At his third attempt at crossing the continent from Fowlers Bay to Albany, Edward John Eyre reached the head of the Bight, but the difficulties involved made him decide to send all the members of the expedition back to Adelaide, except for Baxter, Wylie and two other aboriginals. With them he intended to traverse the 1368 kilometres to King George Sound, with a determination ‘either to accomplish the object I had in view, or perish in the attempt’.
Crossing the continent
With eleven pack horses, the small party left Fowlers Bay on 25 February 1841. On 12 March they reached good water at what is now called Eucla, ‘after having passed over one hundred and thirty-five miles (217 km) of desert country, without a drop of water in its whole extent, and at a season of the year most unfavourable for such an undertaking’.
As they continued round the Bight they met with the same difficulties of terrain and lack of water but by the middle of April they were also suffering severely from cold, as they had had to discard most of their clothing.
Murder of Baxter
On the night of 29 April two of the natives murdered Baxter and disappeared with most of the provisions and all the serviceable firearms.
‘At the dead hour of night, in the wildest and most inhospitable wastes of Australia, with the fierce wind raging in unison with the scene of violence before me, I was left, with a single native, whose fidelity I could not rely upon, and who for aught I knew might be in league with the other two, who perhaps were even now, lurking about with the view of taking away my life as they had done that of the overseer’.
For over a month Eyre and Wylie struggled on to the west, until on 2 June at Thistle Cove they sighted the French whaler Mississippi, under the command of Englishman William Rossiter, who had them picked them up and gave them several days hospitality and replenished their stores, for Eyre insisted on completing his overland journey to King George Sound. Moving on through heavy rains and cold weather, they reached Albany on 7 July.
For this incredible journey Eyre was awarded the founder’s gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1847. The society also published three of his papers.
Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Version,
© Kim Epton 2016-2018
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