Tag Archives: Emu Island

Such a scene as I cannot describe

(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.)

After spending Friday 12 April getting away at last from Emu Island and moving perhaps half a mile along the side of the mountains to the point where the road started a steep ascent, the Hawkins family must have spent an uneasy night with the prospect of the task ahead and unable to make a proper camp at this location. It was only on the next night, Elizabeth tells us, that they pitched the tent for the first time.

The first hill was called Lapstone hill, ‘so called from all the stones being like a cobbler’s lapstone.’ They immediately found that their arrangements for the journey were not sufficient. The loads were too heavy for the bullocks to pull. They organised to get a cart from Emu so that they could send back some of their luggage. The horses attached to one of their drays managed the terrain very well. But even with some of their luggage discarded to lighten the load, having got the horse-dray to the top of the hill they had to bring the horses down to help with pulling the two drays drawn by bullocks.

On that Saturday they only covered one and a half miles. The day’s efforts were exhausting for everyone, including the women.

The fatigue to mother and myself was very great every night after the day’s journey in preparing the beds and giving the children their meals, the little ones being generally tired and cross.

Having said at an earlier stage that they set off with three drays and a cart, in describing the scene that evening Elizabeth refers to drays and carts. The nine men kept these carefully in view while they tended to immense cooking fires. In one place ‘our own man’ was roasting two fowls for the journey the next day. In another place ‘the men convicts’ (‘not the most prepossessing in their appearance’) were busy at their tasks. We do not hear how the female servant from the Factory at Parramatta was employed.

It must have been a scene both weird and enchanting. ‘It was a lovely moonlight night, and all was novelty and delight to the elder children.’ The nine men ranged about,

with the glow of the fires and the reflection of the moon shining on them in the midst of a forest, formed such a scene as I cannot describe.

Quotations are from ‘The Mountains in 1822: Lady’s vivid diary, II’, Sydney Morning Herald 7/9/1929, p. 13; other sources should be checked to clarify the original wording.

Weather conditions: Saturday 13 April 1822: Emu Island and Lapstone Hill, apparently fine; fine in the evening. Letter, Elizabeth Hawkins to sister, 7 May 1822, partially reproduced in Sydney Morning Herald 7/9/1929, p. 13.

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.

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.

From Rooty Hill to Emu Island

(Continuing with the story of the Hawkins family as they journey from Sydney to Bathurst in 1822. See yesterday’s entry.)

Having rested on Sunday at the Government House at Rooty Hill, on Easter Monday the Hawkins family – Thomas and Elizabeth Hawkins, their children, Elizabeth’s mother Mrs. Lilly, and their attendants – resumed their journey westwards. The distance to the Nepean River was nine miles, and the road was ‘the same as before.’ (This seems to mean that the road was good, and perhaps also that it passed through forested countryside.) At the Nepean, one has to ford the river to Emu Island, where there are a Government house and depot. From here on there would be no places of habitation until they reached Bathurst, except for a lone house at stopping places.

There was a delay at this point, as this was as far as the animals and carts which brought them from Sydney were to go. Some new horses and carts had to be assembled on the Emu Island side of the river, and the family waited at a hut (on Emu Island?) until these were ready. That night part of the luggage was carried across the ford to Emu Island. The remainder would have to wait until the next day, and Sir John Jamieson (his name is so spelled by Elizabeth), who lived nearby, sent his head constable to guard it.

John Jamison (1776-1844), who was trained like his father in medicine, was knighted twice over, first in Sweden (1809, for dealing with scurvy in the navy of King Charles XIII) and later in England (1813). His father Thomas (1753?-1811) arrived in New South Wales in 1788 with the First Fleet, as surgeon’s mate. He became assistant surgeon, principal surgeon, acting surgeon-general, and a magistrate, and was involved in trade, including trade in sandalwood. He received several land grants, including land at the Nepean in 1805. He was prominent in the rebellion against Governor Bligh. Upon his death his son John inherited the land and came out to the colony in 1814 to farm it. Sir John Jamison was among those who accompanied Governor Macquarie on his tour of inspection across the Mountains in 1815, and would have been keenly aware of the conditions which the Hawkins family would face on their journey.

Governor Macquarie had indicated in an order of 12 July 1814 that the name Emu Plains was to be used for that area ‘hitherto erroneously called Emu Island.’ Eight years later Elizabeth Hawkins refers to Emu Island; evidently the original name had persisted in common usage.

‘The Mountains in 1822: Lady’s vivid diary, I’, Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13. Cf. 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). Vivienne Parsons, ‘Jamison, Thomas (1753?-1811)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 12-13, and online. Thomas Jamison [Principal Surgeon], ‘General Observations on the Small Pox’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 14/10/1804, p. 2 (the first medical paper published in Australia; see also p. 3, ‘Vaccination’, a brief article about the use of ‘the Cow Pock’ against the plague, reprinted from a London newspaper). G.P. Walsh, ‘Jamison, Sir John (1776-1844)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 10-12, and online. Sir John Jamison and Governor Macquarie’s tour of inspection: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2, at p. 1 (spelled Jamieson). Emu Plains and Emu Island: ‘Government and General Order’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 23/7/1814, p. 1; cf. the entry on ‘William Cox, road-maker’.

Weather conditions: 8 April 1822 (Easter Monday): Rooty Hill – Nepean area, apparently fine. Letter, Elizabeth Hawkins to sister, 7 May 1822, partially reproduced in Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1929, p. 13 (no evidence of inclemency).

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.

Over the mountains and along the stream

In a Government Order of 12 February 1814, Governor Lachlan Macquarie rehearsed the story of the recent expedition of George William Evans, an Assistant Land Surveyor, who with two free men and three convicts crossed the Blue Mountains and explored the country beyond. The Order acknowledged the contribution of Evans and his men and recorded rewards to be given to them and to their volunteer predecessors over the Blue Mountains, Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth.

With instructions from Governor Macquarie, Evans’ party left Emu Island on 20 November 1813 and arrived back at the same place on 8 January 1814 after a journey of seven weeks. The purpose of the journey was ‘to ascertain what Resources this Colony might possess in the Interior.’ Evans was to ‘discover a Passage over the Blue Mountains’ and ascertain ‘the Quality and general Properties of the Soil he should meet with to the Westward of them.’ The direction of the journey was to be as nearly westerly as possible, and the party was to continue for as long as their means would permit.

Based on details in Evans’ journal, the narrative indicates that after leaving Emu Island the party reached the other side of the mountains on the fifth day. Moving along a ‘beautiful and fertile’ valley ‘with a rapid Stream running through it,’ they came to the point at which Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth had stopped, and then went on for twenty-one days before returning. The journey took them over ‘several Plains of great Extent, interspersed with Hills and Vallies,’ where the soil was rich and there were various streams and chains of ponds.

A number of distances are given. Emu Island is stated to be about 36 miles from Sydney. From the end-point of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth’s explorations the party continued another 98½ miles, and they were not less than 150 miles from Emu Island when they turned back.

The stream flowing from the other side of the mountains and continuing in a westerly direction, ‘with many and great Accessions of other Streams, becomes a capacious and beautiful River, abounding in Fish of very large Size and fine Flavour.’

As for what may lie beyond the furthest extent of their researches:

This River is supposed to empty itself into the Ocean on the western Side of New South Wales, at a Distance of from 2 to 300 Miles from the Termination of the Tour.

‘Government Order’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 12/2/1814, p. 1.

The Blue Mountains: forbidding and forbidden

Rugged, precipitous and densely wooded, the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney could easily seem an inhospitable and rather frightening place to someone unaccustomed to the ways of the Australian bush.

An article by a ‘Sydney correspondent’ in the Brisbane Courier in 1876, in which the writer reflected on the significance of the expedition of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, described the Blue Mountains as ‘that seemingly impenetrable succession of gaunt ranges, dense forests, and rocky fastnesses.’ In 1813 settlement was confined to the area between Newcastle to the north, Shoalhaven to the south, ‘and the base of the grim, defiant Blue Mountains in the west.’ There were settlers on the Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers, but in the west ‘those gloomy sentinels stood barring the passage and forbidding further progress.’

An authoritarian government added to this sense of inaccessibility by declaring the country west of the Nepean out of bounds to all but a favoured few. Preoccupied with issues of public order and land use, the early Governors did not want convicts or settlers escaping from lawful oversight beyond the bounds of approved settlement.

At the foot of the mountains, on the western bank of the Nepean, lay a grassed area known as Emu Island. In an Order of 11 April 1812 Governor Macquarie noted that some settlers and others had been in the habit of sending ‘Horses and Horned Cattle’ to graze on this and other crown land west of the Nepean. In future anyone found guilty of such trespass would be severely punished. Moreover, no one was allowed to cross the Nepean River or travel in the country west of it without a written pass from the Governor or Lieutenant Governor. The only exception was for those associated with the sheep farms of Messrs. M‘Arthur and Davidson in the area known as the Cowpastures. Wild cattle grazing west of the Nepean were government property, and anyone found hunting, stealing or killing them would be prosecuted for felony, ‘and punished in the most exemplary Manner.’

The more the Blue Mountains were magnified in the public imagination as a near insuperable obstacle, the greater the achievement of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth might seem after the explorers found a way through. And the more energetic the Government was in claiming crown rights over the country west of the Nepean, the more subordinate the mountains and plains might seem to the dictates of officialdom. So proceeded the grand conquest of the mountains and the opening up of the territory beyond for pasturage and agriculture.

‘Crossing the Blue Mountains sixty-three years ago’, Brisbane Courier 15/4/1876, p. 6; also in The Queenslander 22/4/1876, p. 14. ‘Government and General Orders’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 18/4/1812, p. 1.