I now invited Mr Bryan to my tent and asked him to give me a full and clear account of all which had taken place since Mr Clarkson and his brother, after leaving him in charge, had gone on their ill-fated journey towards the Gascoyne River. He said:
“Bryan’s Report: Clarkson said that he would not be more than five days away at the outside. They only took four days’ rations with them which of course as old bushmen they could make last them for six or seven days, and as you know they could make it last much longer still, if they got into a country where there was game. When a week had passed and they did not turn up, I began to get rather anxious but made light of it to all the members of the party, saying that when they struck the Gascoyne River they would probably go on another day’s journey along the river to ascertain the nature of the country where they would possibly have to make a long stay while exploring the country further north.
Another week went by and as there was no appearance of the missing men I began to fear that something serious had happened to them, though I kept that opinion to myself. I heard many murmurings among the hands, some of whom had horses of their own among the mob. Another week went by and still there was no appearance of our leader. Then the men came to me and said these men must be dead or they would have returned before now, and intimated to me that they intended to make their way back to Geraldton and from thence home. At this I made a compromise with them. I knew that if they left me that I could do nothing with the stock by myself.
I proposed that two of them should go with me in search of the Clarksons and if we were unsuccessful we could then return and consider what was best to be done. This they agreed to, and accordingly the next morning I left accompanied by two hands. We were well mounted and armed and provided with provisions and waterbags. The weather was intensely hot and by the second day all the water in our bags was exhausted and we began to feel the bitter pain of intense thirst. We kept on however in hopes of finding water but there was no sign, nothing but a blazing sun above and a parched thirsty earth under our feet.
I knew now that to keep on would certainly mean a terrible death to all of us. Therefore there was no alternative but to re-trace our steps while the horses were in a fit state to travel. They already shewed signs of fatigue and want of water. We travelled all through that night with the hot East wind flowing in our faces. Hour after hour we moved slowly and painfully along, and at 9 o’clock the next day we halted in what little shade we could find under some mulga trees tying the horses up. Our thirst was so great that we could not rest, and again made a start for the camp. All through the dreadful heat of that long day we toiled painfully and slowly along driving our now completely exhausted animals before us, and at last reached the camp utterly exhausted. I have often thought since that we turned back only just in time. Had we gone on for another day and failed to find water we should certainly have perished.
Now my trouble began with the party. They were greatly disheartened and those who owned horses and saddles among them wished to return to Geraldton. I reasoned with them all I could, and impressed upon them that the only chance of getting our pay was to stick to the stock. All but two agreed with me. These two then got their own horses and returned to Geraldton.
The weather was now more intensely hot than ever and the animals were coming in to water every hour in the twenty-four, and as we were now two hands shorter than before we had very little rest, as we had to be constantly drawing water day and night.
The clouds were now banking up in the East every day looking like great mountain ranges covered with snow. I knew that this was a good sign for the tropical rains and I hoped and prayed for it to come to relieve us from the terrible strain which was upon us in having to keep up a water supply night and day for more than a thousand head of animals.
I was sure now from these signs that it would not be long before the rain came, so we prepared for it by building some good strong huts, which we thatched with some long dry grass growing along the banks of the river, which we cut with our sheath knives. We now got all our provisions, ammunition &c. into one of these and our bedding and clothing into the others, and it was well that we had made this provision for now the rain came and it poured upon us in torrents. It simply streamed down until the whole country was like one great sheet of water, and for two days and nights we were confined to our huts which were weather-tight and comfortable. Fortunately we had built them upon some rising ground some little distance back from the river flats. Though we had collected a good supply of wood, it was impossible to keep up a fire in the continuous pouring rain, so that for that two days we lived on what damper and cold meat we had by us. As the glorious rain was so welcome we did not mind this inconvenience, as we knew what a blessing it was to us. No more water drawing now.
On the morning of the third day the rain was all over, and it left the country very boggy. Having secured one or two of the quiet hacks I went round the herd of cattle which were in the vicinity of the camp, expecting to find many of them bogged, but only found two or three which we soon released. Through never having suffered from want of water they had kept up their strength and were able to get through the boggy ground fairly well.
Now that the rain had come and there was no more laborious work watering cattle and horses day and night, I felt more independent. I knew that I had two men in the party who would stay by me through anything, so that if those members of the party who had before wished to return, still wished to do so, I could have spared them very well as we had now nothing to do but to keep the animals together which as we were provided with plenty of good horses, we could manage easily. I knew that it would not be long before a new leader would be appointed.”
[Brockman continues] I may here state that under my agreement with Messrs Padbury Loton & Co, who were agents for the owners of the stock, I had full power to make whatever arrangements I considered best for the carrying out of the expedition successfully. Therefore, knowing that I had a strong determined and able man in Mr Wm. Bryan I raised his pay and made him second-in-command. In the evening therefore when all were in camp, I called them together and informed them of what I had done, and that in future all orders from me would come through Mr Bryan, explaining to them at the same time that in all expeditions of this nature it was necessary to have a second- in-command duly appointed by authority, and that in case anything should happen to me Mr Bryan would at once assume command of the party, in which case I felt sure that they would do all in their power to assist him in making a success of the object in view. In this they kept their word like good men and true – for on that long and trying journey I never had one single complaint from any one of my party. If they had any little petty grievances they kept it from me, biding the time until they reached the end of the journey – of which more hereafter.