Charles Sturt

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Captain Charles Sturt (1795-1869) was born in India in 1795. This was about the same time that Bass & Flinders started to explore Australia's coastline. Sturt fought against Napoleon's army in Spain and at Waterloo. Because of his ability, his commanders made him a Captain and sent him to Australia with his army regiment in 1827.

Governor Darling sent Sturt, together with Hamilton Hume to follow and map the Macquarie River. They got as far as the Darling River which they named, but were unable to track the river any further, as the surrounding country was in the grip of  a terrible drought and the streams had dried up. However, he had proved that northern New South Wales was not a giant inland sea.

His next expedition was in 1829 when he persuaded Governor Darling to allow him  to follow the Murrumbidgee, which had been discovered by Hume and Hovell.

The party set out with a whaleboat on a horse-drawn dray and arrived at the Murrumbidgee. Here Sturt divided his party and headed downstream. It was a dangerous journey along the fast-flowing river, with the boat often smashing against hidden rocks and trees. When the wind was blowing the right direction, they used sails, otherwise they rowed. In January, they came upon a huge expanse of water, which he named the Murray River. While it was not "ten times as broad as the Murrumbidgee" as Sturt declared, it certainly was a large stream, nearly seven metres deep in most parts. The party followed the Murray, accompanied by a party of friendly aboriginals they had met. Sturt, in all his expeditions treated the aborigines with kindness and avoided violence.   However, the next day, Sturt saw a large group of hostile aboriginal warriors who were angrily shaking weapons. The explorers tried to make off in their boat, but the tribesmen moved to head off the boat as it approached a narrow stretch of water.

Sturt ordered his men to load their guns ready for war, when he noticed another party of aboriginals plunge into the river from the opposite bank and swim towards the hostile natives. These were the same friendly aboriginals who had travelled with Sturt for the past few days, and they were able to make peace. The explorers were then able to proceed.

Before long, Sturt discovered the lower reaches of the Darling, which was now in full flow, unlike the previous year. This meant that at last the mystery of the inland rivers was solved. Sturt proved that the west-flowing rivers eventually turned south to the ocean and there was no inland sea.

On February 4 1830, the party sighted seagulls. Aboriginals told them that the ocean was nearby and on February 9, they sailed into a lake which Sturt named Alexandrina. A few days later, they found the point where the Murray flowed into the sea and since they could not sight any ships which might take them back to Sydney, they started their long journey rowing back to their depot on the Murrumbidgee.

Unfortunately, when they arrived there, the rest of the party had abandoned it. This was very serious as their supplies were low and the river was in flood. The men were dropping from exhaustion and pain from the never-ending rowing and pulling their boat against the roaring current. One of the convicts went insane during the ordeal.

Finally, on 11 April they reached one of their old sites at Narrandera and here Sturt abandoned the boat and pitched camp. He sent two men, Hopkinson and Mullholland, overland in search of the rest of their party and the supplies. These two men managed an incredible feat - covering the 140 kilometres in three days. They found the remainder of the party and the supplies.

Such had been their ordeal, that Sturt went blind for many months. He was to suffer eye problems for the rest of his life. He returned to England for a couple of years, and in 1834 was given 50 000 acres of land near Mittagong in New South Wales. Because of his explorations, the city of Adelaide was settled.

In 1838, he made another famous overland trek from Sydney to Adelaide, taking a herd of much-needed cattle. This time the journey took just 40 days and he proved that the Hume and the Murray were one and the same river. He then settled in South Australia and was appointed surveyor general and later registrar general.

In 1838, he again decided to explore the inland of Australia, trying to reach the exact centre of the continent. While he no longer believed there was an inland sea, he thought there could be one or more big lakes. He had noticed birds heading north from Adelaide every autumn and returning in good condition each spring. He thought therefore that there must be good feeding grounds to the north.

This was Sturt's fourth major expedition and began in August 1844, when he was almost 50 years of age. Three hundred men applied to join the expedition.  Sturt chose 16 including James Poole, the second-in-command and set off  together with 11 horses, 300 sheep, 32 bullocks, six dogs and an assortment of carts and wagons.

Early in the trip he was confronted again with hostile aboriginals, but managed to reason with them. The party passed through today's Broken Hill, but failed to recognise the valuable minerals in the ground. Further north, at Rocky Glen (near the present town of Milparinka), a large stretch of deep water, they were trapped for 6 months by the extreme heat and the lack of water ahead. The party came down with a disease called scurvy because of the lack of fresh food. Poole's skin turned black and large pieces of flesh peeled off the inside of his mouth. It had become so hot that the thermometers were bursting - up to 67 degrees Centigrade and the river was almost dry. It was so hot it made screws drop out of boxes, lead fell out of pencils and the men's nails became as brittle as glass. The men built an underground room to shelter in. They suffered also when winter came, due to the bitter cold.  Sturt's eyes began to fail once again.

When everything seemed hopeless, rain fell and the condition of the men and animals improved. Unfortunately, Sturt's first assistant Poole died of scurvy and was buried under a tree. (Poole's horse, which was turned loose in the desert, was amazingly found alive and well 15 years later.) Sturt was saddened by the death of Poole, but had to go on. He sent 9 men back to Adelaide and moved onwards with the rest of the party. They crossed the Strzelecki Creek and Cooper's Creek and pushed on until they reached a wilderness which they named Sturt's Stony Desert. The horses were limping and the stones wore down the hooves of the cattle and the sheep. This desert was 80 kilometres wide. They crossed the desert and came to the Simpson desert where they were faced with sand ridges 30 metres high. Sturt soon realised they could go no further.

Sturt had to make a very hard decision. He was only 240 kilometres from the centre of Australia, but for the safety of his party, he was forced to turn back to Fort Grey. They had travelled 1500 kilometres and were completely exhausted.

Sturt decided to make one last try to find an inland sea. He took with him three men and this expedition was a dreadful ordeal. The heat was so intense, it burst their thermometers. The country was gripped by drought and the waterholes were drying up. Sturt became ill and they were forced to turn back. Sturt was in fact, so ill, that they had to carry him in a dray. The ground was very rough and this caused him a lot of pain. Eventually they arrived at Moorundie where Sturt's health gradually improved. Soon he was able to ride a horse again and travelled back to Adelaide. He had been away a year and five months. Sturt was treated as a hero and given a gold medal.

He was very disappointed, but at least he had found a route to the centre of Australia and had pioneered an overland route to Adelaide. Sturt had explored the inland of Australia, north to Adelaide, adding much to people's knowledge of the interior of Australia.

Sturt returned to England in 1851 where he died in 1869.

 

 

 

 

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