Private Sheridan

In the absence of Western Australian Exploration Private Thomas Sheridan would be only a footnote in the history of exploration in Western Australia. He was described as a ‘servant’ of Ensign Robert Dale but more correctly he was a ‘batman’ or orderly. Sheridan accompanied Dale on eight explorations:

    Mr Robert Dale’s 1st First Excursion to Trace the Helena River, in October, 1829.
    Mr Robert Dale’s excursion to trace the Helena River, December 1829.
    Ensign Robert Dale’s expedition to trace the Swan River, 7 to 22 April 1830.
    Robert Dale’s expedition to explore the ‘interior of this Country to the Eastward of Darling Mountains.’
    Ensign Robert Dale’s examination an opening in the Mountains ESE from Perth, 15 to 17 June 1830.
    Mr Dale’s second Journal of an expedition whilst Exploring the country Eastward of Darlings Range.
    Ensign Robert Dale on an expedition to examine the country 40 miles to the northward of Swan River, 30 November to 6 December 1830.
    An Excursion undertaken to North and South of Mt Bakewell.

G.F. Moore observed Sheridan’s behaviour and eccentricities on the September 1831 trip north and south of Mount Bakewell:

    9 September 1831.
    Next morning – party leave at 7 1/2 – remain behind with several to dry our clothes: Mr Thompson carried my clothes and provisions along with his own on his horse. He had a saucepan (the only cooking utensil) for our mess. Mr Adgett joined our mess also. It was here I first took notice of Mr Dale’s servant “Sheridan” a soldier. He was afterwards a great source of amusement. Well Sheridan How did you pass last night? – Why Sir I just lay on that ‘dentical spot all night beside the fire rain or no rain for I thought I might as well keep one side dry any way – the side that was “in under me” – Morning or evening – wet or dry – busy or idle, Sheridan whistled or sung without ceasing. It was his duty to wheel a perambulator (an instrument for measuring the distance) and off he started with it this morning singing with Stentorian voice the old drum- beat “Tither rõw dõw dõw dõw Tither ither rõw dõw Tither ither rõw dõw dõw.” The thing is too large in proportion. Nothing remarkable on this days journey – change the course a little to wind round a steep hill and come to a watered valley at the end of 4? miles; here we stop & had a 
pleasant quiet bivouac about 100 yards from a sedgy, swampy stream of good water, one of our party slept in the hollowed part of a tree & one sloped his blanket (like half the roof of a house) from a rope tied to two blackboys.

A fortnight later Moore continued his observations of Sheridan:

    22 September 1831.
    Thursday 22nd start at 7 – land bad with ridges of good intersecting it – a run of fresh water – come to a long deep & narrow lake of fresh water – 4 miles long – 80 or 100 yards wide – amazing quantity of ducks on it. Sheridan’s mode of calculation was quite Irish, 1000 Sir? Why 1000 would not be missed out of them.

    Dale shoots a black swan. I swim in for it & try the depth in several places – about 6 feet, land but indifferent – samphire & Hottentot fig (a species of sedum) on the margin – variable country – no run of fresh water seen into the lake – see a large native dog – chase another of those little animals into a hollowed tree, succeed in getting it, suppose it to be an ant eater from the length of its tongue & other reasons – its colour is yellowish barred with black & white streaks across the hinder part of the back – length about 12 inches. (I have 
examined several books since & think it a nondescript)[a numbat] Preserved the skin & presented it to Mrs Stirling) find some
water in pools – at 5 1/2 meet with stream running eastward – & much better soil but loose & sandy – boil the swan & have great eating. Once for all remember it is quite undignified to talk of eating or drinking on such occasions, but as I write only for your information to shew you familiarly how we fared, it is little matter how the public feel or with respect to it.

Sheridan’s efforts allayed their thirst:

    4 October 1831.
    Tuesday morning, fearing that the natives would pay us an early visit & not thinking it prudent to allow them to see our provisions as we were on limited allowance, we hastened our preparations, but had scarcely commenced breakfast when they began to come in numbers so we packed up & proceeded. Dale (having a servant to arrange for him) had got his breakfast. I had swallowed half of mine. Thompson had scarcely tasted his & Sheridan had got none – their manner was friendly – they came by parcels some sat down beside us – some remained at different distances as we signed to them – saw no arms – some old men some boys – curiosity seemed their object – tried to keep up conversation with them – went to the different parties, shook hands & said Good bye We counted 31 yet did not see either of those who spoke to us the evening before – perhaps they were in the background with their arms & the women & children – proceed & fall in with the river again forming a deep broad & long reach – shot a brace of ducks & swim for them – find the stream run nearly in our course – fall in with it again at another long deep reach running through a beautifully picturesque country, high hills rising abruptly from either side – halt & ascend a hill – nothing remarkable to be seen except a native fire at a distance – hilly country – follow the stream some way when it seems to run more to the west, cross it and ascend a hill & pass over rocky broken country (granite fragments), get upon high table land – barren – Mahogany – red gums & white gums – nothing of life.

    Towards evg anxious about water find none – halt near sunset, council of war My proposal to look for water rejected – very dull – our horses knocked up & ourselves provokingly thirsty. Sheridan takes his gun & runs to look comes back laughing with intelligence that there is a shallow swamp with water not 100 yards off – how droll if we had gone without it all night – have a fine dinner of ducks – sleep on the ground & sleep well on blackboy rushes strewed thickly under – cloak & canvas over.

By Kim Epton
Series Editor