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Taking it to the edge: Land: John McKinlay - escape and completion of survey

The horse punt

On 9 June 1866 the explorers made their last camp (number 41) on the banks of the East Alligator River.  Here McKinlay determined to make a raft to travel down river.  Using saplings for the framework and the hides of the horses and a tent to cover it, the punt or raft was ready by 27 June.  The horseflesh was dried and taken with them for food. The craft was dubbed the Pioneer and they began the voyage downstream on 29 June.  The men rowed with clumsily made oars, and bailed their leaky craft.  The river water became salty more quickly than they had anticipated - insufficient supplies of fresh water had been taken.

After a full day of rowing from the start of their voyage, and some 30 bends in the river, they needed to find fresh water as the river was already too salty. After a long search they found water and then filled every container they had with a supply.  The next day the river broadened, porpoises were seen, and a sail raised.  By mid-afternoon the expedition's frail vessel was clear of the river and at sea. 

Edmunds and McKinlay continued to argue about how best to manage the punt and the course they should take; the water in some of the containers had become undrinkable and the men were thirsty from their labour at the oars; sharks were nosing around the punt, attracted by the pungent odour of the rotting hides. Without water, the dried horsemeat became almost inedible; the men's suffering was extreme.  They arrived at Escape Cliffs on 6 July.  The punt had only just got them to safety - when they examined it the next day, they found the hides rotten and full of maggot holes; the tent which had also been used, was badly frayed.

Survey completed

Three weeks later McKinlay hired the schooner Julia for a survey trip to the Daly River.  The vessel was able to sail upriver for two days and then McKinlay pushed further upstream in one of her boats.  From the Daly River they sailed to Port Darwin - both McKinlay and Edmunds liked it - 'good, high, cliffy land right out to sea…plenty of building stone and timber.'  '…A splendid harbour, easy entrance…this is certainly the finest site for the City of Palmerston on the north coast.'

McKinlay's report to the South Australian government was inconclusive on the site for a permanent settlement, as he weighed the advantages and disadvantages of Cliff Head at Anson Bay, Port Darwin and the Daly River.

 In February 1867 Francis Cadell was sent north to search for a suitable location for a permanent settlement.  He recommended northern Arnhem Land and the Liverpool River, or alternatively the Roper River or Adam Bay.  George Goyder, Surveyor General of South Australia was the next to be sent north.  In a preliminary report Goyder said that after examining the records of previous expeditions, which included the work of the Beatrice, he would commence his work at Port Darwin and extend to the good land along the Adelaide River and towards Anson Bay and the Victoria River.  Arriving in February 1869 Goyder and his men had surveyed 665,866 acres by the end of August, and established safe routes between Port Darwin and the Adelaide River, and Fort Point (12º28'S 130º50'E) and Fred's Pass.  Despite difficulties experienced with the fiercely territorial Aborigines of the region, settlement seemed assured.

Grave of a white man found
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McKinlay decides to build a punt
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McKinlay finds other traces of Burke and Wills
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McKinlay's route from Adam Bay to the East Alligator
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The expedition reaches Escape Cliffs
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