Tag Archives: Bathurst Plains

Governor Macquarie: impressed and impressionable

Governor Macquarie’s report on his tour across the Western or Blue Mountains in April-May 1815 is a remarkable document not only for its objectivity of observation but for its evidence of an emotional response to scenes observed.

There are many passages which reveal Macquarie’s official interests and concerns. His purpose in causing a road to be built across the mountains was ‘for the Passage and Conveyance of Cattle and Provisions to the Interior.’ He was on the look-out for good soil and pasturage, in conformity with the colony’s need to develop its agricultural and pastoral resources. He repeatedly refers to areas of good soil and grass. ‘On descending Cox’s Pass, the Governor was much gratified by the appearance of good pasture land and soil fit for cultivation, which was the first he had met with since the commencement of his Tour.’ In the Vale of Clwyd, ‘The grass in this vale is of a good quality, and very abundant, and a rivulet of fine water runs along it from the eastward…’ West of Cox’s River, ‘the country again becomes hilly, but is generally open forest land, and very good pasturage.’

It seems likely that expressions of gratification combine an official and a personal pleasure, and perhaps a sense of relief that the effort of exploring and road-building has been worthwhile. On reaching the Campbell River (a river that bore his wife’s maiden name), ‘The Governor was highly gratified by the appearance of the country, which there began to exhibit an open and extensive view of gently rising grounds and fertile plains.’ The soil on the banks of the river ‘is uncommonly rich and the grass is consequently luxuriant.’ This is despite the fact that there has apparently been an ‘extraordinary drought’ for the last three years and the river has been reduced to ‘a Chain of Pools.’

The literary quality of the prose is typical of the time. Its sensitivity and expressiveness may reflect not Macquarie’s personal attitudes purely but also those of his wife and his compeers. Nevertheless, the document is surely revealing not only of levels of thinking, feeling and discourse which prevailed in the Governor’s circle and received his approval, but of ideas and sensations which carried his personal stamp.

Most personal perhaps, while still retaining marks of objectivity, is the description of the Bathurst Plains, ‘a rich tract of champaign country of 11 miles in length, bounded on both sides by gently rising and very beautiful hills, thinly wooded’:

It is impossible to behold this grand scene without a feeling of admiration and surprise, whilst the silence and solitude which reign in a space of such extent and beauty as seems designed by Nature for the occupancy and comfort of Man, create a degree of melancholy in the mind which may be more easily imagined than described.

Some of the descriptions may suggest something of the real estate agent eager to encourage settlers, but here the Governor is moved to register an emotional response at least partially at variance with any policy of advertisement.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2.

From Emu Ford to the Bathurst Plains

Governor Lachlan Macquarie, in reporting his tour to the Bathurst Plains in April-May 1815, recalls his earlier surprise at ‘the want of effort’ during the first twenty-five years of the life of the colony to find a way over the Blue Mountains. He was less surprised now, he confesses, considering the thickness and near impenetrability of the forest, and the amount of land that was already available to supply the needs of the colony at that time.

Macquarie’s journey, although called a tour of inspection, was itself also one of exploration. There was plenty of opportunity to observe the country more carefully, and to make excursions in various directions. It is of interest that he speaks of ‘the Western or Blue Mountains’; the terminology was still not completely fixed.

The party left on 25 April 1815 and began their return from Bathurst on 11 May, arriving back on 19 May. The stages of the journey out, with the distances in miles calculated from Emu Ford on the Nepean River, were as follows: Spring Wood (12), Jamison’s Valley or second depot (28), Blackheath (41), Cox’s River (56), the Fish River (72), Sidmouth Valley (80), Campbell River (91) and Bathurst (101½). Each of these stages had abundant water and good grass.

The first part of the ascent up the mountains was found relatively easy. Four miles beyond Spring Wood the ground became rugged and difficult. At the 18th mile mark a pile of stones was interpreted as the furthest point reached by Mr. Caley, and the Governor named that part of the mountain Caley’s Repulse. The difficult terrain continued till the 26th mile, where the country opened out to an extensive plain on ‘the summit of the Western Mountains.’ From here there was a fine view back to Windsor, the Hawkesbury River, Prospect Hill and other places. The Governor, mindful of his position as the King’s representative, named this feature after the King himself, as the King’s Table Land. Also named after royalty in the course of the tour were The Prince Regent’s Glen, a ‘romantically beautiful’ place beneath immense cliffs on the south-western side of the King’s Table Land, and Mount York, a ‘magnificently grand’ termination of a mountain ridge on the further side of the mountains, named after His Royal Highness the Duke of York. Two features were named after prominent politicians: at the 33rd mile a picturesque opening seen on the south-west side of the Prince Regent’s Glen, circular in shape and revealing mountains beyond mountains, was named Pitt’s Amphitheatre after the late Right Honourable William Pitt; and out in the western plains a site fixed on for a future town was named Bathurst after the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Other places named on the tour include Cox’s Pass, the precipitous descent down the further side of the Mountains, where Cox’s skill in constructing a road down was highly commended by the Governor; the Vale of Clwyd at the foot of Mount York, thought to resemble a valley of that name in North Wales; Cox’s River, which runs from the Prince Regent’s Glen to the Nepean and forms a boundary to the Vale of Clwyd; Mount Blaxland, Wentworth’s Sugar Loaf and Lawson’s Sugar Loaf, three ‘beautiful high hills joining each other’ three miles west of the Vale of Clwyd, where Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth had terminated their explorations; and Clarence Hilly Range, a range of high hills and narrow valleys between the Cox’s and Fish Rivers, difficult for cattle. Various features had been named in the course of the expedition of George Evans, including Mount Evans, ‘a very singular and beautiful Mountain’ with a distinctive round rock at the top; the explorer had named the mountain after himself.

The Fish and Campbell Rivers join to form the Macquarie River, which winds through the Bathurst Plains. On the south side of the Macquarie River, but above the level of floods, the site of Bathurst was chosen ‘to derive all the advantages’ of that ‘clear and beautiful stream.’ Macquarie noted that this location, with its rich and fertile soil, would be a fine place for ‘Mechanics and Settlers of whatever description.’

One anticipated advantage had evaporated:

The Governor must however add, that the hopes which were once so sanguinely entertained of this River becoming navigable to the Western Sea have ended in disappointment.

Report of the Governor’s tour: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2. Report of the expedition of George Evans: ibid. 12/2/1814, p. 1.

William Cox, road-maker

William Cox (1764-1837) arrived in Sydney in January 1800 as an officer in the New South Wales Corps. He succeeded John Macarthur as paymaster but got into financial difficulties when he bought for more than he could afford Macarthur’s Brush Farm at Dundas and other properties. This caused considerable inconvenience as it meant that others had to oversee the process of selling off his estate to pay his debts. He also incurred official displeasure owing to misuse of funds he was supposed to administer as paymaster. He was arrested, and in February 1807 sent to England, but a trial apparently did not eventuate. In 1810 he returned to New South Wales, having resigned his army commission the previous year, and began a rehabilitated life under Governor Macquarie. He lived, farmed and served as a magistrate in the Hawkesbury area, where his conduct won popular approval. He undertook a number of building works for the government, and this gave him a background for offering to construct a road across the Blue Mountains.

By a Government and General Order of 12 July 1814, Governor Lachlan Macquarie declared the construction of a road across the Blue Mountains ‘to the extensive Tract of Champaign Country lately explored by Mr. Evans’ to be ‘an object of the first Importance to the future Prosperity of the Colony.’ Acknowledgment was made of the ‘very handsome and liberal Manner’ in which William Cox had tendered his personal services for the undertaking. The Governor had accepted his proposal, had ‘entrusted to his Care and Judgment the entire Execution of the said Work,’ and was now making it known that the public were to keep away from the road under construction, so that the work could proceed unhindered and be completed as quickly as possible. Any unauthorised persons proceeding to the road or even crossing over the Nepean River to ‘Emu Plains’ while the road was being made would be taken prisoner by the Military Guard to be stationed at Emu Plains and sent to Sydney.

The term ‘Emu Plains’ was expressly used in this Order for that area ‘hitherto erroneously called Emu Island.’ It was from Emu Plains, on the left bank of the Nepean River, that the road was to start. Construction would begin in a few days’ time with the sending out of a working party of thirty men with a guard of eight soldiers. An announcement would be made in the Sydney Gazette when the road became ‘passable for Carts or Carriages of any kind.’

‘Government and General Order’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 23/7/1814, p. 1. Edna Hickson, ‘Cox, William (1764-1837)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 258-259, and online. William Cox, A Narrative of Proceedings of William Cox, Esq., of Clarendon, lately holding a commission in the New South Wales Corps or 102nd Regiment, in constructing a road from Capt. Woodriffe’s farm on the Nepean River, opposite Emu Plains, over the Blue Mountains, and from thence to Bathurst Plains, on the banks of the Macquarie River, in the years 1814 & 1815, Sydney, White, 1888.