George William Evans, Deputy-Surveyor of Lands, came forward at this stage as the most prominent figure in Australian exploration. To him is due the honour, without dispute or cavil, of being the first discoverer of an Australian river flowing into the interior. For some reason he has never received adequate recognition of his important explorations, and he is well-nigh forgotten by the people of New South Wales, the state that has benefited most by his labours. After Oxley's second expedition, his name appears to have been overshadowed by his official superior's. Yet his work was invariably successful, and his labour in the field unremitting.

Evans was born in England, at Warwick, in 1778. When a young man he went to the Cape of Good Hope, where he obtained an appointment in the dockyard, and while there he married his first wife, Janet Melvill. In 1802 he was appointed Deputy Surveyor-General, and came to Australia in H.M.S. Buffalo, in order to take up his official duties. It was while he held this post that he carried out his work of exploration.

When he returned from these explorations, he resumed his duties as Deputy Surveyor-General only, until he was permanently settled in Tasmania, where he remained in office until the year 1825, when he resigned in disgust at his treatment by his superiors.

Evans lived at a time when official jealousies were rife, and men in position often heedless of the justice or veracity of their statements when influenced by party rancour. The machinations of a cabal led by Governor Arthur, and an effort made to deprive him of his well-deserved pension, necessitated Evans's departure for England to defend his claims. In this he was only partially successful, for the pension which it was understood was for life, was stopped in 1832. He returned to Tasmania, and passed the rest of his days at his residence, Warwick Lodge, at the head of Newtown Bay. He died at the age of seventy-four, and is buried in the old cemetery, Hobart; his second wife, Lucy Parris, rests in the same grave.

Evans was a clever draughtsman, and some of his sketches of the country explored are reproduced in Oxley's journal. He also published a book entitled History and Description of the Present State of Van Diemen's Land.

It was on Saturday, the 20th of November, 1813, that Evans, in charge of five men, one of whom had been with Blaxland's party, started from the point of forest land on the Nepean known as Emu Island. He lost no time in following the tracks of the late expedition, leaving the measurement until his return. On Friday, the 26th, he reached Blaxland's furthest point, and thenceforward passed over new ground. It is somewhat amusing to note that his opinions of the country when on his outward way and on his homeward, are widely divergent. He candidly and ingenuously writes, after he has been on the table-land: -

"What appeared to me fine country on my first coming to it, looks miserable now after returning from so superior and good a country."

On Tuesday, the 30th of November, he gained a ridge that he had had in view for some time, though he had been "bothered" by the hills in his efforts to reach it. From this ridge he caught a tantalising view, a glimpse of the outskirts of the vast interior.

There before him, the first white man to look upon the scene, lay the open way to two thousand miles of fair pasture-lands and brooding desert-wastes - of limitless plains and boundless rolling downs - of open grassy forests and barren scrubs - of solitary mountain peaks and sluggish rivers; and, though then hidden from even the most brilliant imagination, the wondrous potentialities latent in that silent and untrodden region. If a vision of the future had been vouchsafed Deputy-Surveyor Evans as he stood and gazed - a vision of all that would cover the spacious lands before and beyond him before one hundred years had passed away - the entry he made in his diary would surely have reflected in its style his flight of imagination. Instead, we have the prosaic statement: -

"I came to a very high mount, when I was much pleased with the sight westward. I think I can see 40 miles which had the look of open country."

In a pleasant valley, he came upon a large "riverlett," and on its banks they camped. There they shot ducks and caught "trout" - as he called the Murray Cod - the first of the species to tickle the palate of a white man; fine specimens, too, weighing five and six pounds. As he proceeded further and further, he became enchanted with the scenery: "The handsomest I have yet seen, with gently-rising hills and dales well-watered" - and he finally notes that language failed him to describe it adequately.

Evans named the river that led him through this veritable land of promise the Fish River, and a river which joined its waters with it from the south he called the Campbell River. The united stream he christened, as in duty bound, the Macquarie. Unimpeded in his course, he followed the Macquarie until he was 98 1/2 measured miles - for they had been chaining since passing the limit of the first explorers - from the termination of Blaxland's journey. He then decided to return; for he had gained all the information he had been sent to seek; and though game was plentiful, his party were without shoes, and the horses were suffering from sore backs.

Thus was concluded in a most satisfactory manner the first journey of exploration into the interior. Evans constantly saw, during his progress, unmistakeable traces of the natives; but he interviewed only a small party of five. This representative band of the inland aborigines of Australia was composed of two lubras and some picaninnies, both the women being blind of the right eye.

The party reached the Nepean on their return journey on the 8th of January, 1814. Mr. Cox was immediately intrusted with the superintendence of the work of making a public road over the range, following closely the same route as that taken by Blaxland's party. This work was completed in the year 1815, and on the 26th of April of the same year, Governor Macquarie and a large staff set out to visit the newly-found territory. The Governor arrived at the recently-formed town of Bathurst on the 4th of May; but before his arrival Evans had been again ordered out on another exploring expedition to the south-west.


Evans started from Bathurst on the 13th of May, 1815. He commenced his journey along the fine flat country then known as Queen Charlotte Vale, maintaining a southerly course for a day or two; but finding himself still amongst the tributaries of the Campbell River, he retraced his steps some twelve or fourteen miles in order to avoid a row of rocky hills. He then struck out more to the westward. On Thursday, the 23rd, he came to a chain of ponds bearing nearly north-west, and from a commanding ridge saw before him a prospect as gratifying as some of the scenes viewed on his former trip.

"I never saw a more pleasing-looking country. I cannot express the pleasure I feel in going forward. The hills we have passed are excellent land, well-wooded. To the south, distant objects are obscured by high hills, but in the south-west are very distant mountains, under them appears a mist as tho' rising from a river. It was the like look round to the west, but beyond the loom of high hills are very faintly distinguished."

This was the first view Evans obtained of the Lachlan valley. The ponds he had met with gradually grew into a connected stream: other ponds united with them from the north-east, and he writes: "they have at the end of the day almost the appearance of a river." On the 24th he came to a creek which joined "the bed of a river rising in a North 30 East direction, now dry except in hollow places. It is fully 70 feet wide, having a pebbly bottom; on each side grow large swamp-oaks."

On Thursday, the 1st of June, this river holding a definite course to the westward, and he being clear of the points of the hills, which hitherto had hindered him greatly, he determined to return, as he was running short of provisions.

"To-morrow I am necessitated to return, and shall ascend a very high hill I left on my right hand this morning. I leave no mark here more than cutting trees. On one situated in an angle of the river on a wet creek bearing north I have deeply carved EVANS, 1st JUNE, 1815."*

*[Footnote.] This tree, a tall and sturdy gum, flourished for over ninety years, and when in its prime was, unfortunately, owing to the spread of agricultural settlement, inadvertently ring-barked and killed. It must have been a fine tree when marked by the explorer, and though dead it is still standing at the date of the publication of this book. In 1906, the shield of wood bearing the inscription, was cut off by Mr. James Marsh, of Marshdale, and is now preserved in the Australian Museum in Sydney, New South Wales. It is the oldest marked-tree in the whole of Australasia.

On the next morning Evans ascended the hill he alluded to, and from the summit enjoyed a most extended view of the surrounding country, which he compared to a view of the ocean. On his way back to Bathurst, he bestowed upon the new river the name it now bears. A short passage in his diary, written during his return, is of peculiar interest, as it contains the first mention of snow seen in Australia by white men. On Thursday, the 8th of June, he writes: -

"The mountains I observed bearing north-west are covered with snow; I thought on my way out that their tops looked rather white. To-day it was distinguished as plain as ever I saw snow on the mountains in Van Diemen's Land. I never felt colder weather than it has been some days past. We have broken ice full two inches thick."

On the 12th of June the party returned to Bathurst, and Evans had by that time accomplished two of the most momentous journeys ever made in Australia. It was not his actual discoveries alone that brought him fame, but the vast field for settlement these discoveries opened up. The independent explorations of Surveyor Evans ceased after his discovery of the Lachlan; thenceforward he served Australia as second to Lieutenant Oxley.


The settlers of that day took every advantage of the new outlets for their energies, thrown open to them by the recent successful explorations. Cattle and sheep were rapidly driven forward on to the highlands, and, favoured by a beautiful site, the town of Bathurst soon assumed an orderly appearance. Private enterprise had also been at work elsewhere. The pioneer settlers were making their way south; the tide of settlement flowed over the intermediate lands to the Shoalhaven River; and in the north they had commenced the irresistible march of civilization up the Hunter River.

It was in the Shoalhaven district that young Hamilton Hume, the first Australian-born explorer to make his mark in the field, gained his bushcraft.

Governor Macquarie, during his term of office, did his best to foster exploration; and it was fortunate that the first advance into the interior occurred when there was a Governor in Australia who did not look coldly upon geographical enterprise.

The men who entered first upon the task of solving the geographical problems of the interior of the Australian continent were doomed to meet with much bitter disappointment. The varying nature of the seasons caused the different travellers to form contrary and perplexing ideas, often with regard to the same tract of country. What appeared to one man a land of pleasant gurgling brooks, flowing through rich pastures, appeared to another as a pitiless desert, unfit for human foot to venture upon. Oxley, who traversed what is now the cream of the agricultural portion of the state of New South Wales, speaks of the main part of it in terms of the bitterest condemnation. His error was of course rather a mistake in judgment than the result of inaccurate observation.

Some of the colonists nursed far fonder hopes, and the general opinion seemed to be that these western flowing rivers would gather in tributaries, and having swollen to a size worthy of so great a continent, seek the sea on the west coast. W.C. Wentworth, who certainly was capable of forming an opinion deserving consideration, wrote thus of the then untraced Macquarie River: -

"If the sanguine hopes to which the discovery of this river (the Macquarie) has given birth should be realised, and it should be found to empty itself into the ocean in the north-west coast, which is the only part of this vast island that has not been accurately surveyed, in what mighty conceptions of the future power and greatness of this colony may we not reasonably indulge? The nearest point at which Mr. Oxley left off to any part of the western coast is very little short of two thousand miles. If this river therefore be already of the size of the Hawkesbury at Windsor, which is not less than two hundred and fifty yards in breadth, and of sufficient depth to float a seventy-four gun ship, it is not difficult to imagine what must be its magnitude at its confluence with the ocean, before it can arrive at which it has to traverse a country nearly two thousand miles in extent. If it possesses the usual sinuosities of rivers, its course to the sea cannot be less than from five to six thousand miles, and the endless accession of tributary streams which it must receive in its passage through so great an extent of country will, without doubt, enable it to vie in point of magnitude with any river in the world."

It was to realise such ambitious hopes as these that Oxley went forth to penetrate into the interior.