Early Settlement

Passages to the North West Plains by Michael O'Rourke.
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

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PASSAGES TO THE NORTH-WEST PLAINS P.10

Into the Liverpool Plains cont.

As the expedition approached Boggabri on 15 May, they entered a swampy plain approximately west of a landmark Cunningham dubbed 'Dunlop's Table Hill', our Mt Binalong, 521 metres. This was afterwards the north-east boundary of the 220 square mile [570 sq km: 24 x 24 km] station 'Ghoolendaadi'.
 
    The horses were thin and weak so Cunningham decided to rest for a day while he examined the botany and geology. He rode across to Mt Binalong, leaving his men to go hunting. Unknown to them an Aboriginal band was foraging nearby, the nearest of the group being a number of women and children ('a native family including children'). Several of the children, attracted by the distant sound of the hunting guns, came up to the expedition's camp. Amazed and then alarmed when they saw the tents, they fled back to their mothers, and all ran off presumably to where their menfolk were.
 
    Cunningham regarded Aborigines as generally harmless, or rather, without hostile intentions, but nevertheless ordered his men to prime their pistols as a precaution. There was no further sign of the Aborigines, however, except for fires later in the day some 30 km off (i.e., probably at modern Gunnedah).
 
    The expedition proceeded further on, reaching perhaps as close as five kilometres from the Coxs Creek-Namoi junction at Boggabri. Here again they found a number of dwellings. They were evidently of temporary design, for Cunningham called them 'gunyas' rather than 'huts'.
    The dwellings belonged presumably to the Aboriginal band just now encountered: 

The natives had been, in the last rains [four or five months earlier], housed under their bark gunyas near the spot - now perfectly dry and hard - on which we erected our tents, it appearing evident from the remains of their fire, and the effects of the heavy rain had left around it, that the season was exceedingly wet when these savages --- [illegible: ?decamped] from this ground. 

Cunningham now decided to turn back. He imagined the whole region was made up of marshes (“a perfect quagmire”), not realising that this was just a very wet year, and not knowing that a major watercourse lay close ahead.
 
    On 18 May, before crossing to the right or eastern bank of Coxs Creek, they found trees with hatchet marks (—whether carvings, toe-holds or bark excisions Cunningham did not say) executed with iron tomahawks, imported no doubt from the Hunter Valley. All previous hatchet work at various points along Coxs Creek had been done with the stone ‘mogo’ (mugu, ‘hatchet’, a pidgin word borrowed from the language of Sydney). This suggests that trade in the Whiteman's goods was less advanced from the direction of Mudgee.
 
    It will be recalled that Cunningham’s method was to walk, accompanied by pack horses. The outward journey from Pandoras Pass across the boggy country had taken two weeks (3-17 May 1825). The return trip, however, undertaken over ground now hardening, was achieved in just one week (18-24 May). The distance is about 110 km, so they had done some eight km per day (or a little more) in the water-logged
conditions versus about 16 km per day over the drying or dried mud. (This is approximate: there was some down-time on the outward leg, when one of the convicts fell ill.)
    To all appearances, then, the western Liverpool Plains, the basin of Coxs Creek, remained hardly less sparsely populated than when John Oxley crossed from west to east in 1818 (see Box II).  

'It is curious', wrote Cunningham, 'that I should have met only one small group of native women and children and seven males [ = evidently a reference to the encounter of 15 May] who were prowling about in quest of the scanty subsistence in grubs and kangaroos and opossums afforded by the surrounding country, and from the boundary heights [Pandoras Pass] only perceived two distinct smokes of the Aborigines'.

 As noted, he guessed that the 'scouring of the country by the settlers and soldiers' during the 'Bathurst war' of 1824 explained the near absence of blackfellows from the Liverpool Plains and around Mudgee. It is possible however that they had withdrawn from the valley of Coxs Creek and the plains between Coxs Creek and the Mooki River on account of the flood; presumably most could have remained in the hills pending the dissipation of the residual floodwaters, which Cunningham found were still up to 30 centimetres [one foot] deep beyond Mullaley.  

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BOX II.

'A Few Wandering Families'

As we noted earlier, Oxley’s exploring party emerged from rough country on 26 August onto the flat country towards Coxs Creek, where they found the grass recovering, 'having been burnt early in the year'. 'Three native fires were seen in Lushington's valley [Garrawilla Creek] but the whole of this part of the country appears to be thinly populated; a few wandering families making up the total of its population.' No Aborigines were seen hunting the game which abounded between Coxs Creek and modern Curlewis. Nor did Oxley remark seeing any further smoke until he crossed the Mooki River. On 31 August 1818 smoke was seen a long way off, evidently from Aboriginal campfires along the Peel.

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Henry Dangar too revisited the Upper Hunter Valley during 1825. It was he who discovered the easy pass at Murrurundi later rediscovered and pioneered (1827) by William Nowland. Hence ‘Nowland’s Gap’. Proceeding via Kingdon Ponds, Dangar and his party went through the Murrurundi pass (Doughboy Hollow) to Kankool and then east along the northern side of the Range to Hanging Rock, and thence direct to the coast. They arrived barely alive.
    After Blaxland, the next to take up land grants on the middle Hunter above Jerrys Plains were Captain John Pike and James Grieg, in mid 1825. They were for some time the only resident white proprietors. Pike formed 'Pickering', upstream on the Hunter from modern Denman, in about June 1825; Grieg set up his farm at about the same time, just below the Hunter-Goulburn junction, on a stream called Grieg's Creek, now Martindale Creek, at the northern edge of our Wollemi National Park. The latter's young cousin and a convict workman would become, later that year, the first victims of the Kamilaroi. 

Occupation of the Upper Hunter

The next move by the colonists was from 'Ravensworth' north-west to the main stretch of Upper Hunter River itself, where the Forbes brothers took up their grant 'Edinglassie' [Muswellbrook] and Francis Little his grant 'Invermein' [Scone]. William Dangar's 'Turanville', on Kingdon Ponds on the western side of the upper Hunter, and 'Segenhoe', also occupied during 1825, brought the number of British outposts to four by the end of the year.
     'Edinglassie' [modern-day South Muswellbrook] was pegged out in April 1825. George Forbes moved in, with his men and his brother's sheep and cattle, in about June 1825, while Ogilvie and Peter Cunningham were still touring the lower river-lands on foot. Allan Wood suggests Francis Little and his partner Francis Gibbes may have arranged for their convict workers to occupy 'Invermein' shortly before the boundaries of their grants were measured, that is, in about June 1825. The first written evidence of the occupation of the Scone area, as Nancy Gray has pointed out, is a letter written by Little on 29 June from 'Holdsworthy Downs' (as the British first called the district). A third squatter Carlyle sent his men to join Little's at 'Invermein' a little later, in about November.
    The colonial government made many more grants during 1825, to Cyrus Doyle, Dixon, and others in whom we have no interest. The next important event for our purposes is the occupation of 'Segenhoe' near modern Aberdeen in September 1825, immediately before the first fatal Aboriginal raid. Many readers will know the district as the site of Glenbawn Dam and, from the mid 1800s, the estate of Patrick White's forebears.
     Governor Brisbane directed his Colonial Secretary not to permit any individual to purchase more than 4,000 acres, and a family was limited to 5,000 acres. Peter McIntyre, however, chose 'Segenhoe' following exceptional orders from London that 20,000 acres should be promised to a Scottish member of Parliament, Thomas Potter Macqueen. The size of the grant shows the weight of Macqueen's influence in London. In metric measurement, 20,000 acres is 8,100 hectares (31 square miles, or nine by nine kilometres), a small run by the later standards of the semi-arid interior but a huge estate in 1825. As we will see, McIntyre's Scots shepherds and English convicts found trouble with the Kamilaroi almost as soon as they arrived.

hunter river segehoe darkbrook

Above: The Hunter River runs down through ‘Segenhoe’ to join Dart Brook.

Macqueen sent a ship to Sydney in charge of his agent Peter McIntyre and various assistants, including McIntyre's brother John and the overseers Alexander Campbell and Donald McLaughlin. With them came about 20 Scottish families of shepherds and artisans contracted to work for Macqueen for seven years. They were lodged in
Sydney. McIntyre proceeded to the Hunter Valley, where, assisted by Henry Dangar, he scouted for good land from May through August 1825.  He chose initially 10,000 acres on Pages River, and led six assigned convicts with six months' supplies to occupy the site in September 1825. The Scots families, or a portion of them, and all of Macqueen's livestock had arrived at 'Segenhoe' by April 1826. There were still only seven or eight establishments on the far upper river: those of Gibbes, Carlyle, Little, Macqueen, Dangar and 'several young Scotchmen' including the McIntyre brothers.

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SOURCES:

76. 15 May.

77. 17 May. Also very short summary in Ida Lee’s book.

78. 18 May.

79. Cunningham, Letters to Col Sec 8-28 May 1825 (AO Reel 6035, SZ17, 84-85), and quoted in Lansdowne Press 1971, ii: 523.

80. Oxley 1820: 277, 280.

81. Milliss 1992: 74; also Atchison 1973: 47-48; Carter 1974; and Rolls 1981. Not knowing of the Murrurundi Pass, Cunningham in 1827 had to cross the Liverpool Range by climbing it: past a shoulder of Towarri Mountain going out, and past Mt Parry coming back (see in McMinn 1970).

82. ‘Martindale’ and ‘Dalswinton’ [named for Peter Cunningham’s birthplace in Scotland] are on opposite sides of the Hunter at its junction with the Goulburn south of Denman: Martindale is on the southern bank; Dalswinton on the northern bank nearer Denman.

83. Peter Cunningham 1827, i: 155 (1966: 81); Wood 1972: 67-68.  According to Wood, Greig took some stock to the (lower) Hunter in January 1825, proceeding upstream 'subsequently'; William Ogilvie and his family arrived to become his neighbours in February 1826. The other grantees allocated land at the same time as Pike and Grieg - Bell, Anderson, Allman, Peter Cunningham and Ogilvie - did not take up their grants until rather in 1826. 

84. Wood 1972: 72, 73, 99; Gray 1975: 15 and 41. The Surveyor-General himself, John Oxley, went to the upper river in April 1825 to measure the 2,000 acres (8,100 ha) of 'Edinglassie' .  The estate was located on what is now the southern side of Muswellbrook township.  George Forbes managed 'Edinglassie' while his brother Chief Justice Francis Forbes' gave his time to his official duties.

85. The White family are descended from James White, flock master for the Australian Agricultural Company, who arrived in NSW in 1826.  His sons purchased 'Beltrees' from W C Wentworth in 1853.

86. Peter Cunningham 1827 (1966: 82); Wood 1972: 87 ff; Gray 1975: 29; Walker in ADB. Peter McIntyre held authority to occupy 32,000 acres in all, including grants for Macqueen, himself and his brother John. Not all of the 20 families ended up at 'Segenhoe', some staying in Sydney or Newcastle. Cunningham's 'young Scotchmen', the McIntyres, Campbell and McLaughlin, would become the leaders in the push into the interior, particularly New England in the 1830s.

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