The Imperial Government having long considered the feasibility of further exploration of the interior of Australia voted 5000 pounds for the purpose, and offered the command of the expedition to A.C. Gregory. As the inexplicable disappearance of Leichhardt was then exciting much interest in Australia, search for the lost expedition was to form one of its chief duties.

On the 12th of August, 1855, Gregory's party left Moreton Bay in the barque Monarch, attended by the schooner Tom Tough. There were eighteen men in all. H.C. Gregory was second in command, Ferdinand von Mueller was botanist, J.S. Wilson geologist, J.R. Elsey surgeon and naturalist, and J. Baines artist and storekeeper. They had on board fifty horses, two hundred sheep, and provisions and stores calculated to last them eighteen months on full rations.

They did not reach Point Pearce, at the mouth of the Victoria River, until the 24th of September. There they separated, the schooner taking the stores up the river, and the Monarch proceeding on her voyage to Singapore. The horses had been landed at Point Pearce, whence Gregory, his brother, and seven men took them on overland by easy stages. One night the horses were attacked by crocodiles, and three of them were severely wounded. They followed up the course of the Fitzmaurice River and then passed over rough country, not reaching the Victoria until the 17th. On the 20th they rejoined the members who had gone round by the schooner, and learned that she was aground in the river. A large part of their stores was spoiled; and the number of the sheep had also been reduced to forty, in consequence of their being foolishly kept penned up on board. These losses and accidents considerably weakened Gregory's resources, and it was not until the 24th of November that any excursion on horseback was undertaken. An attempt had previously been made to ascend the river in the portable boat with which the expedition had been supplied, but it was not successful, as the boat could not navigate the rocky bars in safety.

Gregory left camp accompanied by his brother, Dr. von Mueller, and Wilson, taking seven horses and twenty days' rations, his object being to examine the country through which the exploring party would have to travel on their route to the interior. On this preliminary trip, he penetrated as far as latitude 16 1/2 south, whence, finding the tributaries flowing from fine open plains and level forest country, all well-grassed, he returned to the main camp.

On the 4th of January, 1856, Gregory started with a much larger party on an energetic dash into the interior. He had with him six men besides his brother, Dr. von Mueller and Baines the artist, and thirty-six horses. He retraced his steps along his preliminary route, and on the 30th of January, thinking it wise judging from the rapid evaporation of the waterholes, to make his means of retreat secure, he formed a temporary camp, leaving there four men and all the horses but eleven to await his return, whilst he, his brother, Dr. Mueller, and a man named Dean, rode ahead to challenge the desert to the south. On the 9th of February, having run the Victoria out, he crossed an almost level watershed, and found himself on the confines of the desert. From a slight rise he looked southwards: -

"The horizon was unbroken; all appeared one slightly undulating plain, with just sufficient triodia and bushes growing on it to hide the red sand when viewed at a distance."

Gregory reviewed the problem from a logical standpoint. He decided to follow the northern limit of the desert to the westward, until he should find a southern-flowing watercourse which would afford him the opportunity to make a dash beyond its confines.

On the 15th of February he came to a small flat which gradually developed into a channel and ultimately became a creek, running first west, and then south-west. This gave him his desired opening, and he pursued the course of the creek through good open country, finding the water plentiful, though shallow. On February 20th, however, the channel of the creek was lost in an immense grassy plain. The country to the south being sandy and unpromising, Gregory kept westwards, and succeeded in again picking up the channel, now finding the water in it to be slightly brackish. That day he crossed the boundary of Western Australia. The creek now gave promise of continuity, the water-holes taking on a more permanent appearance. It was now pursuing a general south-west course, and Gregory, though still rightly anticipating that it would eventually be lost in the dry interior, determined to follow it as far south as should be compatible with safety. He named the creek Sturt's Creek, after the gallant explorer of that name, who was naturally then often in his mind. The creek maintained its southern course, until, on the 8th of March, it ran out into a mud plain and a salt lake.

"Thus, after having followed Sturt's Creek for nearly 300 miles, we have been disappointed in our hope that it would lead to some important outlet to the waters of the Australian interior; it has, however, enabled us to penetrate far into the level tract of country which may be termed the Great Australian Desert."

Gregory, convinced that no useful results could arise from any attempt to penetrate the inhospitable region to the south, determined to return before the rapidly-evaporating water on which they were dependent should vanish and cut off all retreat. He therefore retraced his steps up Sturt's Creek, and on the 28th of March arrived at his temporary depot, where he found the men all well and the horses much improved in condition.

On the 2nd of April, A.C. Gregory, taking his brother Henry, Baines, and one man, started on an excursion to examine the eastern tributaries of the Victoria, and was absent a little over a fortnight. On their return, the whole of the members started for the landing-place on the Victoria, which they reached on the 9th of May. After all arrangements and preparations had been completed, Gregory, with most of the party, started on the return journey overland to Moreton Bay. The Tom Tough, now caulked and repaired, was to make her way to the Albert River in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where they would again probably meet.

Traversing the tributaries of the Victoria on his homeward way, Gregory met with no remarkable incident until his arrival on the Elsey, a tributary of the Roper River, which he named after the surgeon of the expedition. It was here that he came upon the last authentic trace of Leichhardt. He describes his discovery as follows: -

"There was also the remains of a hut and the ashes of a large fire, indicating that there had been a party camped there for several weeks; several trees from six to eight inches in diameter had been cut down with iron axes in fair condition, and the hut built by cutting notches in standing trees and resting a large pole therein for a ridge; this hut had been burnt apparently by the subsequent bush fires, and only some pieces of the thickest timber remained unconsumed. Search was made for marked trees, but none found, nor were there any fragments of leather, iron, or other equipment of an exploring party, or of any bones of animals other than those common to Australia. Had an exploring party been destroyed here, there would most likely have been some indications, and it may therefore be inferred that the party proceeded on its journey. It could not have been a camp of Leichhardt's in 1845, as it is 100 miles south of his route to Port Essington; and it was only six or seven years old, judging by the growth of the trees; having subsequently seen some of Leichhardt's camps on the Burdekin, Mackenzie and Barcoo Rivers, a great similarity was observed in regard to the manner of building the hut and its relative position with regard to the fire and water supply, and the position in regard to the great features of the country was exactly where a party going westward would first receive a check from the waterless tableland between the Roper and Victoria Rivers, and would probably camp and reconnoitre ahead before attempting to cross to the north-west coast."

From the Roper the party travelled around the shore of the Gulf, keeping rather more inland than Leichhardt had done. On reaching the Albert they found that the Tom Tough had not yet arrived at the rendezvous; and Gregory, leaving a marked tree with a message indicating the situation of some instructions he had buried, pushed onwards.

His route from the Albert lay along much the same line of country as that followed by Leichhardt during his journey to Port Essington. He did not, however, make such a wide sweep to the north, up to the Mitchell, but struck away from Carpentaria at the Gilbert River. He corrected the error Leichhardt had fallen into over the situation of the Albert, and re-named the river that he had mistaken the Leichhardt. The exploring party reached the settled districts at Hay's station, Rannes, south of the Fitzroy; and thence reached Brisbane on the 16th of December, 1856.

To advance the search after Leichhardt, the interest in whose fate had been stimulated by the discovery made by Gregory, a public meeting was held in September, 1857, at which resolutions were passed requesting monetary assistance from the Government, and offering the leadership of a new expedition to A.C. Gregory. The appeal was successful, and accordingly in March, 1858, Gregory left Euroomba station on the Dawson with a party of nine in all, one of his brothers going as second. The expedition was equipped for light travelling, taking as means of carriage pack-horses only, of which there were thirty-one, as well as nine saddle-horses.

Gregory crossed the Nive on to the Barcoo, which he proceeded to run down, finding the country in a very different condition from that in which it bloomed when Mitchell rode rejoicingly along what he thought was a Gulf river. A sharp look out was of course kept for any trace of the missing party, and on the 21st of April they came across another marked tree.

"We discovered a Moreton Bay ash (Eucalyptus sp.), about two feet in diameter marked with the letter L on the east side, cut through the bark about four feet from the ground, and near it the stumps of some small trees that had been cut with a sharp axe, also a deep notch cut in the side of a sloping tree, apparently to support the ridge-pole of a tent, or some similar purpose; all indicating that a camp had been established here by Leichhardt's party...No other indications having been found, we continued the search down the river, examining every likely spot for marked trees, but without success."

Approaching the Thomson River, they found the country suffering from drought although the river was running in consequence of some late rains. As winter was now approaching, there was however no spring in the vegetation, and their horses were suffering great hardship. On the 15th of May they found themselves beyond the rainfall, and realised that lack of water was likely to be added to an absence of grass.

"We, however, succeeded in reaching latitude 23 degrees 47 minutes, when the absence of water and grass - the rain not having extended so far north, and the channels of the river separating into small gullies and spreading on to the wide plains - precluded our progressing further to the north or west; and the only chance of saving our horses was to return south as quickly as possible. This was a most severe disappointment, as we had just reached that part of the country through which Leichhardt most probably travelled if the season was sufficiently wet to render it practicable. Thus compelled to abandon the principal object of the expedition, only two courses remained open - either to return to the head of the Victoria (Barcoo) River and attempt a northern course by the valley of the Belyando, or to follow down the river and ascertain whether it flowed into Cooper's Creek or the Darling."

The latter alternative was chosen, and they proceeded to retrace their steps down the Thomson, and on reaching the junction of the Barcoo they continued south and west. In fact, following Kennedy's route, they soon found themselves involved in the same difficulties that had beset that explorer. The river - now Cooper's Creek - broke up into countless channels running through barren, fissured plains. Toiling on through these, varied by an interlude of sandhills, Gregory at last reached a better-grassed land, where his famished horses regained a little strength. He reached Sturt's furthest point, and continued on to the point where Strzelecki's Creek carried off some of the surplus flood waters, and finally lost the many channels amongst the sandhills and flooded plains. He again struck Strzelecki's Creek and traced it as he then thought, into Lake Torrens, but in reality into Lake Blanche, for the salt lake region had not then been properly delimited. He reached Baker's recently-formed station, eight miles beyond Mount Hopeless, and thence he went on to Adelaide.


It was in Western Australia, in March, 1857, that Frank T. Gregory commenced his career as an independent explorer by taking advantage of a sudden heavy downpour of rain on the upper reaches of the Murchison River, which flooded the dry course of the lower portion where he was then engaged on survey work. Gregory at once seized the opportunity thus afforded of examining the upper reaches of this river, from which former explorers had been driven back by the aridity of the country. Accompanied by his assistant, S. Trigg, he proceeded up the river finding, thanks to the wet season that had preceded him, luxuriant grass and ample supplies of water. In consequence, he had a more pleasing account of the country to bring back than the report based on the thirsty experiences of Austin. So easy did he find the country, that only scarcity of provisions prevented him from pushing on to the long-sought-for Gascoyne River. As it was, he returned after an absence of thirteen days, having completed what the Perth Gazette of that time justly described as "one of the most unassuming expeditions, yet important in its results."

It was so far satisfactory, and roused such fresh hopes in the minds of the settlers, that they once more formed bright hopes of what the River Gascoyne might have in store for the successful explorer. For a long time now they had become resigned to the conclusion that their northern pathway was barred by a dry, scrubby country; but they at once took advantage of the promising practical passage along which Frank Gregory had led the way. Another expedition was organised to penetrate to the Gascoyne, and the leadership being naturally offered to Frank Gregory, was accepted by him.

On the 16th of April, 1858, he left the Geraldine mine with a lightly-equipped party of six, including J.B. Roe, son of the Surveyor-General. They had with them six pack and six riding-horses, and rations for 60 days.

They proceeded up the Murchison, and on the 25th of the same month they reached a tributary called the Impey, which had been the highest point reached by Gregory the preceding year. This time, however, the party did not find such ample pasture as he had described. Still following the river up until the 30th April, on that day they struck off on a nor-north-east course, the course of the Murchison tending too much in an easterly direction to lead them speedily on to the Gascoyne. On the 3rd they reached a gentle stony ascent, which proved to be the watershed between the two rivers. Descending the slope to the northward, they soon came to the head of a watercourse flowing northwards. They followed the new creek, and on the 6th of May came to a river joining it from the eastward, which at last proved to be the Gascoyne.

Gregory kept down the south bank of the Gascoyne, and on the 12th of May passed a large tributary coming from the north, which he named the Lyons. On the 17th they ascended a sandy ridge about sixty feet in height, and had a view of Shark's Bay.

He returned along the north bank of the river, and having reached the Lyons, followed that river up. On the 3rd of June he ascended the highest mountain yet discovered in Western Australia, which he named Mount Augustus, after his brother. Gregory gives the elevation at 3,480 feet, but Mount Bruce in the Hammersley Range, to the north of it, has since been found to be higher.* From the summit, however, he had an extensive view, and was enabled to sketch in the courses of the various rivers for over twenty miles.

*[Footnote.] 3,800 feet.

As they had now been out 51 days, and their supply of provisions was approaching the end, the party turned back at Mount Augustus, and struck southwards. On the 8th the Gascoyne was re-crossed at a place where its course lay through flats and ana-branches. On the 10th of June they again came to the Murchison, and followed it down to the Geraldine mine, and finally reached Perth on the 10th of July. This expedition, so fruitful in its results to the pastoral welfare of the colony, cost the settlers only their contributions in horses and rations, and a cash expenditure of forty pounds.

The discovery of so much fresh available country on the Gascoyne River, with the prospect of a new base for exploration in the tropical regions beyond, attracted the attention of English capitalists. The American civil war had so depressed the cotton trade that those interested in cotton manufacture were seeking for fresh fields in which to establish the growth of the plant. Frank Gregory was then in London, and advantage was taken of his presence to urge upon the Home Government and the Royal Geographical Society the desirability of fitting out an expedition to proceed direct to the north-west coast of Australia, accompanied by a large body of Asiatic labourers, and all the necessary appliances for the establishment of a colony.

Fortunately this rash and ill-considered scheme was greatly modified under wise advice. Roe, the Surveyor-General of Western Australia, and other gentlemen practically acquainted with the subject, suggested that the country should be explored before the idea of any actual settlement should be entertained. Acting on this advice, the Imperial Government gave a grant of 2,000 pounds, to be supplemented by an equal subsidy by the Colonial Treasury.

Gregory therefore obtained a suitable outfit in London for the party, and left for Perth to complete the necessary details. The usual official delays occurred, and the expedition did not leave Fremantle, in the barque Dolphin, until 23rd April, 1861, nearly two months later than had been arranged. As the rainy season in northern Australia terminates in March, this delay was unfortunate.

Nickol Bay on the north-west coast was the destination, and was safely reached. The work of disembarkation being completed, the exploring party started on the 25th of May, 1861.

Gregory first pursued a western course, as he wished to cut any considerable river discharging into the sea, and coming from the interior.

On the 29th of May they struck the river which was subsequently named the Fortescue. As this river seemed likely to answer their expectations of a passage through the broken range that hemmed them in to the south, they followed it up. A narrow precipitous gorge forced them to leave the river, and, after surmounting a table-land, they steered a course due south to a high range, which, however, they found too rough to surmount. Making back on to a north-east course, they again struck the Fortescue, above the narrow glen which had stopped them. They followed it up once more through good country, occasionally hampered by its course lying between rugged hills; but they finally crossed the range, partly by the aid of the river-bed, and partly through a gap. On the 18th June, they succeeded in completely surmounting the range, and found that to the south the decline was more gradual. The range was named the Hammersley Range. Their horses had suffered considerably, and had lost some of their shoes in the rough hills. From here they kept south meaning to strike the Lyons River, discovered by Frank Gregory during his last trip. On coming to a small tributary which he named the Hardey, he formed a depot camp. Leaving some of the party and the most sore-footed of the horses, he pushed on with three men, Brown, Harding, and Brockman, taking three packhorses and provisions for eight days.

On the 23rd of June they came on a large western-flowing river, which he called the Ashburton, and which has since proved to be the longest river in Western Australia. Having crossed this river, and still pursuing a southerly course, he arrived at a sandstone tableland, and on the 23rd had, as Gregory writes, "at last the satisfaction of observing the bold outlines of Mount Augustus."

He returned to the depot camp on the 29th, and though anxious to follow up the Ashburton to the east, the condition of his horses' feet and the lack of shoes prevented him. During the return journey to Nickol Bay, he ascended Mount Samson, and from the summit obtained an extensive view that embraced every prominent peak within seventy miles, including Mount Bruce to the north, and Mount Augustus to the south, the distance between these two elevations being 124 geographical miles. They crossed the Hammersley Range on to the level plains of the Fortescue by means of a far easier pass than that used on the outward journey, and arrived at the Bay on the 19th of July.

On the 31st of July Gregory started on a new expedition to the east. On the 9th of August he came to a river which apparently headed from the direction they desired to explore - namely the south-east. Crossing another river, which they named the Shaw, the explorers, still keeping east and south of east, found on the 27th of August, a river of some importance running through a large extent of good pastoral and agricultural land. This river was named the De Grey, but as their present object was to push to the south-east, they left its promising banks and proceeded into a hilly country where they soon became involved in deep ravines. After surmounting a rugged tableland, they camped that night at some springs.

The next night, the 29th of August, they came, some time after dark, on to the bank of a wide river lined with the magnificent weeping tea-trees. As three of the horses were tired out, Gregory determined to follow this river up for a day or two, instead of closing with a range of granite hills, capped with horizontal sandstones, which loomed threateningly in their path.

So for two or three days they continued on the Oakover, as he christened the river, and followed its western branch; a tributary of that led them in amongst the ranges, which were threaded by an easy pass. On the 2nd of September they got through the ranges and emerged upon open sandy plains of great extent, with nothing visible across the vast expanse but low ridges of red drift-sand. Here it was Gregory's lot to experience a test almost equal to one of the grim tramps that had tried Sturt and Eyre.

He camped at a native deserted camp, and the next day failing to find any water ahead, had to return and form a depot. Here he left five of the party with instructions to remain three days and then fall back upon the Oakover. He himself, with Brown and Harding, and six horses, went on to find a passage.

So far he had encountered fewer obstacles, and made more encouraging discoveries than had fallen to the lot of any other Western Australian explorer; but he was now confronted with the stern presence that had daunted the bravest and best in Australia. In front of him lay barren plains, hills of drifted sand, and the ominous red haze of the desert. Let Gregory describe the scene in his own words, as the locality has become historic: -

The three men started on the 6th of September, "steering south-south-east along the ranges, looking for some stream-bed that might lead us through the plains, but I was disappointed to find that they were all lost in the first mile after leaving the hills, and as crossing the numerous ridges of sand proved very fatiguing to the horses, we determined once more to attempt to strike to the eastward between the ridges, which we did for fifteen miles, when our horses again showed signs of failing us, which left us the only alternative of either pushing on at all hazards to a distant range that was just visible to the eastward, where, from the numerous native fires and general depression of the country, there was every reason to think a large river would be found to exist, or to make for some deep rocky gorges in the granite hills ten miles to the south, in which there was every prospect of finding water. In the former case the travelling would be smoothest, but the distance so great that, in the event of our failing to find water, we probably should not succeed in bringing back one of our horses; while in the latter we should have to climb over the sand-ridges which we had already found so fatiguing; this course, however, involved the least amount of risk, and we accordingly struck south four miles and halted for the night.

"7th September. The horses did not look much refreshed by the night's rest; we, however, divided three gallons of water amongst them, and started off early, in the hope of reaching the ranges by noon, but we had not gone three miles when one of the pack-horses that was carrying less than forty pounds weight began to fail, and the load was placed on my saddle-horse; it did not, however, enable him to get on more than a couple of miles further, when we were compelled to abandon him, leaving him under the shade of the only tree we could find, in the hope that we could bring back water to his relief. Finding that it would be many hours before the horses could be got on to the ranges, I started ahead on foot, leaving Brown and Harding to come on gently, while I was to make a signal by fires if successful in finding water. Two hours' heavy toil through the sand, under a broiling sun, brought me to the ranges, where I continued to hunt up one ravine after another until 5 p.m. without success. Twelve hours' almost incessant walking, on a scanty breakfast and without water, with the thermometer over a hundred degrees of Fahrenheit, began to tell upon me severely; so much so that by the time I had tracked up my companions (who had reached the hills by 1 p.m. and were anxiously waiting for me) it was as much as I could do to carry my rifle and accoutrements. The horses were looking truly wretched, and I was convinced that the only chance of saving them, if water was not found, would be by abandoning our pack-saddles, provisions, and everything we could possibly spare, and try and recover them afterwards if practicable. We therefore encamped for the night on the last plot of grass we could find, and proceeded to make arrangements for an early start in the morning. There was still a few pints of water in the kegs, having been very sparing in the use of it; this enabled us to have a little tea and make a small quantity of damper, of which we all stood in much need. Camp 77.

"8th September. At 4 p.m. we were again up, having disposed of our equipments and provisions, except our riding-saddles, instruments, and firearms, by suspending them in the branches of a low tree. We divided a pint of water for our breakfast, and by the first peep of dawn were driving our famished horses at their best speed towards the depot, which was now thirty-two miles distant. For the first eight miles they went on pretty well, but the moment the sun began to have power they flagged greatly, and it was not long before we were obliged to relinquish another horse quite unable to proceed. By 9 a.m. I found that my previous day's march, and the small allowance of food that I had taken was beginning to have its effects upon me, and that it was probable that I could not reach the depot before the next morning, by which time the party left there were to fall back to the Oakover; I therefore directed Brown, who was somewhat fresher than myself, to push on to the camp and bring out fresh horses and water, while Harding and myself would do our best to bring on any straggling horses that could not keep up with him. By dark we succeeded in reaching to within nine miles of the depot, finding unmistakable signs towards evening of the condition to which the horses taken on by Brown were reduced, by the saddles, guns, hobbles, and even bridles, scattered along the line of march, which had been taken off to enable them to get on a few miles further."

Next morning they met Brown within a few miles of the depot coming back to them with water. All the horses but the two which had been left at the remotest point were recovered.

Further on Gregory remarks upon the painful effects produced on the horses by excessive heat and thirst: -

"I cannot omit to remark the singular effects of excessive thirst upon the eyes of the horses; they absolutely sunk into their heads until there was a hollow of sufficient depth to bury the thumb in, and there was an appearance as though the whole of the head had shrunk with them, producing a very unpleasant and ghastly expression."

Gregory was now convinced that the sandy tract before him was not to be crossed with the means at his command, so reluctantly he had to return to the Oakover and follow that river down to its junction with the De Grey. Down the united streams, which now bore the name of the De Grey, the weary explorers travelled through good fertile land, until the coast was reached on the 25th of September. The worn-out state of their horses delayed them greatly in getting across a piece of dry country between the Yule and the Sherlock, where one animal had to be abandoned.

On the 18th of October, they reached Nickol Bay, and were gladly welcomed by the crew of the Dolphin, who had profitably passed their time in collecting several tons of pearl-shell and a few pearls. On the 23rd the horses and equipment were shipped, and the Dolphin sailed for Fremantle.

This journey ended Frank Gregory's active life as an explorer; and it was a noteworthy career which now closed. For the western colony he had thrown open to settlement the vast area of the north-western coastal territory; and after relieving the Murchison from the stigma of barrenness that rested on it, he had discovered and made known all the rivers to the north and east, until the Oakover was reached.

It is singular that Frank Gregory should, like nearly all explorers, have erred greatly in the deductions he drew. When forced to turn back from the country beyond the Oakover, he much laments the fact, because, not only had we now attained to within a very few miles of the longitude in which, from various geographical data, there are just grounds for believing that a large river may be found to exist draining central Australia; but the character of the country appeared strongly to indicate the vicinity of such a feature."

Of course we now know that no such river drains the centre of Australia. On the contrary, beyond Gregory's eastern limit there occurs a long stretch of coastline unmarked by the mouth of any river. Inland, to the southward, the country even in this day is known as the most hostile and repellant desert in Australia, markedly deficient in continuous watercourses. Providence, then, restrained his footsteps from a land wherein earth and sun seem to unite in hostility against the white intruder. It is a pity that Frank Gregory did not give his undoubted powers of description free scope in his Journal. Now and again he gives them rein; but soon calls a halt, as though alarmed that picturesque language should be found in a scientific, geographical journal. His brother Augustus was unfortunately just as correct and precise.

Frank went to reside in Queensland in 1862, and was nominated to the Legislative Council of that colony in 1874. Before going to Queensland he had acted for some time as Surveyor-General of Western Australia. He was married at Ipswich, Queensland, to the daughter of Alexander Hume. He held office for some time in the McIlwraith Ministry, as Postmaster-General. He was a gold medallist of the Royal Geographical Society, and one of the best of the Australian explorers, as bushman, navigator, surveyor, and scientist. He died at Toowoomba, in 1888, on the 24th of October.