To The Inland Sea, Charles Sturt’s Expedition 1844 – 45
The Bulletin, 1986
Not all historians have the fortitude to work in both the field and the library. Edward Stokes travelled over and photographed the inland country covered by the explorer Charles Sturt in his 1844 – 45 expedition. Stokes also had the persistence to stand around in libraries until he found the material he wanted. The result is To The Inland Sea.
Stokes had already completed the first draft of his book based on Sturt’s published Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia (1849), when he came across a microfilm of Sturt’s daily journal, held in the National Library of Australia. The journal was in Sturt’s hand and had to be transcribed. Despite this, Stokes revised his book completely. Stokes observes that in the Narrative Sturt seems formal, steadfast, always in control. In the daily journal, not intended for publication, Sturt often is at odds with himself. He struggles and suffers.
Sydney Morning Herald, 1986
To The Inland Sea is, in every sense, a beautiful book, visually a fine product of the printer’s trade, and in literary and scholarly terms the work of an adventurous and imaginative mind. Edward Stokes has strong narrative powers. He sustains the reader’s interest in what so clearly was a forlorn quest by his study of Sturt’s personality, and the terrible privations of his journey.
Stokes uses unpublished material from Charles Sturt’s field journal, far more vivid than his account published in 1849. What makes this book so memorable is the fact that Stokes followed Sturt’s line of march, and the book’s text is illustrated with Stokes’ photographs taken at points en route.
The great charm of this book lies in its presentation of relationships: between whites and Aborigines, between Sturt and his family, and between members of the expedition. A slow learner perhaps, Sturt at last came to terms with Australia’s inland realities. He learned much about himself in the process.
This is an utterly absorbing book. Financed as it was by the Literature Board of the Australia Council, and by a grant from the NSW Premier’s Department, Edward Stokes’ book is an apt response to those who would restrict grants to projects producing sputniks or sausages.
The Age, 1986
Edward Stokes’ To The Inland Sea is a delight. Stokes has re-lived Charles Sturt’s 1844 – 45 expedition into the Simpson Desert, carefully establishing the route and then following it in a four-wheel drive. He took more than 2,000 photographs, and a selection of these is presented with Sturt’s previously unpublished field journal. The resulting book evokes most effectively the explorer and the country he traversed.
To The Inland Sea looks like a coffee-table book but it is much more. It is an account of an important exploratory journey, distinguished by exceptionally skilful editing of Sturt’s journal and a selection of photographs. Together, these allow the reader to share the sense of discovery, and to see the country more or less as Sturt saw it. The heart of the book has photographs on the right-hand pages – with, on the left-hand pages, extracts from Sturt’s journal and Stokes’ narratives that provide the linking commentary.
Those interested in exploration, Charles Sturt, our country or photography will have to buy a copy if their friends failed to give them one for Christmas. And they will await the publication of Edward Stokes’ promised book on John McDouall Stuart with keen anticipation.
Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, 1986
The spotlight shines more brightly on Charles Sturt as more of the real man appears, largely through his own private writings – to replace the dry public image of his own lifetime. Now, Edward Stokes has revealed Sturt’s daily field journal of his expedition of 1844 – 45, from which Sturt worked his official account. But Edward Stokes, unlike Edgar Beale, has not sought to “chip the idol”. Stokes’ opening words are “Charles Sturt was one of Australia’s greatest inland explorers”, and he sticks to that. After reading To The Inland Sea, one can agree and perhaps add, “‘In spite of more personal difficulties than most explorers had to endure”.
To The Inland Sea has two purposes. By retracing Sturt’s search for an inland sea, Stokes has created, in handsome style, a photographic and textual impression of what Sturt and his men experienced. The photographs are beautiful, suited to the theme of suffering and failure. The text is well chosen, with excerpts from Sturt’s journal set by Stokes’ own narrative commentary. The portrait of Sturt that emerges is a very human one. The book’s great merit is that it lets the explorer and the country to speak for themselves. The publisher is to be congratulated on most handsomely fulfilling the author’s intentions.