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

No. VI.

Governor’s report on Oxley’s discovery of Port Stephens together with a letter from Oxley to the Governor on this subject.


Government House, Sydney, Thursday, June 17, 1819.


It is with feelings of much gratification that his excellency The Governor is at length enabled to announce, thus publicly, that a safe capacious harbour has been discovered, and now accurately described, situated to the north-east of Newcastle; from whence it is distant about one hundred and forty miles, and consequently about two hundred and twenty miles in the same direction from Port Jackson.

This harbour, which was discovered by John Oxley, Esq., surveyor general, on his reaching the coast last year from his tour of discovery in the interior, then obtained from him the name of Port Macquarie; and although, owing to his not having any boat or vessel at that time, he could not then ascertain the soundings, and practicability of the entrance into this harbour, yet the general appearances were sufficiently favourable to induce him to form the opinion that it would prove safe; and from the circumstances of the surrounding country being well watered, and fertile, and the large River Hastings discharging itself into the sea there, he concluded that a port so happily situated would be a valuable acquisition to this colony. Impressed with this idea. he did not fail to report his opinion in regard to it to his excellency, who was happy to provide Mr. Oxley with a suitable vessel, to enable him to make the necessary survey of the entrance and harbour of Port Macquarie.

The result of this survey having been as satisfactory as could have been expected, his excellency is pleased to give publicity to Mr. Oxley’s own clear and circumstantial report on this valuable acquisition; and his excellency desires to express his full and entire approbation of Mr. Oxley’s intelligent, zealous, and indefatigable exertions on this arduous occasion, which evince an earnest and well directed desire to promote the public service, and to advance the interests of the colony.

His excellency is also happy to add the expression of his approbation of the liberal and judicious assistance rendered to Mr. Oxley, by Lieutenant King, commander of His Majesty’s colonial cutter, Mermaid, whose exertions are so justly appreciated by Mr. Oxley, in the following report; and his excellency desires both those gentlemen to accept his thanks for the service thus rendered by their joint efforts to the colony.

By his excellency’s command,

J. T. CAMPBELL, Secretary.

Sydney, June 12, 1819.


In obedience to your excellency’s commands to proceed in the Lady Nelson, for the purpose of examining the entrance into Port Macquarie, and how far it would be practicable and safe for vessels of a certain description to enter it, I beg leave to report to your excellency, that I arrived off the entrance of the harbour, on the 11th of May, in company with His Majesty’s cutter, Mermaid, commanded by Lieutenant King, who expressed his intention to forward, by the superior means possessed by his vessel, the view of your excellency, relative to the harbour.

Both vessels anchored off the bar, and the day was spent in sounding the bar and channel; when we had the pleasure to find that we could enter with safety. Accordingly the next morning they were warped into the harbour, and moored alongside a natural wharf, on the south side of the port.

The examination of the harbour, and river falling therein, occupied us until the 21st, when having completed the service directed by your excellency, both vessels quitted the port with perfect ease; the Mermaid pursuing her course to the northward on her ulterior destination.

Port Macquarie is situated in latitude 31. 25. 45. S., and in longitude 152. 53. 54. E. It is a bar harbour, on which however there is at low water spring tides, at least nine feet; the tide rising from three to four feet. The true channel is perfectly straight, and the tides set so, that no danger is to be apprehended from their operation. The chief danger to be avoided on entering is a sunken rock on the south side, having about three feet on it at low water; and it will he necessary, should the port he settled, that this danger should he buoyed. The bar extends about two hundred yards; the bottom a soft sand when the water deepens to two fathoms and a half, and alternately to three fathoms, when secure anchorage will be found inside the Beacon Rock.

When vessels arrive off the bar, should the wind or tide be adverse to entering the port, good anchorage will he found in from five to eight fathoms outside the bar; Tacking Point being shut in by Peaked Hill Point. When the winds are from the south, round by the west to north, the bottom a clear sand.

The winds from north-east and south-east, if blowing strong, cause the water to break across: but as those winds are fair for entering, no danger is to be apprehended to vessels whose draft of water does not exceed nine or ten feet. Should however circumstances render it imprudent or impracticable to enter, the coast may be cleared on either tack, the indenture of the coast line not being such as to cause it ever to be a dangerous lee shore.

The port should be entered at or near high water, when, unless it blows very hard, it seldom breaks on the bar. The tide of ebb runs with great rapidity, sometimes nearly four miles per hour, owing to the great quantity of fresh water in the Hastings River, and the narrowness of the channel. The flood tide seldom exceeds one mile and three quarters per hour. The tides are however very irregular in their operation, being considerably influenced by local circumstances. The port is perfectly capable to receive vessels of the class usually employed on the coasts of this territory, and is in my opinion far better and safer than many considerable bar harbours in Europe; and which are much frequented by vessels adapted to their navigation.

Within the port the water deepens to five and six fathoms, which depth continues for nearly ten miles, when the rapids of the river render it impracticable for craft drawing more than six or eight feet; which depth continues for six or eight miles farther, when the falls commence; it may however, when the river is ordinarily full, be navigable for boats some little distance farther.

My report to your excellency of the proceedings of the expedition of discovery on its return in October, 1818, will have put your excellency in possession of the nature and description of country watered by the River Hastings from its source until it falls into the sea at Port Macquarie.

To that report I respectfully beg to refer your excellency, as my opportunities of examining the country, at that period, were of course so much more extensive. To the productions of the country as then reported, may now be added great quantities of rose wood, the flooded gum, and coal. Flint was before noticed lying in large masses on the beach. The coal, as appears to me, may be worked without difficulty, as I think that a stratum of it pervades the whole of the south side of the harbour, which stratum is again seen southerly as far as Camden Haven.

I herewith respectfully submit to your excellency a plan of the entrance into the port, with a sketch of part of Hastings River, for which I am principally indebted to the assistance rendered me on all occasions by Lieutenant King, who, I am happy in reporting to your excellency, fully coincides with me, as to the advantages that may he expected to result from the knowledge that the port has a navigable and safe entrance; thereby affording a communication with the fine country on both banks of Hastings River.

I have the honour to remain, with great respect,

Your excellency’s most obedient and humble servant,

J. OXLEY, Surveyor General.

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

A Brief Abstract of the General Population of New South Wales, Not Including Van Diemen’s Land, for the Years 1815, 1816, 1817, Inclusive.
Year Souls at Total
Sydney Parramatta Windsor Liverpool Newcastle
1815 5668 2566 2749 1167 346 12,911
1816 6882 3581 3164 1550 413 15,175
1817 7409 4257 4257 1922 553 17,265
A Statement of the Land in Cultivation Etc., Quantities of Stock, Etc., in New South Wales, not Including Van Diemens Land, for the Following Five Years, Viz. 1813,1814,1815, 1816,1817, Inclusive.
Year Acres in Sheep Hogs
Wheat Maize Barley Oats Peas and Bean Pota­toes Garden and Orchard Cleared Ground Total held Horses Horned Cattle
1813 7386 13814 694 299 68 308 960 52976 151057 1891 12543 45621 14641
1814 8571 5880 537 355 33 205 906 61679 181787 2197 23263 73230 10921
1815 10712 6089 708 610 51 333 901 67521 208547 2328 25279 62476 10106
1816 13238 7540 836 787 68 380 1102 88685 221657 2451 21116 55097 11372
1817 14446 11714 656 148 108 335 863 92894 224003 2851 33637 66684 15634

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