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1-181 (Original)

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Speaker:
addressee author,male,Oxley, John Joseph William Molesworth,34
ns1:discourse_type
Narrative Discourse
Word Count :
5037
Plaint Text :
ns1:register
Private Written
ns1:texttype
Diaries
ns1:localityName
http://dbpedia.org/resource/New_South_Wales
Created:
1817
Identifier
1-181
Source
Fitzpatrick, 1958
pages
51-64
Document metadata
Extent:
28690
Identifier
1-181.txt
Title
1-181#Original
Type
Original

1-181.txt — 28 KB

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<source><g=m><o=b><age=34><status=3><abode=15><p=nsw><r=prw><tt=di><1-181>
On the twenty-fourth of March I received the instructions of his excellency the Governor to take charge of the expedition which had been fitted out for the purpose of ascertaining the course of the Lachlan River, and generally to prosecute the examination of the western interior of New South Wales.
On the sixth of April I quitted Sydney, and after a pleasant journey arrived at Bathurst on the fourteenth, and found that our provisions and other necessary stores were in readiness at the' Depot on the Lachlan River [...] 
April 25. [...] At two o'clock saw the river, which certainly did not disappoint me: it was evidently much higher than usual, running a strong stream; the banks very steep, but not so as to render the water inaccessible; the land on each side quite flat, and thinly clothed with small trees; the soil a rich light loam: higher points occasionally projected on the river, and on those the soil was by no means so good. [52] The largest trees were growing immediately at the water's edge on both sides, and from their position formed an arch over the river, obscuring it from observation, although it was from thirty to forty yards across. At four o'clock we arrived at the Depot.
We had scarcely alighted from our horses, when natives were seen in considerable numbers on the other side of the river. I went down opposite to them, and after some little persuasion about twenty of them swam across, having their galengar or stone hatchet in one hand, which on their landing they threw at our feet, to show us that they were as much divested of arms as ourselves. After staying a short time they were presented with some kangaroo flesh, with which they re-crossed the river, and kindled their fires. They were very stout and manly, well featured, with long beards: there were a few cloaks among them made of the oppossum skin, and it was evident that some of the party had been at Bathurst, from their making use of several English words, and from their readily comprehending many of our questions.
April 26. - Fine clear warm weather. The natives were still on the opposite bank, and five of them came over to us in the course of the morning; but remained a very short time. During the last night a few fine shrimps were caught; the soldiers stationed at the Depot said they had frequently taken them in considerable numbers. During the day arranged the loads for the boats and horses, that they might be enabled to set off early the next morning.
April 27. - Loaded the boats with as much of the salt provisions as they could safely carry, and despatched them to wait at the first creek about seven or eight miles down the river until the loaded horses came, and then to assist in taking their loads over the creek; intending myself to follow with the remainder of the baggage early to-morrow morning. [...] 
April 29. - Proceeded on our journey down the river, directing the boats to stop at the creek which terminated Mr. Evans's former journey. [53] The country through which we passed this day in every respect resembles the tracts we have already gone over. The crowns and ridges of the hills are uniformly stony and barren, ending as before alternately on each side of the river; the greater proportion of good flat land lies on the south side of the river; there are however very rich and fertile tracts on this side. After riding about eight miles, we ascended a considerable hill upon our right, from the top of which we could see to a considerable distance; between the south-west and north north-west, a very low level tract lay west of us, and no hill whatever bounded the view in that quarter. Three remarkable hummocks bore respectively S.72 W., S. 51.5 W. and S. 34.5 W., within which range of bearing the country was uniformly level, or rising into such low hills as not to be distinguished from the general surface. The tops of distant ranges could be discerned over low hills in the north-west, whilst, from north by the east to south, the country was broken into hill and valley. The whole of this extensive scene was covered with eucalypti, whilst on the rocky summits of the hills in the immediate neighbourhood a species of cypresses was eminently distinguished. From this extensive view I named the hill Mount Prospect [...] 
At six o'clock the boats arrived safe, the men having had a very fatiguing row, and been obliged to clear the passage of fallen trees, and other obstructions; so that we determined to give them some repose, and halt here for the night.
May 1. [...] Commenced the survey of the river from this point. The flats on both sides the river were very extensive, and in general good; the same timber and grass as usual; the stream was from thirty to forty yards broad on an average [...] May 2. - Our journey this day was very fatiguing, the grass being nearly breast high, thick, and entangled. The soil is tolerably good within a mile and a half of the banks; I rode five or six miles out, in hopes of finding some eminence on which to ascend, but was disappointed, the country continuing a dead level, with extensive swamps, and barren brushes. [...] '
May 3. - Proceeded down the river. We passed over a very barren desolate country, perfectly level, without even the slightest eminence, covered with dwarf box-trees and scrubby bushes; towards the latter part of the day a few small cypresses were seen. [54] I think the other side of the river is much the same. We have hitherto met with no water except at the river, and a few shallow lagoons, which are evidently dry in summer. I do not know how far this level extends north and south, but I cannot estimate it at less than from ten to twelve miles on each side; but this is mere conjecture, since for the last three days I have been unable to see beyond a mile: I have, however, occasionally made excursions of five or six miles, and never perceived any difference in the elevation of the country.
May 4. [...] At twelve proceeded about three quarters of a mile down the river, and from a small eminence half a mile north of it, an extensive tract of clear country was seen, bearing N. 50 W., about two or three miles from us, having a low range of hills bounding them in the direction of S. 65 W. and N. 65 E. The river wound immediately under the hill, taking a westerly direction as far as I went, which was about three miles; its windings were very sudden, and its width and depth much the same as before.
May 5. - Proceeded down the river, ascended the eminence mentioned yesterday, and from the top of a cypress tree a very distant view of the whole country was obtained.
The country was in general poor, with partial tracts of better ground; the hills were slaty, and covered as well as the levels with small eucalypti, cypresses, and camarinas. [...] 
May 6. - Proceeded down the river. It is impossible to fancy a worse country than the one we were now travelling over, intersected by swamps and small lagoons in every direction; the soil a poor clay, and covered with stunted useless timber. It was excessively fatiguing to the horses which travelled along the banks of the river, as the rubus and bromus were so thickly intermingled, that they could scarcely force a passage. After proceeding about eight miles, a bold rocky mount terminated on the river, and broke the sameness which had so long wearied us: we ascended this hill, which I named Mount Amyot, and from the summit had one of the most extensive views that can be imagined. On the opposite side of the river was another hill precisely similar to Mount Amyot, leaving a passage between them for the river, and the immense tract of level country to the eastward; this hill was named Mount Stuart. [55] Vast plains clear of timber lay on the south side of the river, and which, from our having travelled on a level with them, it was impossible for us to distinguish before. These plains I named Hamilton's Plains, and they were bounded by hills of considerable elevation to the southward; whilst the whole level country thus bounded was honoured with the designation of Princess Charlotte's Crescent.
I have reason to believe that the whole of the extensive tract named Princess Charlotte's Crescent is at times drowned by the overflowing of the river; the marks of flood were observed in every direction, and the waters in the marshes and lagoons were all traced as being derived from the river. During a course of upwards of seventy miles not a single running stream emptied itself into the river on either side; and I am forced to conclude that in common seasons this whole tract is extremely badly watered, and that it derives its principal if not only supply from the river within the bounding ranges of Princess Charlotte's Crescent. There are doubtless many small eminences which might afford a retreat from the inundations, but those which were observed by us were too trifling and distant from each other to stand out distinct from the vast level surface which the crescent presents to the view. The soil of the country we passed over was a poor and cold clay; but there are many rich levels which, could they be drained and defended from the inundations of the river, would amply repay the cultivation. These flats are certainly not adapted for cattle; the grass is too swampy, and the bushes, swamps, and lagoons, are too thickly intermingled with the better portions to render it either a safe or desirable grazing country. The timber is universally bad and small; a few large misshapen gum trees on the immediate banks of the river may be considered as exceptions. If however the country itself is poor, the river is rich in the most excellent fish, procurable in the utmost abundance. One man in less than an hour caught eighteen large fish, one of which was a curiosity from its immense size, and the beauty of its colours. In shape and general form it most resembled a cod, but was speckled over with brown, blue and yellow spots, like a leopard's skin; its gills and belly a clear white, the tail and fins a dark brown. [56] It weighed entire seventy pounds, and without the entrails sixty-six pounds: it is somewhat singular that in none of these fish is any thing found in the stomach, except occasionally a shrimp or two [...] 
May 8. - Proceeded down the river. Our general course was westerly, and the country, though equally level with any we had passed, improved in the quality of the soil, which, during the greater part of today's route, was a good vegetable mould, the land thickly covered with small acacia and dwarf trees.
The banks of the river were, I think, much lower, not exceeding fifteen or twenty feet high, and they were rather clearer of timber than before. The camarina, which used to line the banks, was now seldom seen, the acacia pendula seeming to take its place. We stopped for the night on a plain of good land, flooded, but clear of timber: large flocks of emus were feeding on it, and we were fortunate enough to kill a very large one after a fine chase.
May 9. [...] The country we passed through during this day's route was extremely low, consisting of extensive plains divided by lines of small trees: the banks of the river, and the deep bights formed by the irregularity of its course, were covered with acacia bushes and dwarf trees. The river, at the spot where we stopped, wound along the edge of an extensive low plain, being at least six miles long and three or four broad; these I called Field's Plains, after the judge of the supreme court of this territory; they are the same which we saw from the top of Mount Amyot. [...] 
May 10. - The horses having strayed in the night, and it being nearly noon before they were found, I determined to make this a halting day.
These plains are much more extensive than I supposed yesterday, and many new plants were found on them. The river rose upwards of a foot during the night, and still continues to rise; a circumstance which appears very singular to me, there having been no rains of any magnitude for the last five weeks, and none at all for the last ten days. We are also certain that no waters fall into it or join in easterly for nearly one hundred and fifty miles. [57] This rise must therefore be occasioned by heavy rains in the mountains, whence the river derives its source; but it is not the less singular, that during its whole course, as far as it is hitherto known, it does not receive a single tributary stream. Observed the latitude
33. 16. 33. S.
May 11. - the river rose about four feet during the night, and still continues to rise. Set forward on our journey down the river. About four miles and a half from this morning's stations, the river began to wash the immediate edge Of the plain, and so continued to do all along. My astonishment was extreme at finding the banks of the river not more than six feet from the water: it at once confirmed my supposition that the whole of this extensive country is frequently inundated; the river was here about thirty yards broad.
The soil of these extensive plains, designated Field's Plains, is for the most part extremely rich, as indeed might be expected, from the deposition of the quantities of vegetable matter that must take place in periods of flood..
May 12. - The fine weather still continues to favour us. The river rose in the course of the night upwards of a foot. It is a probable supposition that the natives, warned by experience of these dangerous flats, rather choose to seek a more precarious, but more safe subsistence in the mountainous and rocky ridges which are occasionally to be met with. The river and lagoons abound with fish and fowl, and it is scarcely reasonable to suppose that the natives would not avail themselves of such store of food, if the danger of procuring it did not counterbalance the advantages they. might otherwise derive from such. abundance.
About three quarters of a mile farther westward we had to cross another small arm of the river, running to the northward, which although now full is, I should think, dry when the river is at its usual level. It is probable that this and the one which we first crossed join each other a few miles farther to the westward, and then both united fall into the stream which gave them existence. We had scarcely proceeded a mile from the last branch, before it became evident that it would be impossible to advance farther in the direction in which we were travelling. [58] The stream here overflowed both banks, and its course was lost among marshes: its channel not being distinguishable from the surrounding waters.
Observing an eminence about half a mile from the south side, we crossed over the horses and baggage at a place where the water was level with the banks, and which when within its usual channel did not exceed thirty or forty feet in width, its depth even now being only twelve feet.
We ascended the hill, and had the mortification to perceive the termination of our research, at least down this branch of the river; the whole country from the west northwest round to north was either a complete marsh or lay under water, and this for a distance of twenty-five or thirty miles, in those directions; to the south and south-west the country appeared more elevated, but low marshy grounds lay between us and it, which rendered it impossible for us to proceed thither from our present situation. I therefore determined to return back to the place where the two branches of the principal river separated, and follow the south-west branch as far as it should be navigable; our fears were however stronger than our hopes, lest it would end in a similar manner to the one we had already traced, until it became no longer navigable for boats.
My disappointment at the interruption of our labours in this quarter was extreme, and what was worse, no flattering prospect appeared of our succeeding better in the examination of the south-west branch. I was however determined to see the present end of the river in all its branches, before I should finally quit it, in furtherance of the other objects of the expedition.
May 13. - Returned to the point whence the river separates into two branches; intending first to descend the south-west branch for some distance before the boats and baggage should move down, being unwilling the horses should undergo an useless fatigue in traversing such marshy ground, unless the branch should prove of sufficient magnitude to take us a considerable distance; conceiving it an object of the first importance that the horses should start fresh, if I should find it necessary to quit the river at this point of the coast. [59] 
May 14. [...] My present intention is to take a south-west direction for Cape Northumberland, since should any river be formed from those marshes, which is extremely probable, and fall into the sea between Spencer's Gulf and Cape Otway, this course will intersect it, and no river or stream can arise from these swamps without being discovered. The body of water now running in both the principal branches is very considerable,, fully sufficient to have constituted a river of magnitude, if it had constantly maintained such a supply of water, and had not become separated into branches, and lost among the immense marshes of this desolate and barren country, which seems here to form a vast concavity to receive them. It is impossible to arrive at any certain opinion as to what finally becomes of these waters, but I think it probable, from the appearance of the country, and its being nearly on a level with the sea, that they are partly absorbed by the soil, and the remainder lost by evaporation 
June 23. [...] After going about eight miles and a quarter, we suddenly came upon the banks of the river; I call it the river, for it could certainly be no other than the Lachlan, which we had quitted nearly five weeks before. Our astonishment was extreme, since it was an incident little expected by any one. It was here extremely diminished in size, but was still nearly equal in magnitude to the south-west. branch which we last quitted. The banks were about twelve or fourteen feet above the water, and it was running with a tolerably brisk stream to the westward. The banks were so thickly covered with large eucalypti, that we did not perceive it until we were within a very few yards of it; it appeared about thirty feet broad, running over a sandy bottom. I think it extremely probable that the waters of both the main branches, after losing a very considerable portion over the low grounds in the neighbourhood of Mount Cunningham and Field's Plains, have again united and formed the present stream.
Our future course did not admit of any hesitation, and it was resolved to go down the stream as long as there was a chance of its becoming more considerable, and until our provisions should be so far expended as barely to enable us to return to Bathurst. [...] [60] 
June 30. - The first two or three miles were somewhat harder travelling than the greater part of yesterday. Immense plains extended to the westward, as far as the eye could reach. These plains were entirely barren, being evidently In times of rain altogether under water, when they doubtless form one vast lake: they extended in places from three to six miles from the margin of the stream, which on its immediate borders was a wet bog, full of small water holes, and the surface covered with marsh plants, with a few straggling dwarf box-trees. It was only on the very edge of the bank, and in the bottoms of the bights, that any eucalypti grew; the plains were covered with nothing but knaphalium: the soil various, in some places red tenacious clay, in others a dark hazel-coloured loam, so rotten and full of holes that it was with difficulty the horses could travel over them. Although those plains were bounded only by the horizon, not a semblance of a hill appeared in the distance; we seemed indeed to have taken a long farewell of every thing like an elevation, whence the surrounding country could be observed. To the southward, bounding those plains in that direction, barren shrubs and dwarf box-trees, with numberless holes of stagnant water, too clearly proclaimed the nature of the country in that quarter. We could see through the openings of the trees on the river that plains of similar extent occupied the other side, which has all along appeared to us to be (if any thing) the lower ground. We travelled in the centre of the plains, our medium distance from the river being from one to two miles; and although we did not go above thirteen miles, some of the horses were excessively distressed from the nature of the ground.
There was not the least appearance of natives; nor was bird or animal of any description seen during the day, except a solitary native dog. Nothing can be more melancholy and irksome than travelling over wilds, which nature seems to have condemned to perpetual loneliness and desolation. We seemed indeed the sole living creatures in those vast deserts.
The plains last travelled over were named Molle's Plains, after the late lieutenant-governor of the territory; and those on the opposite side, Baird's Plains, after the general to whom he once acted as aide-de-camp, and whose glory he shared. [61] The naming of places was often the only pleasure within our reach; but it was some relief from the desolation of these plains and hills to throw over them the associations of names dear to friendship, or sacred to genius.
July 5 [...] Our route lay over the same unvarying plain surface as on the preceding days, and after travelling about five miles, we again saw the line of trees growing on the banks of the stream; and having performed about ten miles more, we halted on the immediate banks of it. These were considerably lower, being about six feet above the water; the current was almost imperceptible, and the depth did not exceed four feet, and was extremely muddy; the trees growing on the banks were neither so large nor so numerous as before, and a new species of eucalyptus prevailed over the old blue gum. The north-east side was precisely of the same description of country as the south-east. A very large sheet of water or lake lay on the north-west side, opposite to the place where we made the river. The horizon was clear and distinct around the whole circle, the line of trees on the river alone excepted. From the marks of these trees, the waters appear to rise about three feet above the level of the bank; a height more than sufficient to inundate the whole country. This stream is certainly in the summer season, or in the long absence of rain, nothing more than a mere chain of ponds, serving as a channel to convey the waters from the eastward over this low tract. It is certain that no waters join this river from its source to this point; and passing, as it does, for the most part, through a line of country so low as to be frequently overflowed, and to an extent north and south perfectly unknown, but certainly at this place exceeding forty miles, it must cause the country to remain for ever uninhabitable, and useless for all the purposes of civilized man.
July 7. [...] Had there been any hill or even small eminence within thirty or forty miles of me they must now have been discovered, but there was not the least appearance of any such, and it was with infinite regret and pain that I was forced to come to the conclusion, that the interior of this vast country is a marsh and uninhabitable. How near these marshes may approach the south-western coast, I know not; but I do not think that the range of high and dry land in that quarter extends back north-easterly for any great distance; it being known, that the coast from Cape Bernouilli to the head of Spencer's Gulf is sandy and destitute of water. [62] 
Perhaps there is no river, the history of which is known, that presents so remarkable a termination as the present: its course in a straight line from its source to its termination exceeds five hundred miles, and including its windings, it may fairly be calculated to run at least twelve hundred miles; during all which passage, through such a vast extent of country, it does not receive a single stream in addition to what it derives from its sources in the eastern mountains.
I think it a probable conjecture that this river is the channel by which all the waters rising in those ranges of hills to the westward of Port Jackson, known by the name of the Blue Mountains, and which do not fall into the sea on the east coast, are conveyed to these immense inland marshes; its sinuous course causing it to overflow its banks on a much higher level than the present, and in consequence, forming those low wet levels which are in the very neighbourhood of the government Depot. Its length of course is, in my opinion, the principal cause of our finding any thing like a stream for the last one hundred miles, as the immense body of water which must undoubtedly be at times collected in such a river must find a vent somewhere, but being spent during so long a course without any accession, the only wonder is, that even those waters should cause a current at so great a distance from their source; every thing however indicates, as before often observed, that in dry seasons the channel of the river is empty, or forms only a chain of ponds. It appears to have been a considerable length of time since the banks were over-flowed, certainly not for the last year; and I think it probable they are not often so: the quantity of water must indeed be immense, and of long accumulation, in the upper marshes, before the whole of this vast country can be under water [...] 
May 20, 1818. - Having received his Excellency the Governor's instructions for the conduct of the expedition intended to examine the course of the Macquarie River, and every preparation having been made at the Depot in Wellington Valley for that purpose, I quitted Sydney in company with Dr. Harris (late of the 102d foot), and after a pleasant journey arrived at Bathurst on the 25th. [63] Our little arrangements having been completed by the 28th, we again set forward with the baggage horses and men that were to compose the expedition.
We at first kept nearly upon the track pursued by us on our return from the first expedition in August last; but on approaching Wellington Valley, keeping a little more to the westward, we avoided much of that steep and rugged road which we then complained of; the country being quite open, the valleys and flats good, the hills limestone rock. We did not meet with the slightest interruption, and arrived at the Depot on the 2d of June, where we found the boats, etc., in perfect readiness for our immediate reception. [...] 
June 6. - Proceeded down the river about four miles, when the boats were finally laden. The river in Wellington Valley had been swelled by the late rains, insomuch that the water below its junction with the Macquarie was quite discoloured. From the fineness of the soil, the rain had made the ground very soft, rendering it difficult for the horses to travel.
June 7. - Proceeded on our journey, both boats and horses being very heavily laden with our stores and provisions. The river rose but little. Our day's journey lay generally over an open forest country, with rich flats on either side of the river: high rocky limestone hills ended occasionally in abrupt points, obliging the horses to make considerable detours. The hills were very stony, and so light Was the soil upon them, that the rain rendered the ground very soft. The river had many fine reaches, extending in straight lines from one to three miles, and of a corresponding breadth. The rapids although frequent, offered no material obstruction to the boats. [...] 
June 8. - The river expanded into beautiful reaches, having great depth of water, and from two to three hundred feet broad, literally covered with water-fowl of different kinds: the richest flats bordered the river, apparently more extensive on the south side. The vast body of water which this river must contain in times of flood is confined within exterior banks, and its inundations are thus deprived of mischief. [64] About six miles down the river, a freestone hill ended on the north side of the river: I mention this, as the only stone of that description I had yet seen. The trees were of the eucalyptus (apple tree), and on the hills a few of the cypressus macrocarpa were seen: the trees would furnish large and useful timber. 
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