Exploring Inland Australia | Immigrants | Exploitation – 1810 to 1825

The following excerpt provides a synopsis of the first of the explorers, who began penetrating and mapping the great land of Australia:

” . . . In 1813 Gregory Blaxland, a capitalist immigrant, Lawson, a lieutenant of the veteran company, and W.C. Wentworth, a colonial born young man who was a figure largely in the early life of the country, went straight up the side of the ridge overhanging Penrith and deliberately kept along the top of the hills, as directly west as they could go, avoiding every gully, and so piercing the heart of the tableland itself.  After seventeen days they found themselves on the point of Mount York looking down on a beautiful grassy valley, and the next day made their camp, amid grass three feet high, on the Lett.  Having pushed on to the hill now called Mt. Blaxland, they returned with the news to Sydney, to the delight of Macquarie.  G. W. Evans, a Government surveyor, was instructed to retrace and extend their journey and to report his observations.  He pushed on past Mr. Blaxland over the range, down the Fish River, across the magnificent Bathurst Plains, and discovered the Macquarie River; and, in a second trip, found another large river, the Lachlan.  A first road over the range was laid out in excitement and enthusiasm; the Governor and his wife rode across, and the township of Bathurst was ceremoniously established – the first inland town in Australia.  It was an epoch-making event.

Hardly was the road opened before graziers and their flocks poured into the new rich area.  It was a story that was to be repeated constantly for two or three generations.

In 1817-18 Surveyor John Oxley trace the Lachlan and the Macquarie Rivers inland for 300 miles and, indeed, until both – widely separated by now – seemed to enter the border swamps of the “inland sea” with which explorers were still obsessed.  On the way back he crossed the mountain barrier between the Macquarie and the easterly coastal streams; observed Liverpool Plains near Tamworth; discovered the Conadilly and Peel Rivers (but not the Namoi, which receives them both); explored the Hastings River and Port Macquarie (colonised by convicts in 1820), and returned.  “Oxley’s tours,” continues Rogers, “are the first of those heroic inland tours which redeem Australian history from it monotony, and surround it with the halo of romance.”

It took over twenty years, however, to discover that the Lachlan and the Macquarie, with a vast network of auxiliaries and other watercourses, drained the vast basin of the Murray, which with its greatest tributary, the Darling, is on of the great water-systems of the world.

Oxley and many others were baffled and intrigued by experiences like those of his exploration of the Lachlan.  As Ernest Scott says, he followed

“its windings over a dead level plain, through shallow reedy lagoons, and finally to a point where the river became a succession of stagnant pools leading to a mere damp depression in the earth . . . Oxley had, in fact, made an astonished acquaintance with that strange phenomenon of Australia, where Nature starts many a fine river but gives it no firm channel wherein to flow, so that the water evaporates from the intense head of the plains, or percolates into the earth and perhaps helps to fill those subterranean cauldrons of rock which modern pastoralists have learnt to to with artesian bores.”

It was the same with the Macquarie, which too, abruptly disappeared, after 150 miles.

But one immediate fact emerged – there was a vast, almost an illimitable expanse of good grazing and pastoral country for 500 miles west of Sydney, and north and north-west, too! . . . “

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” . . . This fact changed the whole outlook and policy of the home government and also of the local administration.  The “penal colony” began to be submerged by the “great wool-growing free settlement,” and settlement in Australia, indeed, became a privilege; it was no longer regarded as relegation to a place of exile and punishment.  Inland exploration began to be seen as a necessary prelude to deliberate colonisation; it was, in effect, a search for suitable grazing and pastoral areas; and its success had unexpected results.  It introduced the nomadic and absentee-owner phases, for example, that were, together, to colour and dominate the pastoral industry for the next generation and more;p it brought in the “squatter,” the “immigrant,” and the “gentlemen settler” in unexpected numbers; and it led to the formation of mammoth companies, managed from halfway across the world.

The New South Wales Corps and its monopolists had scorned and obstructed the free settlers; even Macquarie frankly disliked them almost as much as Grose.  Nevertheless, the immigrant ship began to be as regular a visitant as the convict transport.  Newspapers in England were enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by the new, vast, empty continent, where a few pounds would put a man, willing to work, on the way to the ownership of a broader stretch of acres than his squire owned in the mother country.

The flood of immigrants produced important social changes.  It initiated the struggle between the squattocracy on the one hand, and the “emancipists” and “immigrants” on the other.  It was inevitable, moreover, that the avarice and corruption of the “aristocracy” of the Colony, the immunity of the foreign whalers and sealers from punishment, the general loosening of discipline and of any existing restriction on decency, should affect colonist and convict both.  The undertones of convictism rose murkily to cloud these more promising days. 

Coote in his “History of Queensland,” Vol. 1, p. 15 eloquently wrote:

“To a great extent the history of one penal settlement is the history of all penal settlements.  The line of demarcation between keeper and criminal was strong and distinct, and it became gradually a settled thing that, whether a convict might or might not be occasionally right, the master could never be wrong.  The result was natural.  The consciousness of impunity to the governor, and the degradation in the governed, would not but tend to lessen the care with which authority was exercised, and the perception of just cause for its exertion. . . .  Every repetition of offence and its consequent suffering, not only widened the distance between the judge and the offender, but deadened the sense of justice and appreciation of guilt; and thus by insensible degrees a hardness of feeling has been found to spring up in all these settlements, equally in the gaoler, as in the prisoners.  They became ‘stern to inflict and stubborn to endure,’ without much reference to anything but facility of infliction and capacity of endurance.  The authorities drifted into cruelty, and the criminals deepened in crime.”

Granting this – and it is well confirmed – it can be accepted that it was obviously desirable to make the growing centres of population as free as possible from the worst types of convicts; it was necessary to find remote areas where “bad cases” might be handled adequately without offending the public eye, and this was increasingly difficult since the pressure for good sheep land intensified constantly.

From an official point of view, the chronic administrative difficulty of space for penal purposes soon reached crisis point:  the existing establishments of the Government of New South Wales proved plainly inadequate to the demands created by the influx of crowded criminal ships from the home country . . . “

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” . . . The discoveries of Flinders twenty-one years before – especially those of Port Curtis and Moreton Bay – were reviewed in the hope of finding a suitable spot well north of Sydney for a new penal depot – somewhere to hide away the worst aspects of the convict system in a day when it was beginning to weaken as a method of disposing of convicted offenders, and moreover, when its very existence was splitting the population on its first rabid social issue . . . “

Source:  Excerpts – ‘Triumph in the Tropics’ – by Sir Rapahel Cilento – published 1959 – pp 51-55

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View other important events in Australia’s History . . .

View other important information on Discovering Terra Australis . . .

View other important information on Founding Pioneers, Governors of Aus . . .

View other important information on The Evolution of Australia (formally New Holland) . . .

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