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Taking it to the edge: Land: Calvert expedition - difficulties and desperation

Midway Well

Finally on 25 August they found a good water supply by digging in the sand and rubble.  The presence of the well had been indicated by the flight of a bird.  Wells named this Midway Well as it was halfway between their present depot and Joanna Spring, located by Warburton in 1873.  The following day they began the return to the depot, with Wells mapping the country as they went (they were returning by a more direct route).  They discovered nearby good camel feed and a number of quandong trees heavy with fruit - a large flour bag was filled with them - 'without by any means stripping it of all its fruit'.  Some of the sandridges they crossed were over 100 feet high.  There were also prominent features or headlands that Wells recorded details of.  One was named the Calvert Range after the expedition's promoter.  The camels were struggling over the incessant sandridges which lay across their path, and had to be climbed - Wells rested them whenever he could, preferably on good feed.  He recorded always, the nature of the country they travelled over, including vegetation and bird life and encounters with, or evidence of, the Aboriginal inhabitants.

On 8 September the party had reached their depot and found the men and camels left there in much improved condition.  Wells had been absent 30 days and they had travelled over 500 miles.  He rested the camels for a week, water bags were repaired and some 170 pounds of tinned provisions were buried, to reduce weight.  The entire expedition left for Midway Well on 14 September. This was reached on 29 September.

From here Wells and Bejah set out on a flying trip to find the next water.  On 3 October they found it at Separation Well.  Again the re-united expedition moved forward to this water, which was reached on 8 October.  Already the season was well advanced and the daytime temperature well up - 'the sand becomes so hot after 11 am that the poor [camels] can barely endure walking over it.'  Most of their travelling was being done in the early morning.  The water attracted many birds, so the men were able to eat fresh meat, rather than the tinned provisions. 

Separation Well

''Oct[ober] 12 The same disheartening outlook everywhere! Although there is no doubt that something fairer to look upon existed here before this terrible sand hid it from view.''
Wells, LA Journal of the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition, 1896-97 Perth, Government Printer, 1902: Page 30

It was from this well that Larry Wells wrote 'my cousin [Charles Wells] and Mr Jones will leave us, here, for a trip to the north-west, and we hope to meet eventually, somewhere in the vicinity of Joanna Spring.  They propose proceeding along the flats or troughs between the sand-ridges, generally bearing North 290 deg.  East to North 300 deg. East for eighty (80) miles, or even one hundred (100) should my cousin consider it advisable to go so far, and then in a north-easterly direction to cut the route I purpose taking, a point thirty (30) or forty (40) miles South of Joanna Spring.'  Wells expected to reach Joanna Spring in 12 days; his cousin expected to take about 14 days, as his route was a little longer.  If Joanna Spring was not located, they would 'continue on, without loss of time, for the Fitzroy [River] in a north-north-easterly direction.'  Wells and Jones were equipped with 3 camels, 60 gallons of water and provisions for a month.

Larry Wells also buried some supplies at Separation Well.  Both parties set out on their separate paths on 11 October.  For the main party conditions only continued to get worse - same sand-ridges, lack of water, lack of camel feed, same excessive heat.  They began the days' marches while it was still dark, travelled for six hours and then camped during the heat of the day.  'The days are now so frightfully hot that during the early morning, they [the camels] refuse to pass a shade of any kind, and when the caravan halts they all huddle together, trying to stand in one another's shade.  I feel I must give up day travelling and endeavour to push on by moonlight.' On 19 October they located a well from which they extracted with great difficulty some 25 buckets of water.  The camels were losing condition rapidly, unable to eat the poor feed, without water to assist.

Adverse Well

''Oct[ober] 26 We left all the tents, most of the tools, provision boxes, …small firearms and other articles which we can do without for the present, also all personal property, taking only bare necessaries….I felt this step to be absolutely necessary, as otherwise we should get nothing through this fiery furnace.''
Wells, LA Journal of the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition, 1896-97 Perth, Government Printer, 1902: Page 35

 A few days later a soakage was found, from which water was painfully and slowly extracted - too late for several of the camels which were too far gone to be able to drink.  It took 36 hours to obtain 65 buckets of water.  Aboriginal people were encountered at the well, but trouble was avoided.  Wells named this well Adverse Well.  It was at this point that he decided to abandon nearly all of their equipment.  He 'felt this step to be absolutely necessary, as otherwise we should get nothing through this fiery furnace.'

Again travelling at night, they found it difficult to locate crossing places on the sand-ridges; these seemed to be growing in height, and in one section there were 65 within 8 miles, with only narrow troughs between.  One camel died on 26 October and the following day another six were very bad and unable even to chew the cud.  Wells decided to abandon more equipment, and with the sick animals carrying nothing, moved on in the endeavour to reach Joanna Spring.  He was also having concerns for the safety of Charles Wells and George Jones.

On the 28 and 29 the going became a little easier - still no water, but wider troughs between the sand- ridges, and some vegetation.  They were rapidly nearing the position of Joanna Spring as given in Warburton's account of his 1873 expedition; one of the riding camels was abandoned, several others were coaxed along with difficulty.  Wells searched fruitlessly for the water, but eventually after great privation and distress decided to give up the search and head directly for the Fitzroy River 125 miles away.  On 31 October they set out; several more camels were abandoned; the conditions continued the same until 5 November when the travelling conditions improved, but still no water and food for the camels.  On 6 November the party reached some lagoons; the camels were given a small amount of water; the Fitzroy River was crossed - it teemed with fish and wild fowl, and kangaroos and magnificent trees.

Nothing could have been a greater contrast to their journey of the last few weeks.  Wells' 'only anxiety now is for my cousin Charles and Mr Jones.  Although unsuccessful in getting the whole of my equipment through, and losing Messrs. Keartland and Jones' collection and five camels, now that I know the nature of the country and climate, I feel we did well to get through at all;...'

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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