From January until July 1845 Charles Sturt expedition men were forced to camp alongside a waterhole in a creek that emerges from the rugged Grey Ranges west of Milparinka. Sturt named the creek Preservation Creek, and referred to the locality as The Depot or Depot Glen as it is now known.
During their encampment there Sturt mounted several local expeditions in order to ascertain whether there were other waterholes in the area but generally finding nothing of substance he and the men accompanying him returned to The Depot.
James Poole becoming increasingly ill with scurvy during this period, and ordered that the men dig an underground room in which he might be more comfortable. Daniel Brock, also a member of the expedition described thus:
“28th. The Captain has determined to form a depot on this water—from hence he hopes to be able to finish his work, which will be done with the horses. All we want is rain. As it is likely we shall remain here some months, Mr. Poole is determined to have a comfortable place to pass his time in; nothing must do but it must be an underground affair, so hurrah for picks and shovels, for the spot he has chosen is as hard as baked clay and stones can be it is to be 7 feet deep—16 feet wide and 12 feet long. The men not very particularly engaged were set to work— having birds to skin—I could not be among the number; the thing has caused a great deal of grumbling”.
5th. Having dug out the hole, we must now provide the roof. It is highly probable the Captain would have had some sort of dwelling place erected, to have freed him from the inconvenience of his marquee during the time we locate here, but such an out of the way concern of which Poole is architect never would have been thought of had not Poole determined to be very comfortable, careless at whose expense. The labor of digging has been great, but 35 trees are to be sawed, some of them more than 2 foot through. At this work we have been these last two or three days and it has right well tired us.
6th. We have laid the timber over the hole, and sufficient it is to bear up 500 tons.
7th. Covered the top over with brush wood and then mixed up mud and well plastered it, after which all the soil dug out was thrown over the whole. I must say it is a very unique looking dwelling house. Poole has been cursed, most dreadfully cursed.
There have been many searches over the years for the underground room but no definite location identified.
The silcrete cairn built on top of Mount Poole has survived far better than the underground room and remains a beacon for the many visitors to the site each year.
Sturt actually intended it as a beacon also. He wrote,
One day, when I was sitting with Mr. Poole, he suggested the erection of two stations, one on the Red Hill and the other on the Black Hill, as points for bearings when we should leave the Depôt. The idea had suggested itself to me, but I had observed that we soon lost sight of the hills in going to the north-west; and that, therefore, for such a purpose, the works would be of little use, but to give the men occupation; and to keep them in health I employed them in erecting a pyramid of stones on the summit of the Red Hill. It is twenty-one feet at the base, and eighteen feet high, and bears 329° from the camp, or 31° to the west of north. I little thought when I was engaged in that work, that I was erecting Mr. Poole’s monument, but so it was, that rude structure looks over his lonely grave, and will stand for ages as a record of all we suffered in the dreary region to which we were so long confined.
Daniel Brock shared a different perspective, as his diary entries show.
15th Although poor Poole is so very ill, he plans out work for us-today we have commenced to build a pyramid on a hill
distant about four miles to the NE of the camp. It is to be of stone, twelve feet high and ten feet round the base. Our boots suffer fearfully through the stones which are as so many knives.
16th Busy rearing the stone work of the pyramid. 11 ” oz. of bread per day gives us but little strength to lift stones in their place of 4 and 5 cwt, which has to be done.
17th We have finished the pyramid; on its SE side we have deposited a bottle, containing our names, the time we have been detained here, the constant absence of danger and alarm, our future destination, when able again to travel.
By the time rain fell across the Grey Range and Sturt was able to continue the expedition to the north-west Poole was very ill. Plans had been made to split the men into two groups, with the smaller contingent to take Poole back to Adelaide.
On the 16th of July 1845 Sturt plans were put into action. Poole was carried on a special cart in a southerly direction, Sturt proceeded to the north west. Within a few hours Sturt’s party was overtaken by a horseman from Poole’s group who informed Sturt that Poole had died.
Sturt recorded, “ On the 17th the whole party, which had so lately separated, once more assembled at the Depôt. We buried Mr. Poole under a Grevillia that stood close to our underground room; his initials, and the year, are cut in it above the grave, “J. P. 1845,” and he now sleeps in the desert.
The sad event I have recorded, obliged me most reluctantly to put Mr. Piesse in charge of the home returning party, for I had had every reason to be satisfied with him, and I witnessed his departure with regret. A more trustworthy, or a more anxious officer could not have been attached to such a service as that in which he was employed.
The funeral of Mr. Poole was a fitting close to our residence at the Depôt. At the conclusion of that ceremony the party again separated, and I returned to my tent, to prepare for moving on the morrow.
A few years later, the then owners of Depot Glen sheep run erected a sandstone monument over the grave site beneath the grevillea where it remains today.
Discover more about Sturt’s expedition in the Sturt room at Milparinka.