Tag Archives: Lachlan Macquarie

St. Patrick’s Day, 1827

On Saturday 17 March 1810, early in the first year of Lachlan Macquarie’s tenure of office as Governor of New South Wales, the Sydney Gazette reported:

His Excellency was this day pleased to give an entertainment to a number of the Government artificers and labourers, in honor of the day, being Saint Patrick’s; on which occasion true British hospitality displayed itself; and every heart was filled with sentiments of respect and gratitude.

This commemoration of St. Patrick’s Day is presented as a gesture on the part of Governor Macquarie rather than a celebration that arose from within the Irish community.

In 1827 St. Patrick’s Day again fell on a Saturday. According to a report in the Australian newspaper, the day had not been celebrated in Sydney with a public dinner before that time. ‘Saint George and Andrew … have each had their day, and their respective votaries for years back, but in Sydney Poor Pat had no one to give him a dinner in public before Saturday last.’ In that year, a committee of gentlemen arranged for ‘Dinner on table at half-past five,’ and a memorable occasion resulted.

In a lengthy report, the newspaper article describes in detail the dinner and the customs that attended it. Mr. D. Wentworth was President, with Dr. Douglass on his right. St. Patrick is mentioned a number of times. There were ‘such dishes as might have tempted Saint Patrick himself with all his respect for Lent or ordinances of “Mother Church” to the contrary, to break his fast over.’ Mr. Wentworth, with a full glass of Irish whiskey, spoke in memory ‘of one whose fame can never die’, and at the toast the 57th’s band ‘struck up the saint’s favourite air—Patrick’s day in the morning.’ The calls for an encore, and the bursts of applause, ‘would scarce have failed to gratify the Saint, could he but have been present.’ Rev. Mr. Power proposed a toast to ‘Thomas Moore—the bard of the Isles,’ and in response to a request from his countrymen and distinguished visitors he gave them a song ‘in the original erse, with the tone, rich brogue, and humourous spirit, that would go hard towards puzzling Saint Patrick himself to equal or excel.’

Other toasts were drunk to the King, the Duke of York and the rest of the Royal Family, the Army and the Navy, Governor Darling, Mrs. Darling, the ladies of the Colony, Governor Macquarie (‘drank in solemn silence’), Chief Justice Forbes, the Chairman, the former Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, Major Goulburn, Mr. M‘Leay, and others.

It was after midnight before the last of the company dispersed. ‘A feeling for political discussion’ prevailed towards the end of the evening, but it was partial and evanescent, and ‘it may be truly said, that harmony, cordiality, and general good feeling reigned paramount.’

The author of the newspaper article, most probably the editor (Robert Howe, son of the first proprietor George Howe), whose stature would presumably have earned him an invitation to the event, noted that he himself was not Irish: ‘It is rather unfortunate, that we have but a very slight and impartial acquaintance with the “life and adventures” of the “rite merry and facetious” Saint Patrick.’

The Chairman, D’Arcy Wentworth, born in Ireland, was much respected in the colony. He died a few months later (7 July). The reputation of Dr. Douglass with the authorities was variable; he was obviously in sufficient standing at the time to play a prominent part on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) had by this time become a novelist; his novel The Epicurean was published in 1827.

St. Patrick’s Day was observed by the Bank of New South Wales as a holiday in 1827 (cf. Holidays in Sydney in 1827).

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 17/3/1810, p. 2. ‘Anniversary of Saint Patrick’, Australian 20/3/1827, p. 3. J.J. Auchmuty, ‘Wentworth, D’Arcy (1762-1827)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 579-582, and online. K.B. Noad, ‘Douglass, Henry Grattan (1790-1865)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 314-316, and online.

An era of drought

In his Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales (4th ed., 1875), John Dunmore Lang makes a number of notable references to weather patterns in the colony and consequences for the inhabitants.

In discussing exploration in the time of Governor Macquarie, Lang notes that floods on the Hawkesbury River were succeeded ‘in the usual course of the seasons in New South Wales, by a serious drought in the year 1813’ (p. 163). Given that the colony had over 65,000 sheep and 21,000 cattle, and nearly 2,000 horses, it was imperative to find new pastures for them, and this gave an impulse to search for land on the other side of the Blue Mountains.

A quarter of a century later there was a momentous period of drought in the time of Governor Darling. That Governor’s tenure (1825-1831) was marked by ‘four remarkable epochs’: ‘the era of general excitement … the era of general depression … the era of drought … the era of libels’ (p. 196).

In 1825 the Australian Agricultural Company was formed as a joint-stock company under Royal Charter, to cultivate land, to rear sheep, cattle and horses, and to contribute to the improvement of the colony (pp. 196 ff.). It had a capital of a million pounds sterling and was authorised to select and take possession of a million acres free of charge. Around the same time, other men of means in England, with agents in New South Wales, obtained extensive grants of land. The price of livestock had been rising during the time of Governor Brisbane (1821-1825), when landholdings increased and there was a corresponding demand for sheep and cattle. With the advent of the Australian Agricultural Company and the great extension of landholdings at that time the additional demand caused prices to rise rapidly. And then a ‘sheep and cattle mania’ formerly unknown in the colony ‘instantly seized on all ranks and classes of its inhabitants’ (p. 198). Barristers and attorneys, military officers and civilians, clergymen and doctors, merchants, settlers and dealers wanted to buy sheep and cattle at the markets.

The large numbers of sheep and cattle bought in 1826 and 1827 had to be paid for, they and their progeny had to be fed, and in the meantime agriculture contracted through an over-emphasis on livestock and grazing. It was even more disastrous, therefore, when encouraging weather gave way to a drought that lasted for nearly three years, from 1827 to 1829.

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 [previous editions, 1834, 1837, 1852], pp. 163, 196-210. The literature on Governor Darling includes: ‘Darling, Sir Ralph (1772-1858)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 282-286, and online; Brian H. Fletcher, Ralph Darling: A Governor Maligned, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1984; Brian Fletcher, ‘Ralph Darling (19 December 1825 – 22 October 1831)’, in David Clune and Ken Turner (ed.), The Governors of New South Wales 1788-2010, Annandale NSW, Federation Press, 2009, chap. 7 (pp. 148-166).

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).

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.

Governor Macquarie: impressed and impressionable

Governor Macquarie’s report on his tour across the Western or Blue Mountains in April-May 1815 is a remarkable document not only for its objectivity of observation but for its evidence of an emotional response to scenes observed.

There are many passages which reveal Macquarie’s official interests and concerns. His purpose in causing a road to be built across the mountains was ‘for the Passage and Conveyance of Cattle and Provisions to the Interior.’ He was on the look-out for good soil and pasturage, in conformity with the colony’s need to develop its agricultural and pastoral resources. He repeatedly refers to areas of good soil and grass. ‘On descending Cox’s Pass, the Governor was much gratified by the appearance of good pasture land and soil fit for cultivation, which was the first he had met with since the commencement of his Tour.’ In the Vale of Clwyd, ‘The grass in this vale is of a good quality, and very abundant, and a rivulet of fine water runs along it from the eastward…’ West of Cox’s River, ‘the country again becomes hilly, but is generally open forest land, and very good pasturage.’

It seems likely that expressions of gratification combine an official and a personal pleasure, and perhaps a sense of relief that the effort of exploring and road-building has been worthwhile. On reaching the Campbell River (a river that bore his wife’s maiden name), ‘The Governor was highly gratified by the appearance of the country, which there began to exhibit an open and extensive view of gently rising grounds and fertile plains.’ The soil on the banks of the river ‘is uncommonly rich and the grass is consequently luxuriant.’ This is despite the fact that there has apparently been an ‘extraordinary drought’ for the last three years and the river has been reduced to ‘a Chain of Pools.’

The literary quality of the prose is typical of the time. Its sensitivity and expressiveness may reflect not Macquarie’s personal attitudes purely but also those of his wife and his compeers. Nevertheless, the document is surely revealing not only of levels of thinking, feeling and discourse which prevailed in the Governor’s circle and received his approval, but of ideas and sensations which carried his personal stamp.

Most personal perhaps, while still retaining marks of objectivity, is the description of the Bathurst Plains, ‘a rich tract of champaign country of 11 miles in length, bounded on both sides by gently rising and very beautiful hills, thinly wooded’:

It is impossible to behold this grand scene without a feeling of admiration and surprise, whilst the silence and solitude which reign in a space of such extent and beauty as seems designed by Nature for the occupancy and comfort of Man, create a degree of melancholy in the mind which may be more easily imagined than described.

Some of the descriptions may suggest something of the real estate agent eager to encourage settlers, but here the Governor is moved to register an emotional response at least partially at variance with any policy of advertisement.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 10/6/1815, pp. 1-2.

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.