Tag Archives: George William Evans

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.

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.

Governor Macquarie goes on tour

In an order dated 22 April 1815 and published on that day in the Sydney Gazette, Lachlan Macquarie, ‘Governor and Commander of the Forces,’ formally announced his intention to proceed on a tour of inspection of the newly discovered country to the west of the Blue Mountains, and directed that during his absence the heads of the civil and military departments should submit their returns and reports to Lieutenant Governor Molle. The tour would not last more than a few weeks and anyone wishing to submit an application on public business should wait until the Governor’s return.

On the following Tuesday 25 April, as the Sydney Gazette reported in its edition of Saturday 29th, the Governor, accompanied by Mrs Macquarie, left town to visit the newly discovered plains. The Governor took with him a substantial group of dignitaries: the Secretary (John Thomas Campbell); a Major of Brigade (Captain Antill); the Governor’s aide de camp (Lieutenant Watts); Sir John Jamieson; William Cox; the Surveyor General (John Oxley); the Assistant Surgeon (William Redfern); the Deputy Surveyor General (James Meehan); Deputy Surveyor G.W. Evans; and a painter and naturalist (I.W. Lewin).

In the Sydney Gazette of 10 June 1815, the first item is a lengthy report of that date by the Governor describing his tour and acknowledging the contributions of various people to the opening up of the country. A brief history is given of efforts to cross the Blue Mountains, including mention of the attempts by Mr. Bass and Mr. Caley before the successes of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, George Evans, and finally William Cox who supervised construction of the road.

It was perhaps rather nerve-wracking for Cox to accompany Macquarie on the tour of inspection, knowing that at any point the Governor might be displeased with the methods or quality of the work. But if Macquarie did find anything amiss he does not mention it in this report.

Indeed a notable aspect of the report is the exceptionally fulsome praise of Cox expressed by the Governor. Thus we read that the road was built in six months, ‘without the loss of a man, or any serious accident. The Governor is at a loss to appreciate fully the services rendered by Mr. Cox to this Colony, in the execution of this arduous work, which promises to be of the greatest public utility…’ Given the difficulty of the task and the absence from home and family, ‘it is difficult to express the sentiments of approbation to which such privations and services are entitled.’

It is interesting to observe Macquarie giving credit in this way where credit was due.

Announcement of forthcoming tour: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 22/4/1815, p. 1. The Governor has left town: 29/4/1815, p. 2. Report of the tour: 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2.

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 as a challenge to available technology

When the First Fleet arrived from England in 1788, no attempt had been made to survey the region preparatory to forming a new settlement. It must have been both intriguing and disquieting to scan the range of mountains on the western horizon and wonder what mysteries they held and what lay beyond.

For many years the mountains were regarded as an impassable barrier to westward exploration and expansion. The rugged, densely forested terrain with its many spurs, valleys and cliffs offered no easy way forward, and the continuous nature of the mountain ranges to the north and south meant there was no immediate way around.

The credit for finding a way through goes to the expedition of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth in 1813 – twenty-five years after the colony had been established. Following their lead, George Evans made a complete crossing later in the same year. In 1814 William Cox, using convict labour, supervised construction of a road across. The work took six months, from July 1814 to January 1815.

But the road was rough, often steep, and boggy in wet weather. Bullock drays carrying goods found the going extremely slow. A railway locomotive would be more powerful, but could a railway be successfully built across such a landscape? In 1857 Captain Hawkins of the Royal Engineers reported that a direct line could not be built from Sydney to Bathurst for a railway or tramway.

Persistence paid off, however, and ten years later a railway across the Blue Mountains was well on the way to completion. After another ten years (during which a bridge had to be built over the Macquarie River), in a land where hunter-gatherers had roamed the mountains and plains for millennia, a steam train arrived in Bathurst.

‘Railways: The Great Western Extension’, Sydney Morning Herald 21/7/1865, p. 7. The literature on technology includes: Fellows of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (comp.), Technology in Australia 1788-1988: A condensed history of Australian technological innovation and adaptation during the first two hundred years, Melbourne, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, 1988; online edition 2000, updated 21 November 2001.

The pursuit of knowledge under difficulties

Mrs. Boatright and her School for Young Ladies at No. 6, Colonnade, Bridge-street, Sydney, had a decidedly notable neighbour at No. 7. George William Evans, bookseller and stationer, was formerly a surveyor in Government employment and an experienced and successful explorer. His expedition in late 1813 was the first fully to cross the Great Dividing Range, after the partial crossing by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth earlier that year.

Born in England in 1780, Evans married in 1798 and emigrated to the Cape of Good Hope. From there he moved to New South Wales in 1802. He worked for a time as an official store-keeper at Parramatta, then in 1803 became acting Surveyor-General and explored the Warragamba River. In 1805 he became a farmer on the Hawkesbury River but suffered in the floods of 1806. In 1809 and following years he was involved in surveying and exploring, with the areas of his responsibilities varying between New South Wales and Tasmania. He surveyed Jervis Bay (1812); explored the Illawarra district in an expedition from Jervis Bay to Appin (1812); surveyed land grants in Van Diemen’s Land (1812); led an expedition across the Great Dividing Range to the Macquarie River on the other side of Bathurst (1813); received as a reward a grant of land near Richmond in Van Diemen’s Land; went to Hobart (1814); returned to Sydney to serve as a guide for an official tour of districts towards Bathurst (1815); explored various areas south of Bathurst (1815); went back to Hobart (1815); returned to Sydney to join John Oxley in exploring the Lachlan River (1817); went back again to Van Diemen’s Land (1817); again returned to Sydney to join Oxley in exploring the Macquarie River (1817-1818); returned to Hobart for land survey work; accompanied an expedition to Macquarie Harbour (1822); resigned (1825) on health grounds, subsequent to controversy over favours dispensed by the former Lieutenant-Governor (William Sorell) and survey officials; received a pension; returned to England; taught art; lost his property in a banking failure (according to the Sydney Morning Herald); obtained a lump sum in lieu of his pension and returned to Sydney (1831); established a business as a bookseller and stationer (1832), first at No. 4 the Colonnade, then No. 7, then in Lower George Street; worked also as drawing master at The King’s School (Parramatta); published a book (A Love Story, by a Bushman) which the Sydney Gazette hailed as apparently ‘the first novel the Australian press has put forth’ (1841); retired from his business as bookseller and stationer (1842); moved to Hobart (1844); and died there in 1852.

This brief survey of events, extending across the first half of the nineteenth century, necessarily gives only the merest outline of a life full of activity and adventure. George William Evans could have been a figure in one of the books he sold to customers, George Craik’s The Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties.

His time in Sydney as bookseller and stationer was marred in the end by an accusation of forgery relating to unexplained alterations in a tender document for the supply of stationery to the Government. He was arrested and allowed out on bail, then found not guilty. The case must have taken a toll, he was in his early sixties, and he retired from business soon after and left Sydney, never to return.

The biographical sequence given above is based mainly on details in A.K. Weatherburn, ‘Evans, George William (1780-1852)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 359-360, and online. Cf. A.K. Weatherburn, George William Evans, Explorer, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1966; idem, Australia’s Interior Unveiled: A Biography of George William Evans (1780-1852), Surveyor, Explorer and Artist, Ryde, NSW, A.K. Weatherburn, 1987. No. 4, Colonnade: cf. e.g. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 4/10/1832, p.4. George Street: cf. e.g. Australasian Chronicle 20/2/1841, p. 3. [William Harvey Christie], A Love Story, by a Bushman, 2 vols., Sydney, G.W. Evans (printed by Kemp and Fairfax), 1841. Court case: cf. e.g. Sydney Herald 29/4/1842, p. 3, 18/7/1842, p. 2. Biographical note: Sydney Morning Herald 2/1/1843, p. 2.

The Colonnade, Bridge-street

Just inside Bridge Street from George Street, Sydney, on the north side of the street, between George and Pitt, was a building containing a series of dwellings of uniform appearance and having at the front a roofed colonnade ‘which answers the double purpose of verandah and balcony.’ The dwellings were mostly used as workplaces and shops. The name was apparently not worked into the building, for otherwise the spelling might have been as uniform as the architecture. One finds either Colonnade or Colonade. The address is usually given as Colonnade (or Colonade) rather than ‘the’ Colonnade or Colonade.  The history of the location offers examples in miniature of many of the interests and pretensions of early colonial Sydney society.

In 1834 we find among the tenants, at No. 1, Colonnade, Bridge-street, the new Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, which was finalising its Deed of Settlement and initial distribution of shares. Joseph Pritchard at No. 2 sold an assortment of goods. At No. 3 was H.J. Sloman’s Boot and Shoe Depot. In England Mr. Sloman had been ‘Bootmaker to His Majesty.’ Also at No. 3 we find the Spyer Brothers, who sold goods including salt, sugar, tea, tobacco, and ‘velvet corks’. In the latter part of the year Mr. Grace, a solicitor, formerly of King-street East, moved into No. 3. Perhaps at No. 4 was Mrs. Metcalfe, who advertised for sale ‘an elegant Assortment of Leghorn, Tuscan, and Straw Bonnets of the newest Fashion and Shapes, which she has brought with her from England.’ She also announced, ‘Two Apprentices to the Straw Business wanted.’ At No. 6 was Mrs. Boatright’s School for Young Ladies. She gives the address as ‘6, Colonnade, Bridge-street (Leading to Government House)’, as if intimating that her pupils could be expected to rise in society and go in the same direction. Mr. G.W. Evans, bookseller, was at No. 7. In March Mr [Ralph] Mansfield, of Hart’s Buildings, announced that he was retiring from bookselling and had transferred to Mr. Evans his stock of publications from the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, including a large supply of the Penny Magazine, ‘commencing with the First Number.’ At the same time Mr Evans placed an advertisement listing the range of titles which he had available. These included various books, the Penny Cyclopedia and the Ladies’ Magazine.

Publications available from Mr. Evans range from Insect Transformation to The Architecture of Birds, and from Paris, and its Historical Scenes to The New Zealanders. One could also purchase The Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties, illustrated by Anecdotes, or (under the heading of The Working Man’s Companion) On the Results of Machinery. Under the same heading one finds Cottage Evenings, which seems reminiscent of Vergil’s Georgics, but also The Cholera, striking a rather sinister note, from which one might hardly be relieved by perusing Criminal Trials. There is, however, hope of escapism not only in Vegetable Substances Used for the Food of Man but in Pompeii and Its Antiquities or The Domestic Habits of Birds. Perhaps on the whole the Penny Magazine and the Ladies’ Magazine were safe choices.

Quotation describing the Colonnade: Australian 8/1/1836, p. 1. No. 1: Sydney Herald 20/11/1834, p. 1. No. 2: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 29/11/1834, p. 1. No. 3: Sydney Monitor 17/12/1834, p. 4. No. 4, Mr. Grace: Sydney Monitor 13/12/1834, p. 4. Mrs. Metcalfe: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 26/8/1834, p. 1 (Colonnade number not given; no. 4 let to Mr. Metcalfe according to Australian 8/1/1836, p. 1, but this is not decisive). No. 6: e.g. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 16/12/1834, p. 1 (frequent advertisements). No. 7: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 4/3/1834, p. 1.