John and George

This poem is not about two dead Beatles.  It concerns two explorers: Sir George Grey (1812-1898) and John Septimus Roe (1797-1878), my great great grandfather.  George went on to become Governor of South Australia, Governor of New Zealand twice, Governor of Cape Colony (South Africa), and Premier of New Zealand.  John was Western Australia’s first Surveyor General for 42 years, and was a noted explorer of regions of Western Australia.  This poem is based on the journals of Grey and Roe.

In 1837
George sailed a small vessel
from the Cape of Good Hope
to Hanover Bay
in Australia’s north west
to explore
and survey the coast.
His troubles began.
short of Hanover Bay
they landed at High Bluff Point.
George and his men
decided to walk.
But it was December
and it was hot
and they took only
two pints of water.
Their three dogs dropped dead.
George swam across the inlet
to signal the schooner
and they fired distress signals
from their guns.
The boat rescued them
and headed for Timor.
It returned with 26
half broken ponies
sheep and goats.
The rainy season set in
stock were dying.
Slowed down in
steep ravines and gullies
with half wild ponies
natives attacked and
George was badly wounded.
He found a river and
named it after Lord Glenelg,
his sponsor.
They followed it until
flooding forced them to
retrace their steps.
George sailed to Mauritius.

In 1839
George tried again
to explore the north west coast
in an American whaler
and three whale boats
with four former companions
a young volunteer Frederick Smith
five men
and one native.
They landed on Bernier Island
at the northern end of Shark Bay.
They left supplies in a depot
and their troubles began.
The whaler sailed away
with their supply of tobacco.
There was no water on the island
and one boat was smashed
as they tried to leave
stores were lost.
Forced to land on Dorre Island
by a violent storm
two of the boats were wrecked.
After repairs
they made it to the mainland
and found some fresh water.
George named the Gascoyne River
and they went further north.
Both boats were swamped
and provisions damaged.
Sick, hungry and weary
they waited a week
for the wind to drop.
They returned to Bernier Island
but a hurricane had swept in
and scattered their stores.
They had half a barrel of flour
buried in seaweed and
a barrel of salt provisions.
George put out to sea again
surveyed the coast within Shark Bay
and the surrounding country
and reached Gantheaume Bay.
His boat was dashed upon rock
as they tried to land.
The other boat was damaged
both boats beyond repair.
George’s only option now
was to walk to Perth
300 miles
with 20 pounds of damaged flour
barely edible
and one pound each of salt pork.
They argued about how best to proceed.
Short walks with long rests or
long rests with short walks.
Several men insisted on carrying articles
cordage, canvas, duck.
Men who refused to abandon their loads
were first to become exhausted.
Concerned for everyone’s survival
George pressed ahead
with those few men
fit and willing
to reach Perth
and send a relief party.
About 25 miles from Perth
they met a party of natives
who supplied a good native meal
and nursed them
like children.

In May 1839
John left Perth
with policemen and
Aboriginal guides
and horses
to rescue the trailing men.
He found three men
Ruston, Stiles and Clatworthy
gazing hopelessly at
a rocky headland
without the strength
to climb over it.
As John described it,
one man on his knees
with hands uplifted
supplicating assistance
from that Power
by whose will alone
it had now
been sent to them.
They all declared their
firm conviction
they could not have
proceeded forward
another day and should
have given it up
as hopeless.
They had left Frederick Smith
the volunteer
a few days since
in a dying state
six or seven miles
to the north.
John and his men
lifted the three men onto the horses
and conveyed them
to a place
above the sand hills
made a fire
and revived them
with boiled sago
rice, water and brandy.
John went with
one of the men and
an Aboriginal guide Warrup
and Ruston
to find Frederick Smith.
Warrup saw the traces
of feet in the sand
they ascended a bare sand hill
turned short round to the left
and there lay Frederick
Florence Nightingale’s cousin
extended on his back
in the midst of a thick bush.
He seemed to have laid down to sleep
half enveloped in his blanket.
His canteen quite empty
haversack with his few requisites
and his felt hat that lay near him.
His spirit seemed to have fled
from the dreadfully emaciated body
between two and three days ago.
They buried his remains
in the sand
uttered a short prayer
and smoothing over his solitary bed
placed at the head of his grave
a piece of wood found on the beach.


Copyright    Sandra Roe



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