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

No. III.

Letter from Oxley to Governor advising of his return from first expedition.

Bathurst, August 30, 1817.


“I have the honour to acquaint your excellency with my arrival at this place last evening, together with the persons comprising the expedition to the westward, which your excellency was pleased to place under my direction.

“Your excellency is already informed of my proceedings up to the 30th of April. The limits of a letter will not permit me to enter at large into the occurrences of nineteen weeks; and as I shall have the honour of waiting on your excellency in a few days, I trust you will in the mean time have the goodness to accept the summary account which I now offer.

“I proceeded down the Lachlan in company with the boats until the 12th of May, the country rapidly descending, until the waters of the river rising to a level with it, and dividing themselves into numerous branches, inundated the land to the west and north-west, and prevented any farther progress in that direction, the river itself being lost among the marshes. Up to this point, it had received no accession of waters from either side; but on the contrary, was constantly dissipating itself in lagoons and swamps.

“The impossibility of proceeding farther in conjunction with the boats being evident, I determined upon mature deliberation to haul them up; and divesting ourselves of every thing that could possibly be spared, proceed with the horses loaded with the additional provisions from the boats, on such a course towards the coast as would intersect any stream that might arise from the divided waters of the Lachlan.

“In pursuance of this plan, I quitted the river on the 17th of May, taking a south-west course towards Cape Northumberland, as the best adapted to answer my intended purpose. I will not here detail the difficulties and privations we experienced in passing through a barren and desolate country, without any water but such rain as was found remaining in holes and the crevices of rocks. I continued this course until the 9th of June, when having lost two horses through fatigue and want, and the others being in a deplorable condition, I changed our course to north, along a range of lofty hills running in that direction, as they afforded the only means of procuring water until we should fall in with some stream. On this course I continued until the 23rd of June, when we again fell in with a stream, which we had at first some difficulty to recognise as the Lachlan, it being little larger than one of the branches of it where we quitted it on the 17th of May.

“I did not hesitate a moment to pursue the course of this stream, not that the nature of the country or its own appearance in any manner indicated that it would become navigable, or even permanent; but I was unwilling that the smallest doubt should remain whether any navigable waters fall westward into the sea, between the limits pointed out in my instructions.

“I continued along the banks of the stream until the 8th of July, it having taken during this period a westerly direction, and passed through a perfectly level country, barren in the extreme, and being evidently at periods entirely under water. To this point the river had been gradually diminishing, and spreading its waters over stagnated lagoons and morasses, without receiving any tributary stream that we knew of, during the whole extent of its course. The banks were not more than three feet high, and the marks of flood on the shrubs and bushes showed that at times it rose between two and three feet higher, causing the whole country to become a marsh, and altogether uninhabitable.

“Farther progress westward, had it been possible, was now useless, as there was neither hill nor rising ground of any kind within the compass of our view, which was bounded only by the horizon in every quarter, and entirely devoid of timber, unless a few diminutive gum, trees on the very edge of the stream might be so termed. The water in the bed of the lagoon, as it might now be properly denominated, was stagnant, its breadth about twenty feet, and the heads of grass growing in it showed it to be about three feet deep.

“This unlooked for and truly singular termination of a river, which we had anxiously hoped, and reasonably expected, would have led to a far different conclusion, filled us with the most painful sensations. We were full five hundred miles west of Sydney, and nearly in its latitude; and it had taken us ten weeks of unremitted exertion to proceed so far. The nearest part of the coast about Cape Bernoulli, had it been accessible, was distant above one hundred and eighty miles. We had demonstrated beyond a doubt, that no river could fall into the sea between Cape Otway and Spencer’s Gulf, at least none deriving its waters from the eastern coast; and that the country south of the parallel of 34 degrees, and west of the meridian 147. 30. E. was uninhabitable, and useless for all the purposes of civilized men.

“It now became my duty to make our remaining resources as extensively useful to the colony as our circumstances would allow; these were much diminished: an accident which happened to one of the boats in the outset of the expedition had deprived us of one third of our dry provisions, of which we had originally a supply for only eighteen weeks, and we had been consequently for some time living on a reduced ration of two quarts of flour per man, per week. To return to the depot by the route we had come would have been as useless as impossible; and, seriously considering the spirit of your excellency’s instructions, I determined, after the most mature deliberation, to take such a route, on our return, as would I hoped comport with your excellency’s views, had our then situation ever been contemplated.

“Returning up the Lachlan, I recommenced the survey of it from the point at which it was made on the 23rd of June, intending to continue up its banks until its connection with the marshes where we quitted it on the 17th of May was satisfactorily established, as also to ascertain if any streams might have escaped our research. The connection with all the points of the survey previously determined, was completed between the 19th of July and the 3rd of August. In the space passed over within that period, the river had divided itself into various branches, and formed three fine lakes, which, with one near the termination of our journey westward, were the only considerable pieces of water we had yet seen; and I now estimated that the river, from the place where it was first made by Mr. Evans, had run a course, including all its windings, of upwards of one thousand two hundred miles; a length altogether unprecedented, when the single nature of the river is considered, and that its original source constitutes its only supply of water during that extent.

“Crossing at this point, it was my intention to take a north-east course to intersect the country, and if possible to ascertain what had become of the Macquarie River, which it was clear had never joined the Lachlan. This course led us through a country to the full as bad as any we had yet seen, and equally devoid of water, the personal want of which again much distressed us. On the 7th of August the scene began to change, and the country to assume a very different aspect; we were now quitting the neighbourhood of the Lachlan, and had passed to the north-east of the high range of hills, which on this parallel bounds the low country to the north of that river. To the north-west and north the country was high and open, with good forest land; and on the 10th we had the satisfaction of falling in with the first stream running northerly. This renewed our hopes of soon falling in with the Macquarie, and we continued upon the same course, occasionally inclining to the eastward until the 19th, passing through a fine luxuriant country, well watered; crossing in that space of time nine streams, having a northerly course through rich valleys, the country in every direction being moderately high and open, and generally as fine as can be imagined.

“No doubt remained upon our minds that those streams fell into the Macquarie, and to view it before it received such an accession, was our first wish. On the 19th, we were gratified by failing in with a river running through a most beautiful country, and which I should have been well contented to have believed to be the river we were in search of. Accident led us down this stream about a mile, when we were surprised by its junction with a river coming from the south, of such width and magnitude as to dispel all doubts as to this last being the river we had so long anxiously looked for. Limited as our resources were, we could not resist the temptation which this beautiful country offered us, to remain two days upon the junction of these rivers, for the purpose of examining its vicinity to as great an extent as possible.

“Our examination increased the satisfaction we had previously felt; as far as the eye could reach, in every direction, a rich and picturesque country extended, abounding in limestone, slate, good timber, and every other requisite which could render an uncultivated country desirable.

“The soil cannot be excelled; whilst a noble river of the first magnitude affords the means of conveying its productions from one part of the country to the other. Where we quitted it, its course was northerly, and we were then north of the parallel of Port Stephens, being in latitude 32. 32. 45. S., and 148. 52. E. longitude.

“It appeared to me that the Macquarie had taken a north-north-west course from Bathurst, and that it must have received immense accessions of water in its course from that place. We viewed it at a period best calculated to form an accurate judgment of its importance, when it was neither swelled by floods beyond its natural and usual height, nor contracted within its proper limits by summer droughts; of its magnitude when it should have received the streams we had crossed, independently of any which it may receive from the east (which, from the boldness and height of the country, I presume must be at least as many as from the south), some idea may be formed when I inform your excellency, that at this point it exceeded in breadth and apparent depth the Hawkesbury at Windsor, and that many of the reaches were of grander and more extended proportion than the admired one on the Nepean River, from the Warragamba to Emu Plains.

“Resolving to keep as near the river as possible during the remainder of our course to Bathurst, and endeavour to ascertain at least on the west side what waters fall into it, on the 22nd we proceeded up the river, and, between the point quitted and Bathurst, crossed the sources of numberless streams all running into the Macquarie; two of them were nearly as large as that river itself is at Bathurst. The country whence all these streams derive their source was mountainous and irregular, and appeared equally so on the east side of the Macquarie.

“This description of country extended to the immediate vicinity of Bathurst, but to the west of those lofty ranges the land was broken into low grassy hills and fine valleys, watered by rivulets rising on the western side of the mountains, which on their eastern side pour their waters directly into the Macquarie. These westerly streams appeared to me to join that which at first sight I had taken for the Macquarie, and, when united, to fall into it at the point on which it was first discovered on the 19th instant. We reached this place last evening, without a single accident having occurred to any one of the party during the whole progress of the expedition; which from this point has encircled within the parallels of 34. 30. S. and 32. S., and between the meridians of 149. 29. 30. E. and 143. 30. E. a space of nearly one thousand miles. I shall hasten to lay before your excellency the journals, charts, and drawings, explanatory of the various occurrences of our diversified route; amply gratified if our exertions should appear to your excellency commensurate with your expectations, and the ample means which your care and liberality placed at my disposal.

“I feel the most particular pleasure in informing your excellency of the obligations I am under to Mr. Evans, the deputy surveyor, for his able advice and cordial co-operation throughout the expedition; and, as far as his previous researches had extended, the accuracy and fidelity of his narrative was fully established.

“It would perhaps appear presumptuous in me to hazard an opinion upon the merits of persons engaged in a pursuit in which I have little knowledge; the extensive and valuable collection of plants found by Mr. A. Cunningham, the King’s botanist, and Mr. C. Frazer, the colonial botanist, will best evince to your excellency the unwearied industry and zeal bestowed in the discovery and preservation of them; in every other respect they also merit the highest praise.

“From the nature of the greater part of the country passed over, our mineralogical collection is but small. Mr. S. Parr did as much as could be done in that branch, and throughout endeavoured to render himself as useful as possible.

“Of the men on whom the chief care of the horses and baggage devolved, it is impossible to speak in too high terms. Their conduct in periods of considerable privation, was such as must redound to their credit; and their orderly, regular, and obedient behaviour could not be exceeded. It may principally be attributed to their care and attention, that we lost only three horses; and that, with the exception of the loss of the dry provisions already mentioned, no other accident happened during the course of the expedition. I most respectfully beg leave to recommend them to your excellency’s favourable notice and consideration.

“I trust your excellency will have the goodness to correct any omissions or inaccuracies that may appear in this letter: the messenger setting out immediately will not allow me to revise or correct it.

“I have the honour to remain, with the greatest respect, Your excellency’s most obedient and humble servant, (Signed), J. OXLEY, Surveyor General.”

To His Excellency, Governor Macquarie, etc., etc., etc.

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