Drawing the Downs: Thomas Domville Taylor
Timothy Roberts, HGRC Visiting Fellow, 2019 to 2021

Search party’s camp at Leichhardt River, Queensland, 27 August 1845 / Thomas Domville Taylor (National Library of Australia, call number PIC MSR Volume 1191 #PIC/20299/52)

In July 1844 Rolland and Taylor dissolved their business partnership. Taylor negotiated a new partnership for Tummaville with a member of the Ross family. This venture was short-lived; within a year Taylor left Tummaville to take part in an expedition mounted by Christopher Pemberton Hodgson to search for explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. A search party consisting of Hodgson, Taylor, James Rogers, Frederick Isaac, William Calvert, Peter Glynne (a servant of Pemberton Hodgson), and two indigenous guides, Bobby and Chinchimar (Johnny), was formed, and set out from nearby Jimbour Station on 8 August 1845.

The land beyond Jimbour was largely unexplored by white settlers and explorers in Australia, and known only to indigenous communities and Pemberton Hodgson, who had travelled with Leichhardt for part of his journey through the region. The search party travelled westward from Jimbour station for two days until they reached the Condamine River, from where they commenced a passage north-west for 24 days, searching for campsites, bullock tracks, and any other evidence of Leichhardt’s party visiting the region. Within the first week of their travels they had reached a campsite abandoned by Leichhardt’s expedition, which Taylor loosely sketched on August 16 while the party was resting, maintaining their equipment, and surveying their position.

The following day the party continued their journey, following Dogwood Creek for 4 miles before changing course to the north-west, only to be met with impenetrably dense brigalow scrub. After attempts to clear the scrub over two days, the party agreed that Leichhardt could not have passed through such inhospitable bushland and altered their path to a northerly direction, passing through scrubby country before locating another camp of Leichhardt’s on 21 August. A few days later the party reached a large water hole where they came into contact with a large community of indigenous people. Describing the landscape and contact, Taylor wrote in his expedition diary on 25 August:

At about 11a.m. came on a large lagoon, very broad and perhaps 2 miles long. It is a magnificent sheet of water and covered with wild foul of all descriptions. The native name of this lagoon is Euröonbah – it is the largest and only body of water we have seen since leaving the Condamine. We followed its long reaches and opposite steep banks which were covered with a dense scrub amongst which the graceful Myall was seen bending gracefully over the water similar to the willow.
In consequence of meeting with back waters running with the lagoon we were obliged to leave it and proceed quietly on our way to round them, when we came suddenly on a large party of blacks fishing, but so intent on their occupation that we rode close up to the waters edge before they perceived us and were for some time quiet spectators of their amusement. An old ‘Gin’ who was sat down at a fire on the opposite side at length saw us and quickly uttering a loud yell dived instantaneously into an adjoining scrub followed by gins and piccaninies [sic] made a desperate rush up the bank abandoning huts, fish and even their beloved dogs.
Two black fellows, who had bathed seized their spears, brought up the rear, and these with some difficulty we persuaded to stop and hold a parley with us. Johnny tho’ not quite conversant with their language was nevertheless able to ascertain from them that they had seen Leichardt’s [sic] party some moons ago. They furthermore stated that the waters we were upon went away N.E. into a large body of salt water coming from the sea. Some of us went over and had a conference; in the meantime an old mammy who had taken up her position behind a tree and was narrowly watching our movements, seeing that we were friendly returned and commenced carrying off all the valuables from the camp. In one of her nets was a large eel which the old woman gave us, in exchange we gave the blackfellows some tobacco which they returned after tasting and smiling not knowing what it was, some strips of handkerchiefs appeared more acceptable. [16]

The party continued their search for another 9 days. Along the journey Taylor took another sketch of the party when camped, domiciling themselves under hastily fashioned gunyahs to protect them from sporadic rainfall. The rains made fresh water more plentiful in the otherwise dry central Queensland landscape, but made it more difficult to discern the tracks left by Leichhardt’s expedition party. As the party marched on, patience wore thin and tensions flared. In the early hours of 1 September, the group discovered Hodgson asleep when he was meant to be on piquet to protect the camp. Taylor wrote:

About 3 o’clock the next morning whilst most of us were sound asleep we were suddenly around by the report of gun and immediately sprang to our arms prepared to encounter whatever danger might be in store for us; of its description we were not long ignorant for a loud voice was calling to know whose watch it was and no answer was returned. The watch himself no less a person than Hodgson, in being busily engaged in not looking for us but in looking out for himself, being snugly envelopped [sic] in his blankets and coiled away in a warm corner of his gunya where he was found asleep. Had this been the first time such an occurrence taking place a gentle call to him would have been all necessary, but being the third time it was thought advisable by those awake to fire a gun and rouse all hands so that the event might be publicly known to us all which would most probably have the effect of shaming him into doing his duty. [17]

On 3 September, the party again fell into disagreement, this time with explosive outbursts. Taylor recounted the incident:

We then bore away from the creek striking across ridges until we arrived at some very high ranges spurs which formed a series of valleys thro’ which the gullies tributaries of the sandy creek take their course. These ranges we could perceive as we advanced were spurs running away from a very high range on our right and the direction of which was from SE to NW being probably a spur of the Main Range. It was therefore evident to us that the course that Hodgson was steering but of which he had not informed any of us would if continued had us over very broken country, gully after gully and tier over tier of mountains should we either ascend the range and head the gullies, or descend and get to the creek which we could follow up easily and which moreover would not lead us much out of the course in which we considered we should sooner or more readily fall in with Dr Leichardt’s tracks and by pursuing the latter plan we should have a chance of finding his camp should he have struck on the creek higher or follow it any distance. We therefore on arriving at the summit of a very high range and very rocky as many we had previously crossed, halted and called to Hodgson who was on ahead to come back and hold a consultation, as it is usual in the Bush under such circumstances.
On coming back to us we mentioned in a quiet way the substance of our opinion as before named hinting that it would be advisable to change our course until we had cleared the broken country ahead of us. To this Hodgson who evidently was in no good humour as it is often the case with him replied “that it was my course and to that I mean to stick”. Some very high words passed Hodgson taunting us with being afraid of mountains. We replied we were ourselves no new hands in the Bush and were determined not to follow him in any wild goose chase, but we were anxious to find Dr Leichardt’s tracks. As we found it out of the question to reason with him we considered the best plan was part. On Hodgson advancing in a furious rage to take the saddle off Rodger’s horse Rodgers said having ridden the horse out on the expedition he had a right to take him in again. On this Hodgson drew his sword and swore he would have Rodgers horse of his blood. We divided the rations, Rodgers, Taylor & Isaac & Johnny taking enough for nearly three weeks to enable us to reach the downs. Hodgson left us with the rest of the party proceeding the very way we wished him to go. We had in our party six horses including two for pack belonging to ourselves bidding forward except Hodgson; returned to our last night’s camp wishing to have the evening to arrange our plans preparatory to making an early start on the morrow. [18]

Taylor’s description of events largely corroborates with Pemberton Hodgson’s own account of the incident, though Hodgson’s account omits the severity of the tension in the camp. Musing on his time in Australia, Hodgson wrote:

After proceeding six miles in a N. 60° W. course, and crossing over three spurs of sandstone ranges, very steep and rocky, running to the south-west, and being in advance with my blackfellow Bobby, nearly a quarter of a mile, I found the rest of the party had halted.
Not knowing the reason, I cooïed, and received an answer. I then imagined something had happened to the packs, and waited patiently. I was soon undeceived; on walking back to those behind, I found them quietly smoking their pipes, and looking so fierce, that it appeared almost dangerous to approach them. One of the party, on my inquiring the reason of the delay, said, he was determined to proceed no further in that line, it being too steep and mountainous, and not a right course. I told him and all, that N. 60° W. was my line, and I intended to pursue it till I met with some more grievous impediment, and that any might return who did not wish to proceed with me.
The attack came very unreasonably from a man, who was then using two horses I had lent him, and to whom their sacrifice, therefore; could not be any loss. Had it come directly for the two who alone had their own horses, I might have listened more patiently; as it was I found there was an equal division; so I determined on giving the four who wished to return three weeks supply of everything; a suitable supply rations &c., was accordingly weighed out and delivered over.
The young man to whom I lent the horses wanted to stick to his; but that not suiting my ideas of “suum cuique,” I insisted on a resignation, which was at last acceded to – not that I wished to see them pushed for the means of conveyance; but I knew there was a sufficient number independent of my own. The scene ended, therefore, unpleasantly to all; but I congratulated myself that it was only two days before it had been generally agreed that all of us should make a retrograde movement, as our four weeks term was expired, and there was no probability of doing more than we had done without going the whole way which were not in a situation to do. I had some time before mentioned to the rest of my plans, namely, to proceed N. 60° W. in as direct a line as possible till we ought to cross the Doctor’s line, supposing he had gone his N.W. course, from the spot on which we last saw signed. This we were within ten miles of, and, therefore, I would not willingly give up my plan; but it is over, and I have no doubt some of them regret their conduct, as much as I did the necessity of shewing determination. [19]

The party split, with Taylor, James Rogers, Frederick Isaac, and indigenous guide Johnny returning to Jimbour station, and Hodgson, William Calvert, Peter Glynne and indigenous guide Bobby proceeding forward. On the return journey, Taylor continued to sketch scenery, producing a drawing titled Mt Domville on the Leichhardt River on 6 September. On 10 September, the two parties met again. Taylor wrote;

During this time Rogers and Taylor were engaged at the camp making the tea and Isaac and Johnny were having a “piola” with the blacks, the attention of all of us whites and blacks was drawn towards a man who came riding up at full gallop sword in hand to our camp and our doubts as to who it was were soon dispelled by seeing Hodgson, his look as wild as ever and from his appearance we were at first inclined to imagine that he must have been hunted by the blacks.
On coming to our camp he suddenly halted, and no notice being taken of him he asked Roger’s and Taylor “if they had nothing to say” an don being told “no” he wheeled around and made up to Isaac to whom he observed that “that day we parted and now we meet again”; a short “yes” being the answer he clapped spurs to his horse and rode back to his camp. Calvert soon afterwards came to see us and was of course heartily welcomed. [20]

The parties continued their return separately, with Taylor’s party discovering an indigenous mortuary platform, described by Taylor as a “pooram”, near Dogwood Creek. Writing in his dairy, Taylor noted:

On going to it we found it was four forked sticks about 12 ft. long dove into the ground with cross pieces laid on them and on these again a number of sapplings [sic] laid broadways which had been erected by the blacks as a sort of a repository for their dead. When a black dies his body is carried for a long distance and one of these things erected on which it is laid partly decomposed and eaten by the crows and Hawks. The bones are then carefully taken down and wrapped up and carried about by the friends of the deceased with much care for some time. They probably imagine there is much charm in them and that they transmit to their possessors some of the good qualities inherent to the departed when he lived. Our black boy Johnny from superstitious reasons was afraid to venture near the spot. [21]

Taylor subsequently produced a loose sketch of the structure, this being a rare visual account of indigenous Australian burial practices, and almost certainly a unique representation of such architecture produced in colonial Queensland.

Taylor and his three companions returned joyfully to Jimbour station on 19 September 1845, firing all their guns as a salute when they saw the homestead on the horizon. Hodgson and his remaining party arrived two days later, bringing the 6-week journey to an end. Hodgson sent a report of the expedition to the Sydney Morning Herald, which was published in that newspaper on 11 October. [22] Taylor’s detailed diary was never published, but analysis of this document will reveal much about the flora and fauna along the expedition route, along with Taylor’s observations indigenous Australian culture that he encountered during the expedition.

16. Thomas John Domville Taylor, Journal of the expedition in search of Leichhardt, 1845 [Manuscript]. National Library of Australia PIC MSR 14/1/6 Volume 1190 #PIC/20229/1-2.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Christopher Pemberton Hodgson, Reminiscences of Australia: with hints on the squatter’s life. London: W.N. Wright, 1846, pp. 343-345.
20. Thomas John Domville Taylor, Journal of the expedition in search of Leichhardt, 1845 [Manuscript]. National Library of Australia PIC MSR 14/1/6 Volume 1190 #PIC/20229/1-2
21. Ibid.
22. Christopher Pemberton Hodgson, ‘Leichardt’s Party’, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 1845, p. 2.