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The Story of Buzoe's Grave

Buzoe's Grave


Bancroft H. Brown


As late as 1860, Western Australia was almost unknown country, in fact the only major unexplored area outside the polar regions. Before the days of airplanes and tractors, exploration consisted of organized plodding, financed by people who could afford to satisfy their desire to see what was beyond. In this case there was very little to see. The gold fields, near the coast, petered out. Occasionally an explorer might find a small lake; he would carefully note its location, and publish the fact. When the next explorer got there, the "lake" had completely dried up. He maps remained barren of towns lakes, mountains, and rivers, simply because they didn't exist. In the 1920's, I noticed on many Australian maps, dating back as far as 1870, the following curious notation:

Map Marker


This was out in the middle of Gibson's Desert, with nothing anywhere near it, approximately at the spot marked below:

Map of Australia

This was an unusual, in fact, unique notation. Modern cartographers have a highly professional code of what may be included, and what may not. This has not always been true. World-maps a thousand years ago pictured all the more unlikely specimens from the imaginary bestiaries of the day. Even in 1733, Dean Swift could write:

"So geographers, in Afric maps, With savage pictures fill their gaps, And o'er unhabitable downs Place elephants for want of towns."

As we came to know more, our maps lost all their color. But this seemed to be a last lingering symbol of the past. Why the double tuberculosis cross? And who was this intrepid explorer Buzoe? It seemed a good idea to try to find out. I drew blank from the ordinary books one consults. Reference librarians at various institutions could give no clue. Letters from the leading atlas publishers stated quite frankly that they had copied from older sources -- if I could find out the facts, they would be delighted to know them. Finally my good friend the late Paul Allen, Reference Librarian at Baker Library, who seemed to have taken my mild request as a personal challenge to his professional capability, dug up the answer from an account of an expedition in the early 1860's, eventually published in: "Australia Twice Traversed ", by Ernest Gales, London, 1889. I quote:

"Here we dug a good sized tank, which the water partly filled and this enabled us to water all our camels. They had traveled 230 miles from our deep well. For the last two or three days poor old Buzoe, Alec Ross's riding cow, has been very ill, and almost unable to travel; she is old and worn out, poor old creature, having been one of Sir Thomas Elder's original importations from India. She has always been a quiet easy-paced old pet, and I was much grieved to see her ailing. I did not like to abandon her, and we had to drag her with a bull camel and beat her along, until she crossed this installment of Gibson's Desert; but she never left this spot, which I have named Buzoe's Grave."

The sequence of events is now obvious. After his first expedition, Giles handed in his map to the cartographers. There was (and still is) so much empty space in Gibson's Desert that any entry on a reputable explorer's map was acceptable to the atlas-makers. Gales' book, published many years later, was not required reading. And so "Buzoe's Grave" acquired status. I was very pleased, and reported my discovery to several prominent American atlas-companies. I was dismayed and even appalled by their reactions. While thanking me profusely, they expressed deep chagrin that they had ever included such an item in their maps. This kind of thing simply wasn't done. I could rest assured that their maps would never include this again; furthermore professional ethics required them to publicize this to all their competitors. They felt that in all probability I should never see this notation on any map in the future. I never have. I feel very badly about it. A poor old cowcamel, born in India, transported to another continent, had given her all in the cause of geographical discovery, and had almost achieved an impersonal type of immortality, only to have it snatched from her by the stupid curiosity of a minor mathematician ten thousand miles away on the other side of the earth. Apologies to the shade of Buzoe are so futile. This was the low point of my career. Since then I have never been to a zoo or to a circus. I couldn't possibly look a camel in the eye.  

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Last modified on December 26, 2012