When my brother and I were young, we would play Cowboys and Aborigines and if you happen to be the aboriginal, your name was Jackey Jackey – I never remembered who won the various conflicts in the games we played but I remember the name Jackey Jackey and it was much later I discovered that Jackey Jackey was Edmund Kennedy’s guide on his final exploration journey. Perhaps I should have paid more attention during history classes because I now find the life of these early Australian explorers so very interesting.
Kennedy arrived in Australia from Britain in 1840. He was a surveyor, talented artist and deeply religious man. By the age of 30 he had already participated in fruitful expeditions of discovery where he displayed excellent leadership skills – perhaps the reason he was asked to lead an exploration party to Cape York mid year 1848, mapping the eastern coast and perhaps finding a way from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Sydney. The expedition was well equipped but because of the unknown nature of the land was not well planned. The expedition consisted of 13 men, almost 30 horses, 3 carts and a herd of sheep. Departing from near Cardwell, (about 200kms south of Cairns) the party immediately struck difficulties getting off the coastal plane due to the thick rainforest, mangrove swamps and steep escarpments that are consistent with the eastern coastline. They travelled along the coastal plains searching for a way up the range to the tablelands, pulling the carts through areas of sand and mangrove swamps, crossing streams and traversing steep slopes of crocodile infested rivers and tidal streams. It was a difficult task not to mention the early tropical rains, stinging trees and leeches. Eventually, Kennedy found his way to firm ground and into the thick rainforest that covers the eastern face of the Great Diving Range before one of the carts broke down and the other two became hopelessly bogged. He abandoned the carts and some of the heavy equipment and in doing so, the already exhausted horses found the burden of carrying the extra load too much and became overly fatigued under the strain. After 2 months, the party reached the Tablelands and out of the rainforest but they had travelled just 10kms north towards their destination and due to their ordeal both man and beast were exhausted. The party’s bush survival skills were sadly lacking with only Jackey Jackey (their aboriginal guide from New South Wales) being able to make any significant contribution with the capture of food but he was also in unfamiliar territory so living off the land was not an option and they were forced to begin to eat some of the more exhausted horses. They entered the country near the Undara Lava Tubes and began following the water courses downstream through the Irvinebank area. There is a historical marker beside the road at Emu Creek on the way to Chillagoe as well as at one of his campsites on Emu Creek Station. As the party continued to follow downstream they had their first negative encounters with local aboriginals who continued to follow at a distance. Kennedy headed towards to coast and along the way Jackey Jackey shot a Cassowary and bought it back to the camp to eat. This was the first Cassowary seen by white man.
After 6 months, eight of his exhausted and starving men became too sick to go any further. They killed the last of the sheep and left two of the weakest horses for the men to slaughter and eat when needed, also sharing up the remaining supplies. Kennedy had intended completing the journey to the tip where the HMS ‘Bramble’ was waiting to bring them home and could pick up the sick men on the return journey. As the remainder of the party proceeded north, one of the men was badly wounded when his gun accidently discharged. Kennedy and Jackey Jackey had become quite close and decided to leave the remaining men in an attempt to rendezvous with their supply ship and return to pick up all the survivors. By this time Kennedy was driven by his deep sense of responsibility for his party but was soon overcome by starvation and sickness and at times Jackey Jackey carried Kennedy for up to a kilometre at a time.
The hostile aboriginals who had been following the party and lighting fires behind them since a skirmish further inland were not pleased about Kennedy passing through their land and eventually attacked, spearing Kennedy in the back – he died in Jackey Jackey’s arms. Though wounded himself, Jackey Jackey hid Kennedy’s papers in a hollow log then managed to meet the HMS ‘Bramble’. After hearing his tragic tale, they returned on an urgent rescue mission to pick up the survivors that Kennedy had left behind but only 2 from the first group had survived. They also visited the spot where Jackey Jackey had buried Kennedy in a shallow grave and although some damaged maps and notes were recovered the grave could not be found. Jackey Jacky’s achievements were officially recognised and was honoured with a pure silver breastplate plus 50 pounds. He never wore the breastplate or assessed the 50 pounds but fell into the vices of alcoholism and died some time later after rolling into a fire while drunk.
More information can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Kennedy
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