“Mr. Burke’s return being so soon after my departure caused the tracks of his camels to correspond in the character of age exactly with our own tracks. The remains of three separate fires led us to suppose that blacks had been camped there...The ground above the cache was so perfectly restored to the appearance it presented when I left it, that in the absence of any fresh sign or mark of any description to be seen near, it was impossible to suppose that it had been disturbed.”
The story of the lost explorers created intense excitement throughout the other colonies. Queensland, as the colony wherein the explorers were supposed to have met with disaster, sent out two search parties. The Victoria, a steam sloop, was sent up to the mouth of the Albert River in the Gulf of Carpentaria, having on board William Landsborough, with George Bourne as second in command, and a small and efficient party; another Queensland expedition, under Fred Walker, left the furthest station in the Rockhampton district; and from South Australia John McKinlay started to traverse the continent on much the same line of route as that taken by the unhappy men.
15.1. John Mckinlay.
John McKinlay was born at Sandbank, on the Clyde, in 1819. He first came to the colony of New South Wales in 1836, and joined his uncle, a prosperous grazier, under whose guidance he soon became a good bushman with an ardent love of bush life. He took up several runs near the South Australian border, and thenceforth became associated with that province.
In 1861 he was appointed leader of the South Australian relief party and started from Adelaide on October 26th. On arriving at Blanche Water, he heard a vague rumour from the blacks that white men and camels had been seen at a distant inland water; but put little faith in the story. He traversed Lake Torrens, and, striking north, crossed the lower end of Cooper’s Creek at a point where the main watercourse is lost in a maze of channels. Here he learned definite and particular details respecting the rumoured white men, and thinking there might be some groundwork of truth in the report, he now pressed forward to the locality indicated. Having formed a depot camp, he went ahead with two white men and a native. Passing through a belt of country with numerous small shallow lakelets, they came to a watercourse whereon they found signs of a grave, and they picked up a battered pint-pot. Next morning, feeling sure that the ground had been disturbed with a spade, they opened what proved to be a grave, and in it found the body of a European, the skull marked, so McKinlay states, with two sabre cuts. He noted down the description of the body, the locality, and its surroundings; and in view of these particulars, it has been stated that the body was that of Gray, who died in the neighbourhood.*