|The Growth of the British Empire|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book V of the Story of the World Series. Treats the revolutions in South America and Mexico, the Boer War in South Africa, and the exploration of Central Africa, the Greek and Italian wars for independence, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the opening of trade with Japan and China, and the rebellion in India. Ages 13-18 |
DISCOVERIES IN AUSTRALIA
"There dawned at last a day when all was changed.
The restless overflow of Northern lands,
From Old World thoughts and sympathies estranged,
Winged South their way in bold adventurous bands,
Bearing courageous hearts and vigorous hands
To carve their way to wealth with manly toil,
And plant Dominion in productive soil."
—DANIELL (Australian poet).
WHILE the English were opening up hitherto unexplored country in America—away in Australia, Englishmen were
also discovering new lands to colonise.
Since the exploits of Flinders
and the brave passage over the Blue Mountains, much had been discovered about the interior of the country. But
it was Sturt's famous descent of the Murray river, that induced England to take up the matter of Australian
colonisation more seriously. In the year 1830, he was exploring the waters of the Murrumbidgee, fearing that
his journey might end like others in some dismal swamp, when "On a sudden,"
 he says in his own graphic language, "the river took a general southerly direction. We were carried at a
fearful rate down its glowing banks, and in such a moment of excitement had little time to pay attention to the
country through which we were passing. At last we found we were approaching a junction, and all of a sudden, we
were hurried into a broad and noble river."
He was in reality a thousand miles from the mouth of the Murray river, which to-day forms the boundary between
New South Wales and Victoria. Dangers were before him. To the ordinary risk of being wrecked on unknown rocks,
was added the danger of encounter with natives. More than one white man had already been a victim to their
fierce attacks. Now suddenly some hundreds collected on the banks to oppose Sturt's passage. In a shallow reach
of the river, they gathered in force, howling and brandishing their spears. Let Sturt again tell his own story.
"As we neared the sand-bank, I stood up and made signs to the natives to desist, but without success. I took up
my gun, and cocking it, had already brought it to the level. A few seconds more would have closed the life of
the nearest of the savages. At that moment I observed four men upon the left bank of the river. One of them
threw himself into the water, struggled across to the sand-bank, and seizing one of the savages by the throat,
pushed him backwards." The chief
 was evidently very angry, stamping with passion and shaking his clenched fist in the faces of his tribe. So
ended a scene, which might well have cut short the wonderful descent of the Murray river by Sturt. Soon the 600
natives were looking peacefully at the little ship, as she glided on her way down the unknown stream. After a
sail of thirty-two days, Sturt heard waves breaking on the shore, and knew that the mouth of the newly found
river must be near. But bitter was his disappointment to find that shoals and sand-banks blocked the entrance,
and it was impossible to sail farther. He must return against stream to his headquarters. The fight with wind
and current was tremendous. The exhausted crew fell asleep at their oars from sheer weariness, some grew
light-headed, until on the seventy-seventh day of labour, Sturt and his faithful crew reached the end of their
When the news reached England, there was great enthusiasm.
"A spot has been found," wrote Sturt, "to which colonists might venture with every prospect of success, and in
whose valleys, the exile might hope to build himself a peaceful and prosperous home."
"Colonisation is an imperative duty on Great Britain," cried the poet Coleridge confidently. "God seems to hold
out His fingers to us over the sea. But it must be a colony of hope—and not of despair."
 On December 28, 1836, the first emigrant ship reached the shores of South Australia and anchored off Kangaroo
Island. It was indeed to be a colony of hope. Here were no more convicts, unwilling to work, but a healthy band
of English men and women, ready to bear their share in cultivating the rich valley of the Murray river. Other
ships followed, and some 200 colonists gathered under an old gum-tree, unfurled the British flag, and took
possession of the new colony. And to-day thousands of colonists go forth every year on December 28, to the old
gum-tree, on the plains near Adelaide, to celebrate "Proclamation Day." The site of the new capital was soon
chosen, and called Adelaide, after the wife of William IV. of England, at her own special request.
Not only was South Australia now claimed as British territory, but the neighbouring islands of New Zealand were
claimed too, and colonised.
"Very near to Australia," said an Englishman, speaking on colonisation, "there is a country described as the
fittest in the world for emigration—as the most beautiful country with the finest climate and the most
productive soil; I mean New Zealand."
Already adventurers from Tasmania and New South Wales had sailed across and made their homes there, despite
much opposition from the natives. In vain did the old Duke of Wellington declare, that "England had enough
 expedition started off from the mother country to settle in New Zealand, and they called their capital
Wellington, after the hero of Waterloo.
Meanwhile Australian colonisation was growing apace. Already a small colony was growing into existence in
Western Australia. Colonists had made a settlement round the Swan river and built the city of Perth on the
western coast. But this little settlement was terribly isolated from the other colonies in Australia, and in
the year 1840, one man made his way right across the great continent from east to west, to see if communication
could be established by land between the two.
Eyre, the hero of the expedition, had already made many journeys inland,—some successful, some
unsuccessful. He had driven a mob of 300 cattle through unknown country from Sydney to Adelaide, a journey
which occupied eight months. He did the same journey again, with 600 cattle and 1000 sheep, in three months,
and opened up a new trade-route between the two towns. Then he had sailed to King George's Sound, and led a
flock of sheep across 300 miles of unknown country to Perth, thus establishing a trade-route between Adelaide
Now he formed the daring plan of establishing, if possible, a trade-route by land across the desert, on the
shores of the great Australian Bight—of piercing the continent from east to west. In February 1841 a
start was made. The party had already
 been reduced to John Baxter, "a sound solid Englishman," a black man Wylie, and two companions, pack-horses,
provisions, and six sheep. And so Eyre turned his back on home and friends to traverse the thousand miles of
hideous waterless desert. It was indeed
"A waste land where no one comes
Or hath come since the making of the world."
Often he had to go for five days without a drop of fresh water. He toiled on over the summit of high unbroken
cliffs, at the foot of which broke a sailless sea, blown by furious winds rushing up from the antarctic ice.
Horse after horse dropped dead in the sand from waterless misery, the black men complained bitterly and
deserted more than once; but Eyre's courage kept the party going.
One night a tragedy occurred, which nearly ended the expedition. They were camping for the night, and Eyre had
wandered from the camp with the horses. A cold wind was blowing, scuds drove across the moon, the place was
solitary: there were no trees, below roared a rough sea. Suddenly the sound of a gun rang out, and Wylie's
voice cried, "Come here! come here!" Eyre ran back in terror, to find the camp had been robbed, Baxter slain,
and the two black men had disappeared. He was now alone in the very middle of the Great Bight, 500 miles from
help. He looked down at the dead body of his friend and away to the desolate sea
 beyond—and then in the early morning, he started on again, on, with the new horror of murder dogging his
steps. He plodded on another hundred miles, which took a month, so weak had he and Wylie grown, when relief
appeared. A French ship hove into sight. Eyre lit a fire to attract notice, and soon a boat was making for the
shore, and Eyre—wild, hungry, emaciated—was taken on board and nursed back to life by friendly
sailors. Then after another month's walk, he staggered into the English settlement of Albany—his great
adventure ended. To-day, the electric telegraph connects Adelaide and Perth by the great Australian Bight.
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