'It would be perfectly useless to repeat the number of times we were deceived by mirage, and surprised by the enormous refraction peculiar to these plains...'
Goyder, GW 'Northern exploration' South Australian Parliamentary Paper no. 72, 1857 p. 4
These findings together with those of Babbage in 1856 were sufficient to encourage the South Australian government to fund a major expedition which would include '... a thorough exploration as far as practicable, of the country lying between the western shore of Lake Torrens and the eastern shore of Lake Gairdner, and thence northwards. The surveying and mapping of the country traversed. The surveying and mapping of the western shore of Lake Torrens, so as to remove the doubts at present existing as to the extent, direction and outline of the lake. The surveying and mapping of the eastern and northern shore of Lake Gairdner, in like manner. Accurately laying down on the map the latitude, and as correctly as possible the longitude, of all remarkable landmarks, ranges, watercourses, lakes, permanent fresh water springs, and waterholes...' (South Australian Parliamentary Paper 25/1858 page 4) BH Babbage was selected to lead this expedition.
Despite Babbage's instructions for a thorough survey of the country west of Lake Torrens, he was criticised for the slowness of his work and would later be replaced by Warburton. The Babbage expedition was provisioned for 18 months, so speedy results were hardly expected. It was equipped with drays, a tank cart for water, photographic equipment and surveying instruments. It also carried a still for producing fresh water from salt water. The party consisted of WG Harris, Thomas Warriner, DD Hergott, J Dawson, S Thompson, H Kornoll, George Nason, H Lewis and J Stringer. Very soon after departing Port Augusta they found two of the survivors of a small exploratory party, William Scott and Henry Brooks. A search was undertaken for the third man William Coulthard, whose body was found some months later. Coulthard was buried near Pernatty Creek, and the canteen on which he had scratched his final message, was returned to Adelaide. Babbage's expedition continued, but slowly, hampered by the heavy drays and poor feed for the draught animals. The western arm of the Lake Torrens horseshoe began to dissolve from mirage into a number of smaller lakes with gaps between - Lake Windabout, Pernatty Lagoon, Ironstone Lagoon and Lake Dutton. Further west again Island Lake, Red Lake, Lakes Hart, Hanson, Younghusband and Reynolds. Babbage then pushed north to Stuart Creek, and then to the east to Hermit Hill from which he saw a lake to the north but only a few small lakes to the east - in effect a gap in the horseshoe.
Meanwhile the government had become impatient for results, prompted by the sudden arrival of Augustus Gregory from south-western Queensland where he had been searching for the long lost Ludwig Leichhardt. Gregory had seemingly breezed down the Cooper and Strzlecki Creeks, passing through the eastern arm of the horseshoe and described his route as a '... broad entrance to a depressed highway leading through the Victoria river system [Cooper Creek], probably to the Gulf'. He also spoke the death knell for the long sought inland sea. 'This peculiar structure of the interior renders it improbable that any considerable inland lakes should exist in connection with the known system of waters.'
Ignoring or forgetting their instructions to Babbage for a careful survey of the country the Government sent Charles Gregory with horses to replace the drays. Later again Warburton was sent out to replace Babbage, but not before he had discovered the first of the artesian mound springs that are an important feature of this region. When Warburton caught up with Babbage at last, he was told about the gap between the west arm of Lake Torrens and a lake to the north (named Lake Gregory by Babbage, but now Lake Eyre South). But Babbage was not the first to cross the gap - this was done by Corporal Alfred Burtt and Police Trooper Mole on 6 November 1858 as they travelled west to meet Warburton.
An official enquiry followed, despite Babbage following his instructions. The Government and the public wanted spectacular outcomes which were not visible from Babbage's results. He became a scapegoat. However, in the end it was the effort of all three - Babbage, Warburton and Gregory who dispelled the myth of the horseshoe lake. The north-western gap became a well trodden path which would be well utilised by one man who would finally pioneer a route to the north coast of Australia - John McDouall Stuart and would later carry the overland telegraph and railway line, and provide the permanent roadway to the far north.
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