BACK FORWARD

EARLY EXPLORERS
IN AUSTRALIA
from the Log-Books and Journals
with maps and illustrations

by Ida Lee
F.R.G.S and Hon. F.R.A.H.S.

CHAPTER XV

CUNNINGHAM REACHES PANDORA'S PASS

[p489]
1822 September
On his return to Sydney--after his long association with Captain King had ended--Cunningham seems to have been seized with a desire to set out alone to explore the country inland. At the end of September, 1822, he applied to Sir Thomas Brisbane for means to make a short excursion and started on what may be called his first expedition into the interior, for it was carried out entirely under his own superintendence.

1822 October 14th
He proceeded "leisurely" westward over the Blue Mountains, driving from Parramatta in a light cart with two horses and two servants and encamping at Prince Regent's Glen, Cox's River, and the Fish River. In crossing the mountains he added many new specimens to his store, and on October 14th reached Bathurst--that small outpost then beginning to raise its head above the billows of grass which swept over the plains.

Fatigued by their journey the party rested at the settlement for some weeks, but Cunningham did not waste his time there. In his rambles over the plains he collected on the banks of the creeks flowing into the Macquarie River a rich harvest of plants. He visited the Wombat Ranges, describing them as "a series of lofty ranges (broken by ravines of considerable depth) whose ridges abound with wombats." . . . He came upon piles of stones among the ranges raised by the natives (as he imagined) "in commemoration of a grand wombat feast," and saw there some "rock-white quartz." His map also shows that he marked the source of Clear Creek, a stream which flows into the Winburndale Creek.

* * * * * * * *

In 1818, during Cunningham's absence in the "Mermaid," Oxley had led a second exploring party to Bathurst, having been ordered by Governor Macquarie to make yet another expedition to the interior, and with Oxley came Evans, the discoverer of the plains.

On May 25, 1818, Oxley and his party had left the settlement and proceeded to trace the Macquarie's winding course to the north-westward. They sailed down the river in boats beyond the[p490] valley named Wellington by Oxley in 1817, and crossed a stream, the Erskine, which fell into it from the eastward. They continued to trace the Macquarie until their progress was stopped by marshy swamps overgrown by tall reeds where the river became shoal; or, in Oxley's words,

"It all at once eluded our further pursuit by spreading in all points from north-west to north-east over the plain of reeds . . . the water decreasing in depth from upwards of twenty feet to less than five . . . over a bottom of blue mud, and the current running with nearly the same rapidity as when the river was confined within its banks. This was in 30°45' S. and 147°10' E."

On its north bank below this point a hill was discovered to which the name of Mount Harris was given, another on the south bank being called Mount Foster. Natives were met with who proved friendly. Near here Oxley inspected a remarkable native burial-ground, and, anxious to ascertain how they buried their dead, opened a grave which appeared to differ from those of the coast natives. The body was found lying wrapped in opossum skin beneath numerous sheets of bark with the head turned towards the east.

From Mount Harris, where the boats were left behind, the party, turning their backs on the swamps of the Macquarie, struck out in an easterly direction for the sea-coast, while Evans went off alone to the north-east across the streams known as Wallis Ponds and Morrisett Ponds, the latter being named in honour of Colonel Morrisett, of the 48th Regiment, who became later a well-known resident of Bathurst. On July 27th, when forty-five miles from the Macquarie, Oxley reached another river, which he christened the Castlereagh, and then fell in with a range of hills, calling them Arbuthnot's Range, naming the northern extremity Mount Exmouth, the centre Mount Harrison and the southern Vernon's Peak--their native name being Warrambungle.

From Mount Exmouth he turned to the north-eastward, passing over many watercourses and grassy plains alternating with chains and ridges of low forest, the trees being chiefly eucalyptus and myall (Acacia Pendula) in full flower. He descended into a valley and crossed a stream which he named Parry's Rivulet. Continuing to the north-east he sighted another range, and this was named Hardwicke's Range, its native name being Nandewar. Its two highest elevations were called Mount Apsley and Mount Shirley. While yet within forty miles of [p491]Hardwicke's Range the country was merely a bog, and, being forced to turn back, Oxley regained firm ground at Parry's Rivulet.

From this stream he made his way in a southerly direction over entirely new country, and, on reaching Lushington Valley, to the northward of the Vansittart Hills, turned eastward. He then discovered Liverpool Plains, which he entered from the north-west.

After crossing the plains, and fording streams, among them the three rivers named by Oxley--York, Bowen, and Field--the explorers encamped on the outskirts of a "flat" bounded by hills which Oxley christened the Melville Range, one peak being called Mount Dundas. From this they took their departure, penetrating much bush and many valleys, and on September 2nd found the Peel River (now the Namoi), which is a tributary of the Darling or Barwon. Leaving it behind them they continued their journey and came to another flat through which ran a tributary of the Peel which they called the Cockburn. On arriving at the Dividing Range, Oxley crossed it and added the Bathurst Falls and Apsley River, of which the Mackay forms the lower portion, to the list of his discoveries.

He then came upon the Croker River and Seaview Mountain, which is 6,000 feet high. From its summit an extended view was obtained of land and sea. The pleasure Oxley and his party felt on first seeing the ocean near Port Macquarie on September 23rd, after their difficult journey through unexplored country, is vividly described in his journal. "Balboa's ecstasy at the first sight of the South Sea," he says, "could not have been greater than ours, when, on gaining the summit of this mountain, we beheld the ocean at our feet. Every difficulty vanished, and, in imagination, we were already at home."

He was then about fifty miles from the coast, but between him and the sea the country took the form of rugged hills and fertile valleys. In one of the latter he found a small stream which he afterwards named the Hastings River, and traced it to the coast at Port Macquarie, which he reached on October 8, 1818. Thence he travelled, partly on land and partly by sea, back to Sydney.

Evans, who had been separated from Oxley for some part of the journey, reported that the river Castlereagh also flowed through reeds, which stopped his progress to the north-east. From this information Oxley concluded that all three rivers--[p492] the Lachlan, Macquarie, and Castlereagh--terminated in swamp and that their united waters formed an inland sea.[*]

[* Sturt proved that the Macquarie and Castlereagh did not end in swamp, and reported that the waters of the former continued to trickle through reeds to Morrisett Ponds, which stream falls into the Castlereagh, and that all three joined the Darling in lat. 30°52' S. But Mitchell found that the principal outlet of the Macquarie Marshes was not by Morrisett Ponds, as Sturt had supposed but by Duck Creek, and that this channel is practically the Macquarie reappearing and pursuing its course to the Darling, or, as it is called at this point, the Barwon.]

The discovery of the Liverpool Plains had left much to be desired, owing to the intricate route by which Oxley had reached them; and the opinion that he and those who accompanied him formed with regard to the termination of the three rivers may be said, for a time at least, to have checked inland discovery in New South Wales. A few minor tours, however, were accomplished successfully, and, as Cunningham says, "some enterprising men crossed several untrodden spaces" that separated the defined portions of the colony.

Among these tours may be numbered the one which Cunningham was preparing to carry out from Bathurst--now a growing town which owed its prominence to the fact that it had formed the starting-point of more than one well-equipped expedition to the unknown interior. An account of his journey and a rough sketch (see route map) of the ground traversed by him are given in the following pages. The map constitutes a particularly interesting record of his route, because at this time he appears suddenly to have stepped into the front rank as a leader and explorer.

That he considered this northerly tour an important one he has been at pains to point out in the report which afterwards he sent to the Governor. In it he stated that, while the explorations carried out in 1817 and 1818 had made known a large extent of fertile territory diverging from Bathurst on the south-west and north-east, and although subsequent discoveries had opened up the land southerly at the head of Campbell's River, and more particularly that bordering " Mr. Throsby's country," yet no one had ventured to journey northwards until a little over twelve months previously. Then Mr. Blackman, the late superintendent, in advancing in that direction, had discovered "the valuable limestone at 16 miles on his route; the Cugeegang[*] River at a distance Of 34 miles further; and the fine grazing land in the immediate vicinity of the native station called Mudgee, 25 or 26[p493] miles down the left bank of that secondary stream. Although these lands were soon occupied by the flocks of three individuals, with the approval of the Colonial Government, an intermediate area of almost sixty miles had been left unoccupied and almost wholly unknown." Cunningham continues: "Being aware that no outline of the country between the two rivers [Macquarie and Cudgegong] had yet been made, I bestowed considerable pains in taking bearings, etc., which have enabled me to submit the accompanying outline to illustrate the lands through which my small party passed."

[* Cunningham always spells Cudgegong thus.]

On November 18, 1822, Cunningham left Bathurst intending when he had reached the Cudgegong River to travel down its banks, and he thus describes his journey:[*] "Having forded Winburndale Creek, at about 5 miles from the settlement the country, of easy acclivity to the first stage of about 16 miles at the Lime Kiln, is well watered, not only by Clear Creek [this he crossed] but also by other channels, some of which have rocky beds and form chains of pools in the droughts of summer. The grasses and herbage are luxuriant; the timber is stringy-bark and two other species of Eucalyptus of ordinary size [at this time Cunningham was following the blazed trees of Lawson[*]] and the whole stage affords excellent cattle runs.

[* The extracts describing this period of Cunningham's travels have been taken from the original manuscripts now in the possession of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, copies of which, with one of the maps, have been placed in my hands through the kindness of Mr. Hugh Wright, the librarian, to whom my most cordial thanks are due.]
[* Lawson had preceded Cunningham to the Cudgegong.]

"Onward two miles of the second stage, upon passing beyond the limit of the limestone . . . the line of marked trees inclines . . . to westward and passes over barren shingly hills clothed with a brushwood in which small stringy barks are frequent. Beyond . . . the country improves (until a fine grassy wooded vale with some deep ponds opens to the view) continuing exceedingly fertile to a spot abounding in Acacia and denominated by the stock-people Wattle Ground. During the succeeding five miles, the land . . . on the rise from the Lime Kiln becomes exceedingly hilly . . . rising rapidly to a somewhat difficult packhorse country . . . and these hills being short, steep and irregular render greater the fatigue of travelling. The whole are well wooded and abound in grass excepting upon the brows of the more elevated hills which are covered with low brushes, not uninteresting to the botanist."

ACROSS THE TURON AND CUDGEGONG

[p494] After a long stage of twelve miles the line of trees descends to a river named by the aborigines Tu-ron[*] . . . a small stream or rivulet running over a pebbly bottom, which, although fordable at all parts of this season of the year is evidently both from the mountainous character of the country through which it passes and from the fact of stubble being lodged in the upper branches of the Casuarina, liable to be much swollen in the season of rains. Its width in the vicinity of the ford is about 30 feet, the depth 3 feet, the current running south-westerly, at which point it is said to discharge itself into the Macquarie 40 or 50 miles below the settlement of Bathurst. Some fine pasturage . . . bordering upon the Turon, renders that stream a very desirable situation for stock. . . . Rising from the Turon to the summit of a very lofty steep hill, and thence through elevated vales of good grassland about two miles, the beaten route intersects a narrow swamp-oak creek [Swamp Oak or Red Chasm Creek on the maps] . . . which dips to the westward.

[* Famous in later years for the gold discoveries made there. Sofala is on its banks.]

"The line of marked trees continues nearly north during five miles, over land of sub-mountainous character clothed with small timber and grass, each intermediate vale having a rocky gully containing water. . . . The marked trees lead the traveller on to a long, steep, hilly ridge, named by the stock-people Pleasant Range. . . . Upon the main line of range, the beaten cattle-track continues north to the brow of a hill; whence, upon looking to the east and north-east, the eye is struck with the bold appearance of a curious romantic description of scenery. . . . Barren ridges, upon which rise cones more or less acute rounded mountains and flat-topped table-hills seem to dot the country for a considerable extent.

"In a circuit of two weeks made into this eastern country (subsequent to the loss of my horses) I saw that, although surrounded by sandstone ranges, steep heads, and rocky conical hills, there were patches of excellent grassy tracts in the vales . . . which divide one ridge of hills from another. . . . The disposition of these separating valleys is generally S.E. and N.W. . . . each having a chain of pools or a running stream trending to the latter point of bearing and collecting to discharge themselves[p495] into the Cugeegang. The timbers are blue gum and stringybark and a bastard box; Callitris abietina, the pine or cypress; Acacia melanoxylon or blackwood: Sterculia heterophylla; and a few species of iron-bark. The grasses in the vales are luxuriant, but differ from those about the settlement of Bathurst.

"Descending Pleasant Range . . . a fine fertile vale opens to the view, usually called Table Bucco Flat,[*] which abounds in a fine nutritive herbage; viz., Crepis, or hawkweed; two species of birdsfoot trefoil; Swainsona coronillaefolia (A vetch); Acoua, or Aroua, an Australian burnet; Sonchus oleraceus, a sow-thistle; Ranunculus lappaceus, a buttercup; Plantago varia, or rib-grass; and Eryngium vesiculosum (Labill.), the bark of which is much eaten by sheep when young and before its foliage acquires its hard, stiff, thorny nature. Besides the usual species of Eucalyptus, a tree about 20 feet high of Mimosa[*] named blackwood, and valuable on account of the extreme astringency or tanning properties of its bark, is dispersed upon the declivities of the hills, and on the verge of Table Bucco Flat (or Vale) in shaded situations.

[* Spelled Tabble bucco in the map. Now Tabrabucka.]
[* Acacia melanoxylon.--Brown in "Hort. Kew," Vol. V.]

Cunningham's small party continued their journey through this "flat or vale" which, he says, "winds to the eastward as well as to the westward, with all the richness of the main vale." They still followed the beaten track made by the Bathurst settlers in a northern direction, and which doubtless was used by the stockmen of Wattle Flat (Cunningham's Wattle Ground) and the Turon. Some bushy hills were then climbed, another vale was traversed and "a long grassy swamp extending northwards for five miles" was sighted. The beaten path ran across the swamp and Cunningham says it proved the most level country he had met with since leaving Bathurst. Great blocks of granite were scattered over it, and quartz in large pieces was seen upon the bushy hills--quartz which in after years attracted many gold miners to the neighbourhood.

Cunningham continues: "The line of marked timber passes over a hilly range lying east and west, and at length leads north down . . . to the forest land bounding the Cugeegang River. . . . As it had entered into my plans during the progress of my little expedition to cross Liverpool Plains to York River and continue north, as far as . . . my provisions upon a limited ration would admit, I forded the Cugeegang at the place . . .[p496] marked on the outline, pitching my tent about a mile and a quarter down the right bank. Being then on the verge of an entirely unknown, unseen country, a line of marked route for my packhorses for the following day was effected the preceding afternoon, and every arrangement made whereby I could gather such materials as would enable me to give such a sketch of the country through which we should pass, to afford a complete knowledge of its geology, productions in natural history, and natural resources". . . .

On the evening of this day, unfortunately, all Cunningham's arrangements were to be upset. The men had tethered the packhorses, as they thought, securely for the night, and having lighted their camp fire, were resting near it when the fire caught some dry leaves and spread to the trunk of a large tree, which soon burned rapidly. Before long it fell heavily to the ground and the crash of the smouldering branches frightened the packhorses so much that they broke loose and got free in the bush. Evidently they were not caught again, for Cunningham states in his letters that through this occurrence all his plans were defeated and he was compelled to return to Bathurst.

He gives the following account of his first coming to the river, which he reached three days after he had left Bathurst:

"The Cugeegang (upon which is situated the native 'sitdown' or 'bimmil' called Mudgee) is a small river which appears to take its rise in the broken land N.E. of Table Bucco, and, after meandering through an irregular country to the westward and passing through a small drain named by the aborigines'Da-vy,'[*] its course is lengthened 50 miles N.W. to Mudgee, at a short distance beyond which it suddenly winds to the westward and pours its waters into the Macquarie River above Wellington Valley of Mr. Oxley, At this season (November) the Cugeegang is at its lowest level, having at the ford we passed only a breadth Of 12 feet by a depth Of 2½; from which, however, it immediately widens into long reaches of considerable depth, bounded by bluff rocky banks and grassy levels affording the following plants, which may serve as the entire flora of a mile around my tent:

[* Daby, otherwise Dabee, near Rylstone, takes its name from it.]
Grasses and Herbage valuable to the Farmer.

Potamophila parviflora, strong reedy grass in swamps.
Danthonia pilosa, an oat grass.
Agrostis, or bank grass, 2 kinds.
Anthristiria australis, an oat grass.
[p497] Lotus australis) 2 kinds of birdsfoot trefoil.
Lotus major)
Swainsona coronillaefolia, a vetch.
Linum marginale, a nondescript flax.
Crepis sp., or hawkweed; the silky tops are fine feed for horses.
Sonchus oleraceus, a sow-thistle.
Ajuga australis, bugle.
Plantago varia) 2 kinds of rib-grass.
Plantago hispida)

Shrubs and Herbaceous Plants.


Hibbertia hermanniaefolia.
Dianella caerulea.
Dianella revoluta.
Arthropodium fimbriatum.
Arthropodium paniculatum
Anthericum semibarbatum.
Stylidium graminifolium.
Helichrysum bracteatum.
Persoonia spathulata (Br,).
Gnaphalium sp., or cudweed.
Epilobium, allied to willow-herb.
Ranunculus lappaceus) 2 kinds of
Ranunculus sp.) buttercup.
Campanula gracilis, bell-flower.
Galium aparine, goosegrass.

Species botanically curious.

(Trees)

Callitris abietina, pine.
Eucalyptus 2 sp., box.
Eucalyptus 2 sp., blue gum.
Sterculia heterophylla.
Angophora cordifolia, apple-tree.

(Shrubs and Herbaceous Plants)

Haloragis racemosa.
Pimelea glauca (Br.).
Pultenaea sp.
Daviesia ulicina, and a second species.
Gompholobium minus.
Euphrasia arguta (Br.).
Erodium petraeum.
Hakea microcarpa.
Melichrus, allied to Murceolatus.
Podolepsis acuminata.
Xerotes sp.
Veronica perfoliala, speedwell.
Microtis parviflora (Br.).
Velleia paradoxa.
Templetonia sp., a curious nondescript.
Dodonea cuneata.

EXCURSION FROM THE CUDGEGONG

Before Cunningham returned to Bathurst after losing his pack-horses he carried out, during the following fortnight, an interesting exploration of the country lying to the eastward of his outward route. To do this he recrossed the Cudgegong where he had first forded it, made his way back to Table Bucco[p498] Flat, and from there set out in an easterly direction, reaching a hill called Erin's Head on December 7th. From Erin's Head a remarkable acutely-pointed cone upon a mountainous ridge was seen to the north-east and named Mount Aiton.

Cunningham now met with one swamp after another, and on the 8th, after skirting a steep, rocky ridge, came to Mount Stirling, which stood, as did Erin's Head, to the westward of a long, grassy range of hills faced with sandstone on their northwestern side. Passing along the west side of Mount Lethbridge he reached, on the 11th, a hummocky hill called the Sugarloaf. To the north of it stood Mount Gidley, which forms a part of a range called King's Range. These last names evidently were bestowed by Cunningham in honour of Captain King's father. From here he turned south-westward through scrubby hills alternating with fine pasture-land and came to some rocky ravines. Finding himself unable to cross these, he set out once again to seek the Cudgegong, and, entering a valley, he twice crossed a " pretty swamp-oak creek " which ran through it. On continuing to trace this creek northwards he fell in with the river at a point where Lieutenant Lawson had crossed it previously, and to the eastward of where he first had forded it himself.

Here Cunningham met with Lawson's blazed trees, which he says "continued towards the north-east." After passing over the river, the botanist made a circuit on its north bank over some grassy, limestone hills covered with Callitris. He kept on it, following a bend of the river westward, until he reached his old ford at the spot where he had first encamped. From there he made his way back to Bathurst, and eventually the party arrived at Parramatta on January 4th, 1823.

Cunningham's map gives his route and describes the "curiously irregular country" through which the Cudgegong passes, where ridges "surmounted by conical peaks more or less acute, isolated bluff heads, tabular hills, and rocks of sandstone" are dotted over the land. From these peaks and hills and sandstone rocks one can obtain a good impression of the age of Australia from a geological standpoint; and, as along the Queensland shores at Cape Melville, there are ranged rocks and boulders which to those on board the passing ships seem exactly to resemble ancient castellated buildings, so over the Cudgegong country inland are to be found scattered upright rocks, isolated peaks, and tabular hills which take the form of buildings, and some of these also have what Nesbit has described as "a Tudor cast[p499] with many turrets and gables."[*] The lichens and mosses which spread over the red sandstone, and, hanging down, increase the shadows, add yet one more touch of age to their appearance. They look like watch-towers or fortresses, and no doubt in olden days the blacks used them as places of defence when the tribes were at war with each other. Upon the rocks and huge stones of many a ridge and conical peak still may be seen rude native carvings representing kangaroos, fishes and war weapons, and the human hand. In some places one meets with a single hand upon a rock; in others there are several hands together, generally showing the fingers widely extended. Since the tribes of these parts are now extinct, it is to be hoped that the carvings which are their only memorial may be carefully preserved.

[* These castles of Nature's building can be seen in several places. Leichhardt, the Queensland explorer, named a creek near Roper Pass, where he encamped, "the Creek of Ruined Castles," because "high sandstone rocks, fissured and broken, like pillars and walls and the high gates of ruined castles" topped the hills on each side of the valley through which it flowed.--Leichhardt's "Exploration," p. 57.]

When Cunningham became the leader of an expedition, as well as its botanist, he naturally evinced a deeper interest in the country and turned his attention not only to its flora, but also to everything else he met with in his travels.

Although he saw their marks on the hills everywhere, he apparently saw none of the natives during this trip to the Cudgegong. He adds the following summary of his observations to his report on the country through which he had passed:

"The country abounds in kangaroo, Didelphis [= Macropus] giganteus; emu, Struthio australis [= Dromaeus novae-hollandiae]; native turkey (evidently an Otis or bustard); several ducks, etc., of the genus Anas; pigeons, chiefly Columba [= Phaps] chalcoptera, a bronze-winged species; a small Ardea or crane; and a spur-winged plover (Rallus) are frequent in the swamps, where also the small tortoise of the colony (Testudo longicollis) was remarked. Others of the reptiles, as of the genus Lacerta, are curious; of which Lacerta ecaudata [= Trachysaurus rugosus], originally discovered in 1688 on the West Coast. by the indefatigable navigator, Dampier, is not uncommon on the brushy hills; also L. variegata (undescribed) remarkable for the unusual length of its body, short thick tail tapering to a point, and very unproportionate small legs covered with remarkable scales; also L. orbicularis (undescribed), singular on account of the manner in which it can inflate its body into an orbicular depressed[p500] form, and instantly contract it into a shrivelled, starved figure by expelling the air which had previously swollen it. Its manner of changing colour is curious. L. muricata of the colony is also very frequent in dry, rocky hills. Of serpents, a black snake with a banded red belly (Coluber) was frequent, whilst a larger species, brown on the back and bright yellow underneath, was considerably rarer."

On his return to Bathurst Cunningham found that while he had been away Lieutenant Lawson, then commandant there, whom he describes as "an enterprising man" had been exploring to the northward accompanied by Mr. Scott. Lawson appears to have made three if not four journeys in this direction. As to one of these he reported to Governor Macquarie (August 29, 1821) that he had found "a broken and mountainous country " thirty miles distant from the settlement. This had seemed impossible to travel over with horses, but Lawson stated that he was satisfied there was a pass to Liverpool Plains."

In a second journey Lawson traversed more than 400 miles, and it is believed in the course of this expedition he reached Mudgee.[*] In his third journey in January, 1822, he seems to have established his station at Talbragar. A memorial which he addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in applying for a grant of land claims that he was not only the first to have explored to the north and north-west of Bathurst but to have discovered a passage through the Dividing Range. This is possibly a reference to the pass that he had sighted in 1821. The Memorial[**] runs as follows:

[* Selkirk: "Royal Aus. Hist. Journal," Vol. VI, Part 6.]
[** Dated June 3, 1826, and written from Veteran Hall, Parramatta.--Record Office.]

"Your Lordship's Memorialist desires it may not be unknown to you that he was the first person to explore the country to the N. and N.W. of Bathurst Settlement having marked a practicable road through an intricate country which opens to an extensive and luxuriant tract of pasturage . . . and subsequently he effected a communication between the settlement of Newcastle and Bathurst by having discovered a passage through the Dividing Range."

Lawson does not actually mention Mudgee, and Allan Cunningham, as stated above, attributes the original discovery of Mudgee to Mr. James Blackman in 1821, which is borne out by a memorial addressed by "James Blackman the younger" to[p501] Governor Darling in 1829.[*] In this he also is applying for reward in the form of a grant of land, and one of the services Blackman puts forward in support of his claim is that in or about 1821 with a party consisting of four persons besides himself he "discovered the road to Mudgee which had since become one of the most fertile and flourishing parts of the Colony."

[* Selkirk.]

Although Lawson may not have discovered Mudgee, as well as being "an enterprising man" he was a discoverer, for with Blaxland and Wentworth he had first crossed the Blue Mountains, and he seems to have been again the first to traverse the territory between Bathurst and the Cudgegong.

JOURNEY TO THE PASS

The short excursion to the Cudgegong proved the forerunner of greater efforts, and in 1823 Cunningham extended his explorations as far as Pandora's Pass. When he had sent the report of his Cudgegong tour to Sir Thomas Brisbane,[*] the Governor expressed his warm approval of it and assured the explorer that he had followed his route with the keenest interest, since he believed it would prove an important factor "in directing the tide of emigration towards the heart of the continent rather than coastwise."

[* Brisbane had succeeded Macquarie.]

It was then agreed that, if Cunningham would continue his investigations further northward, the Government would provide the necessary equipment for his journey. He wrote home to the authorities at Kew to inform them of the Governor's wishes and that he had accepted the offer, and he added: "As I find that I can blend discovery with botanical research tolerably well, I have submitted my plans to His Excellency to prosecute my journey on or about the meridian of Bathurst Town, north as far as the parallel of 29°30' S.; then, in a returning route south-easterly, to intersect the head streams of the Coal River in order to ascertain how far a communication can be opened between Liverpool Plains and the settlement at the upper parts of the Hunter River and again between the latter and Bathurst."

On Monday, March 31st, 1823, Cunningham crossed the Nepean on his way to Bathurst. He took with him five servants and "five strong packhorses" to carry their provisions, and,[p502] passing over the Blue Mountains, reached Bathurst on April 5th, and there spent ten days in making preparations for his journey. First he had his horses newly shod (by a very bad blacksmith, as it turned out), and provided himself with sufficient flour to last his party for at least ten weeks.

On April 15th, on a warm, foggy morning, the expedition left the town.[*] Following his former route by way of the Lime Kilns, the Turon River and Stony Creek, Cunningham arrived at the Cudgegong on the afternoon of the 18th. The recent rains had freshened up the grass, and, though late in the season, the country wore a springlike appearance. Having crossed the river at the old ford, his men pitched the tents on a flat on its north bank for the night. From here, next day, after re-fording the river, he began to trace the Cudgegong on its south bank eastwards. Abruptly steep hills inclining sharply to the water's edge forced him to quit the riverside with his heavily-laden horses, and, after keeping on a route varying south-south-east and east for four hours, he found that the only way he could proceed at all was by climbing a main range. At four in the afternoon he left it descending and entering a valley which he had discovered in the previous year. He again crossed the "pretty swamp-oak creek" flowing through it, and in an hour found himself among his old marked trees, which led him to the junction of the creek and the Cudgegong, as well as to Lieutenant Lawson's old crossing where he himself had passed over in the previous December. He halted on a flat near the river for the night, which was very chilly, and resumed his journey next day, the 21st, taking an easterly course as close as the bushes would permit to the river, whose stream formed at first basins of deep, stagnant water and then dwindled to a small, glassy rivulet the channel of which was choked by reeds (Arundo phragmites). After twelve miles, an encampment was made on a fine reach of the river, some four miles west of Daby or Dabee. No signs of natives, or of animals, had been seen throughout the day.

[* "I used an excellent Schmalkalder's compass to direct my course and take bearings, an odometer or improved perambulator to measure my distances and base lines, and a good sextant with artificial horizon to obtain altitudes for my latitudes."--Cunningham to Telfair.]

Next day, heavy rain delayed progress, and Cunningham sent two men eastward in the afternoon to a flat which he had seen from the ridge the day before, and which he had concluded was Dabee. In the evening they returned and reported that they[p503] had crossed the flat some three miles and a half distant and had found that on the western edge of it a grazier residing at Bathurst had built a hut and a stockyard.[*]

[* Possibly Mr. Fitzgerald, who was one of the first, if not the first, to settle there according to one of his descendants. Presumably Fitzgerald's Swamp near Bathurst takes its name from the family. Mr. Cox also was granted land there, but Cunningham does not give the settler's name.]

Cunningham's party reached Dabee on the 23rd. They found the river there twelve yards wide, its banks low and muddy and overgrown with reeds. Draining through these the water flowed over open grassy plains on which the squatter's herds were feeding. Several small kangaroos were seen here, but not a trace of any natives.

Cunningham had to wait some days for the return of one of his men from Bathurst with a supply of horse-shoes and nails to replace those of two horses which had fallen off. In the meantime he found several interesting plants around the camp, and, mounting a double hill east from his tent, was able to take a few bearings of the surrounding country.

On the 28th the party left Dabee and started on a northwesterly course, having a semicircle of rocky hills to right of them: the principal peaks of which were Mount Brace, Rurnker's Peak and Mount Walker. The line of route led over a succession of moist valleys and stony ridges.

On the evening of the 29th they found a camping ground under a hill named Mount Burchell. Next day their progress was retarded by mountainous country, of which one range was covered by dense honeysuckle (Banksia integrifolia) and abounding in rocky precipices. On this day, on reaching Mount Innes, Cunningham caught a bird's-eye view of more promising land extending to the base of a mountain range lying east and west, this being part of the Liverpool Range and therefore the southern boundary of Liverpool Plains. He had heard of this range before, for Lieutenant Lawson and Mr. Scott had reached it during the preceding year but had not passed over it. Cunningham determined to cross it, and, making his way to north-north-west, descended into a grassy valley, forded Emu Creek, and travelled first over a thinly timbered tract for about three miles, and then due north for five miles. He afterwards turned north-by-east one mile and north-north-east for two miles through brushwood and arrived at a patchy flat called by the natives, Nandoura, which was bordered with sandy brushes of honeysuckle where[p504] there was little or no water. Progress here became more difficult, low stony ridges intersecting his route.

On May 6th he descended into good country watered by a stream whose course could be traced by the river-oaks on its banks. This was Lawson's Goulburn River. Its outer channel was fifty yards wide, with water-marks showing twelve feet above the level of its small stream, then almost hidden in reeds, and it ran to the south-east. In some deep clear pools short, thick, black fish were numerous, but would not take the bait, and among the grasses on the banks was a tall species of Danthonia or oatgrass not seen elsewhere. Leaving the Goulburn on the 8th and striking north-east, Cunningham's path led him to another river, the Wemyss (also discovered by Lawson and Scott), and yet a third river was intersected and now named Scott's Rivulet. The party traversed its banks on a northerly course to the Liverpool Range now only fifteen miles distant, the country through which they passed becoming very rough and broken by deep valleys. When only five miles distant from a lofty point to which he gave the name of Oxley's Peak, Cunningham encamped, and he determined to mount the Main Range to take bearings, and if possible to obtain a glimpse of the Liverpool Plains. It proved a hard task, for several streams issued from among the precipices and formed picturesque waterfalls across his path. At last he reached a peak which he called Mount Macarthur (now Mount Moan) and obtained a fine view from its summit. To the south-west there were open plains and, amid a more irregular country, others appeared to the south-east. To the northward stretched the Liverpool Plains, which owing to the brown colour of the grass looked like a desert. The greater part of the land to the north-west ran in elongated strips into the region of forest ranges. A few detached mounds and conical peaks were here and there picturesquely dotted over the open country. Two noticeable peaks of the range were given the names of East Bluff and Mount Palmer.

Map of Cunningham's Routes 1823

CROSS'S MAP OF 1827, SHOWING
CUNNINGHAM'S ROUTES IN HIS JOURNEY OF 1823

 

Although it appeared as if there would be no great difficulty in travelling along the northern side of the mountains facing Liverpool Plains, the horses were then too tired to allow Cunningham to attempt the journey across the barrier, and since the Liverpool Range looked lower to the eastward, he resolved to continue to trace the southern face of the mountains in that direction and to seek for a passage through them.[*]

[* "Perceiving from my commanding station" (Mount Macarthur) "the total impossibility of leading the packhorses through the ravines, or on a lofty, irregular surface of this belt of mountains, I attempted to penetrate easterly at their immediate base in search of a gap, but finding (after exhausting man and horse) the mountains became more precipitous at that bearing, I regained my original position after a circuitous route Of 3 weeks and 3 days, and then, having reduced the weekly ration of myself and people, stood away N.N.W."--Cunningham to Aiton.]

[p505] After searching for five days for a pass through the range to the east of Mount Macarthur and traversing a distance Of 35 miles without seeing an opening he "halted on the verge of a perpendicular ravine, being unable to advance another mile to the eastward by reason of the sharp water gullies between which lay steep ravines. In spite of these difficulties water was easily obtained, as it had been ever since leaving the Goulburn River, no fewer than nineteen creeks having been crossed in this journey, all of which ran to the south-east, the outer channel of one stream "exceeding 20 feet in breadth." He writes: "Since the whole of these streams have one common tendency southerly towards the extreme or western end of the trunk or main branch of the Coal River, little or no doubt can exist of their constituting its principal sources, especially as the body of water agrees with the magnitude of Hunter's River at that stage of its ascent."

Seeing that it was impossible to advance further eastward Cunningham, who must have been keenly disappointed, turned and descended into open forest land lying farther southward, so that by travelling westward over less difficult country he might retrace his steps to the Goulburn.

In his route westward back to the Goulburn, on the 19th, he passed over a stream whose outer banks were forty yards wide, though the stream itself was but sixteen feet. This was Dartbrook in the county of Brisbane. On the 21st he came to another which was named the Blaxland, and which, according to his estimate was to develop at twenty miles distance into the Paterson River. He encamped on its bank, and, on taking a northerly course next day, again met this stream ten miles nearer its source. After proceeding five miles, to the westward he reached open country where a large swamp-oak rivulet wound round the base of a ridge on its western side, which he named Smith's Rivulet.[*] At this point he was detained (on its left bank) for four days by the illness of one of his men. Resuming his journey west-by-north on the 29th, he passed along a[p506] valley through which another stream, a counterpart of the last, descended from the base of the Northern Mountains. After leaving it, in about eleven miles the party crossed Scott's Rivulet and came to the Wemyss at the spot at which they had forded it three weeks previously. When they arrived at the Goulburn on May 31st, rations were running low and both men and horses were placed on a reduced supply. It was decided, however, to push on from here to the north-north-west, whither the ridges seemed to extend in an almost unbroken line.

[* "The situation of our encampment on Smith's Rivulet being in 32°2'6" S. and presumed long, about 150°24' E."]

The men quitted their camp on June 2nd, and passed over fine forest country and narrow but rich and well-watered valleys. In their next day's advance a series of lofty ranges, extending from eastward in a north-westerly direction, forced them into difficult mountainous country and caused them to take a more westerly course. On the 4th after they had completed a laborious journey of nearly seven miles they met with a lateral branch of the range trending S.W. and came face to face with a very narrow deep ravine which entirely stopped their progress. While halted here Cunningham says that in this route westward, "We passed the lofty ranges which separate the eastern and western waters" The country looked closed to them "from east by way of north to almost west," and so hopeless was the outlook that he tells us he had almost "determined to quit its blackened ranges altogether."

But he then caught a glimpse of patches of open plain to the south-south-west. This was the only direction in which there appeared to be any clear land at all, and he resolved to descend to it at once. At this stage Cunningham experienced anxiety as to what route he should take, for the wretched condition of both men and horses, owing to their reduced rations, told him that they could not long subsist upon so little food. On the 5th, fortunately, he reached a fine, rich valley watered by a creek issuing from a ravine where apple-tree, blue gum and swamp oak were growing. Following this valley he found that it broke into small open plains, clear of timber, stretching north-north-east, and south-south-west. The steep hills bounding it on the west side became low towards a patch of plain in the distance which he named Duguid's Plain.

Over this plain Cunningham steadily advanced westwardly, making his way through open forest, which brought him to another massive, bold range, and this range bounded a valley to the southward much more ample at its entrance from the forest[p507] and much more promising in its trending than any other valley he had yet seen. Taking a course over an apple-tree flat and along the banks of a fine creek which ran through the valley, he followed it to the N.N.E. for eight miles, when it became very narrow and intricate. He then decided to mount the western range and take his bearings. The view he thence obtained filled him with delight; for, on looking round him and tracing the line of the main northern range, he saw a considerable depression, and writes: "it was a very low back in the main ridge distant about 3 miles, and although limited, afforded me a clear view of the open plains north of this extensive barrier." He also distinguished several mounts that he had seen previously from Mount Macarthur, further to the eastward.

On descending from the mountain, Cunningham lost no time in shifting his encampment to an open valley which ran to the foot or base of the mountains (the western end of the Liverpool Range). The new encampment was placed within two or three miles of the "low back" or passage into Liverpool Plains. Having given directions for a line of trees to be marked from the encampment through the passage to the verge of the nearest clear land beyond, he climbed to the summit of a mountain that formed the eastern side of the pass and obtained a most beautiful view of the hidden plains.

From the northern base of the Liverpool Range a level, open forest-land was seen to extend from W.N.W. to N. On the eastern side of the woody country was easily traceable, by the trees on its banks, a small rivulet (Swamp Oak Rivulet) which, rising in the Liverpool Range, ran due north, its course forming with the forest the western boundary of the nearest or most southerly extensive patch of clear plain. This plain formed a considerable expanse of brown grass and herbage and, excepting a small clump and a few scattered trees at its south-western angle, was perfectly clear of scrub. He was glad also to see that the declivity on the north side of the mountains seemed not too rough for his pack-horses and that it was only one mile distant from the wooded country at its base, which was watered by streams that ran to the northward.

Cunningham says that he named the pass Pandora's Pass,[*] and that he "believed it would become the great route of communication between Bathurst and Hunter River and the Liverpool Plains." His journey now terminated, his men were[p508] fatigued, and his provisions had ran out. The latitude of his tent in the valley below the pass he gives as 31°43'45" S., and the longitude, by estimation, 149°30' E. Before leaving it, a paper containing the following account of their travels was enclosed in a bottle and placed under a tree:

[* Now also known as Brennan's Gap.]

"After a very laborious and harassing journey from Bathurst since April last a party consisting of 5 persons under the direction of Allan Cunningham, His Majesty's Botanist (making the sixth individual), having failed in finding a route to Liverpool Plains while tracing the southern base of the Barrier Mountains before us northward so far as 50 miles to the E. of this spot, at length prosecuting their research in a westerly direction reached this valley and discovered a practicable and easy passage . . . to the very extensive levels connected with the above plains, of which the southernmost of the chain is distant about 11 or 12 miles (by estimation) N.N.W. from this valley and to which a line of trees has been carefully marked.

"This valley, which extends S.W. and W.S.W., has been named Hawkesbury Vale, and the high point of the range bearing N.W. by W. from this tree was called Mount Jenkinson, the one a former title, the other the family name of the noble earl whose present title the plains bear to which from the southern country this gap affords the only passage. The party encountered many privations in travelling to and returning from the eastward. In spite, however, of these evils, a Hope . . . at the close of their journey induced them to persevere westerly and this passage was discovered. It has therefore been named Pandora's Pass. Due east and west by compass from this tree in a direct line of 336 yards were planted the fresh stones of peaches brought from the colony in April last with every good hope that their produce will one day or other afford some refreshment to the weary farmer on his route. . . . North of Pandora's Pass a like planting took place on the plains 12 miles N. at the last marked tree. A remarkable high mountain above the Pass eastward, being a guide to the traveller advancing S. from the plains, has been named Direction Head. The situation of this tree is as follows: lat., observed on the 7th and 8th June, 1823, 32°15'19' S.; long. (presumed) 149°30' E. The party now proceed with the utmost despatch S. for Bathurst."

Signed " A. CUNNINGHAM, June 9th, 1823."

[p509] Endorsed: "Buried for the information of the first farmer who may venture to advance so far to the northward as this vale of whom it is requested this document may not be destroyed but carried to the settlement at Bathurst after the opening of the bottle."

The Rev. George Grimm writing in 1888, says: "The bottle was found a few years ago and the explorer's directions carried out."[*] The writer, however, has not been able to trace any other authentic record of this.

[* "Australian Explorers," p. 57.]

Beginning his return journey on the 9th, Cunningham proceeded along the Hawkesbury Vale and found it to consist of a rich flat watered by a swamp-oak creek and bounded on its south-east side by a ridge of hills, the mountain range overhanging it to the N.W. The vale opened on a clear patch of plain, the stream,[*] winding round the fringe of a range on the west side of "the beautiful, open, level tract which," says Cunningham, "I have named Harrison's Plain." On the 10th he continued to travel in a south and west direction and had accomplished fourteen miles from the northern extreme of Harrison's Plain, when he halted upon a creek which "receding from the base of the western range assumed the character of a deep-banked rivulet." A level tract between it and the range was named Alcock's Plain, "in compliment to a gentleman of His Majesty's Treasury that to the northward having been called after one of its secretaries."

[* The Coolaburragundy, or northern tributary of the Erskine.]

Journeying southward about a mile from here, the party on the 11th reached the edge of another open level plain, which was named Aiton's Plain (its native name is Bonana), and was bounded on the north by the mountainous range and on the opposite side by a broken ridge of sandstone rock. Upon quitting this plain Cunningham pepetrated a forest of box abounding in a brush of native indigo (Indigofera australis), and the blue vine, (Kennedia monophylla), and at last reached the foot of a detached rocky head, which he ascended to obtain a view of the surrounding country. This broken mount or head he named Station Head. From it he could see to the eastward of Aiton's Plain, and that there was separated from it by a line of apple-trees yet another and larger one which he called Hawkins' Plain, The country to the S.S.W. and S.W. did not appear, as seen from Station Head, to present any great difficulties in the route of the travellers.

[p510] On the 12th a low, heavily-timbered flat, abounding in pools of water where many bog plants were flourishing, was crossed, and the men arrived at the side of a small river whose steep, muddy banks, clothed with tall reeds, hid its deep waters, which ran westward. After tracing it for a mile and a half, Cunningham forded it: he thought it was formed by the union of three swamp-oak creeks to the northward which he had crossed before he had discovered Pandora's Pass. It was about 12 yards wide and subject to flood, when it appeared as if the whole of the forest-land, from its banks to a pine-ridge a mile distant, was laid under water. Cunningham tells us that it was called Pubo-batta by the natives. He named the stream Lawson's River, after the Commandant at Bathurst, "who first intersected it in January, 1822, to the westward of this point."

On the 13th, having taken bearings of a hummocky range at S.S.E., distant 25 miles, which he recognised as being only a short distance from Mudgee, Cunningham felt sure the Cudgegong was near at hand. Next day, when descending a ridge S.E. to a marshy valley, he crossed cattle-tracks of a recent date which, he says, proved that his surmise was correct. About three miles from here the party crossed a broad, shoally creek (evidently the channel by which these wet lands drained to the Cudgegong), where the men, all now greatly fatigued, encamped.

Starting early on the 15th, the travellers fell in with a stockman employed by Mr. Cox who, in answer to their inquiries as to where the creek joined the river, directed them to continue their route along the creek, until it met the Cudgegong three miles below the homestead at a clear, fertile flat known as Gurran. Here the stream was swollen and the men eventually crossed opposite the stockyard (being 23 miles below Cunningham's former point of intersection).[*] Resting here till the 20th Cunningham began his journey from Menar or Menah (the native name for the station) to Bathurst, where he arrived on June 27, 1823, after an absence of eleven weeks, during which we are told that his pack-horses had passed over 509 miles of measured land; and the capabilities of the country, the springheads of Hunter River, and the route to Liverpool Plains from Bathurst, had all been fully ascertained.

[* Cunningham to Telfair.]

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