Stuart’s health was fast failing, and his horses were sadly reduced in strength. He therefore started back the day after the consummation of his dearest ambition. On his way south, after leaving Newcastle Waters, he found the water in many of the short creeks heading from the Ashburton Range to be rapidly diminishing; in some there was none left, in others it was fast drying. The horses commenced to give in rapidly one after the other, and more were lost on successive dry stages. Stuart himself thought that he would never live to see the settled districts. Scurvy had brought him down to a lamentable state, and after all his hard-won success, it seemed as though he would not profit by it. His right hand had become useless to him, and his eyes lost power of sight after sunset. He could not undergo the pain of riding, and a stretcher had to be slung between two horses to carry him on. With painful slowness they crept along until they reached Mount Margaret, the first station. Here the leader, reduced to a mere skeleton, was furnished with a little relief; and after resting and gaining a little strength, he rode on to Adelaide.
This was Stuart’s last expedition; for he never recovered his health nor former eyesight. He was rewarded by the government of the colony which he had served so well, and was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society. He went to reside in England, where he died in the year 1869, on the 16th of July.
[Illustration. Robert O’Hara Burke. From a photograph in the possession of E.J. Welch, of the Howitt Relief Expedition.
Illustration. William John Wills. From a photo in possession of E.J. Welch, of the Howitt Relief Expedition.
Illustration. John King. From a photo in the possession of E.J. Welch.]
We have now to deal with an exploring expedition of greater notoriety than that of any similar enterprise in the annals of Australia, though its results in the way of actual exploration in the true meaning of the term were quite insignificant. The expedition could not reasonably hope to reveal any new geographical conditions; for the nature of the country to be traversed was fairly well-known: there was no such expanse of unknown territory along the suggested course of travel as to justify the anticipation of any discovery of magnitude. Both Kennedy and Gregory had followed much the same line of route when tracing the course of the Barcoo and Cooper’s Creek, a short distance to the eastward. The only apparent motive for the expedition seems to have been not particularly creditable, the desire to outdo Stuart, who after nearly accomplishing the task might well have been allowed the honour of completing it. But Time is after all the great arbitrator: Stuart re-entered Adelaide successful, on the same day that the bodies of Burke and Wills arrived for shipment to Melbourne.