Monday, March 26, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere.

Today, March 27th …

Edward John Eyre was the first European to cross southern Australia from east to west. He set off in 1841 with a party of five, but only he and his aboriginal companion Wylie completed the expedition. It was a gruelling journey of almost two thousand miles, and a large and very thirsty part of it was across the supremely inhospitable desert called the Nullabor Plain.

The party followed the coastline of the Great Australian Bight, and like the narrator in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, for much of the time they were in sight of water, but without a drop to drink. On this day in 1841 he noted in his journal the aboriginal method of finding water in the desert.

… Whilst in camp, during the heat of the day, the native boys shewed me the way in which natives procure water for themselves, when wandering among the scrubs, and by means of which they are enabled to remain out almost any length of time, in a country quite destitute of surface water. I had often heard of the natives procuring water from the roots of trees, and had frequently seen indications of their having so obtained it, but I had never before seen the process actually gone through. Selecting a large healthy looking tree out of the gum-scrub, and growing in a hollow, or flat between two ridges, the native digs round at a few feet from the trunk, to find the lateral roots; to one unaccustomed to the work, it is a difficult and laborious thing frequently to find these roots, but to the practised eye of the native, some slight inequality of the surface, or some other mark, points out to him their exact position at once, and he rarely digs in the wrong place. Upon breaking the end next to the tree, the root is lifted, and run out for twenty or thirty feet; the bark is then peeled off, and the root broken into pieces, six or eight inches long, and these again, if thick, are split into thinner pieces; they are then sucked, or shaken over a piece of bark, or stuck up together in the bark upon their ends, and water is slowly discharged from them; if shaken, it comes out like a shower of very fine rain. The roots vary in diameter from one inch to three; the best are those from one to two and a half inches, and of great length. The quantity of water contained in a good root, would probably fill two-thirds of a pint. I saw my own boys get one-third of a pint out in this way in about a quarter of an hour, and they were by no means adepts at the practice, having never been compelled to resort to it from necessity.Natives who, from infancy, have been accustomed to travel through arid regions, can remain any length of time out in a country where there are no indications of water. The circumstance of natives being seen, in travelling through an unknown district, is therefore no proof of the existence of water in their vicinity. I have myself observed, that no part of the country is so utterly worthless, as not to have attractions sufficient occasionally to tempt the wandering savage into its recesses. In the arid, barren, naked plains of the north, with not a shrub to shelter him from the heat, not a stick to burn for his fire (except what he carried with him), the native is found, and where, as far as I could ascertain, the whole country around appeared equally devoid of either animal or vegetable life. In other cases, the very regions, which, in the eyes of the European, are most barren and worthless, are to the native the most valuable and productive. Such are dense brushes, or sandy tracts of country, covered with shrubs, for here the wallabie, the opossum, the kangaroo rat, the bandicoot, the leipoa, snakes, lizards, iguanas, and many other animals, reptiles, birds, &c., abound; whilst the kangaroo, the emu, and the native dog, are found upon their borders, or in the vicinity of those small, grassy plains …

Eyre was unusual for a colonial explorer in that he developed good relationships with the indigenous people he met, and he deplored their ill-treatment at the hands of so many of his countrymen. His good will persisted even when his co-surveyor was murdered by two of the three aborigines in the party, and the third - Wylie - remained his friend and companion and completed the expedition with him. He was still a nineteenth century man and felt that his was a more civilised race, but he was clearly willing to learn from the local people.

Most of us are lucky and we never have to go short of water. In fact historically most of us take it for granted, and even feel we need to improve on it. From medieval times we have made ‘cordial waters’ - the name originally comes from the Latin word for heart, and refers to their medicinal use as tonics. The Celts of course have their own version of ‘the water of life’, which they call uisge beatha, from which we get the word whisky (or whiskey if you like). There range of distilled drinks was huge a few hundred years ago, and the mistress of every household would have been expected to produce a range of them in her still-room.

Today I give you recipe for ‘Cinamon Water’ from Hugh Plat’s Delightes for ladies to adorne their persons, tables, closets, and distillatories with beauties, banquets, perfumes and waters .. (1602). It is of course quite illegal to make it at home nowadays in civilised countries, so I give the recipe to you for its historic interest only. Understand?

Cinamon-water.
Having a Copper bodie or brasse pot that will holde 12 gallons, you may well make 2 or 3 gallons of Cinamon water at once. Put into your body overnight 6 gallons of conduit water, and two gallons of spirit of wine, or to save charge two gallons of spirit drawne from wine lees, Ale, or lowe wine, or sixe pound of the best and largest Cinamon you can get, or else eight pound of the second sort well brused, but not beaten into pouder; lute your Lymbeck, & begin with a good fire of wood & coals, till the vessel begin to distil, then moderate your fire , so as your pipe may drop apace, and run trickling into the receiver, but not blow at anie time: it helpeth much heerin to keep the water in the bucket, not too hot, by often change thereof, it must neverbe so hot but that you may well indure your finger therein. Then divide into quart Glasses the spirit which first ascendeth, and wherein you finde either no taste or very small taste of the Cynamon, then may you boldely after the spirit once beginneth to come strong of the cinamon, draw until you have gotten at the least a gallon in the receiver, and then divide often by halfe pintes and quarters of pintes, least you drawe too long: which you shall know by the faynte tase and milky colour which distilleth at the ende; this you must nowe and then taste in a spoone. Nowe, when you have drawen so much as you finde good, you may add thereunto so much of your spirit that came before your Cinamon water, as the same will well beare: which you must find by your taste. But if your spirit and your Cinamon be both good, you may of the aforesaid proportion wil make up two gallons, or two gallons and a quarter of good Cinamon water. Heere note that it is not amisse to observe which glasse was first filled with the Spirit that ascended, and so of the second, thirde, and fourth; and when you mix, begin with the last glasse first, & so with the next, because those have more taste of the Cinamon than that which came first, and therefore more fit to bee mixed with your Cinamon water. And if you meane to make but 8 or 9 pintes at once, then begin with but halfe of this proportion. Also that spirit which remain unmixed doth serve to make Cinamon water a second time. This way I have often proved & found most excellent; take heed that your Limbecke be cleane and have no maner of sent in it, but of wine or Cinamon, and so likewise of the glasses, funnells and pots which you shall use about this work.

This Day Last Year ...

We learned about the Gay Game of Rugby.

Tomorrow’s Story …

All at Sea with Leftovers.

Quotation for the Day …

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

5 comments:

Andrew said...

I've been across the Nullabor - although I had the luxury of a drink in one hand and the India-Pacific doing all the hard moving type stuff.

The Old Foodie said...

Thats a very civilised way to do it - a gin and tonic, I presume?

Sally said...

How very interesting O.F.!

walkingman said...

Part of an expedition planning to re-create part of EJE route. Its being organised by EJE Great great grandson. Enjoyed article!

Chris Eyre said...

facinating!! plan to walk from Fowlers bay to Esperance June 2008 need a cook?