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Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Camels are Coming

This is a story that I have told in two books in the past eight years: once for adults in Australia's Pioneers, Heroes & Fools,and then again for younger readers in Australian Backyard Explorer.

Because this is background to an exposé on blatant plagiarism, let me point out that the first book was short-listed for an award, the second book won several awards. The plagiarist will get her only award, The Gong, in a day or so.

The issue at hand: how Harry the Camel shot John Horrocks.

Much of the text below is drawn from one or the other of those works.  I have the permission of the copyright owner (me) to reproduce it here. (For people who were wondering, it wasn't hard to get in touch with me: I was so furious, I was beside myself, so I just turned around. Others will find it almost as easy to get in touch: I spell my name an odd way.)

Anyhow,  revenons √† nos moutons — or camels, any way. Here's a verse penned by my mate and alter ego, Duncan Bain:


The camel has a hare-lip,
And a back that is bimodal
And it has a nasty temper
Because it cannot yodel.
It should not be confused with
The one-hump dromedary
Whose Australian distribution
Is from Broome to Bomaderry


With that mnemonic to aid us, we should be able to recall that the camel in Australia is Camelus dromedarius, the dromedary. Only about twenty of the two-humped Bactrian camels of the colder deserts were ever brought to Australia, and the present stock of about half a million are all dromedaries. Now the dromedaries are accounted a feral pest, but in the 19th century, they served Australian exploration remarkably well. Ernest Giles, one of the best of the desert explorers in Australia, wrote:
"My first and second expeditions were conducted entirely with horses; in all my after journeys I had the services of camels, those wonderful ships of the desert, without whose aid the travels and adventures which are subsequently recorded could not possibly have been achieved, nor should I now be alive, as Byron says, to write so poor a tale, this lowly lay of mine."

— Ernest Giles, Australia Twice Traversed.

Giles made his five journeys in the period 1872 to 1876, and it is worth keeping 1876 in mind for a moment. In 1922, Bessie Threadgill, Tinline Scholar at the University of Adelaide, wrote a fine history of land exploration in South Australia in the period 1856 to 1880. Like most professional historians, she wrote mainly from written sources, but she must have had access either to some of the old explorers, or to those who had known them.

That being so, her asides and chapter endings are a good indication of the realities of mapping a parched landscape. At the end of chapter VI, she writes "In 1870 camels for Australian exploration were exotics, worth travelling many miles to see, and not always recognized when seen. In 1876, they were more indispensable than damper, bully beef or blackfellow."

Perhaps we can allow that non-PC term to stand for now. It was normal usage in her time and at least it reveals an important truth about explorers that we will come back to later. For now, the key issue is that camels counted for more even than experienced guides or basic food, because camels could travel long distances without water, and carry tremendous loads, but Threadgill seems to have brushed past the earliest and rather ill-fated instances of camel exploration in Australia.


The first camels reached Australia in 1840, but of the nine that were sent out from the Canary Islands, only one, a camel named Harry, was still alive in 1846, by which time he was in the possession of John Ainsworth Horrocks, an Englishman who had come to seek his fortune in Australia as a squatter, somebody who moved out into the wilderness, took the best land, and hoped to keep it when civilisation and land allocation caught up.

John Horrocks, his brother Eustace, and their faithful butler, John Green, reached South Australia in March 1839. They were accompanied by other family servants, four merino rams and some sheepdogs, stores and equipment, and they landed at Holdfast Bay on John's 21st birthday.

The boys came of a wealthy cotton-mill-owning family — their grandfather was an influential Member of Parliament, and had installed the first all-metal power looms, and made a fortune out of muslin. So without too much trouble, their father had paid for them to acquire 1000 acres of land in the new colony of South Australia, but the land surveys were in a mess and Edward John Eyre had reported excellent land near the Hutt River (where the town of Clare stands today), so John Horrocks and Green went, looked, and decided to take a chance. Horrocks remained behind, sheltering in a hollow tree while Green went and fetched his brother, stores and stock, and servants.

They established Hope Farm and a village called Penwortham, after the ancestral home in Lancashire, and by 1842, there were 24 people, 3200 sheep, 26 cattle and four horses there, but no camels as yet. Soon, Horrocks began ranging further afield, seeking yet greener pastures.

Writing in 1914, a historian quotes an unnamed source who described Horrocks as "a young man of splendid physique". Tall, handsome in a dashing Byronic manner, Horrocks named his favourite greyhound Gulnare after a slave-girl in Byron's The Corsair, and he also endowed a plain that he passed with the same name, thus commemorating his hound's faithful efforts in that vicinity in catching and killing emus for him to eat in 1841.

He kept an open house, feeding all those who called in for a supper, lodging and breakfast, and acquiring staff from odd sources. One of them, an indigent sculptor called Theakston, he acquired from a debtors' prison, but Horrocks remained slightly aloof, eating at a barrel specially set up for him each night with a clean cloth and a silver fork and spoon.

This was the man who set off in late July of 1846, with Theakston as his second-in-command, a cook called Garlick, and a 'black boy' (that usually means an Aborigine) named Jimmy Moorhouse. They were accompanied by the soon-to-be-famous artist and lithographer, S. T. Gill, who came along at no salary, to record the expedition, in the hope of being able to sell some of his works on his return. There was also a camel driver named Kilroy, and, of course, a camel, in this case named Harry, the only survivor of nine camels imported from Tenerife by Henry Phillips. Horrocks paid Phillips six cows, to the value of 90 pounds. It was not a good bargain, for Harry was not the best-natured of animals.

While John Horrocks modelled himself on Lord Byron in some respects, he was a deeply religious man, and perhaps Harry heard his master citing Isaiah 40:6 and took it too literally, but whatever the reason, Harry bit people and other animals. He also bit holes in four sacks and engaged in other annoying practices, but mainly he bit people and animals. No sooner had the expedition set out than Harry bit the cook on the head, badly enough to need dressing and sticking plaster. In his journal, Horrocks notes that the camel " . . . had in the morning taken one of the goats in his mouth across the loins, and would have broken his back if Jimmy had not speedily run to its rescue."

The goats themselves were something of a problem. The explorers had taken goats as a source of meat in preference to sheep, because goats would be harder to steal, as Horrocks explains in his journal: " . . . as they give tongue immediately they are caught, so the natives could not take any beast without being heard." All the same, on the night of July 31, the goats fled the camp, apparently having scented a wild dog, and had to be gathered in from a mile away, but once the adventurers learned to tether the leading goat, the flock stayed with the camp.

They had other tricks to play, though. For starters, all but one of them went lame, and they leapt on the tent, ripping it in places, but there must have been more that was left unmentioned, because Horrocks records killing a goat, " . . . the one that has given us so much trouble, and which Jimmy was delighted to see slaughtered, having in his hatred to the animal promised Garlick, the tent-keeper, a pint of ale if he would kill it next."
Horrocks is seen here carrying the gun with which he was shot, and a stick for beating Harry.

But to return to our camels, the party pushed on into dry country, leaving their horses behind, but accompanied by the surly camel, carrying 356 pounds weight. Horrocks, Kilroy and Gill were on foot near a Lake that Horrocks had named Lake Gill (it is now Lake Dutton) when misfortune struck. The account that follows was dictated by Horrocks:

". . . Bernard Kilroy, who was walking ahead of the party, stopped, saying he saw a beautiful bird, which he recommended me to shoot to add to the collection.

"My gun was loaded with slugs in one barrel and ball in the other, I stopped the camel to get at the shot belt, which I could not get without his laying down.

"Whilst Mr. Gill was unfastening it I was screwing the ramrod into the wadding over the slugs close alongside of the camel. At this moment the camel gave a lurch to one side, and caught his pack in the cock of my gun, which discharged the barrel I was unloading, the contents of which first took off the middle fingers of my  right hand between the second and third joints, and entered my left cheek by my lower jaw, knocking out a row of teeth from my upper jaw."

They were, he goes on to say, 65 miles from the depot where the horses were, and they had just five gallons of water remaining. Kilroy headed back to Theakston and the horses, leaving Gill to mind the invalid. Gill did that and more: he took down dictation from the wounded man, and even created pictures of the area, with himself seen lying on the ground outside the invalid's tent, while a slightly sheepish Harry is to be seen in the background. He also wrote his account of the events:
"The right-hand barrel, with the ramrod in it, went off, taking the middle finger of Mr,. H.'s right hand and lodged the charge in his left cheek. He instantly fell back bleeding copiously. We succeeded in staunching the blood with our handkerchiefs, and after cutting off a part of the finger which hung slightly on, managed to dress it with such stuff as we had brought in case of spear wounds, treating the face in the same way; we laid him down, and fixed the tent; after getting him in, Kilroy started back to the Depot the same evening, leaving me in charge of Mr. H. until relief arrived. Soon after Kilroy left, Mr. H. rallied sufficiently to speak, and convinced me that his brain was not affected. We had, of course, a wretched night of it."
Gill painted himself waiting outside the tent, Horrocks inside, Harry behind.
Kilroy arrived back after four days, with Theakston and two horses. Loading Horrocks on a horse and placing a tarpaulin over his legs to keep him on, they set off, Theakston riding the other horse and Gill and Kilroy taking turns to drive the camel. A week later, they got Horrocks back to Penwortham, where Green dressed his wounds, but gangrene had set in, and Horrocks died, even after an operation on the gangrenous finger — by then, the infection had spread too far.

It was agreed by all that Harry the camel must die for his part in the death of his master (Horrocks had recommended that it be done, but only in order that the good name of camels should be no further besmirched by Harry and his antics). When the first bullet did not kill him, Harry turned and bit the head of Jimmy Moorhouse who was holding him, but the second bullet settled his fate. It seems a pity that Australians call somebody "game as Ned Kelly", and not "game as Harry the camel" — perhaps if Harry had risen to the moment and bitten or shot the man with the gun, we might do so more willingly.

With the elimination of Harry, Australia was free of camels for a few more years, but it was an idea waiting to burst out again. In 1860, camels were imported from India for the Burke and Wills expedition, by 1866, Sir Thomas Elder had established a camel stud at Beltana in the dry north of South Australia, and within a few years, Ernest Giles proved just how effective the animals could be. Soon 'Afghans' (mainly from an area that is now part of Pakistan) were flooding into Australia and running huge trains of camels across the dry inland.

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The pictures are both by S. T. Gill, and were scanned from copyright-free sources.

* * * * *

It is necessary to explain that, because we may have eliminated Harry, but we haven't eliminated plagiarists. In my next post, I will be doing my bit to eliminate one of those, and also the institution she works for, which has shamefully failed to acknowledge her misappropriation of my intellectual property.

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