Charles Sturt - easier version



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The western rivers of New South Wales had been discovered, but no one knew where they flowed. Oxley had tried to solve this mystery by travelling along the Lachlan and Macquarie Rivers, but each time he was blocked by swamps.

One of our greatest explorers, Charles Sturt, (1795-1869) set out to try and find where these rivers flowed. Sturt was born in India and educated in England. He joined the army before coming to Australia.

On his first expedition he had explored along the Darling River. On his second expedition he decided to find out whether the Murrumbidgee ended in swamps, or flowed into an inland sea.


The Party

Charles Sturt - leader

George Macleay

Fraser and Hopkinson - soldiers

Clayton - convict carpenter

Mulholland and Macnamee - two convicts

What They Took

horses, drays, pack animals, whale boat

eight sheep


flour and tea

meat in casks


Second Expedition

bulletLeft Sydney 3 November 1829
bulletSturt travelled through country in which there was no white settlement. He was in Aboriginal tribal lands and met many aborigines during his journey. On 11 December he came upon some friendly aborigines and gave them gifts. They told him of a large river which flowed to the south-west.

Exploring the Murrumbidgee

bulletReaches the Murrumbidgee
bullet25 December 1829: Sturt finds that the Lachlan flows into the Murrumbidgee.
bullet26 December 1829: It seems to Sturt that the Murrumbidgee flows into marshes. However, he then finds a main channel flowing through the marshes.
bulletDecides now to explore by boat. It takes 11 days to put together the whale boat. It was 9 metres long. Another boat half its size was also built.
bullet7 January 1829: The boats are launched.
bullet8 January 1830: The smaller boat is holed by a log.
bullet13 January 1830: The winding river narrows to almost 17 metres and their way is almost stopped by logs.

Exploring the Murray

bullet14 January 1830, 3 o'clock: Sturt finds out that the Murrumbidgee flows into "a broad and noble river" which he calls the Murray. It was about 120 metres wide and 4 metres deep.
bullet19 January 1830: They meet a large group of aborigines who seem hostile at first. However, Sturt is friendly to them and 35 of them visit the explorer's camp. Four of them accompany the party on foot.
bullet23 January 1830: He finds that another river from the north flows into the Murray and guesses correctly that it is the Darling.
bulletThe party meets a very large group of aborigines. There are about 600 of them and they seem very hostile. The explorers and the aborigines are about to attack each other when one of the aborigines who Sturt had become friendly with, rushed forward and prevented the fight from taking place.
bullet4 February 1830: The party see sea gulls and realise that they must be near the sea..
bullet9 February 1830: Sturt's party finds that the Murray flows into a wide shallow lake which he names Lake Alexandrina. This lake flowed into the sea. Sturt has solved the mystery of the western rivers.
bullet12 February 1830: Sturt and a small party walk along the shores of Encounter Bay.

Return Journey

bulletThe return journey commenced 13 February 1830. They had to row 1440 km upstream.
bulletIt was a very hard journey and the men had to row 12 hours a day. When going through the rapids, the whale boat had to be hauled by ropes.
bulletThe meat in the meat casks has spoiled. So their daily ration of food was about half a kilogram of flour and a small amount of tea for each person.
bulletOn the Murrumbidgee, the exhausted party had to row against heavy flood waters for 17 days.
bullet11 April they reached one of their old camps and the food was almost gone. Two men walked 144 km in three days and returned with much needed supplies.
bullet25 May: The party reached Sydney after an absence of almost 6 months. Sturt went blind for six months after his dreadful experiences on the rivers.

Third Expedition

For 14 years, Sturt gave up exploring. However, he believed that there was a huge inland sea in the centre of Australia and in 1844, Sturt led an expedition to reach the centre of Australia. They left in August with a large party including another famous explorer,  John McDouall Stuart. They took 11 horses, 32 bullocks, 200 sheep, 6 drays, a light cart, a boat and 7 tonnes of equipment. They left Adelaide in 1844 and it was incredibly hot - 67 degrees! and the river was almost dry.  They followed the Murray to where it joined the Darling. They then followed the Darling northwards, coming to the Barrier Ranges near the present site of Broken Hill.  For 6 months, they were trapped by a severe drought at a permanent waterhole Rocky Glen on Preservation Creek. They were forced to stay here because of the unbelievable heat and the lack of water ahead. Some of the men became sick with scurvy. Poole, the second-in-command's skin actually turned black and large pieces of flesh peeled off the inside of his mouth. He later died. Finally, after heavy rain, Sturt and his seven companions, set off to travel to the centre of the continent where they suffered terrible hardship. They reached a stony desert now known as Sturt's Stony desert and came to the Simpson Desert. By now they were very ill and it was so hot that their thermometer broke. They did not have enough water for their stock and were forced to turn back.  Sturt now realised that there was no inland sea  in the centre of Australia. He believed he was only 150 km from the very centre of Australia, but he knew that he would never make it alive across the desert, so he returned nearly 400 miles to Rocky Glen. By this time it was November and the waterholes were drying up. During his return journey, the party often had to travel 24 - 36 hours without water. Sturt did not want to get caught at Rocky Glen and so he pushed on another 270 km to the Darling River. From here, slowly and painfully they reached safety. They eventually limped back to Adelaide where people had given them up for dead. Sturt was claimed as a hero and given a gold medal.

Sturt spent the next 8 years in Adelaide as colonial treasurer and later as colonial secretary. When his eyesight began to fail in 1851, he returned to England with his family where he died in 1869.

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