Ride To Bathurst

13 March 1827 The Australian (Sydney)

Letter I.

You have not been to Bathurst; and, when one looks at those Blue Mountains yonder, it is a wonder that anybody has been there.

It was nearly thirty years before the passage over them was accomplished, and in a period of the Colony too, when the spirit of enterprise and industry were, I am sorry to say, infinitely stronger than they are at the present day.

A Captain Dawes, I believe, was the first person who set out on the expedition, but he was obliged to come back to Sydney quicker than he went and stated it to be perfectly impossible to get across.

Captain Tench then started, but could make nothing of it, and   returned, pronouncing the mountains to be nearly perpendicular, and that it was useless any further making the attempt.

Mr. Hacking, of Port Hacking, also tried it, and he failed.

Next followed an officer of the New South Wales Corps, of the name of Barallier, who returned without any better success than his predecessors.

Even the fortunate Doctor, who has immortalised his name by the discovery of the straits dividing New South Wales from Van Diemen's Land, Mr. Bass, he tried it, but was not so fortunate by land as he was by sea - a passage across the mountains in his opinion being impracticable.

The patient Mr. Caley, the Colonial Botanist, felt satisfied he would find it, if it were to be found at all, he set off, well equipped for the expedition, but his success was greater in filling his herbal with new specimens of the kingdom of Flora, than in finding a pass on the mountains, although he certainly penetrated some miles further than any of those who went before him.

But at last even Mr. Caley could get no further, and gave it up as a bad job; - so calling his people together, they unanimously decided to return home, he having reached in his opinion the utmost possible point that human perseverance could accomplish; so putting his written journal and memorandums into a glass bottle, they sealed it, and heaped up over it a tumulus of loose stones, to signify to future travellers that some- body had been there before.

This gentleman, after his return to England, gave it in evidence, before a committee of the House of Commons that New South Wales was bounded on the west by an impassable range of mountains.

Further attempts were therefore discontinued; so many having failed, the hopes of success became fainter and fainter; and for two or three years the small colony, now the County of Cumberland, saw with the utmost alarm, their sheep and horned cattle rapidly increasing in numbers, and felt a proportionate anxiety how they were to be maintained in future for want of grass, which had become uncommonly scarce by the constant depasturing of their flocks and herds, and the frequent droughts experienced throughout the Country, hemmed in as it was by natural barriers on every side. 

The honor of the discovery of the Bathurst country was reserved for Mr. Lawson, then an officer of the Veterans; since Commandant at Bathurst, and now the worthy and wealthy proprietor of Prospect Hill.

His cattle had increased beyond his expectations, and if new pastures were not discovered, there was no other alternative but numerous deaths among them. Troubles and difficulties therefore were disregarded, as not worthy consideration.

A new country must be found; and which was best, to see your property, in live stock, daily dying around you, " Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing, end them," by exploring at once the fastnesses of the Blue Mountains, and happily finding some grassy country on the other side.

He had no sooner arrived from London, where he had met with Mr. Caley, and frequently discussed with him the practicability of a mountain pass, than he determined to set out on the expedition to find a passage over the Blue Mountains.

For this purpose he secured an agreeable companion in Mr. William Wentworth, and a persevering assistant in Mr. Gregory Blaxland, and the party started, determined to succeed. 

By keeping the ridge or greatest elevation of the trans- verse mountains, Mr. Lawson foresaw that he should meet with the fewest difficulties; that the timber and scrubby underwood would there be thinnest, and that a long continuous flat or table land would offer much smaller impediments than descending into the hollows, and then ascending the hills successively.

In this idea he was confirmed the further he proceeded; by pursuing a zig-zag course, as the ridge extended across the mountains, now to the right hand, and now to the left, and sometimes apparently coming back - by cutting their way through the scrub, to get the baggage animals through, the party gradually penetrated to the westward, 'till they descended on the other side in a well watered and fertile country, now known by the name of the vale of Clwydd.

To this party, therefore, is New South Wales mainly indebted for its present prosperity.

The low country could maintain no more stock ; and the outlet over the Blue Mountains was discovered just in time to save the lives of thousands of sheep and cattle, who must otherwise have died of starvation. 

But I am getting on too fast.

It was impossible, however, to think of a passage over the Blue Mountains, even in imagination, without recollecting to whom we are indebted for making these mountains passable and the journey to Bathurst easy and agreeable; whatever pleasure I derived from it, and it was not a little, cannot be too soon acknowledged to the first explorers of the mountain road. 

To begin therefore at the beginning.

The Western Road always appeared to me the most interesting of any of the roads from Sydney.

The Northern or Windsor Road, though exhibiting a good deal of traffic in settlers' carts and waggons, of wheat and maize, and droves of pigs from the rich banks of the Hawkesbury, has rather too much of Whitechapel about it; and the Liverpool or Southern Road must be travelled the distance of 30 or 40 miles - say as far as the Cowpastures and the fine properties of Kirkham, Camden, &c. before you emerge from the forest.

But the Western Road is the romantic road, because, it leads direct to the Blue Mountains, to Bathurst, and thence the Lord knows where.

We all know it begins in George-street, but who shall determine where it stops ?

Think of a straight road from the King's Wharf in Port Jackson, to the King's Wharf at the Swan River, which his Majesty's ship Success is now surveying.

This might be called the Great Western Road par excellence, and would put to the blush its namesake, the great western road to Bath and Exeter.

Such a road could not be less than 3000 miles in length, through a temperate and agreeable climate, and never any great distance from the sea coast. 

Much humbler roads, however, than this will serve the Australians of the nineteenth century, but in as much as our want of navigable rivers is alleged against us, in so much should the necessity for good roads be always kept in mind.

The defects of nature must be made up by art.

With the exception of England, and some parts of France and the North of Europe, I have no hesitation in saying that the roads of New South Wales, as far as they go, are among the finest in the world.

The present Government have paid unceasing attention to them; they are in all places safe, in many beautiful, and only want an English mail coach to rattle over them. I speak of course only of the low country.

The mountain roads are in a state of progress, of which there will be an opportunity of speaking by and bye -when we come to them. 

Let the mountain traveller in search of land, ere he start, look to his horse.

He should be a compact gelding, not over fifteen hands, sound legs, and in good condition, with an old, easy saddle, well stuffed, that fits his back, and let him be well shod before he starts, as there is 100 miles without a blacksmith. (To be continued.)