Tag Archives: Cox’s River

Preparations at Emu Island and dinner with Sir John

(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.)

Having arrived at Emu Island on Easter Monday, the Hawkins family stayed there several days. On Tuesday morning 9 April some of their goods were still on the other side of the river, and heavy rain made conditions difficult for bringing the things across the ford, but it was necessary to do so as the river, swollen by run-off from the Mountains, could rise to a dangerous and impassable level. Wednesday was spent drying things out. On Thursday they unpacked and re-organised luggage to protect things and make the provisions and bedding more accessible.

That evening Elizabeth and her husband (she calls him ‘Hawkins’) had dinner with Sir John Jamison, who had also invited a lady and two gentlemen. The meal was impressive and Elizabeth was delighted with the gardens. She first describes the meal, to give her sister an idea of Sir John’s hospitality and to show her ‘that it is possible for people to live here as well as in England’:

We partook of a sumptuous repast, consisting of mock turtle soup, boiled fowls, round of beef, delicate fish of three kinds, curried duck, goose, and wild ducks, madiera [sic] and burgundy, with various liqueurs and English ale.

As for the gardens, the apples and quinces were ‘larger than I had ever seen.’ It was autumn and many early trees were in blossom. The vines had a second crop of grapes, the fig trees a third crop.

There were also peaches and apricots. He has English cherries, plums, and filberts, with oranges, lemons, vines, citrons, medlars, almonds, rock and water melons, and all the common fruits of England, vegetables of all kinds, and grown at all seasons of the year, which shows how fine the climate is.

This was evidently a delightful evening for Elizabeth on the eve of the challenges that lay ahead.

Their fears that the river could flood were well founded. As a result of explorations some years previously, there was a growing understanding of how rainfall on the Mountains fed the river system. For example, Governor Lachlan Macquarie in his tour inspection report of June 1815 comments as follows on the Cox’s River, which his party came upon after descending from Mount York into the Vale of Clwyd on the far side of the Mountains:

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, which unites itself at the western extremity of the vale, with another rivulet containing still more water. The junction of these two streams forms a very handsome river, now called by the Governor “Cox’s River” which takes its course, as has been since ascertained, through the Prince Regent’s Glen, and empties itself into the River Nepean; and it is conjectured, from the nature of the country through which it passes, that it must be one of the principal causes of the floods which have been occasionally felt on the low Banks of the River Hawkesbury, into which the Nepean discharges itself.

Cox’s River winds around from the western side of the mountains eastward and joins the Nepean River. The Nepean flows in a northerly direction past Emu Island and becomes the Hawkesbury River, which was notorious for flooding the adjacent farm-lands.

‘The Mountains in 1822: Lady’s vivid diary, I’, Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13. 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). Cox’s River: [Governor Macquarie’s report on his tour of inspection], Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2, at p. 1.

Text: It will be necessary to clarify the wording of Elizabeth Hawkins’ letter more adequately. The quotations above are from the Sydney Morning Herald. For the two excerpts given above, the transcription on the website of the Ambermere Rose Inn has: (1) we partook of a sumptuous repast, consisting of mock-turtle soup, boiled fowls, round of beef, delicious fish of three kinds, curried duck, goose and wild-fowl, Madeira and Burgundy, with various liquors and English ale. (2) The peaches and apricots here are standing trees. He has English cherries, plums and ifiberts [sic]. These, with oranges, lemons, limes and citrons, medlars, almonds, rock and water melons, with all the common fruits of England; vegetables of all kinds and grown at all seasons of the year, which shows how fine the climate is.

Weather conditions: Tuesday 9 April 1822: Emu Island, heavy rain; fears of rising water in the Nepean River. 10: Emu Island, fine enough to dry things. 11: Emu Island, apparently fine. Letter, Elizabeth Hawkins to sister, 7 May 1822, partially reproduced in Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13.

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.

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?)

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.