The Diary of Emily Caroline Creaghe, Explorer

The Diary of
Emily Caroline Creaghe, Explorer

The diary of
Emily Caroline Creaghe, Explorer

Ed. by Peter Monteath


This Private diary of Emily Caroline Creaghe shows Caroline, as she was known, to be an amazing and determined young woman. The diary is also one of the more remarkable documents of Australian exploration. It was written at the time of the expedition and by one of the rarest of explorers – a woman, the first to take part in an exploring party in Northern Australia. Women had taken part in South Australian exploration parties long before that.

Newly married, Caroline relates her views and experiences of exploring unknown country, her relationship with her husband and the other members of the expedition. It tells us about the harshness of the northern climate, the variety of landscapes, much of it hostile and unwelcoming to European eyes. It relates her views about the personal hardship suffered such as shortages of food and water, the poor quality of flour, lack of basic supplies and hygiene.

Her diary also provides fascinating insights into the colonial history of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Northern Queensland and about the actual conditions of the time. Today some of her views and writings would be considered politically very incorrect, especially those related to Aborigines and race relations. Twenty-five years later newly married Jeannie Gunn would voice similar opinions in her book We of the Never Never.

Emily Caroline Creaghe was born on a British ship in the Bay of Bengal on 1 November 1860 to Mary Harriet Woodward and Major George Cayley Robinson. After spending some years in India the family returned to England but migrated to Australia in 1876. On a trip to northern Queensland Caroline fell in love and married Harry Alington Creaghe in December 1881.

After the death of their first baby they agreed to take part in an exploratory party, from Normanton in Northern Queensland to Port Darwin in South Australia’s Northern Territory, organised by Ernest Favenc. Favenc had done much to fill in the gaps in the maps of Australia’s Outback. Even after Flinders’ mapping of 1802 and inland explorers Burke and Wills, Ludwig Leichardt, Edward Kennedy, John McDouall Stuart, John McKinly, John Ross and others European knowledge was still very patchy.

Both Favenc and Creaghe, who had gained much pastoral experience in the north decided to take their wives along. The fifth member of the party would be Lindsay Crawford, born in 1852 in Adelaide who also had years of experience in the Northern Territory as a telegraphist at some of the Repeater Stations of the Overland Telegraph and as a pastoral worker.

The first entry in Caroline’s diary starts on 1 January 1883. She made her entries at the end of each day. Even though in often trying circumstances, she was able to convey her impressions and experiences. In Bowen she saw 'black fellows in a state of nudity'. In Townsville she saw lots of different fruits but no churches. It was very warm. In Cooktown it was also very warm and she saw many Chinese. Sailing further north and around Thursday Island and down the Gulf of Carpentaria they arrived at Normanton on 17 January.

Normanton had a population at that time of about 300, mostly men and she ‘felt decidedly queer among them’. When the expedition was about to start Favenc’s wife Bessie had to pull out probably due to first signs of pregnancy. Caroline and her husband were forced to stay there for some three months as Favenc had to bring his wife back to Sydney. The party finally got on its way on 14 April and would reach Port Darwin four months later on 14 August.

Although the going was difficult at times they never suffered like Stuart or Burke and Wills. Isolation was still great, even in the 1880s and at some of the stations they encountered, men had not seen a white woman for years. Some of the Aborigines though had never ever seen a ‘white lubra’. With Peter Monteath’s Introduction to the diary and his detailed footnotes and corrections, Caroline’s diary is easy to read and understand.

Many of Caroline’s entries refer to the flies which ‘are something dreadful’ or the alligators in the river. On 26 January they suffered a plague of beetles and a terrific thunderstorm. The next day a Mr Warner died which was ‘an awful thing’. After two weeks we learn that the food consists, among other things ‘of nasty, dirty, hairy, dried salt beef, dark brown sugar (half dust) and hard damper. There is some jam but who can eat it with hard dry damper and no butter?’

On 31 January; ‘heat intense, arrived at Carl Creek Station during severe thunderstorm. Mr and Mrs Shadforth live there with their ten children in four rooms but no ceilings. The washing is done at the creek and boiled in kerosene tins. Slept on the verandah, too hot indoors. Ironed all afternoon. There are several gins here with their picininies, all with no clothes on’.

Mr Shadforth brought a new black gin with him, ‘she cannot speak English. He put a rope around the gin’s neck and dragged her along on foot, he was riding. This seems to be the usual method. They call her Bella. She is chained up to a tree and is not to be loosed until they think she is tamed. Madame Topsey, an old gin got a threshing’.

On 10 April ‘Mr Crawford’s remains were found, killed by the blacks. Mr Lamond has gone out to get hold of the wretches and give them their desserts’. (This was not Lindsay Crawford. He was appointed Manager of Victoria River Downs in 1884.) An entry on 15 April informs us that they all carried revolvers and the gentlemen had rifles slung on their saddles. Three day later she writes that the curry was filled with flies and uneatable.

On 20 April they crossed the Queensland-Northern Territory border and four day later camped at a beautiful lagoon which Favenc named The Caroline. In May it was getting hotter and hotter. They met some ‘niggers who had never seen white people and the men all circumcised'. By the end of the third week of May they had done 50 hours without water, had not had any meat for two weeks, horses knocked up, shot one to put it out of his suffering and had finished their last food.

Luckily they stumbled on the Overland Telegraph Line and arrived at Powell’s Creek that very night. They were half way. They remained at the station for ten days and left for Daly Waters on 24 May where they got to read some two months old newspapers. Mr Johns who was the station master had not seen a white woman in three years. From here on travelling became much easier. With more feed available for the horses the daily task in the morning of finding them and then harnessing, which could take hours, was now achieved muck quicker. On 8 June they arrived at the Elsey Telegraph Station and 5 days later were in Katherine.

Springvale Station, managed by Alfred Giles, was visited on 20 June. Here they stayed for nearly three weeks and Caroline enjoyed it to the fullest. She even got some letters which had accidently been sent to Hong Kong. But all good things have to come to an end and on 11 July they returned to Katherine. Early August they were on the road again for the last leg to Darwin, passing through Pine Creek, Rum Jungle and finally Palmerston on 14 August.

At Darwin they did the rounds in the evenings, meeting some of the more important residents among which were Inspector Foelsche, McMinn, Knight and Alice Solomon, wife of Adelaide born Vaiben Louis Solomon. Caroline did note that the town ‘was infested with niggers and all servants were Chinese’. From Darwin they left by ship and arrived home in Queensland the first week of September.

After the completion of the expedition Caroline proved to be an even more remarkable and determined woman. In his Afterword to the diary Peter Monteath relates further incredible information about what became of her. Maybe one day it will be possible that this part of Caroline’s life, who married again after Harry died in 1886, brought up 8 children and out-lived all other expedition members, can be researched in much greater detail and published together with the diary.

Review by Nic Klaassen

The Diary, Ed. by Peter Monteath,
HB 117 pp, with b/w photographs,
extensive footnotes and index is available at $14.95, from
Wakefield Press
Telephone 08 8352 4455


If you would like to find out more,
please go to HOME PAGE for more information.
Thank you for visiting Flinders Ranges Research,
We hope you enjoy your stay and find the information useful.
This site has been designed and is maintained by FRR.