Charles Sturt’s Inland Expedition left Adelaide in August 1844 but was stranded at a depot near Milparinka until rain fell in July 1845.
Sturt’s second in command, James Poole, had been suffering from scurvy and died as he was being evacuated to Adelaide. Some of the party continued back to South Australia after burying Poole, while the remaining expedition members resumed surveying toward Lake Pinnaroo, reaching there on 29 July 1845.
From their new camp, a survey team continued toward Lake Torrens. Sturt joined them but turned back to the camp on the 11th of August 1845 when he realised that there was no way forward.
Sturt set out for the north-west a few days later accompanied by Browne, Flood, Lewis and Cowley. Starving, almost perishing and exhausted, they reached Eyre Creek Desert on September 8th but returned to Fort Grey on October 1st 1845.
Sturt headed out again, taking Stuart, Mack and Morgan with him and leaving Browne in charge at Fort Grey. The men reached the Strzelecki Creek on the 11th and a few days’ later Cooper Creek. Sturt had planned to go further east but rainfall encouraged him to head to the north instead, only to again be forced to retreat.
From Cooper Creek, the party made one more desperate attempt until on November 3rd they finally accepted the futility of their efforts. Sick, almost blind, Sturt retreated to Fort Grey.
“The dry bed of that dead river, which rose in the plains of inland Queensland, and vanished in the salt-pans of Lake Eyre without knowing the sea, was the most eerie and haunted spot I have ever visited.”
Before leaving camp for the north-west Sturt left instructions that a “stockyard,” in which to herd the cattle at night, should be made, and that a garden bed should be prepared and planted with pumpkins and melons.
He also gave instructions to erect a small stockade with close palisades four feet six inches high, and to have one tent within this stockade in which to deposit all the arms and ammunition.
The final instruction was to prepare and paint the boat in the event of it being needed.
On his departure Sturt had given instructions that if the men were forced to retreat from the stockade they should fall back to Depot Glen. With drinking water scarce and putrid, on November 6th Browne made the decision to leave.
A message bottle was buried beneath a tree marked with a blazed “STURT 1845” and an arrow.
Sturt returned to Fort Grey on 13th November 1845, two weeks later than planned, and found the stockade abandoned. Ill and disappointed, he and his men rode on, and met the rest of the expedition near The Depot four days later.
(Map to show Fort Grey, Eyre Creek, Strzelecki Creek, Cooper Creek, Lake Torrens, Yandama Creek, The Depot)
Goulburn Herald and Chronicle (NSW : 1864 – 1881), Saturday 8 July 1876, page 8
“Wonderful Preservation of Timber
Mr. C. A. Quin, while out at Fort Grey, found a stockade which, on reference to Sturt’s diary, a copy of which he had with him, he found had been erected by Sturt’s party thirty years and eleven months previous to his finding it. Out of curiosity he dug up one or two of the posts, and to his astonishment found they were in a perfect state of preservation, and were as sound as the day when they were put in the ground, nearly thirty-one years ago.
Lying close to the stockade was a large log, which had been squared on one side, the square side being on the ground; on turning this over they found the surface slightly decayed, but on chipping it with a tomahawk, it was found to be perfectly sound within a quarter of an inch of the surface. The timber was box.
It is seldom we hear of timber being in the ground and remaining in a state of perfect preservation for thirty-one years. The probability is it will remain sound for another thirty years”. – Wilcannia Times.
In 2006 an archaeological team identified a site which they believe was the stockade site but the evidence is inconclusive.
By the 1870s most of the land west of the Darling River had been taken up by squatters. The property sizes were extensive, and sheep numbers reached 50 thousand head or more, but the impact of rabbit plagues and successive years of drought saw the numbers of sheep run decline rapidly during the 1890s.
Fort Grey and the adjoining Tilcha block were first taken by the family of the Hon John Crozier, before being sold to the Dawes family toward the end of the 1880s. It was added to Yandama and eventually passed to Sidney Kidman.
When the leases expired in 1944, properties were divided into smaller areas. The new Fort Grey lease was taken up by Charlie Hotchin who was, at that time, managing Mount Sturt Station. It became part of Sturt National Park in the 1970s.
When Charles Sturt came upon Lake Pinaroo it was already the home of several local Aboriginal families whose homes were built on the dunes surrounding the lake.
Lake Pinaroo is a terminal lake in the Simpson-Strzelecki Dunefield region. It fills from flood waters from Fromes Creek to become a wetland area surrounded by black box trees, and the breeding ground for many local desert birds such as budgerigars.
Lake Pinaroo was listed as a Ramsar site in 1996.
A terminal basin retains water, because it has no outflows to other bodies of water such as rivers or the ocean.
A blazed tree that has become known as Sturt’s Tree is located near Fort Grey where Browne and his party left a bottle for Sturt when they retreated back to The Depot. It is inscribed with an arrow above the name “STURT” and the date 1845.
There is doubt that it is authentic with a suggestion that the blaze was actually cut in 1923 by Government Surveyor AW Mullen.