Arthur Phillip, whose claim to be considered the first inland explorer of the south-eastern portion of Australia rests upon his discovery of the Hawkesbury River and a few short excursions to the northward of Port Jackson, had but scant leisure to spare from his official duties for extended geographical research. For all that, Phillip and a few of his officers were sufficiently imbued with the spirit of discovery to find opportunity to investigate a considerable area of country in the immediate neighbourhood of the settlement, and, considering the fact that all their explorations at the time had to be laboriously conducted on foot, they did their work well.

The first excursion undertaken by Phillip was on the 2nd of March, 1788, when he went to Broken Bay, whence, after a slight examination, he was forced to return by the inclemency of the weather. On the 15th of April he made another attempt to ascertain the character and features of the unknown land that he had taken possession of. Landing on the shore of the harbour, a short distance from the North Head, he started on a tour of examination, and, in the course of his march, penetrated to a distance of fifteen miles from the coast. At this point he caught sight of the distant range that was destined to baffle for many years the western progress of the early settlers. Phillip, on this his first glimpse of it, christened the northern elevations the Caermarthen Hills, and the southern elevations the Lansdowne; and a remarkable hill, destined to become a well-known early landmark, he called Richmond Hill. In the brief view he had of this range, there was suddenly born in Phillip's mind the conviction that a large river must have its source therein, and that upon the banks of such a river, the soil would be found more arable than about the present settlement. He at once made up his mind to try and gain the range on a different course.

A week later he landed at the head of the harbour and directed his march straight inland, hoping to reach either the mountains, which he knew to be there, or the river in whose existence he firmly believed. Disappointment dogged his steps; on the first day a belt of dense scrub forced his party to return and when, on the morrow, they avoided the scrub by following up a small creek and got into more thinly timbered country, their slow progress enabled them to accomplish only thirty miles in five days. By that time, they were short of provisions; there was no river visible, and the range still looked on them from afar. What cheered them was the sight of some land that promised richly to reward the labour of cultivation.

It was not until the 6th of June, 1789, that Phillip resumed his labours in the field of exploration. The Sirius had then returned from the Cape of Good Hope, and he could reckon on the assistance of his friend, Captain Hunter, to re-investigate Broken Bay with the vessel's boats. Accordingly, two boats were sent on to Broken Bay with provisions, where they were joined by the Governor and his party, who had marched overland. Besides Phillip, the party consisted of Captain Hunter and two of his officers, Captain Collins, Captain Johnston, and Surgeon White.

For two days they were engaged in examining the many inlets and openings of the Bay, and on the third, they chanced upon a branch that had before escaped their notice. They proceeded to explore it, and found the river of which Phillip had dreamed. The next day, renewed examination proved that it was indeed a noble river, with steep banks and a depth of water that promised well for navigation.

After their return to Sydney Cove, preparations were at once made to follow up this important discovery. On the 28th of June, Phillip, again accompanied by Hunter, left the Cove, having made much the same arrangements as before. There was a slight misunderstanding with regard to meeting the boat; but, after this was cleared away, the party soon floated out on to the waters of the new-found river. They rowed up the river until they reached the hill that Phillip, at a distance, had christened Richmond Hill. On traversing a reach of the stream, the main range, that as yet they had only dimly seen in the distance, suddenly loomed ahead of them, frowning in rugged grandeur close upon them, as it seemed. Struck with admiration and astonishment at this unexpected revelation of the deep ravines and stern and gloomy gorges that scored its front, over which hung a blue haze, Phillip, almost involuntarily, named them on the moment; the Blue Mountains. Next morning the explorers ascended Richmond Hill, from whose crest they looked across a deep, wooded valley to the mountains still many miles away. After a hasty examination of the country on the banks of the river, Phillip and his band returned to the settlement, he having now realised his brightest hopes and anticipations.

On the 11th of April, 1791, Phillip again started on an expedition, the object of which was a closer inspection of the Blue Mountains. He was accompanied this time by Captain Tench and Lieutenant Dawes; the latter, in December, 1789, had been sent out with a small party to reach the foot of the range, but had succeeded in approaching only within eleven miles of the Mountains, whence he was forced to retire by the rugged and broken nature of the country. On the present occasion, they reached the river two days after leaving Rose Hill. They followed it for another two days, but made no further discoveries, being greatly delayed by the constant detours around the heads of small tributary creeks, too deep to cross in the neighbourhood of the river.

This was the last exploring expedition undertaken by Governor Phillip. Considering that his health was not robust, and that the work entailed was of a specially arduous nature, his personal share in exploring the country about the little settlement was noteworthy. It proved him to possess both the foresight and the energy necessary in an explorer.


In the month of June, 1789, Captain Watkin Tench, who, during his short sojourn in the infant colony showed himself as zealous in exploration as he was keen in his observations, started from the newly-formed redoubt at Rose Hill, of which he was in command, on a short excursion to examine the surrounding country. This trip, inspired by Tench's ardent love of discovery, became a noteworthy one in the annals of New South Wales. It was made during the month that witnessed the discovery of the Hawkesbury River. On the second day after his party left Rose Hill, they found themselves early in the morning on "the banks of a river, nearly as broad as the Thames at Putney, and apparently of great depth, the current running very slowly in a northerly direction."

This river, at first known as the Tench, was afterwards named the Nepean by Phillip, when its identity as a tributary of the Hawkesbury had been confirmed. Two other slight excursions were made by Tench in company with Lieutenant Dawes, who was in charge of the Observatory, and ex-surgeon Worgan. In May, 1791, Tench and Dawes started from Rose Hill and confirmed the supposition that the Nepean was an affluent of the Hawkesbury, a matter over which there had been some doubt since its first discovery by Tench. Tench returned to England in H.M.S. Gorgon, in December, 1791.

The names of Paterson, Johnson, Palmer, and Laing are also connected with exploration on the upper Hawkesbury.


The exploration of that portion of Australia which was accessible by the scanty means of the early settlers was for many years impeded by the stern barrier of the mountains, and most of their efforts in the direction of discovery were aimed at surmounting the range that defied their attacks. Among the many whose attempts were signalised only by failure were the gallant Bass, whose name, for other reasons, will never be forgotten by Australians, the quarrelsome and pragmatic Cayley, and the adventurous Hack. Amongst them there was one, however, whose failure, read by the light of modern knowledge, was probably a geographical success. This was Francis Barallier, ensign in the New South Wales corps, who was encouraged by Governor King to indulge his ardent longing for discovery. By birth a Frenchman, Barallier had received his ensigncy by commission on the 13th of February, 1801, having done duty as an ensign since July, 1800, by virtue of a government general order issued by Governor Hunter. In August, 1801, he had been appointed by Governor King military engineer, in place of Captain Abbott resigned. In February, 1802, he was succeeded by Lieutenant George Bellasis, an artillery officer. Besides his expeditions to the Blue Mountains, he did much surveying with Lieutenant James Grant in the Lady Nelson. In 1804, he went to England and saw service in several regiments, distinguishing himself greatly in military engineering, amongst his works being the erection of the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square, the designer of which was Mr. Railton. Barallier died in 1853.

Peron, the French naturalist, tells us that when in Sydney in October, 1802, he persuaded Governor King to fit out a party to attempt the passage of the mountains, and that a young Frenchman, aide-de-camp to the Governor, was intrusted with the leadership. He returned, however, without having been able to penetrate further than his English predecessors.

On the following month, however, Barallier set out from Parramatta, on his famous embassy to the King of the Mountains. This fictitious embassy arose from the fact that Colonel Paterson having refused Barallier the required leave, King claimed him as his aide-de-camp, and sent him on this embassy. Barallier started with four soldiers, five convicts, and a waggon-load of provisions drawn by two bullocks. He crossed the Nepean and established a depot at a place known as Nattai, whence the waggon was sent back to Sydney for provisions, Barallier, with the remainder of his men and a native, pushing out westwards. After this preliminary examination he returned to the depot, and made a fresh departure on the 22nd of November, and, continuing mostly directly westwards, he reached a point (according to his chart) about one hundred and five miles due west from Lake Illawarra. If this position is even approximately correct, he must have been at the very source of the Lachlan River.

I give a few extracts from his diary, which was not even translated until the Historical Records of New South Wales were collected by Mr. F.M. Bladen. They refer to the crossing of the range.

"On the 24th of November, I followed the range of elevated mountains, where I saw several kangaroos. This country is covered with meadows and small hills, where trees grow a great distance apart...I resumed my journey, following various directions to avoid obstacles, and at 4 o'clock I arrived on the top of a hill where I discovered that the direction of the chain of mountains extended itself north-westerly to a distance which I estimated to be about thirty miles, and which turned abruptly at right angles. It formed a barrier nearly north and south, which it was necessary to climb over...At 7 o'clock I arrived on the summit of another hill, from where I noticed three openings: the first on the right towards North 50 West; the other in front of me, and which appeared very large, was west from me; and the third was South 35 West.

...This discovery gave me great hope, and the whole of the party appeared quite pleased, thinking that we had surmounted all difficulties, and that we were going to enter a plain, the apparent immensity of which gave every promise of our being able to penetrate far into the interior of the country...At six o'clock I found myself at a distance of about two miles from the western passage...I was then only half-a-mile from the passage, and I sent on two men in order to discover it, instructing them to ascend the mountain to the north of this passage...I waited till 7 o'clock for my two men, who related to me, that after passing the range which was in front of us we would enter an immense plain, that from the height where they were on the mountain, they had caught sight of only a few hills standing here and there on this plain, and that the country in front of them had the appearance of a meadow...At daybreak I left with two men to verify myself the configuration of the ground, and to ascertain whether the passage of the Blue Mountains had really been effected. I climbed the chain of mountains north of us. When I had reached the middle of this height the view of a plain as vast as the eye could reach confirmed to me the report of the previous day...I discovered towards the west and at a distance which I estimated to be forty miles, a range of mountains higher than those we had passed...From where I was, I could not detect any obstacle to the passage right to the foot of those mountains...After having cut a cross of St. Andrew on a tree to indicate the terminus of my second journey, I returned by the same route I had come."

Barallier concludes his diary by mentioning another projected expedition over the mountains from Jervis Bay. But no record of such a journey has ever come to light.

[Map. Routes of Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson (1813); Evans (1813); Oxley (1817, 1818, 1823); and Sturt (1828 and 1829).]


Whether Barallier succeeded or not in reaching the summit of the mountains, the verdict accepted at that date was that they had not been passed; and until the year 1813, they were regarded as impenetrable. The narrative of the crossing of these mountains, and the chain of events that led up to the successful attempt is widely known, but only in a general way. It is for this reason that a longer and more detailed account is given in these pages; and as the expedition was successful in opening up a way to the interior of the Continent, it is fitting that its leader and originator, Gregory Blaxland, should be classed amongst the makers of Australasia.

Blaxland was born in Kent, in 1771, and arrived in the colony in 1806, accompanied by his wife and three children. He settled down to the congenial occupation of stockbreeding, on what was then considered to be a large scale. Finding that his stock did not thrive so well in the immediate neighbourhood of the sea coast, and wanting more land for pasturing his increasing herds, he made anxious enquiries in all directions as to the possibility of crossing the Blue Mountains inland. Nobody would entertain such a suggestion, the failures had been too many: every one to whom he broached the subject declared it to be impossible, prophesying that the extension of the settlement westward would forever be obstructed by their unscalable heights. Blaxland, however, was not intimidated by these disheartening predictions; and, in 1811, he started out on a short journey of investigation, in company with three Europeans and two natives. On this trip he found that by keeping on the crowning ridge or dividing water-shed between the streams running into the Nepean and those that fed what he then took to be an inland river, he got along fairly well. Some time afterwards he accompanied the Governor in a boat excursion up the Warragamba, a tributary of the Nepean, and though there were no noteworthy results, it convinced Blaxland that, could he follow his former tactics of adhering to the leading ridge that formed the divide between the tributaries of the northern bank of this river and the affluents of the Grose, a tributary of the Hawkesbury, he would attain his object and reach the highlands. It will thus be seen that Blaxland acted with a definite and well-thought-out mode of procedure; and that the ridge he selected for the attempt was chosen with judgment based on considerable knowledge of the locality, which he gained from many talks with the men who hunted and frequented the foothills of the range. Finally, when he had arranged his plan of assault, he confided his intention to two friends, Lieutenant William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth, whose names are associated with his in the conquest of the Mountains. They both consented to accompany him, and agreed to follow his idea of stubbornly following one leading spur. Blaxland's former expedition had convinced him that the local knowledge of the natives did not extend far enough to be of any service, and they therefore did not take any aborigines with them. They took pack-horses, however, which proves that the party started with a well-founded faith in their ultimate success, and gave no heed to the terrifying descriptions of former travellers.

The besetting hindrance to their progress was the low scrub of brushwood that greatly delayed the pack-horses. This obstacle was overcome only by patiently advancing before the horses every afternoon, and cutting a bridle-track for the succeeding day's stage. Thus literally, the way that ultimately led into the interior was won by foot, and the little pioneering band eventually descended into open grazing country at the head of what is now known as the Cox River. The outward and return trip occupied less than one month's time; which speaks volumes for the wise choice of route; but what says more, is the fact that no better natural, upward pathway has since been found.

A synopsis of Blaxland's journal is given here, commencing with a few quoted lines of preamble: -

"On Tuesday, May 11th, 1813, Mr. Gregory Blaxland, Mr. William Wentworth and Lieutenant Lawson, attended by four servants, with five dogs and four horses laden with provisions and other necessaries, left Mr. Blaxland's farm at South Creek for the purpose of endeavouring to affect a passage over the Blue Mountains, between the Western River* and the River Grose...The distance travelled on this and subsequent days was computed by time, the rate being estimated at about two miles per hour."

*[Footnote.] The Warragamba.

They camped at the foot of the ridge that was to witness the last struggle between man and the Mountains. On the first day, they did three miles and a half in a direction varying from south-west to west-north-west, and that night obtained a little grass for the horses, and some water in a rocky hole.

The heavy dews in the morning retarded any attempts at early departures, as the thick wet brush rendered it difficult to drive the horses, so that, as a rule, it was nine o'clock before they were able to strike camp. The ridge, still favouring the direction of west and north-west, on the third day they arrived at a tract of land, hilly, but with tolerable grass on it. Here they found traces of a former white visitant in the shape of a marked-tree line. Two miles from this point, they met with a belt of brushwood so dense that for the first time they were forced to alter their course; but the subordinate spurs on either side ending in rocky precipices, they had to return and again confront the scrub. In these circumstances, they made up their minds to rely upon axe and tomahawk to win a way, and so next morning fell to work cutting a passage for the horses. The ascent was also now becoming steep and rough, and on this day some of the horses fell while struggling up with their loads.

The first day's work gained for them five miles, but at the end of their toil they had to retrace their weary way back to the last night's camp. The next day they cleared the track for only two miles further ahead; so much time being wasted in walking backwards and forwards to the work. There was no grass amongst the scrub that encompassed them, and when, on Monday, they determined to move the camp equipage forward, they packed the horses with as much cut-grass as they could put on them. This amounted to, according to Lawson's diary, about two hundred pounds weight for each horse, which, in addition to their ordinary loads, must have been a very weighty packload for uphill work. However, according to Blaxland, "they stood it well." They obtained no water for their animals that night, and what they wanted for their own requirements had to be painfully carried up a cliff about six hundred feet in height. On the succeeding day they suddenly came on what at first appeared to be an impassable barrier. The ridge which they had so pertinaciously followed, had, for the last mile narrowed and dwindled down into a sharp razor-backed spur, flanked with rugged and abrupt gullies on either slope. Across this narrow way now stretched a perpendicularly-sided mass of rock, which seemed effectually to bar their path. The removal of a few large boulders however, revealed an aperture which, after some labour, they widened sufficiently to allow the pack-horses to squeeze through.

Once through they began to ascend what they estimated to be the second tier of the Mountains. Shortly after they left camp that morning they came on a pile of stones, or cairn, evidently the work of some European, which they attributed to Bass. They were much elated at the thought that they had now passed beyond the limit of any previous attempt.*

*[Footnote.] This cairn was afterwards named Cayley's Repulse by Governor Macquarie: but recent research goes to show that Cayley followed the valley of the Grose, and was many miles to the north of where the cairn was found. According to Flinders, Bass was not on the high ridge traversed by Blaxland and party.

They could now look round with triumph on the panorama spread beneath their view, and from the superior elevation which they had obtained, they took the bearings of several noticeable landmarks that they had seen before only from the flat country. The labour of cutting a path each day for the horses for the next day's march had, however, still to be continued; but the crest of the ridge was again wider, though the gullies on each side were as steep as before. That night, in camp, the dogs were uneasy throughout the night, and several times gave tongue and aroused the sleepers, tired with their day's work. From what they found afterwards, they had good reason to believe that the blacks had been lurking around meditating an attack.

They then passed over the locality known in the present day as Blackheath, and soon afterwards had their course diverted to the northward by what Blaxland terms "a stone wall rising perpendicularly out of the side of the mountain." This they tried to descend, but without success, and so kept on along its brow. Undergrowth still delayed them, and they still had to spend their energies in hewing a passage, until on the 28th of the month, they camped on the edge of the steep descent that had lately marched beside them. The decline was, however, not quite so abrupt, and the face no longer composed of solid rock. They paused to overlook what lay before them and immediately below, and found the view more gratifying than they had anticipated. What they had at first taken for sandy barren soil proved now, on nearer inspection, to be forest-land fairly covered with a good growth of grass. The horses not having tasted fresh grass for some days, they cut a slanting trench across the sloping face of the descent in order to afford the horses some sort of foot-hold, and managed to get them down to a little feed that evening.

Next morning they were up and away early, and reached the foot of the mountain (Mount York) at 9 a.m., having had to carry the pack-loads down most of the way themselves, as it was too steep for laden horses to preserve their balance with safety. The actual base of the mountain was reached through a gap in the rocks, some thirty feet in width.

They now found themselves on what was then termed meadow land, drained by the upper tributaries of the Warragamba; and this country presenting no serious obstacle to their further progress, they rightly concluded that they had now surmounted every difficulty. They followed the mountain stream up for some distance and, at the furthest point they reached, ascended a high sugar-loaf hill, which surveyor Evans, who followed in their footsteps, called Mount Blaxland. From the summit they had an extensive view all around, and Blaxland described the character of the country they saw in the following words: "Forest and grass land, sufficient to support the stock of the colony for the next thirty years."

Just here, let us compare this prophecy with a similar one made by Evans a few months afterwards, on the pasture lands of the upper Macquarie: "The increase of stock for some hundred years cannot overrun it."

The provisions of the explorers were now nearly expended; their apparel, especially their footgear, was in rags and tatters; on the other hand, the work that they had set themselves to do was well done. They had vanquished the Blue Mountains. Their return was uneventful. After breakfast on the 6th of June, they crossed the Nepean, their provisions, with the exception of a little flour, being quite consumed. We thus see how in the end the impenetrable range, that had so long overawed the colonists with its frown, was overcome, with slight difficulty, when local experience combined with method, was arrayed against it. To liken the former expeditions to Blaxland's is to compare a few headlong assaults with a well-conceived and skilfully worked-out attack. The men themselves write slightingly of the feat. Blaxland says: "the passage of the Blue Mountains might be easily effected." Lawson's opinion of the mountain is: "that there would be no difficulty in making a good road"; and Wentworth's verdict is: "that the country they reached is easy of access." Evans, who was hot upon their trail, gives as his opinion: "that there are no hills on the ridge that their ascent or descent is in any way difficult."

The tidings brought back by the party of successful pioneers created the greatest excitement in the little colony. No longer would the mountainous barrier stand defiantly in their western path. For over thirty years it had laughed at their puny efforts to cross its rugged crest, but its time had come at last; the way to the unknown west was now open, and rejoicingly the settlers prepared to follow on the explorers' trail. What the mysterious interior might hold, they could not imagine; but the gates thereto being thrown wide at last, its secrets would be soon known to them.

Blaxland died on the 3rd of January, 1853, having lived long enough to witness the wonderful advance in settlement due to his energies.