To Henry Rawlinson1    10 August 1874

Melbourne

10/8/74

Lieut. General Sir Henry Rawlinson, K.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.S., President of the Royal Geographic Society, &c &c2

 

Already by last month's mail, dear Sir Henry, I forwarded to you a brief note concerning the results of Mr. Giles's second expedition;3 but as I had my first telegram only at the eve of the post-departure from Lady Charlotte's Water,4 it is only now that I can give the R.GS. some more extended information on Mr. Giles's movements; and even these data will still be brief, inasmuch as the brave Explorer has not yet reached the settlements of the South, altho' he will likely soon be in Adelaide. On my request, his map was sent off already 2 or 3 weeks ago to the Surveyor General of S. Australia, Mr. Goyder; but you can be placed in possession of a tracing or print only by the next mail, when likely the diary will also have found its way to publicity. Suffice it now to say, that Mr Giles — though he was unprovided with Camels — advanced, while encountering a season of extreme drought to the 125 o of E. Longitude, and this on two points about 100 miles apart and in the latitude of Sharks Bay.5 At the most northern of these two positions he sighted in far western distance a range, which doubtless would have led him onward to the broken table land, in which the Rivers Murchison, Gascoyne, Ashburton, Fortesque, and de Grey arise, had not by a very sad calamity at this juncture he been forced to retreat, one of his faithful companions Mr. Gibson loosing his way and perishing in the desert, an event which casts great gloom on an otherwise brillant enterprise. The danger of straying is always great, but particularly so in a desert without landmarks and with an uniform sameness for many miles all around, while the view is shut out to any distance by sandridges. Only after all his horses, then with him, had died of thirst, Giles fell back upon his camp at a distance of 100 miles, having to walk the whole length through a sandy desert with pungent Triodia (T. irritans RBr; Festuca irritans F.v.M.) carrying some water in a cag6 with him. Having then only two companions left, — the whole party when setting out consisting only of four, — he had to abandon his course westward, altho fully half across from the central part of the overland telegraph-line to the West coast. Indeed in all probability his journey to the west-shores would have been less labourious than his return travels; as it is reasonable to suppose, that the tablelands and ranges east of Shark-Bay would send waters as drainage to the east on their inland slopes, in the reach of which Mr Giles soon must have come. He discovered and traversed however four distinct systems of ranges, irrespective of the mountains seen by him beyond the 125 meridian; but one of these ranges was subsequently also discovered by Mr. Gosse, who saw Mr. Giles's track there, when the Adelaide Explorer, in his able exploit diverted from his intended line in a latitude north of M'Donnell's Range7 to the latitudes chosen by Mr. Giles for his operations. Mr. Gosse leaving off in longitude 127o E. came earlier back to the settlements than the Victorian Explorer, and thus enjoyed priority in recording the discovery. On my request one of the ranges will be named in honor of her Imperial Highness the Princess Marie,8 as it was discovered about the time of the celebration of the Princess' Marriage, to which auspicious event thus a geographic and lasting monument will be raised in Her Majestys territory, his Excellency Sir George Bowen having given temporary permission until maps & journals are available for an official d[e]spatch by his Excellency. To myself it affords also an opportunity to show thus my gratitude to the Czar for an act of condescending generosity, which I received from his Imp. Maj. several years ago.9

In disclosing such a vast extent of territory in the central regions of Australia Mr Giles has paved the way for overland communications from the remotest inland settlements of South Australia, N. S. Wales and Queensland to the harbours of the west coast and for the occupation of the extensive inland tracts of West Australia, for pastural — and doubtless in many instances also mineral purposes —. When once a few watering place, altho' in first instance widely apart, are rendered known to steer for, then those, who follow the steps of the geographic pioneers, can easily diverge to promising places for further search of water, so as to shorten the stages of moving stock from camp to camp. Mr Giles was out 12 months in the wilderness, short of a few days.10

Numerous oases will yet be found in the deserts, if even that appellation ought to be applied to the wide extent of the more central regions of Australia as a whole. Other generations will see marvellous changes in these supposed deserts by the dissemination of perennial Grasses, Clovers, Luzern, and numerous other fodder herbs, and by draining into permanent basins the moisture which now after occasional rain falls so rapidly evaporates. And this brings to my mind, that several years ago I have over and over advised (see Bulletin de la Société d'agriculture d'Alger &c &c)11 the desirability of Caravans taking seeds of Australian Acacias and Eucalypts together with seeds of perennial grasses and pastoral herbs for dissemination during the cool season into the deserts of Africa, a splendid opportunity for the purpose, namely, when Gerh. Rohlfs crossed the Lybian Desert,12 having apparently been lost for this purpose.

Mr. Giles expeditions were both supported by private means and were planned by myself, but the second enjoyed from the South Australian Government a generous and disinterested support by a reward being given for the discoveries of the first enterprise. I think it may also fairly be said in favor of the undaunted and talented explorer Giles, that his first journey called forth those of Colonel Warburton, who late in life so gallantly again entered the arena of exploration; and also those13 of Mr Gosse & Mr Ross, the latter of whom has also just returned finding it impossible even with Dromedaries to cope with the Acacia-scrubs of the western inland regions of South-Australia.14 And more, I can say of my Victorian Exploring friend, that the indication of the various permanent waters on the map of his first expedition will greatly facilitate Mr. Forrests movements from the sources of the Murchison River Eastward. But exploration should not cease here! We ought not to rest until all the wide inland-tracts of her Majestys Australian territory are mapped and thus opened for settlements to her subjects with resources of prosperity as yet but very imperfectly understood or foreseen. Since the last quarter of a century I have left no means at my command unemployed to help fostering enthusiasm here for geographic progresses, and it is to me a source of some honest pride when I now I cast a glance on the map of the Australian Continent and compare it with that of the time when I made Australia my permanent home. Above all there remain yet to be early traversed by men of endurance skill and high-mind all the country intervening between the table land back of Shark-Bay to Kings Sound, Cambridge Gulf, and the rich and healthy basaltic undulations of Sturt's Creek, where I was with Gregory in 1856,15 while other most gloriously promising fields of research stretch from our overland telegraph line eastward to Emu Downs, M'Kinlay's range and other magnificent tracts of country on the western limits of Queensland, to all of which the establishment of the transcontinental telegraph-stations give now a comparatively safe and easy access. It is in these regions, also, where the unburied bones of Dr Leichhardt and his companions are likely bleaching in the wilderness

Let me remain, my dear General Rawlinson, your very regardful

Ferd. von Mueller

 

Postscript

It seems that I cannot get a copy of the "Daily Telegraph" of Melbourne from the 15th july,16 in which I gave a short account of the telegraphic despatches sent me by Mr Giles. So I would now just add, that he was nine times attacked by the natives, probably in the Combat for water, that on one occasion he was dragged by the savages and severely wounded and miraculously escaped.

We have in Australia not yet the real desert breed of Camels; i.e., such wonderful creatures as Gerhard Rohlfs (in the cool season it is true) could use for 36 days with only once a scanty supply of water in all that time.17

An edited version of the letter appeared in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society (1874), vol. 19, pp. 53-6, under the heading 'Mr. Giles's Second Expedition — Letter from Dr. F. von Mueller'. See B75.13.07. Grammatical and spelling changes in the published version have not been noted; major omissions are noted. There is another version in Rawson (1948),, pp. 105-8, apparently based on the Proceedings version.
The MS has been marked up for publication; annotations made by the editor have not been noted.
Note not found.
Charlotte Waters telegraph station, SA.
WA.
keg?
NT.
At M’s instigation, the Alfred and Marie Range, WA, was named in honour of Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and his wife Maria Alexandrovna, daughter of Czar Alexander II of Russia, who had married on 23 January 1874 (ODNB).
his Excellency Sir George Bowen ... several years ago. is omitted from the printed version. The Czar had presented some valuable jasper to M (M to A Petermann, 14 July 1871; and Lucas (2013a), p. 25).
Mr Giles … a few days marginal note on p. 4 of the MS.
B69.06.02; see also M to E. Drouyn de Lhuys, 7 December 1867, published in Bulletin de la Société Impériale Zoologique d'Acclimatation, series 2, vol. 6, p. 146 (B68.05.01).
Gerhard Rohlfs crossed from Tripoli on the Mediterranean through Libya, Niger and Nigeria to Lagos on the Gulf of Guinea in 1865-6.
those interlined.
& Mr Ross, … of South Australia Is omitted from the printed version.
North Australian Expedition, 1855-6.
‘Mr Giles’s Explorations’, Daily telegraph (Melbourne), 15 July 1874, p. 3. The article begins, ‘Baron von Mueller has received further telegrams from Mr. Ernest Giles…’; see E. Giles to M, 13 July 1874 (in this edition as 74-07-13a) and E. Giles to M, 14 July 1874 (in this edition as 74-07-14d).
The second PS paragraph is written in the margin of the last page of the letter.

Please cite as “FVM-74-08-10a,” in Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller, edited by R.W. Home, Thomas A. Darragh, A.M. Lucas, Sara Maroske, D.M. Sinkora, J.H. Voigt and Monika Wells accessed on 7 October 2022, https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/vonmueller/letters/74-08-10a