| Our Empire Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Vivid and picturesque account of the principal events in the building of the British Empire. Traces the development of the British colonies from days of discovery and exploration through settlement and establishment of government. Includes stories of the five chief portions of the Empire: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. Ages 10-16 |
THROUGH THE GREAT UNKNOWN
 UP to the time when Macquarie came to govern New South
Wales nothing at all was known of Australia inland.
The Blue Mountains, beautiful and rugged, defied every
attempt to cross them. Among others, gallant George
Bass had tried. But he was less successful by land than
by sea and he discovered nothing.
But now the colony was growing larger, and the settlers
began to feel themselves cramped between the mountains
and the sea. They had need of larger pastures to feed
their sheep and grow their corn, so three young men
determined to find out what lay behind the mountains.
And, taking with them food enough to last six weeks,
they set out.
They had a hard task before them. They had to cut their
way through woods where no white man at least had ever
passed before. Across dark valleys, up and down steep
cliffs, now crawling along narrow ledges, now
clambering up rocky heights, they reached at last the
western side of the hills. There they saw the land open
out in rolling, fertile plains, and knew that they had
found what meant new life and wealth to the colony.
"The dauntless three! for twenty days and nights
These heroes battled with the haughty heights;
For twenty spaces of the star and sun
These Romans kept their harness buckled on;
By gaping gorges, and by cliffs austere,
These fathers struggled in the great old year;
Their feet they set on strange hills scarred by fire;
Their strong arms forced a path through brake and briar;
They fought with nature till they reached the throne
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There, in the time of praise and prayer supreme,
Paused Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth, in a dream;
There, where the silver arrows of the day
Smote upon slope and spire, they halted on their way.
Behind them were the conquered hills—they faced
The vast green West, with glad, strange beauty graced;
And every tone of every cave and tree
Was as a voice of splendid prophecy."
Returning home, the three told the governor of their
discovery, and he, after making sure that what they
said was true, set convicts to work to make a broad
road across the hills. It took two years to make. Many
a valley had to be bridged over, the solid rock had to
be blown up. But at last the great work was finished.
Then the colonists led their flocks and herds along the
road to the grassy plains beyond, which were soon
dotted with homesteads, and the town of Bathurst was
After this many travellers set out, eager to fill the
great blank of the map of Australia, and it would take
many books to tell of all their adventures. With
patient courage and wonderful endurance they found, and
marked, and named tract after tract of the vast island,
each man stealing his little corner from the Unknown
and adding it to the Known. To the great work these
pioneers gave their health and money and all that they
had. Some of them even gave their lives, and lie lost
for ever in the great, silent land, no man knowing to
this day where their bones rest. Australia has no
battlefields. Its peaceful soil has never been soaked
in the blood of
 thousands, its blue skies have never
been darkened with the smoke of war. No heroes have
fallen to the sound of trumpet and of drum fighting for
King and Country. But the men who fought with nature,
who suffered hunger and thirst, and all the woes of the
desert, who day by day, and hour by hour, showed the
courage of endurance, are as well worth remembering as
those who, in one quick moment of fervour, thought life
well lost for the sake of some great cause. And the
names of Hamilton, Hume, Sturt, Eyre, Leichardt,
Mitchell, Kennedy and many others stand out in the
story of Australia as men who were not afraid to suffer
and to die.
We cannot follow all these explorers, you must read
their stories elsewhere. But I will tell the story of
two, not because they were the greatest or did most,
but because they are among the best known, and because
they were the first to cross the island-continent from
south to north all the way from sea to sea. For when
the island had once been crossed from shore to shore
there was an end to the wonderful stories that had
grown up about the marvels to be found in the middle of
it. Some said that there was to be found a great and
fertile land, where white people lived in the wealth
and luxury of a sort of fairyland; some again said
there were great inland seas, boiling rivers, and
mountains of fire to be found there. But when the land
had been crossed, these stories were at an end,
although there was then, and is still, much to be
By the year 1860 the fringes of Australia had been
peopled, and although little was known of the interior,
the land was divided into five colonies, broken off
from the mother colony of New South Wales. Each of
these colonies had a capital and a governor of its own.
Victoria had its capital, Melbourne; South Australia
its capital, Adelaide; Western Australia its capital,
 Perth; Queensland its capital, Brisbane.
Now the Colony of Victoria decided to send out an
expedition to cross the continent As its leader, an
Irishman named O'Hara Burke was chosen. No expense was
spared to make the expedition a success. Camels were
brought on purpose from India, for they, as is well
known, can go for a longer time without water than
perhaps any other beast of burden. And one of the worst
dangers and difficulties in Australian exploration was
the want of water. It is to-day the greatest drawback
The expedition set off from Melbourne in high spirits.
Crowds of people turned out to see it start The mayor
made a speech, Burke made another, and amid a storm of
good wishes and cheering the long procession of men,
laden camels, and horses wound out of sight.
But the expedition which had begun so brightly was soon
overshadowed. The leader of the camels quarrelled with
Burke, and went back to Melbourne saying that no good
would ever come of the expedition under such a leader.
And indeed, brave though he was, Burke was not a good
A man named Wills was now made second in command, and
the expedition continued its way.
When Menindie on the Darling river was reached, it was
found that some of the men and camels were already
knocked up and unable to travel fast. But instead of
waiting here to rest for a short time, or going on
slowly, Burke, who was hot-headed and eager, divided
his party into two. Leaving one half under a man named
Wright to come on slowly, he pushed on quickly with
Wills and six other men to Cooper's Creek. It is not
easy to see what Burke hoped to gain by this, for at
Cooper's Creek he arranged to wait for the others.
 Here there was plenty of grass and water, and while
waiting for Wright and his party to arrive, Burke and
Wills made many short expeditions, exploring the
country round. They found stony deserts and waterless
tracts, and nothing very encouraging.
In this way a month went past. Then Burke, impatient
at the slowness of Wright, decided to again divide his
party. Leaving four men under a leader named Brahe to
await Wright, he, with Wills and two others, again set
out northward. The men left behind were told to wait
three months, and if Burke and Wills did not return
they might then give them up as lost and go home.
Having made all their arrangements, the little party
set out. On and on, day after day, they trudged.
Sometimes they met with bands of natives who, however,
were friendly enough. Sometimes the way lay through
stony desert, sometimes through fertile plains, or
swamps and thick forest. At last they reached the
seashore. But a forest of trees and a thick undergrowth
of bushes lay between them and the sea, and although
Burke and Wills made gallant efforts to struggle
through it, they were obliged to turn back without
having really seen the water or having stood upon the
It was now two months since they had left Cooper's
Creek. They were weary and worn. Their food was nearly
at an end. And so they made haste to return, lest the
men left at Cooper's Creek should, as they had been
told, go home believing their leader to be lost in the
The way northward had seemed hard and long, the way
back seemed yet harder. Soon there was nothing left to
eat. One camel after another had to be killed for food.
The men fell ill, and worn out with hardships, one
 The three remaining gaunt, lean skeletons struggled on.
At last they, with two skinny camels, arrived at
There was no one there.
Upon a tree was a note telling the wretched, weary
travellers that the others had left that very morning,
and that Wright, who had been left behind at the
Darling, had never arrived at all.
It was heart-breaking. Sick and hopeless were the men
who that night lay down to sleep in the deserted camp.
Burke had mismanaged the expedition badly. Perhaps he
knew it, and that made the hardships no easier to bear.
Fortunately Brahe and his party had left some food
behind them. They had marked a tree with the word
"Dig," and here the travellers found the buried stores.
Now that they had food enough, Wills and the other man,
who was called King, proposed that they should rest for
a few days until they had regained some strength. But
Burke with his impatient spirit would not listen. He
proposed to start off again and try to reach home by
going through South Australia instead of back as they
had come. He wanted to go by way of Mount Hopeless,
which had been reached by another explorer some years
There was now a sheep farm there, and Burke thought it
could not be more than one hundred and fifty miles off.
It seems to us, reading of it long after, a mad and
foolish idea. And so it seemed to Wills and King. But
they gave way to their leader and the journey began. It
was a dismal failure. They lost their way and, at last
worn out and once more starving, were obliged to go
back. On this return journey Burke and King became
 so weak that they could go no farther, and alone, Wills
returned to Cooper's Creek to bring food to his dying
Meanwhile, had they only known it, help had been very
near. For Brahe, having at last met with Wright, had
returned to Cooper's Creek. But finding no one there,
and believing that no one had been there in their
absence, they all started homeward with the news that
the others had perished.
The news was true enough. But it need not have been
true if only things had been better managed.
Now, of the three left alone in the wilderness. Wills
was the first to die. A few days later Burke followed
him, and King alone was left. He kept himself from
utterly starving by eating the seeds of a plant called
Nardoo. Then he fell in with some friendly blacks who
had already helped the forlorn party. With them he
stayed until he was found and rescued, for he was not
left to die unaided. When Wright and Brahe reached home
with their sad news, search parties were at once sent
out to find the bodies at least of the brave, misguided
men. So King was found. But he was pale and thin, more
like a skeleton than a living man, and so weak that he
could scarcely speak. But after a few days of care
and nursing he grew much better, and was able to tell
the sorry story of all his pains and hardships.
The dead bodies of Burke and Wills were found where
they had died, and were buried in the wilds. But
afterwards they were brought to Melbourne, where they
were buried with great ceremony and a monument in their
memory was raised.
King received a pension, and the relatives of Burke and
Wills were cared for. It is pleasant, too, to know that
the kindly blacks were rewarded, although it was only
 beads and ribbons, looking-glasses and sugar. To them
such things seemed very precious, and they were well
"Set your face toward the darkness—tell of deserts weird and wide,
Where unshaken woods are huddled, and low languid waters glide;
Turn and tell of deserts lonely, lying pathless deep and vast;
Where in utter silence ever Time seems slowly breathing past—
Silence only broken when the sun is necked with cloudy bars,
Or when tropic squalls come hurtling underneath the sultry stars!
Deserts, thorny, hot and thirsty, where the feet of man are strange,
And eternal Nature sleeps in solitudes which know no change.
Weakened with their lengthened labours, past long plains of stone and sand,
Down those trackless wilds they wandered, travellers from a far-off land,
Seeking now to join their brothers, struggling on with faltering feet,
For a glorious work was finished, and a noble task complete;
And they dreamt of welcome faces—dreamt that soon unto their ears
Friendly greeting would be thronging, with a nation's well-earned cheers;
Since their courage never failed them, but with high, unflinching soul
Each was pressing forward, hoping, trusting all should reach the goal.
Ye must rise and sing their praises, O ye bards with souls of fire,
For the people's voice shall echo through the wailings of your lyre;
And we'll welcome back their comrade,though our eyes with tears be blind
At the thoughts of promise perished, and the shadow left behind;
Now the leaves are bleaching round them—now the gales above them glide,
But the end was all accomplished, and their fame was far and wide.
Though this fadeless glory cannot hide a nation's grief,
And their laurels have been blended with a gloomy cypress wreath.
Let them rest where they have laboured! but, my country, mourn and moan;
We must build with human sorrow grander monuments than stone,
Let them rest, for oh! remember, that in long hereafter time
Sons of Science oft shall wander o'er that solitary clime!
Cities bright shall rise about it. Age and Beauty there shall stray,
And the fathers of the people, pointing to the graves, shall say:
Here they fell, the glorious martyrs! when these plains were woodland deep;
Here a friend, a brother, laid them; here the wild man came to weep."
H. C. KENDALL
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