Tag Archives: Bathurst

Rain at Hunter’s River and not a blade of grass at Bathurst

On 17 February 1827 the Monitor newspaper in Sydney published a letter to the editor which referred to current weather conditions:

Cattle are dying in many parts of the Country through the drought, and the Hawkesbury Maize crop is ruined. There is, however, a plenty of it at Hunter’s River, where the rains have fallen (so I am informed) in great profusion. There is not a blade of grass at Bathurst and the case is much the same in many parts of Argyle.

The letter was dated Clydsdale [sic], 12 February 1827, and signed ‘R. M. T.’ The last initial suggests a relative of Charles Tompson, who bought Clydesdale Farm near Windsor in 1819 and was still in possession at the time of this letter. He had arrived in Sydney in 1804, having been transported for seven years. He acquired land in various parts of the colony, including (I understand) a property at Bathurst also given the name Clydesdale. In the present context ‘Clydsdale’ no doubt refers to his estate at South Creek near Windsor. The letter-writer (a son of Charles?), in mentioning the four regions of the Hawkesbury, Hunter’s River, Bathurst and Argyle, is likely to have had specific properties in mind. Charles had a number of sons, among them Charles jr., a poet; I have not identified R.M.T. The county of Argyle lay to the south-west of Sydney and centred on the township of Goulburn.

In his Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, John Dunmore Lang comments (p. 209) on the regional variability of climatic conditions in the colony, in a passage which has in view the same drought to which the letter-writer was referring:

Calamitous as it was, however, the drought was only partial, whole districts having either entirely or in great measure escaped its influence. It was much less felt, for instance, in the county of Argyle, to the southward and westward, than in the lowlands or earlier settled districts of the colony. In the lower parts of the settlement of Hunter’s River, or on what the Americans would call the sea-board, it was by no means so severe as at a greater distance from the coast: and in Illawarra, an extensive and highly fertile district about fifty miles to the southward of Port Jackson, the few settlers who had cultivated grain in any quantity never lost a crop. Such also was the case at the settlements of Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay, to the northward; and at Patrick’s Plains, a tract of fertile land on Hunter’s River, naturally destitute of timber, where the crop was nearly all destroyed in the year 1828, a good crop was reaped in the first year of the drought.

Letter to the editor: The Monitor 17/2/1827, p. 5. Note Adele Whitmore (comp.), Descendants of Charles Tompson: Australian Family Tree and Album, 4 vols., South Penrith NSW, A.M. Whitmore, 1987. John Dunmore Lang, An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, from the Founding of the Colony in 1788 to the Present Day, 4th ed., vol. I, London, Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1875, p. 209. Baker’s Australian County Atlas includes a map of the County of Argyle, accessible online.

This most tremendous journey

(Continuing with the story of the Hawkins family as they journey from Sydney to Bathurst in 1822. See the entry of 16/2/2011 and onwards.)

At last the day came, Friday 12 April 1822, when it was time for the Hawkins family to move off on their journey over the Blue Mountains. There was some final loading to do, and many things had to be left behind because they could not fit in all their luggage as well as the provisions required – food for the family and for nine men who accompanied them, and corn for the cattle as there was not enough grass on the Mountains. They had two drays pulled by five bullocks each, another dray pulled by four horses, and a cart with two horses; there were no more carts available. Government officers did as much as they could, says Elizabeth, to make the family comfortable. Sir John Jamison came to see them off and gave them ‘a quarter of mutton, a couple of fowls, and some butter.’ They left with the good wishes of all, ‘not excepting a party of natives who had come to bid us welcome.’

They had not gone far before progress was temporarily halted. No more than a quarter of a mile along the road, still within sight of Emu Island, the second bullock dray became bogged in the sandy bed of a stream that ran across their way. The store-keeper superintendent and overseer at Emu saw them in distress and came to help, and stayed till nightfall. It took an hour to get the dray out, with the horses pulling as well as the bullocks.

After another quarter of a mile of slow progress, they were well and truly confronted with the challenge of the climb ahead.

… and now, my dear sister, imagine me at the foot of a tremendous mountain, the difficulty of passing which is as great or greater, I suppose, than any known road in the world, not from the road’s being bad, as it has been made, and is hard all the way, but because of the extreme steepness of the road, the hollow places and the large and rugged pieces of rock.

The Hawkins were the first family of free settlers to attempt to cross the mountains, and Elizabeth had been left in no doubt about the difficulties to be expected.

I had now before me this most tremendous journey. I was told I deserved to be immortalised for the attempt, and that Government could not do too much for us for taking such a family to a settlement where none had ever gone before.

The day they set off from Emu Island to climb the Mountains was the day that Thomas Fitzherbert Hawkins’ appointment as Commissariat storekeeper at Bathurst was announced in the Sydney Gazette.

Quotations are from ‘The Mountains in 1822: Lady’s vivid diary, I’, Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13; other sources should be checked to clarify the original wording.

Weather conditions: Friday 12 April 1822: Emu Island, apparently fine. Letter, Elizabeth Hawkins to sister, 7 May 1822, partially reproduced in Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13.

A family travels from Sydney to Bathurst in 1822

In an Order of 11 April 1822, the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane, announced several appointments relating to the Commissariat. These included the appointment of Mr. Thomas Fitzherbert Hawkins, Purser to the Royal Navy, to be Commissariat Storekeeper at Bathurst, ‘His Pay to commence on his Arrival at that Station.’

Thomas Fitzherbert Hawkins (1781-1837), born in England, became a purser in the Royal Navy in 1800 and served in that position during the Napoleonic wars. At the end of his service he was lame from an injury and out of a job, and he turned to business but without success. He had married in 1802, and in 1821 he emigrated with his wife Elizabeth (1783-1875), mother-in-law and children, arriving in Sydney in January 1822. Some three months later he received the appointment as store-keeper and the family left Sydney for Bathurst six days before the date of the Order.

This entailed a journey of over two weeks, described in detail by Elizabeth in a letter of 7 May 1822 to her sister in England. A century later the letter was published in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1923). The letter was reproduced in two instalments in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1929. There are typescript copies in the State Library of New South Wales and the National Library of Australia.

At the beginning of her letter Elizabeth says, ‘We have accomplished it,’ a turn of phrase that might carry a hint of the modern ‘We’ve done it.’ It was no small feat, and she describes for her sister the difficulties that had to be overcome to reach their destination.

It was necessary first to arrange for a house in Bathurst and to be sure of the support of the Governor. They were ready to leave by Good Friday, 4 April [actually 5 April], and they departed the next day, sent off in an emotional farewell by many well-wishers.

Their luggage was fairly substantial: a table and twelve chairs, ‘earthenware, cooking utensils, bedding, a few agricultural implements, groceries, and other necessaries to last us a few months,’ together with their clothes. To carry themselves and their luggage they had a waggon drawn by six bullocks, a dray with five bullocks, a cart with two bullocks, and a ‘tilted cart’ drawn by two horses to carry Elizabeth, her mother and the seven children. ‘Hawkins and Tom rode on horseback.’

The weather was fine on leaving and the road to Parramatta good, ‘equal to any turn-pike road in England.’ Elizabeth remarks that there is a forest on each side but the sun gets through (contrary apparently to what one might expect in England) because the trees are high and branch at the top. Progress was slow. As they neared Parramatta, Thomas rode ahead to the Female Factory, procured a servant there and was back in time for dinner, which was had ‘at the foot of a tree.’ After a journey of 25 miles they arrived late that night at Rooty Hill and were received at Government House.

They rested the next day, tired out and forbidden to travel on Sunday by general orders. ‘I could have been contented to have remained there forever. The house was good, and the land all around like a fine wooded park in England.’

(To be continued.)

‘Government and General Orders’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 12/4/1822, p. 1. ‘Hawkins, Thomas Fitzherbert (1781-1837)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 524-525, and online. E. Hawkins, with introduction by H. Selkirk, ‘Journey from Sydney to Bathurst in 1822’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society) 9(4), 1923, 177-197. Approximately the first third of the letter is reproduced in two instalments in the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘The Mountains in 1822: Lady’s vivid diary, I’, Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13 (‘Her correspondence as here presented is practically as in the original, little editing having been required’); ‘The Mountains in 1822: Lady’s vivid diary, II’, ibid. 7/9/1929, p. 13. Mrs. Elizabeth Hawkins, ‘Journey from Sydney to Bathurst in 1822’, in George Mackaness (coll. and ed.), Fourteen Journeys over the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, 1831-1841 (Australian Historical Monographs, New Series, 22-24), Part 2: 1819-1827, Sydney, Ford, 1950(1951?), pp. 102-117. Elizabeth Hawkins – Crossing the Blue Mountains. The diary of an early traveller across the Blue Mountains, on the website of the Ambermere Rose Inn (Little Hartley).

Weather conditions: 6 April 1822 (Easter Saturday): Sydney, morning fine and sunny. 7 (Easter Sunday): Rooty Hill (near Parramatta), fine. 8: Rooty Hill – Nepean area, fine. Letter, Elizabeth Hawkins to sister, 7 May 1822, partially reproduced in Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13.

Dating: Elizabeth says in her letter that Good Friday was 4 April. However it was in fact 5 April.

Blue Mountains travel and accommodation in 1835-1836

Under the heading ‘Accommodations on the Mountain Road’, the Sydney Herald in July 1835 published a list of inns to be found along the road from the Nepean River to Bathurst. The newspaper noted:

Since the last License Meeting, a regular line of Inns at short stages has been established on the Mountain Road from the Nepean River to Bathurst, which renders travelling infinitely less irksome than it has been during previous years.

The ‘houses licensed for public accommodation’ are listed as being at the following places. The list shows eleven inns on the Mountains and gives their distances from Sydney.

Top of Lapstone-hill: Pilgrim (40 miles)
Fitzgerald’s Valley: Woolpack (45)
Twenty-mile hollow: Pembroke’s (55)
Jamison’s Valley: Weatherboard Inn (63).
Pulpit-hill: Scotch Thistle (70)
Blackheath: Gardner’s (77)
Mount Victoria: Skeene’s (83)
Hassan’s Walls: Traveller’s Inn (91)
Solitary Creek: Mail Coach (99).
Honeysuckle Flat: Trafalgar Inn (108)
Green Swamp: Green Man (120).

In addition, there were ten ‘houses of entertainment’ at Bathurst, seven on the Roxburgh or Old Settler’s side of the Macquarie River and three on the New Township or Government side,

the whole affording comfortable accommodation to every class of wayfarers respectively, from the luxurious traveller in his phaeton and pair, to the humble pedestrian, who forgets his fatigue over bread and cheese and beer.

In December of that year, under the heading ‘Bathurst Mail’, J. Reilly, in conjunction with Mr. Ireland, advertised in the Sydney Monitor their plans ‘on the commencement of the New Year, to start a CONVEYANCE to and from Bathurst and Sydney Twice a Week, leaving Sydney every Tuesday and Friday Morning, at 6 o’Clock…’ Mr. Reilly had already been providing a coach service in the Bathurst area. Booking offices were in Bathurst (Mrs. Dillon’s) and Sydney (J. Reilly’s, 109 Pitt-street). The schedule from Sydney to Bathurst would be:

Parramatta: arrive by 8 o’clock, breakfast, leave at 9
Penrith: arrive at half past 11, leave at 12
The Weather Board: arrive at 7, meet the conveyance from Bathurst, stop the night, start at 6 in the morning
[Blackheath:] Stop at Andrew Gardner’s, breakfast, leave at 9
Bathurst: arrive at 7.

From Bathurst, the conveyance would leave at 6 o’clock in the morning on Tuesday and Friday, reach the Weather Board that evening, start again at 6 in the morning, and reach Penrith at half-past 10. From Penrith ‘a large Carriage on Four Wheels, drawn by Three Horses,’ would reach Sydney the same evening. If there were sufficient customers, this Penrith Coach would run to and from Sydney daily.

List of inns: Sydney Herald 20/7/1835, p. 2. Bathurst Mail: Sydney Monitor 19/12/1835, p. 4; similarly 23/12/1835, p. 4.

The naming of Blackheath in the Blue Mountains

The extensive Hounslow Heath near London inspired Governor Lachlan Macquarie to give the name ‘Hounslow’ to a heath-like part of the Blue Mountains during his tour of inspection in April-May 1815. In his journal entry for Saturday 29 April 1815 he wrote:

The Ground about and adjacent to the 41 Mile Tree being a good stage for both Water and Forage, and it having rather a wild Heath-like appearance, I have named it “Hounslow”.

The reference to water and forage echoes the fact that Hounslow Heath had long been found a useful situation for army encampments.

On his return journey over the Blue Mountains from Bathurst Macquarie decided on a different name for the same site. In the entry for Monday 15 May he wrote:

We got into the Carriage on the summit of Mount York, and pursued our Journey forwards; arriving at our former Ground at the 41 Mile Tree at 2 o’clock, dis[tan]ce. from Cox’s River 14 miles. — This Place having a black wild appearance I have this day named it “Black-Heath”. — It affords however plenty of good water for Man and Beast and tolerable good Feed for the latter.

It seems rather unlikely that he had forgotten the name he assigned to the area a fortnight earlier. Possibly his words ‘this day’ signal a change of mind. The description of 15 May corresponds in its essentials to that of 29 April: the ‘wild’ appearance, the idea of a heath, the water and the feed for animals.

The first name he had decided upon used either the name of the town Hounslow near Hounslow Heath in England or (more probably) the ‘Hounslow’ of ‘Hounslow Heath’ itself. The second name used the ‘Heath’ with an additional descriptor which emphasised the character of the place concerned. Blackheath in England is named for its dark-coloured heath, and the English name could have had some influence, but the sequence of events suggests that Macquarie did not name the Blue Mountains site after its English namesake. The use in his journal of the hyphenated form ‘Black-Heath’ would seem to support this interpretation (unless that form was also used in England).

A third designation became associated with the Blue Mountains site, the full ‘Hounslow Heath’, as noted in the journal of the botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham, in an entry for 10 April 1817:

Continuing our route on the new road which runs on the main edge of the mountains and forms one side of the Prince Regent’s Glen, we arrived at an open but low bushy tract of country, which His Excellency had named Hounslow Heath, although it is frequently termed Blackheath.

Here Hounslow Heath is taken to be the name officially bestowed and Blackheath a popular name. Perhaps ‘Hounslow Heath’ in this usage was to some degree a combination of ‘Hounslow’ and ‘Blackheath’ rather than a straight repetition of the English Hounslow Heath. Or perhaps the English name, being so well known, had a habit of overriding others as the presumed official name.

In issuing a report for a public readership soon after his tour of inspection, Governor Macquarie used the name Blackheath. It was a name that commended itself as being simple, straightforward and appropriate. In the report Blackheath is listed as the third outward stage in the party’s progress over the Blue Mountains, occurring at a distance of 41 miles from the beginning of the journey at Emu Ford.

Memories of the impressive sight of troops on Hounslow Heath in England evidently remained fresh in the minds of some colonists. In a newspaper report of 10 June 1826 we read:

Hyde Park presented an animated appearance on Thursday last. A Review of the Troops of the Garrison took place by His Excellency the Governor, which drew together a large assemblage of the Sydney Fashionables. Some portentous clouds in the morning threatened to mar the expected pleasures of the day, but “at length the prospect clearing,” equestrians and pedestrians began to throng to the ground, and in a short time Hyde Park presented a scene which might have been viewed with pleasure even by those in whose memory Hounslow Heath, or the Phœnix Park yet lived in their brightest colours.

The original area of Hounslow Heath near London is now largely occupied by Heathrow Airport, named after the former hamlet of Heath Row on Hounslow Heath.

Governor Macquarie’s journal: ‘Tour to the New discovered Country in April 1815.’ Journal of Allan Cunningham, 1 March 1817 onwards, on the website of The Allan Cunningham Project. Report of the Governor’s tour: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2 (for Blackheath see p. 2). Review of the troops of the Garrison: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1826, p. 2.

Three Native men and six children

Friction with the Aboriginal population of Sydney and surrounding areas was (despite his best efforts) a feature of Lachlan Macquarie’s tenure as Governor. However, references to Aborigines in his report of 8 July 1815 (discussed yesterday) indicate harmony and co-operation. Relations deteriorated as the expansion of settlement increasingly intruded on traditional use of the land.

According to this report (supplementary to that of 10 June 1815) there was in the exploring party ‘a Native who attended the Governor from this side of the Mountains’ (that is, from the Sydney side), who attempted to communicate with a group of Aborigines at Bathurst.

Macquarie’s comments on Aborigines are limited in this report to episodes in the Bathurst area. The Governor arrived there on 4 May and found ‘three Native men and six children, standing with the working party.’ They were initially alarmed, especially by the horses, but they calmed down and readily accepted food and items of clothing. During the Governor’s stay, ‘small parties of men and boys came in,’ but no females. They were given meat, ‘slop clothing’ and tomahawks, and were particularly appreciative of the latter.

In appearance Macquarie found them ‘better looking and stronger made’ than those of Sydney, though they were generally similar. Some were blind in one eye, and though there did not seem a consistent pattern to this, some being blind on one side and some on the other, the Governor surmised that it was probably connected with an established custom among them. Their language was different from that of the Aboriginal who accompanied Macquarie; they seemed to have no words in common. They wore animal skins, with the fur side to their bodies, neatly sewn and carefully decorated with devices. This apparel suggested some ‘advance to civilization and comfort’ beyond what was usual in the Sydney area.

In other respects they seem to be perfectly harmless and inoffensive, and by no means warlike or savage, few of them having any weapons whatever with them but merely a stone axe, which they use for cutting steps for themselves to climb up trees by, in pursuit of the little animals which they live upon.

‘These Natives never brought any of their females with them on their visits to Bathurst,’ the Governor observed. The only one he saw was during an excursion from Bathurst, and she was blind in one eye, had no teeth, and was ‘merely skin and bone.’ But perhaps it is possible that there were girls among the ‘boys’ the party encountered, a possibility within the experience of the Rev. Joseph Simmondsen in Ernest Favenc’s story, ‘The Parson’s Blackboy.’

Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s supplementary report: Supplement to the Sydney Gazette 8/7/1815, p. 1.

The loss of a constable

After Governor Macquarie’s tour of inspection across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst in April-May 1815, his report published in the Sydney Gazette of 10 June 1815 reviewed the experiences of the trip and suggested future possibilities for exploiting the potential of the regions beyond the mountains.

One of the peculiarities of the report is the absence of reference to the Aboriginal population. Surely the party had encountered Aborigines, or at least traces of their campsites? Were there reasons to avoid mentioning these encounters? Had something happened which the Governor would prefer not to advertise to inhabitants of the colony whom he might want to encourage to develop the new districts for grazing and agriculture?

The Governor was himself conscious of the omission, as we learn from a Supplement to the Sydney Gazette a month later. The one-page sheet supplementary to the issue of 8 July contains two continuations of earlier travel narratives, the first of Surveyor Evans, adding to the report published in the Sydney Gazette over a year earlier (12 February 1814), and the second of the Governor himself, an addendum to his report of 10 June 1815. After the section which refers to Mr. Evans, the Governor adds:

Before closing the present Account, the Governor desires to observe, that having accidentally omitted some particulars in his own Tour which he had meant to remark on, he avails himself of the present occasion to notice them.

Four paragraphs follow, three dealing with observations of the ‘Natives’ and the fourth describing an impressive ‘Cataract’ which was seen falling nearly 1,000 feet from the King’s Table Land down to the Prince Regent’s Glen and was named ‘The Campbell Cataract’ after one of the four gentlemen who had observed this phenomenon, ‘one of the most stupendous and grand sights that perhaps the world can afford.’

It was perhaps additionally important to include comment on the native population because the account of Mr. Evans’ explorations refers to them; it would surely have seemed a strange contrast if the Governor had maintained a steady silence in this regard in reporting the experiences of his own party.

Furthermore, there was another circumstance which would have been in people’s minds. A week after the Governor’s original report of his tour, the following notice appeared in the Sydney Gazette:

We are sorry to conjecture the more than probable loss of William Green, a constable of Windsor, of long established character as a useful member of the Police.—The day following that of His Excellency the Governor’s departure from Bathurst, he unfortunately left his remaining companions, and went away with some natives towards their encampment, and has not since been heard of; from which we must unwillingly conjecture, that he had lost his way and perished from want, or that he has fallen a victim to his own rashness in venturing among natives with whom we are so little acquainted.

This paragraph disclosed that there had been contact with Aborigines during the tour of inspection. It was an admission not only of the loss of a constable but of a failure to engage successfully with the original inhabitants of the countryside.

Report of the Governor’s tour: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2. Addendum to the report: Supplement to the Sydney Gazette 8/7/1815, p. 1. William Green missing: Sydney Gazette 17/6/1815, p. 2.

Herbs, plants, fish and game beyond the mountains

Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s report of June 1815 on his recent tour across the Blue Mountains (see ‘Governor Macquarie goes on tour’ and subsequent entries) offers valuable insights into the interest which the party took in the flora and fauna of the regions through which they passed. The terminology is noteworthy, and in particular the expression ‘water mole, or paradox’ for the platypus.

We read in the report (quoted below from the version in the Sydney Gazette of 10 June 1815) that the ten miles of country between Cox’s River and the Fish River presented high hills and narrow valleys. Past Mount Evans the country continued hilly but there was also good pasturage, and conditions gradually improved to the Sidmouth Valley, ‘which is distant from the Pass of the Fish River 12 miles.’ (This figure was corrected to 8 miles in a notice published in the Sydney Gazette on 17 June.)

The land here is level, and the first met with unencumbered with timber: it is not of very considerable extent, but abounds with a great variety of herbs and plants, such as would probably highly interest and gratify the scientific Botanist.

The country then became hilly again until the Campbell River, 13 miles from the Sidmouth Valley, where it opened out to ‘gently rising ground and fertile plains.’ After prolonged drought the river was low, more ‘a Chain of Pools than a rushing stream,’ but the banks were high, indicating a considerable flow of water in wetter times.

In the reaches or pools of the Campbell River, the very curious animal called the Paradox, or Water-mole, is seen in great numbers.

Two miles to the south of where the road crosses the Campbell River are the Mitchell Plains.

Flax was found here growing in considerable quantities.

Towards the end of his report the Governor gives a summary account of animals seen along the way. He gives details first of fish in the two main rivers in the vicinity of Bathurst. These rivers were the Macquarie and the Fish, the latter joining with the Campbell to form the Macquarie.

Having enumerated the principal and most important features of this new country, the GOVERNOR has now to notice some of its live productions. All around Bathurst abounds in a variety of game; and the two principal rivers contain a great quantity of fish, but all of one denomination, resembling the perch in appearance, and of a delicate and fine flavour, not unlike that of a rock cod: this fish grows to a large size, and is very voracious. Several of them were caught during the GOVERNOR’s stay at Bathurst, and at the Halting Place on the Fish River. One of those caught weighed 17lbs. and the people stationed at Bathurst stated, that they had caught some weighing 25lbs.

Next come details of the ‘game’, which was presumably most prolific in proximity to water-courses.

The field game are the kangaroos, emus, black swans, wild geese, wild turkies, bustards, ducks of various kinds, quail, bronze, and other pigeons, &c. &c. the water mole, or paradox, also abounds in all the rivers and ponds.

Report of the Governor’s tour: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2. [Notice of erratum], ibid. 17/6/1815, p. 1. The notice corrects the figure 12 to the word eight, whereas the official record has the figure 8 inserted; the relevant manuscript page can be viewed online. Strictly speaking the transcription of the page, line 3, should show 12 erased (whether definitely or conjecturally) and overwritten with 8 in darker ink (by the first or a second hand?). Thus, e.g.:

⟦12⟧ (1st or 2nd hand?) 8
12 conjectured (cf. Sydney Gazette 10/6/1815, p. 1). 8 in darker ink (quite possibly by 1st hand?)

Wanting coal for the colony

In enumerating in June 1815 the natural resources of the Blue Mountains and the Western country, Governor Macquarie was pleased to report that there were enough water and grass in the mountains to support cattle taken over them, and on the other side enough ‘fertile soil and rich pasturage’ to support any increase in population and stock for many years.

However, there were certain deficiencies. Timber to the west of the mountains was everywhere ‘much inferior both in size and quality to that within the present Colony.’ Fortunately there was enough timber ‘of tolerable quality’ around Bathurst for building and farming purposes.

There was another deficiency which occasioned particular dismay:

The Governor has here to lament, that neither Coals or Lime-stone have been yet discovered in the Western Country: articles in themselves of so much importance, that the want of them must be severely felt whenever that country shall be settled.

A dozen years earlier the Sydney Gazette had reported on the discovery of coal in the region of Hunter’s River. A new mine had been found likely to yield ‘the finest coal that has ever been witnessed.’ The Governor (Philip King) planned to send a sample back to England, ‘and from the accounts given of the mine, we have every reason to affirm, that it will prove highly beneficial to the general interests of the Colony.’ The coal resembled that at Leith near Edinburgh but was even better. A month later more coals arrived in Sydney from the New Colliery at Hunter’s River, and these were ‘of superior quality to those formerly procured at the River, and promise to the Colony a lasting resource.’ Later in the same month coal from Hunter’s River was being compared with the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts in ancient Colchis.

Governor King found that he had to step in and regulate the extraction, sale and export of coal from the Hunter region, and the getting of timber there. In an Order of 24 March 1804 he declared that, ‘The Coals and Timber of all descriptions are the entire and exclusive property of the Crown wherever found or growing’; and by the same Order taxes were levied on coal and timber at set rates under the heading of ‘King’s Dues for Orphans.’

Two hundred years later, coal interests and governments are still acting in liaison despite the realisation that coal is not ‘highly beneficial to the general interests’ of society.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2. A new mine at Hunter’s River: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 8/5/ 1803, p. 3. Coals ‘of superior quality’: 12/6/1803, p. 3. The Golden Fleece: 19/6/1803, p. 3. Governor King’s Order: 25/3/1804, p. 1.

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.