Letters, Discovery of Lake George

The Sydney Morning Herald

6 March 1919


In an interesting article which appeared in your issue of 27th ult. on the fluctuations of water in Lake George is a statement that this, the greatest of Australian inland lakes, was discovered by a bushman named Joe Wilde in 1820, and it was then "a magnificent sheet of water."

The discovery dates back to a much earlier period. It was made by a blackfellow in 1812, while employed as a scout by Governor Macquarie.

My authority for this assertion is the late Rev. Robert Cartwright, who at the time of the discovery was a colonial chaplain.

The following are the circumstances of the discovery, as related to me in his own parsonage at Collector (a corruption of Kaligda, as it was called by the aborigines), in the 'Fifties of the last century, where I was a guest of Mr. Cartwright's. The Governor was visiting at Wollogorang, on the Bredalbane Plains, the remotest southern homestead of that period, owned by Mr. Chisholm, progenitor of the distinguished family of that name still residing in the vicinity of Goulburn.

An excursion was projected in a farther southerly direction, and when undertaken, the first night's camp was made at a lagoon (now known as Rose's Lagoon), about four miles north of the site on which the village of Collector now stands.

When morning came, and while the Vice-regal party (which included Mr. Cartwright) were breakfasting, the aboriginal scout already mentioned was sent ahead to pick out traversable country. In due time he returned with a puzzled expression on his face, and reported that he had come to the sea, and could go no farther.

As much puzzled as he (for they calculated that their position was at least 40 miles from the southern coast and guided by this aborigine, the party traversed the route he had explored, and bye-and-bye found themselves on an eminence overlooking the site of the present village.

From the base of this eminence, looking southwards there stretched as far as the eye could see a vast expanse of water, dashing its waves on to the foot of the hill whereon stood the amazed spectator.

Said Mr. Cartwright to me as he narrated the discovery, "My parsonage here and my church nearby are fathoms below the level of that inland sea as we then saw it." And, then and there, the Governor, convinced that what they saw was an inland lake and not a portion of the Pacific Ocean, named this vast sheet of fresh water Lake George," In honour of the then reigning King. The allegation that Joe Wilde was the discoverer of Lake George is thus disproved.

I am, etc , John Gale. Queanbeyan, March 4

Discovery of Lake George

The Sydney Morning Herald

10 March 1919


In the letter from Mr. John Gale, of Queanbeyan, the well-known veteran historian, in your columns of the 6th instant, it is stated that Lake George was discovered by a blackfellow in 1812, and not in 1820; and Mr. Gale quotes as his authority the Rev. Robert Cartwright, whom he says was with Governor Macquarie when the lake was named.

I feel sure that upon reflection Mr. Gale will see that there has been some misunderstanding between him and the Rev. Cartwright in regard to the date.

As a matter of fact, the discovery of the Moss Vale and Berrima, districts, was not reported by Hamilton Hume until 1814, and it is through this district that the whole of the traffic has always passed from Sydney to Lake George. Moreover, the Blue Mountains were not crossed until 1813.

The date of the discovery of Lake George by Joseph Wild was August 19, 1820, and this is made clear by a letter from Charles Throsby, of Glenfield, near Liverpool, and later of Bong Bong, to Governor Macquarie, dated September 4, 1820.

It may not be generally known that the party which discovered Lake George was fitted out and led by Charles Throsby until the very morning of the day the discovery of the lake was made.

It is also clear that Charles Throsby was guided towards the lake by the natives, for he writes;-"I feel much gratified at it in confirmation of my former ideas as well as the accounts given by the natives."

Governor Macquarie visited the lake in October, 1820, as stated in his journal, being accompanied by Commissioner Bigge, Surveyor-General Oxley, Charles Throsby, and others, having camped the previous night at Lake Bathurst, and the following note in regard to the naming of the lake was made by Oxley on its shores:-"Saturday, October 28, 1820. - The Governor this day named this large sheet of fresh water 'Lake George' in honour of his Majesty."

The Rev. Cartwright arrived in Sydney in the ship Ann on February 27, 1810, and it is possible that he may have accompanied Governor Macquarie on the occasion referred to.

I am, etc., R. H. Cambage. March 8.

Discovery of Lake George

The Sydney Morning Herald

15 March 1919


Under the above, heading Mr. Cambage, in his letter published in your columns of to-day, writes, inter alia: "The discovery of Moss Vale and Berrima districts was not reported until 1814, and it was through this district that the whole of the traffic has always passed from Sydney to Lake George." Mr. Cambage is apparently mistaken.

My father, the late Mr. S. M. Mowle, records in his diary, this was in the 'thirties and onwards, that when going with Mr. Murray (afterwards Sir Terence Aubrey Murray) to Yarrowlumla, they travelled along the old Southern road through Bargo Brush, Nattai, and Berrima. They therefore did not pass through Moss Vale.

I am, etc., Aubrey Mowle.

St. Asaph, Burradoo, March 1.

Discovery of Lake George

Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer

18 March 1919


Re Mr. Gale's letter in a recent issue of the "Herald."

That gentleman is widely in error in the quotation received from Mr. Cartwright, both as to the first discoverer and the date.

My late father remembered very clearly all the discoveries made in those days, and I have compiled a large amount of his anecdotes, also what we learned from other sources.

Joe Wilde was an enterprising stock man of Mr. Throsby's. It was after him that Wilde's Meadow, near the Fitzroy Falls was named.

He went with Hamilton Hume and Mr. Throsby to Lake Bathurst, and from there Joe Wilde got on to the top of the high range west of Tarago and saw Lake George.

Returning to the camp he said he had seen the sea.

This was doubted. He said it was either the sea or a great lake.

Next day he led the party to the lake shore. Mr. Chisholm did not see Wollogorang before 1820.

I have seen Governor Macquarie's diary, and I will quote a few lines of it, which should satisfy Mr. Gale as well as any others: "Tuesday, October 24, 1820 - Mr. Throsby wishing to reconnoitre in person the great salt water lake about 20 miles to the south-west of our present position recently discovered by Joseph Wilde, left us. October 25 - Mr. Throsby returned and confirms Wilde's description of the great lake."

Now I cannot allow poor Joe Wilde to be deprived of all the honor he won.

These lines are now in the Mitchell Library, and in them in the Governor's own handwriting he says he called Sutton Forest after the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Hon. Charles Manners Sutton.

I am making this little correction because our early history notes will be treasured in the years to come, and it is a pity if they be depreciated by inaccuracies.

Yours, etc., Fred. D. Badgery

Discovery of Lake George

The Sydney Morning Herald

23 April 1919


The voluminous correspondence which has appeared in your columns and elsewhere challenging the accuracy of my report of the discovery of Lake George calls for reply.

Whatever inaccuracies (if any) may exist in my letter are not mine, it must be remembered. I have merely given the late Rev. Robt. Cartwright's narrative of the matter as related by him to me, and, although the date of the discovery has been claimed by the various writers to have been much more recent than 1812, there is strong presumptive evidence in favour of the approximate accuracy of my version, as I will now proceed to show: -

In the first place, permit me to deal with Mr. Cambage's assertion that the discoverer was Joseph Wilde, one of a party led by Mr. Charles Throsby, and the date August 19, 1820.

Without questioning other features of this statement than that the lake had never before been seen by Europeans, there is nothing in it to show there was not an earlier discoverer and the discovery made from quite another position, or that Governor Macquarie had not previously seen this wonderful expanse of inland waters.

Mr. Cartwright's version of the earlier discovery makes no mention of Messrs Bigge, Oxley and Throsby being of the party that set out from Wollogorang, and the impression I received at the time of the narration was that it was merely members of the Governors household, with Mr. Cartwright as its chaplain,

The record of his Excellency's subsequent visit accompanied by a professional and official staff, in no way disproves an earlier and private visit to the shores of Lake George.

Wilde's discovery was from an elevated point west of Tarago, which lies east of the lake, the discovery mentioned by Mr. Cartwright was from a point many miles distant, viz., the shores of the lake north of Collector.

Secondly, it is to be regretted that in the discoveries in 1820 and later no mention is made of the shore limits of the lake.

In this respect Mr. Cartwrights account is very definite at least, as regards its northern shores, which were the foothills of an eminence forming the northern boundary of the present village of Collector.

I have in my possession a map, being an appendix to a "Journal of an Excursion to the Southward of Lake George in New South Wales, by Captain Mark John Currie, RN," written in 1821 which places the water area of the lake some miles south of Collector, and on a parallel with Lake Bathurst to the east.

Captain Currie makes mention of Joseph Wilde in his Journal thus:- "Taking with us Joseph Wild (a constable of the district of Argyle, well known as a bushman on similar excursions to the one we were about to take) for the purpose of showing us the way to Lake George and he was also known and well respected by the natives"

Again, it has been stated that Mr. (afterwards Sir) Terence Aubrey Murray in 1827 settled some miles south of Collector.

Now it is contrary to the history of more recent subsidence of its waters to suppose that in so short a period as seven years the lake should have receded some five or six miles from the eminence mentioned by Mr. Cartwright.

And, further, in that short period trees of the eucalyptus family could not have attained the maturity that, from, my own observation in the early Fifties of their then age and process of decay they had reached in 1827.

Would they not rather have taken all of the 15 years which had elapsed since 1812 to have grown to such maturity?

It must be borne in mind too, that Collector as a village, had been established long prior to Sir T. A. Murray's settlement at Winderadeen, I have no record of the date of the construction of the parsonage and parish church at Collector, but at the time of my first visit they and other structures in the village bore evidence of age and dilapidation which would place their construction at a period approaching or anterior to 1820.

In further corroboration of my former letter a correspondent in a local paper (one of the pioneer settlers here), a gentlemen well known for the accuracy of his historical reminiscences, writes -"Mr. Gale is correct as to the year - his letter corresponds with information imparted to me by several old hands who saw Lake George and Collector district In their virgin state. I have heard the name of the first white man who visited that district, and it was not Wilde. I cannot now recall the name, but the year was 1811 or 1812.... It is a matter for regret that notes were not kept by the pioneers many of whom could not write, and consequently those who kept records were few.

The names of many of the men who first set eyes on some of the most noted localities in Australia have never appeared in history. I heard the name of the man who first saw Duntroon, and it is not recorded, nor is his Journey from Sydney. His guide was a blackfellow with an unpronounceable name and the date was eight or ten years earlier than that given by Mr. Cambage. I am certain that this information is authentic as it was given to me over 60 years ago by men conversant with all the particulars."

In conclusion, with regard to the assertion that the Chisholms did not occupy Wollogorang till 1820, may it not have been an earlier occupant who entertained the Governor and his party at the time mentioned by Mr. Cartwrigh?

Mr. Cambage mentions that Mr. Cartwright arrived in New South Wales in February 1810 and concedes that "It is possible he may have accompanied Governor Macquarie on the occasion referred to".

I pass over the innuendo merely remarking that the Rev. Chaplain distinctly informed me that on the excursion he related he was only "new chum" thus adding another argument to the veracity of my narration.

I am etc John Gale.

The "Retreat" Queanbeyan.

March 29

Discovery of Lake George

The Sydney Morning Herald

3 May 1919


In connection with the interesting controversy respecting the discovery of Lake George, I should like to say that Ernest Favenc, in his "History of Australian Exploration," refers to this matter thus: "In March, 1817, Hume, at the request of Governor Macquarie, went with Mr. Surveyor Meehan and Mr. Throsby on the expedition as far as the Shoalhaven river. Here, in consequence of some dispute with Mr. Meehan, Mr. Throsby left the party, and accompanied by a black boy, made his way to Port Jervis. Meehan and Hume continued their journey, and discovered Lake George, Lake Bathurst, and the country called Goulburn Plains."

G. P. Scott, in his "Romance of Australian Exploring, 1899," says: "Alexander Hamilton Hume . . . was born at Parramatta on June l8, 1797. ... At the age of 17 he had travelled far enough into the unexplored to discover and open up to settlers the country round Berrima, and before he was 20 he had discovered Lake Bathurst and Lake George, the latter 10 miles away from the former, in the range that was afterwards learned to be the dividing range between the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee rivers. For this a reward grant of 300 acres of land was given to this young explorer, and the discovery being followed up resulted in the finding of the Murrumbidgee River."

Dr. Lang, in his "History of New South Wales," referred to Hume and the discovery of Lake George: "Mr. Hamilton Hume and the late T. Throsby, Esq. . . . had forced a passage through what had long been considered an impracticable country to the south-westward, and discovered the valuable and agricultural country in the direction now called Argyle, including Lake Bathurst and Lake George."

I am, etc.. Walter S. Campbell. April 25.

Discovery of Lake George

The Sydney Morning Herald

3 May 1919


Concerning the extracts from the journals of Governor Macquarie and others, which you have already published, relating to the discovery of Lake George, the additional details now furnished should place the matter beyond all possible doubt.

On Monday, October 23, 1820, Governor Macquarie, then encamped at Lake Bathurst, writes:-"Mr. Throsby, wishing to reconnoiter in person the great salt-water lake . . . recently discovered by Joseph Wild, set out this morning between 7 and 8 o'clock for that purpose, attended by Wild, Vaughan, the constable, and two native guides," etc.

It is obvious that this would not have been written by the Governor if he had previously visited the lake in 1812, as has been stated.

Commissioner Bigge, in referring to the same occasion, alludes to "the lakes that had been then recently discovered in a south-westerly direction," and referring particularly to Lake, George, adds:- "Dead trees were observed at a considerable distance from the present shores, and the person who had discovered it in the month of August preceding seemed impressed with the belief that the expanse of water had considerably increased."

Governor Macquarie, who speaks of the Rev. Mr. Cartwright being of his party on this occasion, and performing Divine service, thus refers to the naming of the lake:- "Saturday, October 28, 1820. . . . We sat down to dinner to-day at half-past five, and after dinner we drank a bumper toast to the success of the future settlers of the shores of Lake George, which name I have given to this grand and magnificent sheet of water in honour of his present Majesty."

When that well-known geographer and explorer. Ernest Favenc, in his "History of Australian Exploration" (1888), wrote that Hamilton Hume discovered Lake George, the "Macquarie Journal" was not available.

Hume himself, however, in his letter to "The Monitor," dated November 26, 1826, giving a list of his discoveries, does not include Lake George among them, but writes:- "Mr. Meehan and myself discovered that beautiful lake, now called Lake Bathurst, and Goulburn Downs."

The date of the discovery of Lake Bathurst was April 3, 1818; while that of Lake George, as recorded by Charles Throsby in his letter of September 4, 1820, to Governor Macquarie, was August 19 of that year.

I am, etc., Henry Selkirk. April 29.