1813 - Gregory Blaxland
The First Crossing of the Blue Mountains
New South Wales
On Tuesday, May 11, 1813, Mr. Gregory Blaxland, Mr. William Wentworth, and Lieutenant Lawson, attended by four servants, with five dogs and four horses, laden with provisions, ammunition, and other necessaries, left Mr. Blaxland's farm at the South Creek, for the purpose of endeavouring to effect a passage over the Blue Mountains, between the Western River, and the River Grose.
On the following morning (May the 12th) as soon as the heavy dew was off, which was about nine a.m., they proceeded to ascend the ridge at the foot of which they had camped the preceding evening. After travelling about a mile on the third day in a west and north-west direction, they arrived at a large tract of forest land, rather hilly, the grass and timber tolerably good. They computed it as two thousand acres. Here they found a track marked by a European, by cutting the bark of the trees. They had not proceeded above two miles, when they found themselves stopped by a brushwood, much thicker than they had hitherto met with. This induced them to alter their course, and to endeavour to find another passage to the westward, but every ridge which they explored proved to terminate in a deep rocky precipice, and they had no alternative but to return to the thick brushwood, which appeared to be the main ridge, with the determination to cut a way through for the horses the next day.
On the next morning, leaving two men to take care of the horses and provisions, they proceeded to cut a path through the thick brushwood, on what they considered as the main ridge of the mountains, between the Western River, and the River Grose. They now began to mark their track by cutting the bark of the trees on two sides. Having cut their way for about five miles, they returned in the evening to the spot on which they had encamped the night before. The fifth day was spent in prosecuting the same tedious operation, but, as much time was necessarily lost in walking twice over the track cleared the day before, they were unable to cut away more than two miles further. They found no food for the horses the whole way.
On Sunday, they rested and arranged their future plans. They had reason, however, to regret this suspension of their proceedings, as it gave the men leisure to ruminate on their danger, and it was for some time doubtful whether, on the next day, they could be persuaded to venture farther.
On Wednesday, the 19th, the party moved forward, bearing chiefly west, and west-south-east. They now began to ascend the second ridge of the mountains, and from this elevation they obtained for the first time an extensive view of the settlements below.
At a little distance from the spot at which they began the ascent, they found a pyramidical heap of stones, the work, evidently, of some European, one side of which the natives had opened, probably in the expectation of finding some treasure deposited in it. This pile they concluded to be the one erected by Mr. Bass, to mark the end of his journey. That gentleman attempted some time ago to pass the Mountains, and to penetrate into the interior, but having got thus far, he gave .up the undertaking as impracticable, reporting, on his return, that it was impossible to find a passage even for a person on foot. Here, therefore, the party had the satisfaction of believing that they had penetrated as far as any European had been before them. [This, however, proved to be Caley's Cairn.]
May 21st. - Their progress the next day was nearly four miles. They encamped in the middle of the day at the head of a well-watered swamp, about five acres in extent; pursuing, as before, their operations in the afternoon. In the beginning of the night the dogs ran off and barked violently. At the same time something was distinctly heard to run through the brushwood, which they supposed to be one of the horses got loose; but they had reason to believe afterwards that they had been in great danger - that the natives had followed their tracks, and advanced on them in the night, intending to have speared them by the light of their fire, but that the dogs drove them off.
On the top of this ridge they found about two acres of land clear of trees, covered with loose stones and short coarse grass, such as grows on some of the commons of England. Over this heath they proceeded about a mile and a half, and encamped by the side of a fine stream of .water, with just wood enough on the banks to serve for firewood. From the summit they had a fine view of all the settlements and country eastwards, and of a great extent of country to the westward and south-west. But their progress in both the latter directions was stopped by an impassable barrier of rock, which appeared to divide the interior from the coast as with a stone wall, rising perpendicularly out of the side of the mountain. In the afternoon they left their little camp in the charge of three of the men, and made an attempt to descend the precipice by following some of the streams of water, or by getting down at some of the projecting points where the rocks had fallen in; but they were baffled in every instance. In some places the perpendicular height of the rocks above the earth below could not be less than four hundred feet.
On the 28th they proceeded about five miles and three-quarters. Not being able to find water, they did not halt till five o'clock, when they took up their station on the edge of the precipice. To their great satisfaction they discovered, that what they had supposed to be sandy, barren land below the mountain, was forest land, covered with good grass, and with timber of an inferior quality. In the evening they contrived to get their horses down the mountain by cutting a small trench with a hoe, which kept them from slipping, where they again tasted grass for the first time since they left the forest land on the other side of the mountain. They were getting into miserable condition. Water was found about two miles below the foot of the mountain. In this day's route little timber was observed fit for building.
On the 29th, having got up the horses and laden them, they began to descend the mountain at seven o'clock, through a pass in the rock about thirty feet wide, which they had discovered the day before, when the want of water put them on the alert. Part of the descent was so steep that the horses could but just keep their footing, without a load, so that, for some way, the party were obliged to carry the packages themselves. A cart-road might, however, easily be made by cutting a slanting trench along the side of the mountain, which is here covered with earth.
They reached the foot at nine o'clock a.m., and proceeded two miles, mostly through open meadow land, clear of trees, the grass from two to three feet high. They encamped on the bank of a fine stream of water. The natives, as observed by the smoke of their fires, moved before them as yesterday. The dogs killed a kangaroo, which was very acceptable, as the party had lived on salt meat since they caught the last. The timber seen this day appeared rotten and unfit for building.
The climate here was found very much colder than that of the mountain or of the settlements on the east side, where no signs of frost had made its appearance when the party set out. During the night the ground was covered with a thick frost, and a leg of the kangaroo was quite frozen.
They now conceived that they had sufficiently accomplished the design of their undertaking, having surmounted all the difficulties which had hitherto prevented the interior of the country from being explored, and the Colony from being extended. They had partly cleared, or, at least, marked out a road by which the passage of the mountain might easily be effected. Their provisions were nearly exhausted, their clothes and shoes were in very bad condition, and the whole party were ill with bowel complaints. These considerations determined them, therefore, to return home by the track they came. On Tuesday, the 1st of June, they arrived at the foot of the mountain which they had descended, where they encamped for the night.
The following day they began to ascend the mountain at seven o'clock, and reached the summit at ten; they were obliged to carry the packages themselves part of the ascent.
They encamped in the evening at one of their old stations. On the 3rd, they reached another of their old stations. Here, during the night, they heard a confused noise arising from the eastern settlements below, which, after having been so long accustomed to the death-like stillness of the inferior, had a very striking effect, On the 4th, they arrived at the end of their marked track, and encamped in the forest land where they had cut the grass for their horses. One of the horses fell this day with his load, quite exhausted, and was with difficulty got on, after having his load put on the other horses. The next day, the 5th, was the most unpleasant and fatiguing they had experienced. The track not being marked, they had great difficulty in finding their way back to the river, which they did not reach till four p.m. o'clock. They then once more encamped for the night to refresh themselves and the horses. They had no provisions now left except a little flour, but procured some from the settlement on the other side of the river. On Sunday, the 6th of June, they crossed the river after breakfast, and reached their homes all in good health. The winter had not set in on this side of the mountain, nor had there been any frost.
Swinboure, Gwendolan H.
A Source Book of Australian History