Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales, by John Oxley

No. II.

Report of tour over Blue Mountains in 1815 by the Governor.

Government House, Sydney, June 10, 1815.

Mr. Cox having reported the road as completed on the 21st of January, the governor, accompanied by Mr. Macquarie, and that gentleman, commenced his tour on the 25th of April last, over the Blue Mountains, and was joined by Sir John Jamison, at the Nepean, who accompanied him during the entire tour. The following gentlemen composed the governor’s suite: Mr. Campbell, secretary; Captain Antill, major of brigade; Lieutenant Watts, aid-de-camp; Mr. Redfern, assistant surgeon; Mr. Oxley, surveyor general; Mr. Meehan, deputy surveyor general; Mr. Lewin, painter, and naturalist; and Mr. G. W. Evans, deputy surveyor of lands, who had been sent forward for the purpose of making farther discoveries, and rejoined the party on the day of arrival at Bathurst Plains.

The commencement of the ascent from Emu Plains, to the first depot, and then to a resting-place, now called Spring Wood, distant twelve miles from Emu Ford, was through a very handsome forest of lofty trees, and much more practicable and easy than was expected. The facility of the ascent for this distance excited surprise, and is certainly not well calculated to give the traveller a just idea of the difficulties he has afterwards to encounter.

At a farther distance of four miles, a sudden change is perceived in the appearance of the timber, and the quality of the soil; the former becoming stunted, and the latter barren and rocky. At this place the fatigues of the journey may be said to commence; here the country became altogether mountainous, and extremely rugged. Near to the eighteenth mile mark (it is to be observed the measure commences from Emu Ford), a pile of stones attracted attention; it is close to the line of road, on the top of a rugged and abrupt ascent, and is supposed to have been placed by Mr. Caley, as the extreme limit of his tour; hence the governor gave that part of the mountain the name of Caley’s Repulse. To have penetrated even so far, was an effort of no small difficulty. From hence forward to the twenty-sixth mile is a succession of steep and rugged hills, some of which are almost so abrupt as to deny a passage altogether; but at this place a considerably extensive plain is arrived at, which constitutes the summit of the western mountains, and from thence a most extensive and beautiful prospect presents itself on all sides to the eye. The town of Windsor, the River Hawkesbury, Prospect Hill, and other objects within that part of the colony now inhabited, of equal interest, are distinctly seen from hence. The majestic grandeur of the situation, combined with the various objects to be seen from this place, induced the governor to give it the appellation of the King’s Table Land. On the south-west side of the King’s Table Land, the mountain terminates in abrupt precipices of immense depth; at the bottom of which is seen a glen, as romantically beautiful as can be imagined, bounded on the farther side by mountains of great magnitude, terminating equally abruptly as the others; and the whole whole thickly covered with timber. The length of this picturesque and remarkable tract of country is about twenty-four miles, to which the governor gave the name of the Prince Regent’s Glen. Proceeding hence to the thirty-third mile, on the top of a hill an opening presents itself on the south-west side of the Prince Regent’s Glen, from whence a view obtained particularly beautiful and grand: mountains rising beyond mountains, with stupendous masses of rock in the fore ground, here strike the eye with admiration and astonishment. The circular form in which the whole is so wonderfully disposed, induced the governor to give the name of Pitt’s Amphitheatre to this offset or branch from the Prince Regent’s Glen. The road continues from hence for the space of seventeen miles, on the ridge of the mountain which forms one side of the Prince Regent’s Glen, and there it suddenly terminates in nearly a perpendicular precipice of six hundred and seventy-six feet high, as ascertained by measurement. The road constructed by Mr. Cox down this rugged and tremendous descent, through all its windings, is no less than three fourths of a mile in length, and has been executed with such skill and dexterity as reflects much credit to him: the labour here undergone, and the difficulties surmounted can only be appreciated by those who view this scene. In order to perpetuate the memory of Mr. Cox’s services, the governor deemed it a tribute justly due to him to give his name to this grand and extraordinary pass, and he accordingly called it Cox’s Pass. Having descended into the valley at the bottom of this pass, the retrospective view of the overhanging mountain is magnificently grand.

Although the present pass is the only practicable point yet discovered for descending by, yet the mountain is much higher than those on either side of it, from whence it is distinguished at a considerable distance: when approaching it from the interior, and in this point of view, it has the appearance of a very high distinct hill, although it is in fact only the abrupt termination of a ridge. The governor gave the name of Mount York to this termination of the ridge: on descending Cox’s Pass, the governor was much pleased 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. The valley at the base of Mount York he called the Vale of Clwyd, in consequence of the strong resemblance it bore to the vale of that name in North Wales: the grass in this vale is of a good quality, and very abundant; and a rivulet of fine water runs along it from the eastward, which unites itself at the western extremity of the vale with another rivulet, containing still more water. The junction of these two streams forms a very fine river, now called by the governor Cox’s River; which takes its course, as has since been re-ascertained, through the Prince Regent’s Glen, and empties itself into the River Nepean; and it is conjectured from the nature of the country through which it passes, that it must be one of the principal causes of the floods which have been occasionally felt on the low banks of the River Hawkesbury, into which the Nepean discharges itself. The Vale of Clwyd from the base of Mount York, extends six miles in a westerly direction, and has its termination at Cox’s River. Westward of this river the country again becomes hilly, but is generally open, forest land, and very good pasturage. Three miles to the westward of the Vale of Clwyd, Messrs. Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson, had formerly terminated their excursion; and when the various difficulties are considered which they had to contend with, especially until they had effected the descent from Mount York, to which place they were obliged to pass through a thick brushwood, where they were under the necessity of cutting a passage for their baggage horses, the severity of which labour had seriously affected their healths — their patient endurance of such fatigue cannot fail to excite much surprise and admiration. In commemoration of their merits, three beautiful high hills, joining each other at the end of their tour at this place, have received their names in the following order, viz., Mount Blaxland, Wentworth’s Sugar Loaf, and Lawson’s Sugar Loaf.

A range of very lofty hills and narrow valleys alternately form the tract from Cox’s River, for a distance of sixteen miles, until the Fish River is arrived at; and the stage between these rivers is consequently very severe and oppressive to the cattle: to this range the governor gave the name of Clarence’s Hilly Range. Proceeding from the Fish River and a short distance from it, a very singular and beautiful mountain attracts the attention, its summit being crowned with a large and very extraordinary looking rock, nearly circular in form, which gives to the whole very much the appearance of a Hill Fort, such as are frequent in India; to this lofty hill, Mr. Evans, who was the first European discoverer, gave the name of Mount Evans. Passing on from hence the country continues hilly, but affords good pasturage; gradually improving to Sidmouth Valley, which is distant from the pass of the Fish River eight miles. 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. This beautiful little valley runs north-west and south-east, between hills of easy ascent thinly covered with timber. Leaving Sidmouth Valley the country again becomes hilly, and in other respects resembles very much the country to the eastward of the valley for some miles.

Having reached Campbell River, distant thirteen miles from Sidmouth Valley, 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. Judging from the height of the banks and its general width, the Campbell River must be on some occasions of very considerable magnitude; but the extraordinary drought which has apparently prevailed on the western side of the mountains, equally as throughout this colony for the last three years, has reduced this river so much, that it may be more properly called a chain of pools than a running stream at the present time. In the reaches, or pools of the Campbell River, the very curious animal called the water mole (ornithorhynchus paradoxus), is seen in great numbers. The soil on both banks is uncommonly rich, and the grass is consequently luxuriant. Two miles to the southward of the line of road which crosses the Campbell River, there is a very fine rich tract of low lands which has been named Mitchel Plains.

Wild flax was found here growing in considerable quantities. The Fish River, which forms a junction with the Campbell River a few miles to the northward of the road and bridge over the latter, has also two very fertile plains on its banks, the one called O’Connell Plains, and the other Macquarie Plains, both of considerable extent, and very capable of yielding all the necessaries of life. At the distance of seven miles from the bridge over the Campbell River, Bathurst Plains open to the view, presenting a rich tract of champaign country of eleven miles in length, bounded on both sides by gently rising and very beautiful hills, thinly wooded. The Macquarie River, which is constituted by the junction of the Fish and Campbell Rivers, takes a winding course through the plains, and can be easily traced from the high lands adjoining, by the particular verdure of the trees on its banks, which are likewise the only trees throughout the extent of the plains.

The level and clean surface of these plains gives them at first view very much the appearance of lands in a state of cultivation.

The governor and his suite arrived at these plains on Thursday, the 4th of May, and encamped on the southern or left bank of the Macquarie River; the situation being selected in consequence of its commanding a beautiful and extensive prospect for many miles in every direction around it. At this place the governor remained for a week, which time he occupied in making excursions in different directions through the adjoining country, on both sides of the river.

On Sunday, the 7th of May, the governor fixed on a site suitable for the erection of a town at some future period, to which he gave the name of Bathurst, in honour of the present Secretary of State for the colonies. The situation of Bathurst is elevated sufficiently beyond the reach of any floods which may occur, and is at the same time so near the river on its south bank, as to derive all the advantages of its clear and beautiful stream. The mechanics, and settlers of whatever description, who may be hereafter permitted to form permanent residences to themselves at this place, will have the highly important advantages of a rich and fertile soil, with a beautiful river flowing through it, for all the uses of man.

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. During the week that the governor remained at Bathurst, he made daily excursions in various directions: one of these extended twenty-two miles in a south-west direction, and on that occasion as well as on all the others, he found the country composed chiefly of valleys and plains, separated occasionally by ranges of low hills; the soil throughout being generally fertile, and well circumstanced for the purpose of agriculture, or grazing.

Within a distance of ten miles from the site of Bathurst, there is not less than fifty thousand acres of land clear of timber, and fully one half of that may be considered excellent soil, well calculated for cultivation. It is a matter of regret, that in proportion as the land improves the timber degenerates; and it is to be remarked, that every where to the westward of the mountains it is much inferior, both in size and quality, to that within the present colony: there is however a sufficiency of timber of tolerable quality within the district around Bathurst, for the purposes of house building, and husbandry.

The governor has here to lament, that neither coals nor limestone 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.

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 seventeen pounds, and the people stationed at Bathurst reported they had caught some weighing twenty-five pounds. The field game are the kangaroos, emus, black swans, wild geese, wild turkeys, bustards, ducks of various kinds, quail, bronze-winged and other pigeons, etc. etc. The water-mole also abounds in all the rivers and ponds.

The site designed for the town of Bathurst by observation taken at the flag-staff, which was erected on the day of Bathurst receiving that name, is situated in latitude 33. 24. 30. S., and in longitude 149. 29. 30. E. of Greenwich; being also twenty-seven miles and a half north of Government House, in Sydney, and ninety-four and a half west of it, bearing west 18. 20. N., eighty-three geographical miles, or ninety-five and a half statute miles; the measured road distance from Sydney to Bathurst being one hundred and forty English miles.

The road constructed by Mr. Cox, and the party under him, commences at Emu Ford, on the left bank of the Nepean, and is thence one hundred and one miles and a half to the flag-staff at Bathurst: this road has been carefully measured, and each mile regularly marked on the trees growing on the left side of the road, proceeding towards Bathurst.

The governor in his tour made the following stages, in which he was principally regulated by the consideration of his having good pasturage for the cattle and plenty of water:

1st stage, Spring Wood, distant from Emu Ford, 12 miles.
2nd ditto, Jamison’s Valley, or 2nd depot, distant from ditto, 28 miles.
3rd ditto, Blackheath, distant from ditto, 41 miles.
4th ditto, Cox’s River, distant from ditto, 56 miles.
5th ditto, The Fish River, distant from ditto, 72 miles.
6th ditto, Sidmouth Valley, distant from ditto, 80 miles.
7th ditto, Campbell River, distant from ditto, 90 miles.
8th ditto, Bathurst, distant from ditto, 101 1/2 miles.

At all of which places the traveller may assure himself of good grass, and water in abundance.

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