CHAPTER XI. THE PROBLEM OF THE RIVERS
After a dangerous and exciting journey of a week, piloting the boat through formidable barriers of snags, suddenly and unexpectedly the river current took a southern course. At two in the afternoon of January 14, the boat shot out of the Murrumbidgee into a broad and noble river with such force that the explorers were carried nearly to the bank opposite its mouth, while they 'gazed in silent wonder' upon the large channel they had entered. Nine days later a new and beautiful river was found pouring itself into the main stream, and Sturt felt sure that this was the Darling, which he had discovered, a salt and shrunken ribbon of water, 300 miles to the north-east, on his previous journey. The identity was not completely established till some years later, but Sturt's reasoning in 1830 was really sufficient to make the point clear.
The boat was carried down by the current until the Murray emptied itself into the great lake at its mouth, and the explorers saw to the westward of them the blue waters of Encounter Bay. Sturt gave to the great river the name of Sir George Murray, who happened to be Secretary of State for War and the Colonies for a few months in 1828-30. He was a man whom the Duke of Wellington took into his Cabinet because he liked him as a soldier, but who is described by an English historian as one who 'had given no signs of any capacity in debate and had displayed no qualifications for administering a civil office.' Murray had even ceased to be a minister before the news reached England that his name had been given to the trunk of the great river-system of Australia.
The total cost to the Government of equipping the expedition from which so much resulted was 265 pounds 19s. 4 3/4d.
Alexander Hume, the leader of the expedition of 1824, claimed that the Murray was simply the lower part of the river which he had discovered and named after himself; and, really, he was quite right. True, he had not explored it for more than a few miles, nor could he have done so consistently with carrying out the plan upon which he was engaged; whereas Sturt had followed it for 1,750 miles from its junction with the Murrumbidgee to the sea. But that fact does not detract from the soundness of Hume's claim; and though the river is likely to carry the name of Murray perpetually, there does not seem to be any better reason for thus celebrating an obscure politician (who, when questioned late in 1830, did not know who Sturt was or where the river was) than that it is too well established to be altered.
Sturt's two great journeys of 1828-30 were the most important pieces of inland exploration in Australian history. Others may have had more exciting adventures and endured greater hardships. Sturt himself in his expedition from Adelaide in 1844 - to be discussed hereafter - did a more desperately brave thing. But the discovery of the Darling and the exploration of the Murray to its mouth; the laying down upon the map of the main arteries of the enormous spread of river-veins which take the water from 414,253 square miles of territory - double the area of France; the opening of a new, rich, well-watered province for British colonization - this was the consummate achievement of Sturt's career as an explorer. Withal, he was a kind and considerate gentleman, 'brave as a paladin, gentle as a girl,' a leader of men who was followed by his chosen band in any risk because he was trusted and beloved. Exposure, privations, anxiety, and severe labour on these expeditions brought on bad health and a period of blindness; and he never received adequate recognition and honour for what he had done.
The Surveyor-General of New South Wales, Major Thomas Mitchell (he had been appointed to that office in 1828), did not conceal his jealousy and annoyance that Sturt was chosen to command the expeditions to solve the river problem. He himself was keen to attain fame as an explorer, and thought that the task should have been entrusted to him. But there was plenty of valuable work still to be done in this field, and Mitchell had abundant opportunities of proving his own worth. His first expeditions were to the upper Darling country in 1831 and again in 1835, when he found the great river not low as Sturt had seen it, but flowing full and sweet-watered through richly grassed country. He now discovered that Allan Cunningham's Gwydir and Dumaresq were tributaries of the Darling. The fragments of streams found by one explorer after another and marked in thin, disconnected streaks upon their maps, were becoming linked up.
In the following year, 1836, Mitchell planned his most famous expedition. He was instructed to find out whether the Darling was the same river as Sturt had found flowing into the Murray. He was somewhat doubtful of Sturt's reasoning; his jealousy apparently made him hope that Sturt was wrong. But even before he reached the point of junction he realized that the Darling was indeed a tributary of the Murray.