while Baxter prepared the packs, but again the country was too dry and barren. He was committed to his attempt to reach the west.

'...I took a sponge, and went to try to collect some of the dew which was hanging in spangles upon the grass and shrubs; brushing these with the sponge, I squeezed it, when saturated, into a quart pot, which in an hour's time, I filled with water.'
Eyre, Edward John Journals of expeditions of discovery into Central Australia… 1845 vol. 1, p. 361

It was January 1841.  Despite lack of water, with their horses failing, and supplies dwindling rapidly, Eyre's party moved on to the west.  Baxter was killed on 29 April and two of the Aboriginal men ran off, taking with them many of the remaining supplies and two of the guns.  Eyre was left with Wylie, the Aboriginal man from King George Sound, a defective rifle and 40 pounds of flour, a little tea and sugar.  Despite what appeared overwhelming odds against success, Eyre decided to push forward to the west as the chances of a safe return to Adelaide seemed just as remote.  For a while the other two Aboriginal men followed them.  Eyre and Wylie survived intense heat and severe water shortages, at one stage travelling 138 miles without any.  They were fortunate to kill two kangaroos that helped eke out their supplies.  It was now May, and Eyre had been out nearly 12 months. 

On 2 June they found welcome relief from their exertions - a French whaler, the Mississippi, was at anchor in a bay.  The commander Captain Rossiter provided Eyre and Wylie with hospitality for 12 days and then with fresh provisions and clothes and their remaining horse newly shod they recommenced their journey to the west.  Just three weeks later they reached Albany on King George Sound.  From here Eyre returned by ship to Adelaide where he was greeted enthusiastically.  The results of his arduous trek were not commercially successful as no good pastoral lands or permanent water supplies of any size had been discovered.  He had however added considerably to the geographical knowledge of the colony.

Eyre climbs Mount Distance
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Eyre decides to turn back
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Eyre describes Lake Torrens
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Eyre describes the extent of the salt lake
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Eyre's concept of the interior
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Eyre's expedition leaves Adelaide
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Eyre's track in 1840-41
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Mt Hopeless is climbed
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Wylie: Edward Eyre's companion
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