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.