Introduction - Book
Works of Reference
"New Holland is a very large tract of land. It is not yet determined whether it is an island or a continent, but I am certain that it joins neither to Asia, Africa nor America." William Dampier arrived at that conclusion in 1688, and a century later no more confident opinion could have been expressed. The myth about the existence of a Great Southern Continent stretching from the tropics to the Antarctic Pole had been demolished by Cook, after whose time it was no longer possible for a reasonable man to believe that there was any other very large habitable land-mass in the South Seas than that whose western shores were known to the Dutch as New Holland and whose eastern coasts had been named New South Wales by Cook himself. But it was not yet certain whether New Holland and New South Wales were parts of one undivided territory, or whether there was a strait between them, or whether there were two or three large contiguous islands. Thus Pinkerton, in his Modern Geography (1807), stated under the heading "New Holland": "Some suppose that this extensive region, when more thoroughly investigated, will be found to consist of two or three vast islands intersected by narrow seas, an idea which probably arises from the discovery that New Zealand consists of two islands, and that other straits have been found to divide lands in this quarter formerly supposed to be continuous."
Several contemporary writings show that the belief was general that a strait would be found dividing New Holland. James Grant, in his Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery (1803), expressed his regret that his orders did not permit him to take his ship, the Lady Nelson, northward from Port Jackson in 1801—"we might betimes have ascertained if the Gulf of Carpentaria had any inlet to Bass Straits; and this I trust will not be thought chimerical when it was not known whether other Straits did not exist as well as that dividing New Holland from Van Diemen's Land." The Institute of France, also, in preparing instructions for the voyage of exploration commanded by Nicholas Baudin (1800), directed a search to be made for a strait which it was supposed divided New Holland "into two great and nearly equal islands."
This problem, however, was solved by Flinders during his explorations in the Investigator. When he examined Spencer Gulf in March 1802, he found as he worked northward that the shores converged and the water became continually shallower. When he entered the gulf he thought it might be the conjectured strait, which should lead through to the Gulf of Carpentaria. As it tapered to an end, he concluded that "our prospects of a channel or strait cutting off some considerable portion of Terra Australis grew less." After Flinders' voyage the hypothesis of a bifurcated Australia was destroyed.
The situation chosen by Captain Arthur Phillip for the first colony planted by the British in Australia was extraordinarily suitable for the purpose for which it was intended; but the very geographical features which made Sydney a natural gaol at the same time made the country inland from that locality extremely difficult to explore. For about thirty miles from the coast stretched a plain. Then rose, steep and rough to a height of about 1000 feet, a great scarp, "the truncated edge of a sandstone plateau." Officially the first Governor named the northern section of this plateau the Carmarthen Hills, and the southern section the Lansdowne Hills; but the inhabitants found a more expressive name for the whole range. These blue mountains looked as though they ought to have a name signifying their colour as seen from the coast through the bright atmosphere of a Sydney morning; and so the first history of New South Wales, that by David Collins, spoke of them as "commonly known in the colony by the name of Blue Mountains, from the appearance which land so high generally wears."
The first attempts to ascertain the nature of the interior of Australia were necessarily made from Sydney, because there was no other settlement till strategic motives, rather than the necessity of occupying additional territory, occasioned an extension. Governor Phillip himself was the first Australian inland explorer, and his first attempt, through heavily timbered country, did not take him even as far as the foot of the scarp after five days of toilsome travelling. Collins relates that in April 1788:
"His Excellency, desirous of acquiring a knowledge of the country about the seat of government, and profiting by the coolness of the weather, made during the month several excursions; in one of which, having observed a range of mountains to the westward, and hoping that a river might be found to take its course in their neighbourhood, he set off with a small party, intending if possible to reach them, taking with him six days' provisions; but he returned without attaining either object of his journey-the mountains or a river. He penetrated about thirty miles inland, through a country most amply clothed with timber, but in general free from underwood. On the fifth day of his excursion he caught, from a rising ground which he named Belle Vue, the only glance of the mountains which he obtained during his journey; and as they then appeared at too great a distance to be reached on one day's allowance of provisions, which was all they had left, he determined to return to Sydney Cove."
Phillip took the lead in later expeditions, in one of which (1789) he discovered the Hawkesbury River; other energetic men strove to reveal the character of the territory, and their efforts led to the finding of the Nepean River (which is the upper Hawkesbury), the Grose, and some outlying ridges of the mountain mass. But all early attempts to get beyond the wall were defeated by the peculiarly broken, precipitous and irregular character of a region where, instead of broad river-valleys winding through the hills, as in ordinary mountain lands, deep gorges seemed to cut across every ridge, and every stream tumbled over a succession of waterfalls. According to a physiographer's technical description, "in place of steep ranges with broad valleys between, there are here rather broad undulating plateaux dissected by narrow deep gorges and bounded by fault-scarps or huge monoclinal folds." The early records contain many illustrations of the difficulties. William Paterson, exploring the River Grose, had to clamber up the rugged flanks of five waterfalls in ten miles. George Bass spent fifteen days trying to find a pass through the mountains. He and his companions equipped themselves with scaling-irons for the feet and hooks for the hands; they had strong ropes by means of which members of the party could be lowered down ravines; they were strong and determined men; but they were completely baffled. A settled conviction grew that, as Collins stated it, "an impassable barrier seemed fixed to the westward." Courageous efforts were made by Ensign Barrallier of the New South Wales Corps and by the botanist George Caley, but both failed, though they were capable and hardy explorers. Governor King in 1806 voiced the conclusion that the mountains were impassable, and that further efforts to master them would be "as chimerical as useless." The Governor reported:
"As far as respects the extension of agriculture beyond the first range of mountains, that is an idea that must be given up, as the rocks to the west of that range wear the most barren and forbidding aspect which men, animals, birds and vegetation have ever been strangers to; a better proof of which may not be adduced than the remark of one of Cayley's party in returning, who exclaimed, on seeing two solitary crows, that 'they had lost their way.'"
Success was not attained, indeed, till 1813; and then its achievement was not the result of a search for the sake of solving the problem as one of geographical importance, but for the practical reason that it was desired to ascertain whether there was good grazing ground for cattle amongst or beyond the mountains. Gregory Blaxland, the leader of the expedition, was the younger brother of John Blaxland, and the two had come to Australia in 1806 as settlers who had obtained land grants from the Secretary of State on condition that they invested a stipulated amount of capital in the colony. It was expected that, being experienced in agriculture, they would by their example contribute to the improvement of agricultural methods in New South Wales. But they found it profitable to engage in cattle-breeding rather than in the production of wheat and other crops, and they were continually on the look-out for fresh pastures for their herds. Three governors, King, Bligh and Macquarie, found them troublesome people. But it was the Blaxland keenness for the acquisition of land that led at last to the solution of the Blue Mountains problem.
In 1812 a severe drought afflicted the little colony. It was desirable in the public interest to find other lands for cultivation and stock-raising than the cramped area between the sea and the hills; and the Blaxlands particularly were interested in ascertaining the possibilities which might exist beyond the blue ridges. It happened that in 1810 Gregory Blaxland accompanied Governor Macquarie on a boat journey up the Hawkesbury River as far as it was navigable. According to the story afterwards written by Blaxland, the idea came to his mind on this expedition that the way to cross the mountains was not to follow a valley, but to climb to the top of a ridge and track it westward. He was confirmed in this theory on a later expedition, when he took with him three European servants and two natives. He found himself blocked by the sheer walls of rock, as previous explorers had been; but, he said:
"This journey confirmed me in the opinion, that it was practicable to find a passage over the mountains, and I resolved at some future period to attempt it by endeavouring to cross the river, and reach the high land on its northern bank, by the ridge which appeared to run westward, between the Warragomby and the River Grose. I concluded, that if no more difficulties were found in travelling than had been experienced on the other side, we must be able to advance westward towards the interior of the country, and have a fair chance of passing the mountains. On inquiry, I found a person who had been accustomed to hunt the kangaroo on the mountains, in the direction I wished to go, who undertook to take the horses to the top of the first ridge. Soon after I mentioned the circumstance to His Excellency the Governor, who thought it reasonable, and expressed a wish that I should make the attempt. Having made every requisite preparation, I applied to the two gentlemen who accompanied me to join in the expedition, and was fortunate in obtaining their consent. Before we set out, we laid down the plan to be pursued, and the course to be attempted, namely, to ascend the ridge before-mentioned, taking the streams of water on the left, which appeared to empty themselves into the Warragomby, as our guide; being careful not to cross any of them, but to go round their sources, so as to be certain of keeping between them and the streams that emptied themselves into the River Grose."
The gentlemen referred to were Lieutenant William Lawson, formerly of the New South Wales Corps, and the youth William Charles Wentworth, who was hereafter to be one of the outstanding figures in Australian public life. Blaxland's Journal reprinted in this volume, tells its own tale of the traverse of the Blue Mountains without any need of amplification. But it is desirable to add that fourteen years after the event a claim was put forward, not by Lawson himself, but on his behalf, and apparently with his knowledge—since he was living in New South Wales at the time, and did not disavow the use of his name in this manner-that he was the originator of the theory that the Blue Mountains would be found crossable by climbing to the top of the table-land and pursuing the high ridges. It was asserted that Lawson "secured an agreeable companion in Mr. William Wentworth and a persevering assistant in Mr. Gregory Blaxland." (This claim appeared in The Australian, March 13, 1827) But there is no evidence that Lawson propounded such a theory, or that he claimed to have done so immediately after the expedition proved successful, nor did he make any statement over his own name in support of the assertions. Nor did Wentworth ever contest the authorship of the expedition. Blaxland's statement of its genesis is deserving of full credit. As a student in England a few years later Wentworth competed for the Chancellor's medal at Cambridge, the prescribed subject being a poem on "Australasia." There was not much poetic merit in the piece as a whole; but there certainly was truth in the concluding passage wherein Wentworth described the toilsome journey in which he had shared, and its successful issue:
And as a meteor shoots athwart the night
The boundless champaign burst upon our sight,
Till, nearer seen, the beauteous landscape grew
Op'ning like Canaan on rapt Israel's view."
Blaxland's discovery was the first important step forward in the revelation of inland Australia. No attempt had been made up to this time to penetrate the continent from any other point on the coast. One great chance had been missed. In 1803 Colonel David Collins was sent to occupy Port Phillip, which was discovered in February 1802 by Lieutenant John Murray in the Lady Nelson. Grimes, the surveyor who accompanied Murray, made a careful chart of the harbour, as also did Flinders, who entered in the Investigator in the following April. Flinders gave an encouraging account of the country surrounding Port Phillip, which, he wrote, "has a pleasing and in many parts a fertile appearance, and the sides of some of the hills and several of the valleys are fit for agricultural purposes; it is in great measure a grassy country, and capable of supporting much cattle, though better calculated for sheep." This was an intelligent observation, which should have incited Collins to explore the country inland when he had established his company in a suitable place. But Collins never had his heart in the task committed to him. The disadvantages of Port Phillip were all that he saw. "Every day's experience convinces me that it cannot nor ever will be resorted to by speculative men. . . . When all the disadvantages attending this bay are publicly known, it cannot be supposed that commercial people will be very desirous of visiting Port Phillip." Acting on Collins's extremely fallacious report, Governor King ordered the abandonment of the first Port Phillip settlement, on the ground that it appeared "totally unfit from every point of view to remain at, without subjecting the Crown to the certain expensive prospect of the soil not being equal to raise anything for the support of the settlement." Collins's surveyor did, it is true, enter the lower reaches of the River Yarra, but made no attempt to explore beyond a few yards from the shore, and, taking his cue from the commander, reported that the soil was "neither in quality nor quantity sufficient for cultivation to repay the cares of the husbandman." But it is evident that had the country inland from Port Phillip been explored in 1803, the difficulties which were incidental to exploration over the Blue Mountains from Sydney would not have been encountered, and the key to the great river system of Australia would have been found probably more than twenty years before it was revealed by Sturt.
But through the failure of Collins, the further exploration of Central Australia was fated to be pursued from the eastern side of the continent until settlement was commenced again on the south and on the west. Governor Macquarie was thoroughly sensible of the importance of Blaxland's work, but determined to have his report officially confirmed before signifying that the Government would reward the explorers. He therefore sent Surveyor G. W. Evans in charge of a party to traverse Blaxland's route and examine the country beyond the point reached by him. Evans started in November 1813, reached the terminus of Blaxland's journey, and travelled for three weeks beyond that point. His important discovery was the River Macquarie; and from the summits of the hills he saw stretching towards the horizon "a vast extent of flat country" which "far surpassed in beauty and fertility of soil" any that he had seen elsewhere in New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land. But the Governor miscalculated distances when he judged that the Macquarie was "supposed to empty itself into the ocean on the western side of New South Wales at a distance of from two to three hundred miles from the termination of the tour." Evans's journey, however, enabled a town to be established at Bathurst, the first inland centre in Australia; and the Governor caused a road to be constructed from Sydney to this point. In a further expedition (1815) Evans discovered the Lachlan River, revealing a still further great stretch of valuable territory.
During the next seven years a group of enterprising men, expert in bushcraft and excellent judges of country, filled up gaps on the map between Evans's two rivers and the Murrumbidgee, which was found by Throsby in 1821. Officially the exploratory work was in charge of the surveyor-general of New South Wales, John Oxley, who was appointed to that office in 1811. The first task committed to him was to trace the courses of the two rivers, the Macquarie and the Lachlan, and "ascertain their final termination." But he found that both streams, though broad, deep and swift during part of their course, simply oozed away into impenetrable marshes, which seemed like inland seas. His journeys of 1817-18, when he was accompanied by the eminent botanist Allan Cunningham, were heroic efforts, but resulted in disappointment and delusion. In the watershed of the Macquarie Oxley found "a country of running waters, on every hill a spring and in every valley a rivulet." But the river itself disappeared. On his return journey to Sydney in 1818, Oxley crossed twelve rivers, and guessed that they all drained into a great central lake. He did not suspect the existence of the vast river-system of the Murray and the Darling.
The discoveries made between 1813 and 1820 were not only geographically important; they heralded a new era in the history of Australia. A new province, of incalculable extent as yet, but certainly vast and potentially rich, was opened. A new political situation was created. As long as the settlement at Sydney was confined to the stretch of territory between the mountain-wall and the sea, with its comparatively small agricultural outposts on the Hawkesbury, at Parramatta, and wherever else patches of agricultural or grazing ground could be found, there was no serious obstacle to the continuance of the colony for the purposes for which it was founded. Those purposes might be condemned for moral reasons, or the current theories of criminology might change and new methods be preferred. But the area was suitable for its grim uses, it was sufficient, and there was not much temptation for anyone to suggest that it might be employed for nobler ends. The revelation of the immense interior, however, made all the difference. The Napoleonic wars ended in 1815, and the disruption of commerce occasioned by those wars plunged Great Britain into poverty. People were eager for opportunities to emigrate. The time was ripe for the opening of fresh avenues of trade. These discoveries came opportunely. It was as if a new world had swum into the orbit of the old, and its vacancy called for alleviation.
During the terms of the next four Governors-Brisbane, Darling, Bourke and Gipps-problems of exploration were concurrent with land problems. How were these great areas to be permitted to be occupied? The growth of the Australian wool trade, following the brilliant experiments of John Macarthur in the breeding of merino sheep, made the new lands immediately profitable. There were fortunes in wool. Jason's golden fleece, "the sea-born wonder of all lands," was an irrecoverable treasure of antiquity; and if Jason had been living in the first quarter of the nineteenth century it would have been worth his while to think better of his project:—
To reach the oak-grove and the Golden Fleece,
Or, failing, die at least far off from Greece," . . .
and try his luck with merinos in the back country of New South Wales. In vain did the Government endeavour to restrain the owners of flocks from "trespassing" on Crown land beyond the limits prescribed for occupation. The Governors made "squatting" regulations, and they were ignored. The Secretary of State, who, with his officials, never really grasped the magnitude of the problem, made Downing Street regulations, and they also were ignored. Governor Gipps stated the case with picturesque imagery and serious truth when he wrote, "As well attempt to confine an Arab within a circle traced on sand as to confine the graziers or wool-growers of New South Wales within bounds that can possibly be assigned to them." In despair, seeing all their orders disregarded and their regulations laughed to scorn, the Government grasped at the plausibly ingenious theories of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who wrote his "Letter from Sydney" as the result of an enforced period of reflection in Newgate prison, and who "hocussed" his generation into accepting him as an expert in colonisation, of which, in fact, he was totally destitute of personal experience.
This confusion was the result of the geographical discoveries which have been described, with their natural corollary of throwing open for use immense areas of valuable land. Greater discoveries followed within a few years. Those made by Allan Cunningham directed the attention of the eager sheep-men northwards, to the country which was hereafter to become Queensland. Cunningham was a botanist, trained at Kew Gardens, who was sent out to New South Wales in 1815 to collect plants for that institution. He was glad to take advantage of the opportunity offered to him, to accompany John Oxley on his journey beyond the Blue Mountains in 1817. During the next four years he applied himself to botanical collecting along the coast, under P. P. King, and his Journal (preserved in the South Kensington Natural History Museum) contains abundant evidence of the diligence and delight with which he pursued his investigations. New species of plants, fresh varieties, the beauty of leaf and flower and the majesty of the great trees gave him the joy of the discoverer.
In 1823 Cunningham led an expedition of his own, the chief result of which was the discovery of Pandora's Pass through the eastern end of the Liverpool Range to the northern plains. Still more important was his expedition of 1827 across these plains, over the present Queensland border, into the great stretch of fertile territory which he named the Darling Downs. He recognised at once that he had found "very considerable grazing country", and the squatters, following his tracks in the ensuing years, proved him right. Cunningham's rich services in the cause of exploration and science were never rewarded by the grant of a yard of land, and this at a period when lavish land-grants were being made to persons who benefited from his efforts. Indeed, the authorities were grotesquely unaware of his rare and shining merits. When, after spending four years in England arranging his specimens at Kew, Cunningham returned to New South Wales as Colonial Botanist, he found, to his disgust, that he, one of the most eminent men of science of his age, was expected to grow vegetables for the higher ranks of the Civil service in a patch of ground in the Botanical Gardens. Unwilling to devote himself to what he called "the Government Cabbage Garden", he went on a botanical excursion to New Zealand. "I am now about to enter with all my might on a more legitimate occupation," he wrote. But he was already in failing health, and on his return to Sydney he had to acknowledge that "I have failed in my best endeavours to patch myself up." He died in 1839.
Of all the inland explorers of Australia, Allan Cunningham was the best equipped by knowledge to discern the economic value of the fresh lands brought within the purview of those who were competent to make use of the opportunities thrown open by discovery. He was a man of science of high distinction, a traveller of unconquerable courage and resource. In botanical collections throughout the world the name "Cunningham", after the scientific names of plants, appears on hundreds of the little painted labels which distinguish species and varieties. Sir S. D. Hooker truly said of him that "Cunningham's botanical researches are by far the most continuous and extensive that have ever been performed in Australia, or perhaps in any other country."
The researches so far described related to the region north of the River Murray. The nature of the country south of that stream was as yet unknown. Governor Brisbane, who desired to ascertain its possibilities, proposed to land a party of convicts at or near Wilson's Promontory, provide them with food and equipment, and let them find their way back to Sydney if they could. If they succeeded, they were to have their freedom; if they perished by the way, as they were likely to do, that would be their misfortune. But a better plan was propounded by Hamilton Hume, who had already done some useful exploratory work, and was at this time (1824) in occupation of a property at Lake George. It was that an expedition should start from his home, and make its way south to Westernport. The Governor approved, and suggested that Hume should be associated with William Hilton Hovell, a retired sea-captain, who had had an adventurous life in many parts of the globe. Hume and Hovell set out in October 1824, crossed the Murrumbidgee, and were the first explorers to find the great river which they named the Hume, but which was at a later date renamed the Murray. They came to this river on November 16, crossed it, and soon found themselves in the rugged mountain country of northern Victoria. They crossed three fine rivers on their journey farther south, the Mitta-Mitta, the Ovens and the Goulburn; became entangled in the Plenty Ranges; scrambled to the top of Mount Disappointment in the hope of being able to get a glimpse of the sea, but found their view blocked by the big timber; and at length came out upon fairly level, meadow-like country, through which they toiled wearily to the shores of Corio Bay, a branch of Port Phillip. Both the leaders believed themselves to be at Westernport, and did not discover that they had made a mistake till some years later. In fact, they were one degree out in their calculations. The error of reckoning was Hovell's, but Hume was at the time just as much in the belief that the expedition had reached Westernport as was his colleague.
The mistake had two consequences of importance. First, it induced the Government to send an expedition to occupy Westernport in 1826, in the belief that the surrounding country was as promising as Hume and Hovell had described it to be. This was withdrawn in 1828, in consequence of the unfavourable reports of the commanding officer, who was convinced that Westernport did not "possess sufficient capabilities for colonisation on a large scale". The second consequence was that the description given by Hume and Hovell of the territory which they had traversed directed attention to its pasturage resources, which was the main incentive to the unauthorised occupation of the Port Phillip country by John Batman and other squatters after 1835.
Hume and Hovell were the first explorers to traverse the present state of Victoria; it was traversed again, farther west, by Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836. Crossing the Murray at the point of its junction with its tributary the Murrumbidgee, Mitchell marched over rich grassy plains which were later to provide pasture for great flocks of sheep. "I felt conscious," he wrote, "of being the harbinger of mighty changes, for our steps would soon be followed by the men and the animals for which it seemed to have been prepared." To his great surprise, when he came upon the sea-coast at Portland, he found men and animals already there; for the Henty brothers had established a whaling station at this favourable spot in 1835. "Australia Felix," the name which Mitchell gave to this land, did not endure; but it was not inapt.
Mitchell's journey connects naturally with that of Hume and Hovell on account of the region which it unveiled, but in chronological sequence it followed a series of explorations which provided a solution to the great river problem of Australia. A considerable number of rivers had been found since Evans came upon the Macquarie and the Lachlan—the Murrumbidgee, Bogan, Castlereagh, Namoi, Gwydir, Barwon, Abercrombie, Dumaresq and Logan amongst them. Had these rivers, or some of them, independent courses to the sea, or did they flow into some great inland lake? The solution of those questions was to be the achievement of one whose name will ever shine brightly in the history of Australian exploration-the intrepid, chivalrous, gentle, patient Charles Sturt. He came to Australia in 1827 as a captain in the 39th regiment with a dislike of the military duty assigned to him—"highly prejudiced against W" was his own phrase. In Sydney he became acquainted with Oxley, Cunningham and Hume, and conversed with them about the expedition in which they had taken part. Oxley was a sick man no longer capable of leadership. Sturt was fascinated by the prospect of taking up the work which these men had been doing. Routine garrison duty gave no scope for his eager intelligence; discovery was entirely to his taste; and he was delighted when the Governor decided to give him an opportunity to take an expedition into the interior "to determine the supposed existence of an inland sea."
The chief result of Sturt's expedition of 1828-9 was the discovery of the Darling, which he named. The season was unfortunately unfavourable for seeing this great river in full flood, and Sturt could not realise that it is the stem-stream into which flow the immense spread of rivers which drain the plains of central Queensland. Drought had, in the year of this enterprise, laid its parching hand upon New South Wales. The interior was baked and blistered with heat. The rivers were dry. All the more surprising was it, therefore, when, after traversing country so desolate and so and that Sturt's men on finding a little mud in a river-bed were glad to squeeze it through pieces of cloth to get a drop of water to moisten their mouths, they came, on January 18, 1829, to the banks of a river from seventy to eighty yards broad, and gleaming silvery more than forty feet below its banks.
The travellers climbed down the steep banks to the water, but to their intense disappointment found it salt. "The cup of joy was dashed from our hands before we could raise it to our lips," wrote the leader. Sturt, accompanied by Hamilton Hume, followed the river down-stream for forty miles from the camp and found that it continually increased in breadth; but as the water was still salt he could not risk further exploration. He was compelled to retreat from the Darling to his depot on the Macquarie, which river also was reduced to a chain of water-holes by the terrific drought. An examination of the bed of the Castlereagh, also dry, convinced Sturt that it was a tributary of the Darling, and he was assured that the Macquarie flowed into that river in seasons when there was water enough to enable it to do so. There was no doubt, from the great depth of the Darling's banks, that "furious torrents must sometimes rage in it"; but Sturt was unable to form an opinion as to what became of it when, in a season of plentiful rainfall, it received immense contributions of water from the rivers which poured into it. "Its course is involved in mystery," he wrote. "Does it make its way to the south coast, or exhaust itself in feeding a succession of swamps in the centre of the island?"
That problem was to be solved by Sturt's expedition of 1829, when he discovered the Murray. His immediate object on this journey was to trace the course of the Darling; but in case there should again be perplexity through finding the water salt, it was determined to follow the course of the Murrumbidgee, whose waters were known to be sweet, in the belief that this river was connected with the Darling watershed. The theory proved to be correct. Sturt also judged it possible that it would be desirable to travel some distance by water-an extremely fortunate conjecture; he therefore took with him the frame and timbers of a strong whaleboat. His party travelled to the Murrumbidgee through rich and delightful country, and found the river itself foaming and eddying in a strong current. He was convinced that it would be found to form a junction with another river, and that this river would be navigable.
Arriving at this conclusion, Sturt resolved upon a bold course. He hazarded the entire success of his expedition upon it, and probably also the lives of himself and his men; but it was not a reckless expedient. It is easy enough to-day, with the map open before us, to see that Sturt did the perfectly right thing when he resolved to fit together the parts of his boat, take to the water with a selected band of men, and send back his bullock drays and stores. But Sturt had no map of the country. He only knew of the existence of sundry streams, of the source and ultimate course of not one of which was anything at this time ascertained. It was a remarkable feat of imagination on Sturt's part to conclude that these streams reached one great channel by which they flowed to the sea. But that was the idea which now possessed his mind, and he was certain that he had reached the point on the Murrumbidgee where he must put it to the test. "The Murrumbidgee kept up its character," he wrote in a letter, "and is a magnificent stream. I do not know its fate, but I am obliged to abandon my cattle and have taken to the boats. Where I shall wander to God only knows. I have little doubt, however, that I shall ultimately make the coast. Where do the Hume and the Goulburn and the other streams flow to?" What was in his mind is apparent from that question; and the idea in its absolute rightness came to him in a brilliant flash of inspiration.
Sturt's men proceeded to construct the whaleboat, and also built a smaller boat to carry part of the provisions. He chose six men to accompany him, and on the morning of January 7, 1830, the voyage down-stream commenced. On the following day the smaller boat struck a sunken tree and was wrecked, but most of the useful stores were recovered. On January 14th the Murrumbidgee was found suddenly to take a southerly direction, and the boat shot forward with great velocity. A little later it was "hurried into a great and noble river." Sturt had entered the Murray, as he afterwards named it; though it was the same river as Hume and Hovell had crossed in 1824, which they named the Hume. Eight days later another large river was found, coming from the north. He was convinced that this was the Darling, which he had discovered 300 miles away. "An irresistible conviction impressed me that we were now sailing on that very stream," he wrote. This remarkable expedition finished its work when it reached "the termination of the Murray", where seagulls overhead heralded the first craft that had ever floated on the waters of the great river of Australia.
The discovery of the Murray, like the preceding revelations of the character of inland Australia, had important political consequences. The Wakefieldians in England wished for an opportunity of demonstrating the efficacy of their theory. Previously, the published accounts of that part of the Australian coast which was shortly to pertain to the new province of South Australia had given no reason to hope that fertile lands lay behind the rocky and sandy edge. But Sturt's story suggested great possibilities. "My eye never fell upon a country of more promising aspect or of more favourable position," was his verdict. In 18311 the first project was launched for founding a new colony in the region which Sturt had brought under public notice. Wakefield and his enthusiastic supporters took up the idea; and South Australia came into being in 1836.
The foundation of South Australia led to a series of important expeditions being projected from Adelaide, its capital, westward across the and country above the Great Australian Bight, and northward into the region of the great lakes, into the centre of the continent, and ultimately through to the extreme north opening upon the tropical Timor Sea. Edward John Eyre—who was later to become famous as Governor of Jamaica—in 1841, accompanied by only one white man, Baxter, and three aboriginals, faced immense difficulties in a waterless waste on an expedition of more than three months between South and Western Australia. Baxter was murdered by two of the blacks, but Eyre struggled on through the hot sand with the third, who remained faithful, till he was rescued by a French whaler in Thistle Cove near Esperance. He had hoped to trace out a track for a road between the southern colony and that by this time established on the Swan River in the west; but that road was never made, though the transcontinental railway, constructed in the twentieth century, runs, through a large part of its course, not very far from Eyre's route.
Charles Sturt, who had resigned his commission in the army and accepted the post of Assistant Commissioner of Crown Lands in South Australia, deduced from the flight of birds an ingenious theory as to the existence of good pasture land in the middle of the continent. His argument was this:
"Birds observed east of the Darling in the summer of 1828 in about lat. 29° 30' S. and long. 144° had invariably migrated to the west-north-west. Cockatoos and parrots, known while in the colony to frequent the richest and best-watered valleys of the higher lands, would pass in countless flights to that point of the compass. In South Australia, in lat. 35° and long. 138°, I had also observed that several birds of the same kind annually visited that province from the north. I had seen the Psittacus Novae Hollandiae and the shell paroquet following the shore-line of St. Vincent's Gulf like flights of starlings )in England. The different flights, at intervals of more than a quarter of an hour, all came from the north and followed in one and the same direction. Now, although the casual appearance of a few strange birds should not influence the judgment, yet from the regular migration of the feathered race a reasonable inference may be drawn. Seeing that these two lines if prolonged would meet a little to the northward of the tropic, I formed the following conclusions. First, that the birds migrating on those lines would rest for a time at the point where those lines meet. Secondly, that the country to which they went would resemble that which they had left-that birds which frequented rich valleys or high hills would not settle down in deserts and flat country. Thirdly, that the intervening country, whether owing to deserts or to large sheets of water, was not such as these birds could inhabit. Indeed, such large migrations from different parts to one particular point argued no less strongly the existence of deserts or of sea to a certain distance, than the probable richness of the country to which as to a common goal these migrations tended."
Sturt endeavoured to test this theory on his expedition into the interior in 1844. At the head of a competent party, he followed the course of the Darling to Menindie, 180 miles north of the junction of that river with the Murray, and then struck north-west for the Barrier Range, which was not at that time suspected to contain vast wealth in silver ore. From these hills the party moved north into desert country. The sufferings of men and animals were intense. In January 1845 they were toiling across plains in the blistering summer heat. On January 27 they pitched their tents at a sheltered spot called Rocky Glen, where there was a lagoon and some pasture; but from that depot they were not able to move for six months because they had no hope of finding water anywhere else between their camp and the Darling, more than miles south. "We were locked up in this desolate and heated region," wrote Sturt, "as effectually as if we were ice-bound at the Pole." He saw clearly enough, too, that this enervating detention would paralyse his expedition. Not till the following July, when rain fell, was the party able to move away from Rocky Glen; and then it was forced back by the waterless waste. Ultimately, Sturt, in broken health, had to choose between facing another summer at Rocky Glen and making a rapid dash to the Darling. He chose the latter alternative, himself carried on a bullock-dray because he was too weak to ride; and by easy stages the shattered expedition made its way back to Adelaide, where the gaunt and sun-scorched travellers with their skeleton cattle arrived on January 19, 1846.
This was Sturt's last essay in exploration. He had hoped to reach the centre of the continent, but was baulked by the torrid summer and the waterless waste. But for broken health, however, he would have tried again. "I can only say," he wrote, "that I would not hesitate again to plunge into those dreary regions, that I might be the first to place my foot in the centre of this vast territory, and finally to raise the veil which still shrouds its features, even though, like those of the veiled prophet, they should wither the beholder."
Central Australia nearly turned Sturt's attempt to reveal its secrets into a great tragedy; for two famous expeditions it achieved that end. The first was that of a Prussian man of science, Ludwig Leichhardt. He had come to Australia with letters of introduction to a German mission to aboriginals in Queensland, and his first exploratory work was of a purely scientific character. He hoped to secure an appointment as naturalist on an expedition to be led by Mitchell through the continent to the Gulf of Carpentaria. As Mitchell's plans did not mature, Leichhardt in 1844 raised funds for an expedition of his own, which he conducted to Port Essington in the extreme north. It was the longest journey accomplished through the tropical regions of Australia up to this date. It occupied fifteen months, and the travellers arrived at the coast famished and with scarcely a rag to their backs.
The courage displayed by Leichhardt prompted the people of Sydney to subscribe to fit out a second expedition, and the Legislative Council of New South Wales supplemented the subscription by voting £1000. On this occasion (1846-7) Leichhardt hoped to traverse Australia from cast to west, but was driven back to the coast after fighting against drought and heat for five months. Nothing daunted, however, he started again in 1848, planning to march from Moreton Bay to the Swan River. From this journey he never returned, and no authentic trace of him and his party has ever been found. His fate is one of the mysteries of Australian history which there is no hope of clearing up. A. C. Gregory, who led a party in search of Leichhardt, found on the Barcoo River a tree marked with the letter L, and the remains of several camps which may have been Leichhardt's were examined, but none of the traces were satisfactorily connected with his fate. The several expeditions which went in search of him, however, did find good pastoral country; and probably the scouring of the interior in the endeavour to solve the mystery did more to reveal the real nature of central Australia, to distinguish its economically useful tracts from its patches of desert, and to prove that seasonal variations made all the difference to its value, than his own expedition would have done if he had succeeded in his stated object.
The second tragedy of the interior was that of Burke and Wills in 1861. It was the best equipped expedition that ever set forth to explore any part of Australia. In Melbourne, where it originated, there was keen desire to ascertain what good pasture-lands there might be in the centre of the continent. By public subscription and Government subsidy £12,000 was raised, camels were brought from India, a scientific staff was engaged, and all the preparations appeared to be so carefully planned as to ensure success for a journey which, starting from a depot established at Menindie on the Darling, was to terminate at the Gulf of Carpentaria.
But a mistake was made in entrusting the command to Robert O'Hara Burke. He was a police officer of undoubted courage, but he had no knowledge of bushcraft, and his impatient rashness brought calamity to the enterprise and death to himself and to Wills. G. J. Landells, chosen as second in command, quarrelled with Burke before the expedition reached the Darling, and returned to Melbourne with the artist, Ludwig Beckler, who also found Burke's manner unendurable. W. J. Wills, who had been taken as surveyor, was then appointed by Burke to Landells' position.
Bunke, having formed his depot at Menindie, hurried on to Cooper's Creek. Finding grass and water plentiful, he sent back an order to move the depot to Cooper's Creek, and waited six weeks for this order to be executed. But he became impatient, and determined to make a dash for the Gulf of Carpentaria. He took with him three men, Wills, King and Gray, with provisions for three months, borne on six camels. The provisions were nearly exhausted before the sea was reached, and the camels all succumbed to Burke's impetuous speed. Burke and Wills went ahead of their two companions, and reached the estuary of the Flinders River, but did not obtain a glimpse of the sea, nor dared to spend the two extra days that would have been necessary to cut their way through the jungle to the beach.
The return journey was a march to death. Gray died by the way, but Burke, Wills and King managed to get back to Cooper's Creek, though terribly emaciated by their privations and exertions. They had expected to find the depot there; but the man who had been left in charge of it, having waited six weeks longer than he had been ordered to wait and finding his provisions diminishing, departed for Menindie seven hours before Burke and Wills arrived. He left behind a small stock of provisions, which the three eagerly ate. The obvious course was to follow to Menindie as soon as they had rested; but a strain of perversity in Burke brought calamity. He insisted on making for Adelaide, because, he said, there was a cattle station at Mount Hopeless 50 miles away. Wills argued strongly for taking the Menindie route, but could not persuade the leader, and accompanied him on the fatal journey along Cooper's Creek in the direction of Adelaide. Both men perished by the way; King fell in with a native tribe, who succoured him till he was rescued by a relief party under the command of Alfred Howitt.
To the Burke and Wills expedition, however, pertains the credit of being the first to traverse the continent from south to north, though this success was only barely achieved. John McDouall Stuart, starting from Adelaide, attempted the same feat in 1860. His memorable attainment on this journey was the reaching of the centre of the continent (April 22, 1860), where he erected a cairn upon which he placed a pole with the British flag nailed to it. The red sandstone hill which he found near the central point he named Central Mount Sturt, "after my excellent and esteemed commander of the expedition in 1844 and 1845, Captain Sturt"; but the name was afterwards changed to Central Mount Stuart by the Governor of South Australia. Stuart found in the centre of the continent a fine stretch of well-grassed country, but in his advance farther north was defeated by lack of provisions, attacks by aboriginals, and shortage of water.
He made another attempt in 1861, and this time penetrated 100 miles beyond his farthest point in the previous year, but found the hot plains and the thick scrub "as great a barrier as if there had been an inland sea or a wall." But his long experience as an explorer, and his consummate knowledge of bush travelling, were rewarded by complete success when he made his third attempt in 1862. On July 24 of that year his party emerged from their seven months' journey upon the north coast of the continent near Port Darwin. Stuart himself spent every grain of his strength in these three great journeys, which left him a sick and partially blind man, but they were of the utmost value in demonstrating the truth about central Australia—that in favourable seasons much of the country is good grazing land.
The inland journeys of Mitchell, Gregory, Landsborough, Stephen Hart, McKinlay, and Frederick Walker also did much to dispel gloomy ideas of the barrenness of the interior, which the failures of Sturt, Leichhardt and Burke and Wills had engendered, McKinlay demonstrated the possibility of driving sheep across the continent, and all the explorers just named found excellent pastoral lands, from which, in fact, fortunes have been made in later years by enterprising men with knowledge, experience, and sufficient discernment to distinguish between seasons when man and beast cannot live in drought-stricken territory and those when the feeding-grounds are green with nourishing grasses.
Turning next to the south-east corner of the continent, a sharp contrast is presented in the mountain ranges which extend from the Monaro table-land across the New South Wales border into the Victorian Alps and the steep slopes of Gippsland. The pioneer in Gippsland exploration was Angus Macmillan, a Scottish Highlander who came to Australia in 1838, and found employment with a squatter, Lachlan Macalister, who had a sheep-station near Goulburn. These were the squatting days, and Macalister, on the look-out for desirable lands to occupy with his flocks, sent Macmillan to examine the country south of Monaro, then entirely unknown. In a narrative written by himself, Macmillan stated that he heard from aboriginals "that a fine country existed near the sea-coast." In May 1839 he started to look for it, accompanied by one black of the Maneroo tribe, who knew something of the lay of the land. He did not reach the coast on this journey, but found a good site for a cattle-station for his employer, and then returned. He started again early in 1840, when, travelling over "some of the worst description of country I ever saw", he succeeded in breaking through the range leading down to the coast, but did not quite get there. Provisions ran short, "and as some of the party were unwilling to prosecute the journey on short allowance," he retreated with the determination to bring cattle down to the district which he had discovered. This he did in October 1840, when he cleared a road over the mountains and drove 500 head of cattle over it to the Avon River; after which he cleared a track to Port Albert. "When I started to explore the district," Macmillan said, "I had no guide but my pocket compass and a chart of Captain Flinders. We had not even a tent, but used to camp out and make rough gunyas wherever we remained for the night."
Macmillan wanted to call the district which he had thus opened Caledonia Australis, because it reminded him of his native country; a Highlander was naturally struck with the similarity between this region of rough peaks and green valleys through which tumbled cool, sparkling rivers, and the hills and glens of Scotland. But Caledonia Australis was Latin, and long; the name Gippsland, after the Governor of New South Wales at that time, was suggested by a Polish traveller, Count Strzelecki, and endured.
Strzelecki was a geologist, who came to Australia in 1838 to make researches in his own field of science; he was, indeed, one of the first to discover traces of gold in this country. It is owing to him, likewise, that the highest mountain in Australia bears a Polish name, that of the celebrated patriot of his country, Kosciusko. In 1840 the Count set out with a small party to traverse the rough country which Macmillan had already crossed; but he was less skilful than his predecessor, though he was rewarded with the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society, whilst Macmillan received no official recognition. Strzelecki miscalculated his whereabouts and the distance to the coast. Planning to march through Caledonia Australis to Westernport, he and his companions toiled for twenty-two days over the hills and across the swamps, cutting their way with terrific exertion, reduced to the verge of starvation by the exhaustion of their provisions. They arrived at Westernport in a ragged and famished condition. If they had followed Macmillan's directions, they would have reached the sea with comparatively little difficulty.
The exploration of the western part of Australia makes a chapter of history in itself, because, though that country is connected continuously by land with eastern and southern Australia, the country forming the connection is less like a link than a cleavage. An enormous stretch of territory, much of which is desert and all difficult to traverse, even in favourable seasons, lies between. After the commencement of colonisation in 1829 many journeys into the interior were made from the capital, Perth, with the practical object of finding good land for settlement. The first expedition that attracted much general attention to Western Australia was that of George Grey and Lushington in 1837-8 and again in 1839. The discovery of the Glenelg, Irwin and Gascoyne rivers rewarded Grey's efforts, and brought him under the notice of the authorities in England, with the consequence that he was appointed Governor of South Australia and afterwards of New Zealand and South Africa.
Apart from Grey, the most famous of the explorers of Western Australia were the brothers John and Alexander Forrest and Ernest Giles. The colony on the Swan River had existed for forty years, however, before John Forrest, who was in 1869 a junior officer in the Survey Department, undertook to lead an expedition into the interior, primarily to investigate a story which some natives had told that white men had been murdered on the shores of a great lake to the east of the Hampton Plains. It was thought that traces of Leichhardt might be found by examining the locality. Forrest soon satisfied himself that there was no foundation for the report; but he travelled for 200 miles through territory which he found entirely worthless for pastoral or settlement purposes, but which nevertheless he believed to be richly mineralised. In 1870 Forrest set out again with his brother to travel overland from Perth to Adelaide. He knew that the difficulties would be great, for the route lay over the ground which had brought Eyre to a desperate plight, and nearly to disaster, in 1837. But, being prudent as well as courageous and very strong, Forrest arranged for a schooner with provisions to meet him at Esperance Bay for a first renewal of necessities, and at Eucla for a second supply. These plans succeeded; so that, though Forrest and his party certainly suffered severely from thirst, especially between Esperance and Eucla, they travelled through the waterless territory with the knowledge that there was relief for them at the appointed place. Adelaide was reached after a journey of five months. The object was not merely geographical discovery. It was desired to ascertain whether there was any good pastoral country inland from the Bight. On this point Forrest's reports were reassuring. He satisfied himself that water could be found in some places by digging, that there were excellent patches of grass land, and that in seasons of liberal rainfall the district was worth using for stock purposes.
A third important journey of Forrest, who again had his brother Alexander with him, was for the purpose of examining the tropical areas of Western Australia which was drained by the Murchison, Gascoyne, Fitzroy and other rivers, flowing into the sea on the north and north-west. Splendid grazing-land was found between the rivers, with abundance of water. But Forrest's determination to return after an examination of the desert country east of these river valleys brought him into difficulties and privations which tried the courage and endurance of his party.
Ernest Giles made three expeditions into the arid lands west of Stuart's transcontinental track—in 1872, 1873 and 1875, on the third of which lie travelled overland to Perth and back. By this time there was no longer much occasion to send out exploring expeditions, because the general character of the continent was well known, and there was no lack of enterprising mining prospectors and pastoralists who were continually on the move to find profitable ground.
This books brings together a collection of the original narratives of the men who unveiled the face of Australia. The stories which they wrote are scattered over many volumes, and few people, even among those who are keenly interested in the tale of the discovery of this continent, have the opportunity of gaining access to first-hand records of these memorable achievements. Many of the volumes are rare; few are easy to obtain. Here, however, the reader will find Blaxland's own narrative of the first crossing of the Blue Mountains, and the most important passages describing the discoveries of other men who cut their way through trackless regions and prepared the way for the pastoralist, the miner and the farmer. By these men, in the manner represented herein by themselves, was the continent of Australia made known.
The best general work dealing systematically with explorations described by the original narratives in this volume is Ernest Favenc's History of Australian Exploration* (1888). An older work by J. E. Tenison Woods, History the Discovery and Exploration of Australia (1865), is still useful. There are short biographies of the various explorers in The Australian Encyclopaedia edited by A. W. Jose and H. J. Carter (1925), as well as a long article dealing with the whole subject. The following books are (or contain) original stories of the several journeys of exploration: J. Davis, Tracks of McKinley and Party across Australia; E. J. Eyre, Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia*; John Forrest, Explorations in Australia*, and Journal of an Expedition to explore the Country from West Australia to Port Eucla and thence to Adelaide; Ernest Giles, Australia Twice Traversed, Geographical Travels in Central Australia*, and Journey of Exploration from South to West Australia; A. C. and F. T. Gregory, Journals of Australian Exploration*; W. Landsborough, Exploration of Australia from Carpentaria to Melbourne, and Journal of Expedition from Carpentaria in search of Burke and Wills*; Leichhardt, Journal of an Overland Expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington*; J. McKinlay, Journal of Exploration in the Interior of Australia*; T. L. Mitchell, Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia*, and Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia*; C. Sturt, Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia*, and Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia*; J. M. Stuart, Exploration of the Interior of Australia, and Explorations in Australia, being journals during the years 1858 to 1862*; Oxley, Journals of Two Expeditions*; Strzelecki, Physical Description of New South Wales; W. J. Wills, Exploration through the Interior of Australia*; G. Blaxland, Journal of a Tour of Discovery across the Blue Mountains* (in facsimile as well as in original edition).
Note: The works marked * are available as
eBooks from the
Australiana page at Project Gutenberg Australia