First Overland Cattle Arrive in Adelaide

Dramatic Episodes in S.A's. Early History.

The Mail, Adelaide

14 November 1936

In the evening of April 3, 1838, exciting news spread rapidly just beginning to emerge from the bush.

'Hawdon has arrived' the settlers told each other eagerly. 'He's in town now, and the cattle are safe only 15 miles away!'

Joseph Hawdon, sturdy trail-blazer, had completed the first overland trip with a mob of cattle from New South Wales to Adelaide, and his successful coming was one of the many dramatic episodes in the early history of South Australia.

In these days when the management and transport of cattle have been reduced almost to a science, and when unless there is a strike few people know what it is for supplies of meat to be short, the drama of Hawdon's coming and all that it meant may be overlooked, unless some explanation is given.

The people in Adelaide had been dependent for their meat supply largely upon kangaroo flesh which sold at 1/ a lb. A fat bullock was a rarity.

Bringing livestock from Tasmania was a lottery. Sometimes vessels arrived at Port Adelaide with most of their cargo of beasts alive, at other times the loss during the trip was heavy. One vessel, the Siren, on each of two trips in 1837 and 1838 lost more than half of her cargo.

One of the immediate results of Hawdon's trek, followed as it was by a further influx of beef cattle under the direction of Edward John Eyre and Capt. Charles Sturt, was to give a good fillip to breeding operations.

Another result was that by January, 1840, it appeared that the importation of stock by sea had been abandoned because of the large numbers of sheep and cattle which had arrived over land from New South Wales.

So, foreseeing these results, the settlers rejoiced unrestrainedly when Hawdon arrived, and his feat was described by the local and Tasmanian press as the most momentous incident in the history of the province since its proclamation 15 months earlier.

Shortly after his arrival the 'Register' wrote:- 'The importance of the opening up of an overland communication between New South Wales and this province cannot be overrated, and we cannot refrain from offering our sincere congratulations to our fellow colonists at this auspicious event.'

The 'Southern Australian' was equally enthusiastic. 'When we behold the completion of a project, the bare possibility of which was entertained rather as a matter of distant speculation than of present hope, we cannot but offer our hearty thanks to Mr. Hawdon for connecting us so early and so interestingly with New South Wales. 'Indeed, the name of Hawdon, as the pioneer of pastoral emigration, can never be forgotten, and we record, with most sincere pleasure, the testimony of gratitude due to this enterprising gentleman from the in habitants of South Australia.'

The day after Hawdon arrived he was entertained by Governor Hindmarsh, and later a city street was named after him as a recognition. (In September, 1935, Hawdon street was changed to Philip street by order of the Adelaide City Council on the application of some of the tenants in the street).

A public dinner was given to Hawdon and his right-hand man, Charles Bonney, who afterwards became Commissioner of Crown Lands and the first Mayor of Norwood.

Mr. (later Sir) J. H. Fisher, the Resident Commissioner, presided at the dinner, which was attended by 90 colonists, and which began at six o'clock one evening, and did not break up until next morning.

Hawdon was presented with a snuffbox, a bullock was roasted whole, and his feat was praised in speeches and toasts. Whether one of the mob of more than 300 beasts which he had driven to Adelaide after a journey of nearly 1,000 miles occupying 10 weeks was the animal roasted is not recorded.

Hawdon remained calm in the face, of all adulation. He had had a job to do, and he had done it. He had braved dangers, he had travelled unknown ways, he had become the man of the moment.

In his report to Governor Hindmarsh he wrote:- 'In proving the practicability of bringing stock from the sister colony by land, I have been singularly fortunate, having brought with me more than 300 horned cattle in excellent condition, losing only four animals by the journey.' It was the statement of an efficient, modest man.

He and his party were 'singularly fortunate.' Both he and Bonney nearly lost their lives in accidents, a few of the many bands of aborigines they met showed hostility, although a shot fired over their heads was sufficient to make them tractable, at times the party suffered from thirst, and lightning during a thunderstorm was so severe that it brought giant trees crashing to the ground and killed four bullocks.

 Once when Hawdon and Bonney were walking down a hillside, Bonney nearly fell into a cleft about 40 ft. deep. He was sliding down a sloping rock when he was carried within a hairsbreadth of the brink of the perpendicular side of the cleft. Hawdon reached out the muzzle of his gun. Bonney grabbed it and was pulled back to a safe footing.

Hawdon's narrowest escape came when a pistol shot, which had been hastily discharged by a member of the party at an enraged bullock, missed the bullock and grazed Hawdon's chest. He was in severe pain for some time afterwards, and the shot needed to have been only a few inches more in his direction to have cost him his life.

The most disturbing encounter with the blacks seems to have occurred near the junction of the Murrumbidgee and the Darling. The bullock drivers were ordered to go round the edge of a lagoon while Bonney went on to examine the country ahead with the party's drays following.

A tribe of natives went along the bank of the river to see the drays pass at the other end of the lagoon. The men mistook this for a hostile manoeuvre, and when Bonney returned the two parties were facing each other drawn up in battle array, the men with their guns ready to fire, and the natives with their spears poised for action. Bonney, from what he knew of the natives, realised that the men were mistaken, and told them to put their guns down. He then approached the natives and signed to them to lower their spears. And the incident passed off peacefully.

To give a summary of the trip, Hawdon mustered the cattle on the River Goulbourn, near the point where the Sydney road then crossed it. The party, which numbered nine, and were all well armed, left with the cattle on January 26, and hugged the river system practically all the way to Adelaide.

At the junction of the Murray and the Darling they unearthed a phial which had been buried by Major Mitchell, recording his arrival at the spot on June 30, 1836.

The country adjacent to the rivers was thickly populated with aborigines. One tribe was 200 strong. The natives had never before seen cattle, and one of them asked Hawdon whether the cattle were the wives of the white men! The journey was an eventful one from the viewpoint of discovery.

Hawdon came upon a broad expanse of water which he named Lake Victoria, after the Queen. Later, another lake was discovered, and named Lake Bonney in honor of the second in command. Horse tracks north of Mount Barker gave the party the first signs of civilisation.

Misled by Capt. Sturt's map, which showed the junction of the Murray and Lake Alexandrina to be in the same latitude as Adelaide, the party followed a south west course through the ranges, and, coming upon the River Onkaparinga, followed it until they arrived at the Horseshoe, at Noarlunga. In that locality they met three kangaroo hunters, one of whom guided Hawdon to Adelaide after he had left the cattle at the Onkaparinga.

Hawdon lived at Thebarton for a time, then in Victoria, and finally settled in New Zealand where he combined pastoral pursuits and politics, becoming a member of the Legislative Council.

He died there an honored citizen, but it is South Australia that has always remembered him best as a man who did unusual and important pioneering work.

Another link of Hawdon with this State is the fact that he is a grand uncle of Mr. J. H. Davison, solicitor, of Mount Gambier.