CHAPTER 5. ALLAN CUNNINGHAM.
5.1. COASTAL EXPEDITIONS.
Allan Cunningham, the great botanical explorer of Australia, was born at Wimbledon, near London, in 1791. He received a good education, his father intending him for the law; but he preferred gardening, and obtained a position under Mr. Aiton, at Kew. In 1814 he went to Brazil, where he made large collections of dried specimens, living plants, and seeds. Here he remained two years, collecting in the vicinity of Rio, the Organ Mountains, San Paolo, and other parts of Brazil. Sir Joseph Banks wrote that his collections, especially of orchids, bromeliads, and bulbs, "did credit to the expedition and honour to the Royal Gardens." He was nominated for service in New South Wales, and landed at Port Jackson on the 21st of December, 1816.* He first started collecting about the present suburb of Woolloomooloo in Sydney, which we may infer therefrom presented a very different appearance from that which it now presents. He next went with Oxley on his Lachlan expedition. On his return, he commenced the first of his five coastal voyages, in which he accompanied Captain P.P. King around most of the continent of Australia. In the tiny cutter the Mermaid, of 84 tons, they left Port Jackson on the 22nd of December, 1817, and sailed round the south coast of Australia to King George's Sound, the west coast, the north coast, and finally to Timor. The Mermaid returned by the same route and anchored in Port Jackson on the 24th of July, 1818. Again on the 24th of December, the Mermaid left Port Jackson on a short trip to Tasmania, from which they returned in February, 1819. Once more the busy little Mermaid sailed from Sydney on the 8th of May, 1819, to make a running survey of the east coast. On this voyage, many ports hitherto unvisited were examined by King, and amongst other places, Cunningham paid his first visit to the Endeavour River. Continuing the survey, she rounded Cape York, crossed the mouth of the Carpentaria Gulf, and kept along the north coast, where King found Cambridge Gulf. At Cassini Island, the Mermaid left for Timor, and eventually returned to Sydney round the west coast of Australia.
*[Footnote.] For the accompanying notes of Allan Cunningham's earlier lifework I am indebted to the Biographical Notes concerning Allan Cunningham, compiled by Mr. J.H. Maiden, Director of the Sydney Botanical Gardens.
On the 14th of June, 1820, the Mermaid was again busy with King and Cunningham on board, and, sailing up the east coast she re-visited the Endeavour River. During their stay, Cunningham ascended Mount Cook, where he made a fine collection of seeds and plants. She coasted north again and picked up the survey at Cassini Island once more. At Careening Bay, where they had occasion to stay for some time, Cunningham was again very fortunate in his collections. Returning homeward by way of the west and south coasts, the little cutter was almost wrecked off Botany Bay.
The Mermaid was now overhauled and condemned, and in her place H.M. Storeship Dromedary, re-christened the Bathurst, was placed under the command of Lieutenant King. This was Cunningham's fifth voyage as collector with the same commander - a very clear proof of their compatibility of tastes and temperament. As before, the Bathurst ran round the east coast and resumed her work on the north-west of Australia. While thus engaged she was found to be in a dangerous condition, and went to Port Louis to refit. They sailed from Mauritius on the 15th of November, and reached King George's Sound on the 24th of December. Here Cunningham found that the garden he had been at great pains to form during his visit in 1818 had disappeared altogether. The Bathurst stayed some weeks on the south-west coast, and then shaped a course to Port Jackson, where they arrived on the 25th of April, 1822. Of the botany of these coastal surveys Cunningham published a sketch entitled A Few General Remarks on the Vegetation of Certain Coasts of Terra Australis, and more especially of its North-Western Shore.
5.2. PANDORA'S PASS.
Let us now turn to his record as an inland explorer of Australia.
On the 31st of March, 1823, Allan Cunningham left Bathurst with two objects in view. One was his favourite pursuit of botany; and the other the discovery of an available route to Oxley's Liverpool Plains, through the range that bounded it on the south; a route which Lawson and Scott had vainly sought for the preceding year. On reaching the vicinity of the range, he searched in vain to the eastward for any opening that would enable him to pierce the barrier. He then retraced his steps, and, exploring more to the eastward, he came upon a pass through a low part of the mountain belt which he considered practicable and easy. The valley leading to the pass he named Hawkesbury Vale, and the pass itself Pandora's Pass, inasmuch as, in spite of the hardships the party had been put to, they had still hoped to find it. Here Cunningham left a parchment document, stating that the information thereon contained was for the first farmer "who may venture to advance as far to the northward as this vale." The finding of the bottle which contained this scroll has never been recorded. Bathurst was reached on their return journey, on June 27th.
In March, 1824, he botanised about the heads of the Murrumbidgee and the Monaro and Shoalhaven Gullies, and in September of the same year, went north by sea with Oxley to Moreton Bay, to investigate that locality and pronounce on its suitability as a settlement site. In March, 1825, he left Parramatta, threaded the Pandora Pass once more, and ascended to Liverpool Plains, returning to Parramatta on the 17th of June. In 1826 and the beginning of the following year, he visited New Zealand.
5.3. THE DARLING DOWNS.