To The Inland Sea was Edward Stokes’ first book on Australian exploration. It records the inland expedition of Charles Sturt in 1844 – 45. Like the two publications that followed, the book combines the explorer’s writings with Stokes’ photographs of the country explored.
In August 1844 Charles Sturt, who as a younger man had discovered the Murray River, left Adelaide with heavily equipped bullock wagons to search for an ‘inland sea’. Evidence already indicated that no such feature could possibly exist. Yet Sturt was buoyed by deep if misguided hopes; and, to some extent, deluded and driven by obsessions. Far from discovering an ‘inland sea’, his journey led Sturt and his men directly into the forbidding wastes of the Simpson Desert, Australia’s most arid region.
The expedition was the first large attempt to penetrate the continent’s heart. Desolate and waterless country was the norm, isolated watering places the exceptions. Hunger and thirst soon became daily ordeals. On one occasion the expedition was trapped by a water hole for six months. After fifteen months Sturt, his hopes of discovering the ‘inland sea’ totally crushed, was forced to retreat. Yet, despite often being desperate to survive, he had maintained considerate (though sometimes misunderstood) relations with the region’s Aborigines.
A poor old black woman, shrivelled and emaciated, came down to our pool to water. She was all but exhausted and drank deeply at the water’s edge. The men gave her something to eat, and made a bed for her by their fire.
To The Inland Sea was launched at ‘Grange’, Charles Sturt’s Adelaide home, today a small museum commemorating his expeditions. The occasion made connections to my family origins in Adelaide. Aunts and uncles attended and a lifelong friend, Peter Jolly.
In 1984 Edward Stokes spent three months following the route of Sturt’s expedition. He covered some 10,000 kilometres of remote and often difficult terrain, photographing the landscape along Sturt’s line-of-march. His images, together with quotations from Sturt’s hitherto unseen field journal, form the heart of the book.
To The Inland Sea was to be based on Chares Sturt’s two-volume published account of his journey. However, while researching at the National Library of Australia, Stokes discovered – on microfilm – Sturt’s original field diary. The latter presents a very different, and far more honest, view of the explorer’s travails. Thus, though Stokes’ book then was half completed, he entirely re-structured it around the newly discovered field journal.
Edward Stokes’ To The Inland Sea manuscripts, together with those of his other Australian exploration books, are held by the NLA.