by Ida Lee
F.R.G.S and Hon. F.R.A.H.S

From the Log-Books and Journals
with maps and illustrations

First Published 1925 by
Methuen & Co Ltd
36 Essex Street WC London
Transcribed to eText by
Permission to use eText given by
Col Choat of Project Gutenburg Australia 2003
Converted to Web Enhanced eText by
J&DChallenor of The Allan Cunningham Project 2009



(From Cunningham’s Report to General Darling)

Discovery of the Gwyder, Mcintyre,
Dumaresq and Condamine River
and the Darling Downs. 
Cunningham’s Gap Sighted 


Cunningham was occupied with botanical researches in New Zealand for the greater part of 1826. He returned to New South Wales on January 20, 1827, bringing with him a valuable collection of New Zealand flora.


On landing in Sydney he learned that it was General Darling’s[*] intention to send an expedition northward to explore what is now Queensland, since he wished to find out whether the inland country, as yet undiscovered, would prove suitable for settlers.

[* General Darling had now replaced Sir Thomas Brisbane.]

The new undertaking evidently attracted Cunningham, for he offered his services to the Governor, stating that he would be pleased to act as leader of the expedition. As he had shown that he was very capable and had drawn up his previous reports accurately and scientifically, his offer was accepted, and once more he made preparations for a long journey.

It was a journey that became the crowning point of Cunningham’s labours. To the exploration of inland territory which he had already made north of Bathurst in 1822, north of the Cudgegong in 1823, and northerly again from Pandora’s Pass in 1825, he now added a larger tract still farther northward, where, in his passage through it, he found the Gwydir, Macintyre, Dumaresq, and Condamine Rivers, and, besides fertile valleys and rugged mountain ranges, those rich pastures of which Queensland is so proud to-day–the Darling Downs.

Before he turned again southward he had sighted the opening in the Great Dividing Range, called after him Cunningham’s Gap, which led to the sea and provided a way of communication from the interior to the coast districts of Moreton Bay. In[p545] making these great discoveries Allan Cunningham reached the zenith of his career as an explorer.

Before he left Sydney he planned the details of this difficult journey and submitted a sketch of his intended route to His Excellency. In sending this to Governor Darling, Cunningham informed him that he proposed to begin his journey from 31° S., where Oxley had terminated his survey in 1818; thence to proceed to Peel’s River (also discovered by Oxley) at the northeast of Liverpool Plains, and afterwards to travel to Moreton Bay on a line west of the meridian of 151°, and, upon reaching the northern point, to turn westward inland in order to ascertain the extent of the marshes which he then believed swallowed up all the western rivers. He added that should his supply of provisions not allow him to go westward he would explore the high levels eastward of 151°, and, proceeding southward to the parallel Of 31°, make his way home through them.

“These plans were approved, and an equipment of six men and eleven horses was prepared for Cunningham, who took with him a sextant, a Schmalkalder’s pocket compass, a pocket chronometer, an odometer or perambulator, and a barometer which had been compared with Dr. Mitchell’s before he left Sydney.”

These plans were approved, and an equipment of six men and eleven horses was prepared for Cunningham, who took with him a sextant, a Schmalkalder’s pocket compass, a pocket chronometer, an odometer or perambulator, and a barometer which had been compared with Dr. Mitchell’s before he left Sydney. The horses and men were sent overland to Hunter’s River, but Cunningham himself proceeded with the baggage and provisions to Newcastle by sea, whence they were conveyed to Segenhoe,[*] the residence of Mr. Potter Macqueen, eleven miles south of Scone by boat and drays. Owing to the swollen state of the Hawkesbury, Cunningham did not meet his party at Mr. Glennie’s Farm until April 22nd; on leaving there with his men he travelled to Segenhoe, where he arrived on the 26th. He had determined to cross the mountains at the head of Dartbrook Creek[**] where they had already been crossed by Mr. Macintyre, who kindly offered to accompany the explorers to the summit of the Liverpool (or Dividing) Range.

[* Cunningham writes: “As the various operations of my expedition commenced from this farm it was of the utmost value to me that its position on the chart should be ascertained with tolerable precision.” He gives the situation of his encampment as being in 32°6’37” S. and 150°’57’15” E. Var. of needle 7°24′ E. and elevation above the sea 598 feet.]

[** According to Mr. Dangar’s map there were then two passes used to cross the Liverpool Range, one at the head of Dartbrook, the other at the head of Page’s River–the latter being the easier. Dartbrook was so named because in 1824, when two officials from the Surveyor-General’s Department were surveying it, they were attacked by blacks who wounded one of the white men with a spear or dart.]

Cunningham's Tracks 1827 by Fay Cains and John Whitehead
Cunningham’s 1827
Journey is described
in detail in
John Whiteheads book:
 Cunningham’s Tracks 1827


On April 30, 1827, Cunningham took his departure from Segenhoe, and, after journeying to Kingdon Ponds, passed over Tullong (or Holdsworthy) Downs. On reaching Dartbrook Creek, he continued his way northwards along its right bank for three and a half miles, halting for the day at a patch of apple-tree flat eighty feet above Segenhoe. Next morning, keeping in the same direction up the right bank of Dartbrook, he descended a grassy valley, and, having accomplished thirteen miles, encamped near its head. This valley was bounded on the north and north-east by a range connected with the Liverpool Range.

1827 May 2nd. Here on May 2nd, Mr. Macintyre and a friend who were to act as guides joined the explorers, and the ascent of the range was begun. Quitting the brook after three miles, Mr. Macintyre led the way in a north-westerly direction to the Range. As they advanced the party rested their horses upon tolerably level spots of grass on the steep hillside. Gradually continuing the ascent they gained a narrow spine of the ridge (bounded on each side by ravines), which became so steep that the loads had to be taken off the pack-horses and carried over on men’s shoulders. On this night (May 2nd) they encamped 2,800 feet[*] above the sea and obtained water in one of the ravines.

[* Cunningham writes to Telfair that he crossed at 2,900 feet above the sea . . . to the east of my ‘Oxley’s Peak.'”]

Next morning Cunningham saw that they had climbed almost to the summit.[*] While he was still engaged in making observations at the camp Mr. Macintyre and his companion directed some of his men with their horses safely over the mountains, leaving them in a valley on the north side of the Liverpool Range, where there were both grass and water, and from which they easily could descend the slopes to the plains. Here the men pitched the tent and awaited the rest of the party.

[* Of the Liverpool or Great Dividing Range.]

On returning to the camp, Mr. Macintyre and his friend said good-bye to Cunningham after having rendered him very helpful service, and on the following morning he struck his tent and with his remaining pack-horses advanced north-westward to the highest point of the range, 3,080 feet above the sea.

Owing to the height of the trees and the density of bush only a restricted view was obtained, but to the north-west the Liverpool Plains could be seen stretching to the horizon. From where they looked down at them the men thought that these rolling grass plains resembled the ocean, and that the detached[p547] mounds and isolated ridges with which they were studded were like groups of islands.

The mountain top was strewn with fragments of rock and fallen timber, which made the descent a difficult one for two miles; then a lateral ridge dipping towards the north enabled Cunningham to reach the head of a gully on the north side of the range which led to the narrow valley watered by a small creek where the tent had been pitched and some of his men and horses were resting. This encampment (at the northern base of the Dividing Range) was found to be in lat. 31°50′ S., and long., deduced from the meridian of Segenhoe, 150°35′ E. “It was,” he writes, “by barometrical computation 1,859 feet above the sea, 1,222 feet lower than the summit of the range, but 670 feet above the spot where I had encamped on Dartbrook at the southern foot of the mountains.”

Starting forward again on May 5th, on a course to the north-north-east Cunningham and his companions proceeded up the valley along the banks of the creek which flowed through it and originated at its head. At the end of five miles, the creek turned to the north-west, where they left it and continued on a course east of north with a view to pursuing a direct route to the point at which Oxley had reached Peel’s River in 1818. For seven miles they travelled through open bush composed of box and iron-bark, crossing shallow water-courses (the channels of some entirely dry) which wound through “poor and hungry” land. “In the midst of those desert woods that skirt Liverpool Plains on the south-eastern side, a meridional altitude of the sun gave for the lat. 31°43’36” S.,” and by the barometer Cunningham determined the elevation of this dreary spot to be 1,227 feet, showing that he had descended to a level of 350 feet since leaving his encampment that morning. Having accomplished thirteen miles, he arrived at the margin of a section of the plains where he discovered a rivulet,[*] serpentine in form, whose course was marked by the swamp-oaks upon its banks, as it flowed through the centre of an open flat to the northward. Stretching north-eastward over the flat, on which plants were growing like those he had seen in 1825 on the plains farther to the westward, Cunningham in a mile and a half reached the rivulet; its channel did not exceed a breadth of thirty feet, though perhaps it would have been difficult to cross in an ordinary season, its banks of[p548] black earth being exceedingly steep. The exploring party found, however, that, owing to the drought, its stream was now a chain of pools, and they crossed it easily. Masses of reeds six feet high, and plants which usually grow on land permanently wet proved abundantly the state of inundation to which this river was subject in wet seasons. Two miles farther, where rising grounds bounded this flat on the north-east, the men having travelled fourteen miles, halted for the day at the side of a pool of water on the edge of the plains.

[* The explorers crossed Warrah and Quirindi Creeks. It is difficult to identify positively the landmarks supplied by the journals.]


In writing up the report of his journey for Governor Darling on this day, Cunningham says: “As we came through the woods we observed marks of the natives on the trees, also a few bark huts which had been recently occupied. No smoke or fire was seen, however, or any indication of the presence of aborigines; and, though occasionally visited, this country did not appear numerously inhabited. The huts, too, were evidently of long standing.” He continues: “On May 6th, being Sunday, we rested within our tents (lat. 31°38′ S., mean elevation 1,128 feet, long. 150°38′ E.).[*] The rocks of a low ridge near our encampment were of sandstone, and some of it had evidently been used by natives (who had left remains of their fires near by) to sharpen their hatchets.” By the marks seen on the timber, these would appear to have been made of iron. Doubtless they had become possessed of them in their communications with the natives of the Hunter River and regions to the southward and eastward of the Dividing Range. “The possession of an axe of iron by a savage may thus be considered as his first step towards civilization,” says Cunningham, who resumes:

[* Cunningham’s route northward across the Liverpool Plains led him eastward of Warrah Peak and westward of Quirindi according to his own calculations.]

“May 7th to 12th. At an early hour we began the labours of the week, prosecuting a course to the northward through broken, irregular country lying on the eastern side of Liverpool Plains, of which the following is a delineation. A series of lone, barren forest ridges clothed with a brush of plants uninteresting even to the botanist and wooded with the usual box, diminutive iron-bark, occasionally Callitris or cypress, along a space of 6 miles from our encampment: a patch of plain about 3½ miles in breadth which appears to be watered on the north side by a small brook declining to the N.W. that in the rainy season overflows its bank, and places an interesting patch of grassy meadowland under water.

[p549] “Throughout the succeeding twelve miles from our last encampment, stony hills and narrow valleys, diversified by plains, constitute a tolerable stretch of sheep and cattle pasture, watered by a rivulet rising in the range (forming their eastern boundary) which extend in a northerly direction. Onward, after crossing this creek, the bank of which we quitted on the 9th, we proceeded over patches of plain, badly parched and without water. On these plains our dogs disturbed several of the native species[*] that were lying at ambush in the grass, and, after giving chase, allowed the native kind to retire to the woods . . . having sustained no injury beyond that of a dreadful fright. These native dogs were . . . exceedingly fat, from which circumstance, coupled with the position in which they were found, we inferred that many bustards were hovering about these open flats.

[* Dingoes.]

“Passing beyond these plains, we descended to a narrow valley and in 2¼ miles came to a water-course which in rainy periods has evidently a small current running to N.N.W.–at this time being merely a small chain of stagnant pools. It was noon at the time we were passing these holes; a meridian observation then obtained gave their lat. 31°12’47” S. . . . Forest ridge and valley succeed for about four miles, when we descended a stony hill to a reedy creek flowing eastward from the ranges, which now assume a wild, precipitous character.

“On the morning of the 10th, in our journey northward, we forded the reedy creek[*] which, bending its course to the base of the open forest, escapes north-westerly, and, being united to the other two streams we have already passed, eventually becomes Field’s River of Mr. Oxley, by which channel the entire eastern sides of Liverpool Plains are drained. Pursuing our course still to the north-west through a narrow, confined, brushy valley, deeply grooved by the washings from the eastern mountains, we were enabled by great exertion to accomplish seven miles; but so harassed were my burdened horses that I deemed it prudent to quit the base of these rocky ranges and, directing our course at N.N.W., we found forest ground . . . more favourable for our advance.

[* Probably Werries Creek.]

“At our ninth mile we intersected a small, rocky creek,[*] running westward. Its channel contained excellent water and its shaded banks an abundance of grass. I was induced to halt, especially as the shoes of some of the horses had become loosened[p550] by the rugged nature of the ground. I at length arrived at Mr. Oxley’s intersection of Peel’s River in 1818, from which point I proposed to proceed on my journey to the northward. But, observing that the rocky, bold aspect of the country would not permit my heavily-laden horses to travel eastward to that stream, I determined, whilst their shoes were being attended to, to ascend a ridge[**] two miles to the N.W., to make observations.

[* Probably Currabubula Creek.]

[** Of the Melville Range.]

“From this eminence, the country to the N.E. and E. appeared lofty, broken and sub-mountainous, the ranges thickly wooded and seemingly grassy, yet the abrupt character of their western acclivities obliged me to abandon the design of proceeding northward from Peel’s River. . . . Upon extending the view further to the N. and E. I could perceive ranges of lofty hills lying N. and S. to mark distinctly the direction of a valley through which I had no doubt Peel’s River flowed to the northward, as Mr. Oxley had observed it. Directing the line of vision to N.W. and N.NW., the eye traversed a vast extent of level, wooded country, through which run the York and Field Rivers which drain the Liverpool Plains and flow to the N.W.

“I took a set of bearings to points of Mr. Oxley’s survey in 1818 to W. and W.S.W. which I had identified in my tour along the west side of the Liverpool Plains in 1825, and perceived that, in order to journey northward with case and safety, it would be necessary to proceed first to westward round the bases of the hills. I then returned to my encampment. From the summit of the forest ridge that I had climbed (which, it seemed, is the group called by Mr. Oxley, Melville Hills) I could not perceive the least trace of human beings in a range of the compass from N.E. by way of N. and W.; but at W.S.W. and S.W., in the neighbourhood of Vansittart’s Hills, large smokes rose from the forests; doubtless . . . fired by the few aborigines who wander in these regions. I have therefore determined to journey to the north in or near the meridian of my present position, being satisfied that (since Peel’s River falls into the marshy interior) my course will cross it, and that the ranges of hills to the eastward will either terminate or break to admit of its escape to the lower N.W. country.

“On the morning of the 11th May,” he continues, “we quitted our resting place and pursued a course S. of W. for 3 miles, at length passing round the termination of the hills through dry, brushy forest to shape a more direct line to the[p551] N.W. The wooded country was level, scarcely over 1,000 ft. above the sea-level, and at length we crossed the track of Mr. Oxley in 1818,[*] the observation at noon, taken in the midst of dense, drooping Acacia pendula, giving us lat. 31°00’34” S., which placed our position about a mile north of that gentleman’s line of route to the eastward after he had forded Field’s River.

[* In Oxley’s journey eastward to Port Macquarie. Describing this part of his journey, Cunningham writes to Telfair: “I continued my course north and in a day’s march passed the limit of known country as shown in the chart of our Colony which does not extend beyond 31° S.”]


[* This was the Namoi River, a short distance westward from its junction with the Maluerindie.

“After penetrating brushes of the grey-hued Acacia pendula, we stretched to the N.W. about four miles over declining country, forest and open plain, with vegetation destroyed by drought . . . abundantly indicated by the rents in the ground, the effect of the sun, as well as by the total absence of water. Amid these we were not a little surprised to see a striking change in the condition of the grasses, and other vegetation. We had evidently fallen on a lower level than that on which our tents had stood. On entering the wooded land bordering the plain (timbered with large apple-trees) we saw that the forest had been flooded to a depth of five feet and noticed successive marks of floods on the tree-trunks. Throughout the entire plains the country southward had been subjected to the same inundation. The inclination of the heads of certain plants to the W.S.W. marked the direction the current had taken upon retiring. Have completed twelve miles and, being assured . . . that we were in the neighbourhood of a larger river, we continued W.N.W. towards a range whose S.E. points overlooked the plain we had traversed. In about a mile we arrived on the left bank of a river winding round the southern base of the hills on its course westward. The breadth of its channel exceeded 150 yards, of which 60 or 70 yards was water forming a succession of deep pools or rapids. The brook whereon I had encamped last was on a height of 30 feet above the level; and an idea of the vast bodies of water may be gathered, when flood-marks were observed four feet above the level on which the tents were pitched. The new stream took its origin in the hilly ground N.E., which formed a[p552] sort of secondary dividing range separating the country through which we were now penetrating from that watered by Peel’s River. This river, bending round the lofty ridge, winds its way westward and, without doubt, joins Field’s River on its progress to the N.W.[*] To this stream, which had not been seen previously by Europeans I gave the name of Mitchell’s River, as a compliment to the medical gentleman to whom I was so much indebted for the valuable detail of barometrical observations he had taken for me in Sydney during my absence on this journey in the interior.”

[* Major Mitchell writes: “The course of the Maluerindie [also known as Namoi as far up as the falls at Glen Barry] from the junction of the Peel to that of the Conadilly (or Field’s River) is somewhat southward of west: below the junction of the Commonly, where the well-known name is Namoi, it pursues a N.W. course.”]

Fresh marks of native hatchets on the trees, equally recent fire-places, and a well-beaten path along the bank of the river “afforded proofs that there was a blackfellows’ encampment on this stream. An hour had not elapsed before the voices of natives were heard, though none were seen, nor even the glimmer of their fires through the bush at night.” . . . Doubtless unseen they were tracking the white men. In a deep, weedy pond of the river beneath the tents Cunningham’s men caught several fine fish–“the cod of all our western rivers”–many of which seized the bait so eagerly that several hooks and portions of line were carried away and lost. The end of an eclipse of the moon observed on the 11th gave the long. of Mitchell’s River here as 150°27’15” E. The lat., by an observed meridional altitude of the sun on the 12th, was 30°57’12” S., mean elevation 84° above the sea-level.

Continuing forward northwards on the 12th, at two miles the exploring party crossed the river (running from north-east) and, fording it at a pebbly fall,[*] pursued their way through a forest of large blue gum, and after travelling a mile reached an open plain[**] stretching to the north-west. Cunningham here changed his course to north-north-east, but was unsuccessful in his search for water and was obliged to return to the river, which he reached at sunset, and found that the banks furnished an abundance of sweet grass. He rested here on the 13th and next day advanced northward, again through an and country broken by watercourses long since dry, which rendered travelling fatiguing both for man and beast. The only timber was an iron-bark, stunted[p553] in growth, and cypress. On completing the thirteenth mile he turned eastward and then halted for the day. Pushing north-north-west again on the 15th, at the eighth mile he arrived at the base of a ridge, over the southern part of which the horses climbed with great difficulty. Here he discovered a stream flowing rapidly to the eastward which he crossed and encamped on its north bank. “It runs,” he says, “to eastward and is doubtless a tributary to the Peel. Before this . . . stream was seen the journey through the country was depressing: scarcely a bird was seen or heard; no game, native dog, nor the evidence (even of the most ancient date) of a passing human being, until we arrived at this rivulet, when our dogs gave chase to a solitary kangaroo.”

[* At the Wallamburra Ford.]

[** Mulluba Plain.]

The signs of severe drought increased the farther the travellers journeyed northward. On the 17th they were glad to find and cross a small river running to the eastward, which Cunningham named Buddle’s River.[*] Now for the first time he was afforded an opportunity of meeting with the natives. Being a little in front of his companions, he had reached the right bank of the stream when he noticed smoke rising from the bush on the opposite side. Four natives and a child, who already had caught sight of him, were standing gazing at him wildly, evidently in a state of consternation and alarmed to a degree. Cunningham says: “I called to the man who stood in front of the fire (and who had short spears or other missile weapons in his hands), and beckoned to him by every sign that would be considered, even by a savage, a pacific, friendly intention; but ‘twos all in vain. To every sign . . . he simply made a brief reply, at a distance, however, too great to enable me to judge how far the dialect of the natives of this part might differ from the language of the aborigines of the settled parts of the colony; and then, on seeing eleven horses descend in a line to the river’s brink, he took to his heels, and, with the others (among whom were women), ran off to distant parts . . . up the river, and disappeared. It was noon when we crossed Buddle’s River; I therefore determined its lat. as 30°22’10” S., and long. 150°32’45” E.”

[* Buddle or Manilla River.]


Resuming their journey on the 19th the explorers left a rocky creek on which they had encamped, and at eight miles[p554] reached the base of sterile hills deeply grooved by sharp, narrow gullies declining northwards. A sudden break in these hills to the north-west afforded a view of level, wooded country, approached by a narrow vale and bounded by steep ridges. They descended the hills to an apple-tree flat, and “continued the journey northerly through the vale, which expands; a small, limpid stream, running through the centre of the vale, murmurs over the stony bed of its channel, its banks being shaded with swamp-oaks more or less dense.”[*] Here Cunningham and his men rested at a spot where the grass was fresh and luxuriant. Suddenly he was surprised to see in these unexplored unknown parts traces, two or three days old, of homed cattle, and the trodden grass showed where eight to a dozen animals had rested. He supposed they must have strayed from some large herd, since stragglers were known to be running perfectly wild on the plains at the base of Arbuthnot’s Range, distant about 170 miles to the south-west. The discovery, however, on the homeward journey of “a shed that had been erected by white men” on a spot three miles to the north-east of this vale led Cunningham to conclude “that Europeans had been wandering through that part of the interior.” He continues: “Upon the range on the eastern side of the vale I discovered several undescribed plants and a species of flint rock of curious laminated figure was observed to repose on large bodies of serpentine at the base of the range. During our stay here in this vale, which, I have much pleasure in naming Stoddart’s Valley,[*] after an officer of the Royal Staff Corps, I was enabled to determine the position of my encampment as lat. 29°58’52” S., and long. 150°33’30” E.”

[* Bingara Creek.]

Advancing northward on the 21st, the party traced the creek, on whose banks they had rested, through the valley to north-west, and admired the beauty of its scenery as they proceeded. At seven miles the creek formed a junction with a large river (Cunningham writes: “seemingly the Peel,” but he subsequently named it the Gwydir) which, having flowed southward through eastern hills passes the north extreme of Stoddart’s Valley and escapes towards the lower north-western interior. The channel of this river at the part Cunningham forded it exhibited a gravelly bed 250 yards in breadth, filled in rainy seasons to a depth of twelve to fifteen feet, as shown by the flood marks on its banks. Some time was spent in getting across, and at evening the tents were pitched on its right bank. In descending Stoddart’s Valley[*][p555] to the river, several trees were seen to have been completely barked recently by natives, the prints of whose feet, including those of children, were observed in the sand at the ford, while large bodies of smoke rose from grass which had been fired on the river bank opposite the encampment.

[* Bingara is its Present name.]

22nd & 23rd May. Quitting the right or North-eastern bank of Peel’s River [i.e. the Gwydir] which had taken a bend to the westward, we pursued our route to the N.N.W. immediately, at the base of a continuation of the Eastern Range of the Hills which again assumed a bold and rocky character.[*] We travelled through an uniformly barren tract of wooded country, frequently broken and ridgy, and as the declivity of the several gullies, dipped considerably towards the channel of the Peel, which extended along the eastern base of a densely wooded range, bearing west of us, we found the whole of the day’s stage exceedingly badly watered.”

[* Passing close to the site of Warialda.]

Fourteen miles north of their ford on the Gwydir the travellers came to a better country, more lightly timbered, with a darker soil and covered with good grass. The high range westward of their route soon terminated and “heavily timbered land lying beyond it could be seen which evidently had a declension to the N.W.”

A rocky ridge of hills at the same bearing also fell to the ordinary level. Cunningham continues:

“To the North-East the country rises to a considerable elevation, and a very lofty ridge crowned with cypress lying nearly east and west, and from the back of which rose a very sharp cone[*] I received the name of Masterton’s Range. The rocks of the adjacent hills of which large masses had rolled down, and studded the lower grounds over which we travelled, were of sandstone, reposing upon a large body of pudding-stone which included large pebbles of quartz and jasper.

[* The cone was named Brace Peak by Cunningham who passed on the west side of the ridge.]

“About noon on the 23rd we reached the wide but shallow reedy channel of a river[*] forming simply at this season a long chain of ponds; and having observed the altitude of the sun at the meridian on its margin, which gave me for lat. 30°34’44” S. we traced it about 4 miles to the N.N.E. and then halted on its banks. Some strips of good pasturage appeared on the edge of[p556] these ponds, especially where the apple-tree (Angophora cordifolia) was a prevalent timber. The marks of the native’s hatchet were observable on the trees, but the few savages, that prowl through these lonely regions in quest of food, appear evidently to avoid us–the train of laden horses, the number of my men and dogs, doubtless alarming those who may have seen us from the hills so much as to urge their flight, rather than induce them to seek a communication with us.

[* It may be pointed out that on the plan of Cunningham’s route (Lands Department, Sydney, I, 537) a river called the Severn is indicated to the south of the Dumaresq or Severn, and this river appears to be the Severn referred to.]

May 24th. Upon crossing the reedy channel of the chain of ponds on which we had encamped we passed over a stony cypress ridge, and among a mass of vegetation characterizing the flora of the Bathurst country, I detected a few plants, which I had not previously met with, of genera, however, fully established. . . . At our 4th mile we rose by a very gradual ascent to the pitch of a forest ridge, where we observed a change had taken place in the rock formation, which was abundantly shown by the dark colour, and superior quality of the soil. The rock appeared to be related to trap and was exceedingly porous, containing quartzose nodules. Upon reaching the extreme part of the ridge we observed before us, a very moderate country extremely open, with patches of plain, clear of timber. A series of forest hills and intervening valleys, furnishing abundance of grass, but perfectly destitute of water, succeeded in our course to the north throughout the succeeding seven miles. At length we arrived at a patch of forest ground, that had been recently fired, and as I felt satisfied the water could not be far distant, where natives had been within 2 or 3 days, I directed a search to be made for it, along the dry sandy channel of a creek,[*] in the direction of its fall to the northward. In about a mile to our great joy, a large clay hole was found, containing an ample sufficiency of the precious element to meet all our demands, and although it had been long in a stagnant state, it was of good quality. . . .

[* Ottley’s or Cunningham’s Creek.]

“On the morning of the 25th, as I had been led to conclude, we found the country, for we had not advanced a mile before a patch of plain opened to us, bounded by low thinly wooded forest hills, and altogether a pretty picturesque country. Over the plain we travelled at N. by east to the opposite piece of forest ground, and passing which, we reached a second plain, stretching as did the former, east and west several miles, and their breadth being about a mile and a quarter.

[p557] “It was distressing, however, to observe so much fine black soil–sound, dry and crumbling beneath the foot–as these plains possess, clothed moreover with an exuberant growth of grasses and herbage, languishing for rain, and without channels of sufficient depth and capacity, throughout that ample surface, to retain water permanently throughout the year. A pleasing succession of open forest hills and waterless downs, characterize the face of the country to the close of a 12 mile journey, which terminated at a stony gully, where, after a little search, we were fortunate to discover fine water retained in narrow rocky cavities,

“Upon reaching the brow of the forest ridge immediately over our encampment the hills to the westward were observed to terminate and a level open country (bounded to the N.N.W. and north only by the distant horizon) broke upon our view, of which, although generally densely wooded, the vast surface was here and there diversified by patches of open plain. I could perceive from the spot on which I made these observations, the level country, as far as N.N.E. beyond which, or more easterly . . . my further observation was prevented. The mean elevation of our tents above the ocean was 1228 feet, which placed us upwards Of 300 feet above the ford of Peel’s River [i.e. the Gwydirl.]

26th. Throughout the whole of the last night the temperature of the atmosphere was perceived by each person of the expedition to be sensibly milder than had been experienced since its progress from Hunter’s River, during which period slight frosts have generally prevailed, and as some patches of clouds rose from the distant western horizon, I could not but view these meteorological variations as ominous, and as there was a new moon at 4 o’clock this morning, I considered the whole as the presage . . . of wet weather, which it was natural enough to conclude would ere long set in, in these vast regions, not simply to moisten the soil, and revive vegetation, but to fill the channels of its rivers of which the largest are, at this extremity of drought exceedingly reduced.

“Pursuing our journey to the N.N.E. through an extent (exceeding 5 miles) of forest ground, in part rather closely timbered and interspersed with thickets of plants, frequent on the skirts of Liverpool Plains, and again lightly wooded with a blighted Ironbark we at length intersected the sandy channel of a river which in other seasons than the present is highly important to the adjacent good grazing land, and which, at periods of great rains, forms an impetuous stream ten feet deep, and fifty[p558] yards wide.[*] The distress of the year, of which I have spoken so much, and with which the vegetation of these northern regions has so long and so strenuously struggled for an existence, appears some time since to have deprived this ample channel of its water, and as its sandy bed was in part occupied by a brush of woody plants, that usually usually affect and desert situation, this circumstance alone appeared sufficient to demonstrate to us that it had been without water many months.

[* This sandy channel, fifty yards wide, would appear to have been the Macintyre River, which Cunningham must have passed over, and as the season was a very dry one, it is not extraordinary that he found only a sandy channel there.]

“We ere surprised to observe how wonderfully the native grasses had resisted the dry weather on the upper banks of this dried watercourse. They appeared fresh and nutritive, affording abundance of provision to the many kangaroos that were bounding around us. On crossing this sandy channel we continued our original course N.N.E. over a plain two miles in width, the soil of which we found excellent, of a black colour, but very dry, the surface being in many places cracked into deep chasms by the action of the solar rays.

“Apprehensive of difficulty in finding water, I was induced on passing over the brow of a ridge of forest-land (and observing a hilly country to the eastward) to alter my line of procedure to E.N.E., in the hope that by advancing two or three miles towards more elevated grounds, we should succeed in discovering a sufficiency of that element so rare in these solitudes for ourselves and horses. Penetrating about 2 miles through an and desert forest, of a deep sandy soil, and timbered with stately Callitris or cypress, we reached the rocky margin of a creek by which the waters that occasionally fall from the hills to the eastward are conveyed to a lower level in the immediate neighbourhood. Upon tracing this creek a short distance, abundance of good water was found in its rockv bed, and, as its bank furnished grass of a tolerable quality, we halted.

May 27th. Being Sunday, I rested my People and horses,[*] a very lowering morning, the clouds however clearing off early in the forenoon allowed me to take the necessary observations to determine my position. Lat. 29°00’02” S. Long. 150°40’15” E. variation by azimuth 7°53’E. The mean of several observations of the height of the mercurial column taken morning[p559] and evening giving me only an elevation of 842 feet above the sea.

[* It will be seen that on this day Cunningham did not advance, otherwise he would have reached the Dumaresq sooner than he did.]

“We have at length arrived at the parallel of 29° and having consumed more than the half of the original stock of provisions, with which I had quitted the colony, it became absolutely necessary, that I should at once determine not only the extent to which I could possibly penetrate, further to the northward, with the limited means I have at command after laying aside six weeks full rations for consumption during the journey homeward, but also the precise direction of our route onward under all the circumstances of the reduced condition of my horses, the and state of the country and the aspect of the weather–circumstances that I must of necessity be governed by, in all my future movements.

“Upon inspecting my horses I found that notwithstanding the extreme care of my people the backs of several had become much galled by the saddles, and all were much reduced and debilitated by the labours of the journey, and more especially by the parched up state of the pasture, and the general poverty of the country, through which we have travelled. To these points for consideration I subjoined the circumstance of the low level to which we had come, the barren ground it presented, and the probability of descending to an arid region of flat scrubby country totally destitute of esculent vegetation for the support of my horses.

“Impressed with these several circumstances of our present situation I felt bound to determine on a deviation from that line of northern course the plan of my tour had conditionally prescribed. I therefore resolved to pursue my journey more to the eastward not only in order to secure to my horses a more certain and nutritive provision than that harsh vegetation on which they have of late subsisted, which it was reasonable to suppose the higher lands in that direction would furnish, but also with the view of connecting (upon penetrating to the meridian of 152° and north to the parallel of 28°) my sketch of those parts of the interior through which we have travelled with the country in the vicinity of Moreton Bay by bearings to each of its fixed points as I might identify, and especially of the cone of Mount Warning.”

It was noticed that the rocks were of a white colour here, and that the few inhabitants who lived in these tracts took advantage of their softness to sharpen their mogos or stone hatchets, upon[p560] them.[*] Traces of these operations, of dates both recent and distant, were observed on stony ledges in different parts of the creek. Among the birds flying round the tents was noticed a parrot of a large size, never before seen. “The feathers of its head were snow white, while its body appeared of an uniform green; the wings were also of that colour, but their outer sides took a brown hue.” Only two birds (probably male and female) were seen, and they were very shy.

[* He called it Moss Creek.]


May 28th. Cunningham writes: “We had not proceeded three miles to the N.N.E. through a continuation of barren brushy forest, before we came to the left bank of a stream, presenting a handsome reach half a mile in length, thirty yards wide, and evidently very deep. Its bed, which was of a gravel containing many larger water-worn pebbles of quartz and jasper, was skirted by lofty swamp oaks bearing on their branches flood marks at least 20 feet above its naked channel. When therefore its waters are swollen to that height, it forms a rapid river from 80 to 100 yards in breadth, as I ascertained by the measured distance of the outer banks from each other. This stream which received the name of Durnaresq’s River[*] (in honour of the family to which His Excellency the Governor is so intimately connected), rises in a mountainous country to the N.E. at an elevation (determined in the progress of this expedition) of nearly 3,000 feet above the sea, and after pursuing a western course for about 100 miles along a singular declivity of country, falls 2,000 feet to the spot at which we have discovered it, whence it was observed to pass on to the north-western interior at a mean height of only 840 feet above the level of the ocean. In tracing its channel upwards in search of a ford, we soon arrived at a part at which the waters above and those of the reach below us were almost entirely separated by the dry weather.

[* It runs into the Macintyre and forms a section of the boundary between New South Wales and Queensland. Cunningham crossed the Dumaresq between Texas and Bengalla possibly nearer the latter than the former place, and a little to the south-eastward of Wyemo.]

“From the right bank of Dumaresq River, we again prosecuted our journey to the N.N.E. and having in the first instance passed over some stony ridges of trifling elevation, penetrated [p561] about 11 miles through an and sandy forest-ground, wooded with small Ironbark and Cypress. Upon accomplishing our 12th mile the country continued a perfect level clothed with a density of scrub, underwood, and small blighted timber, but without the smallest indication of water, which however was not to be hoped for in a region the surface of which we found so generally coated with white or reddish sand to the depth of several inches. In this situation, and as the sun was declining to the lower western levels it became necessary to determine promptly on the course we should pursue, since by continuing our route to the N.N.E. it was evident, we advanced more deeply into the midst of the desert.

“Accordingly as we perceived a slight depression of country easterly, I directed the people to the N.E. dispatching a man forward at that point, to search for water.

“In a mile, a broad but flat shallow sandy channel was found declining N.N.E. and in its bed was found a hole, just dry. With renovated hope we traced it downwards, finding proofs of water being not distant; and in a span of about 1½ miles, a small pool was discovered,[*] fringed around with an aquatic plant “of our Colony ” and as its water although stagnant and discoloured was of a tolerable quality, we most gladly halted, both men and horses sinking beneath great fatigue, consequent on a march of ten hours, through an arid sandy low wood, destitute of water, and in an atmospheric temperature of 75 degrees. The thermometer at sunset stood at 70°, and the results of barometrical computation showed us we were lower than the bed of Dumaresq’s River. My tent was 811 feet above the sea.”

[* Muddy Creek and Stagnant Pool on the route map.]

On May 29th, quitting this desert wood, the journey north-north-east was resumed, and in two miles the bank of a small river was met with which flowed westerly; it was fifteen yards wide but as in the case of other streams presented the appearance of a chain of ponds or water-holes; some of the latter were a quarter of a mile in length. Passing over the flat through which this stream ran, Cunningham’s party entered a thick cypress brush, and had penetrated it for two miles when rain began to fall, so they returned to the river they had just left, and encamped in lat. 28°45’45” S.

Next day, May 30th, they endeavoured to pass east-north-east round the patch of thicket of cypress, which in places was twenty-five feet high, and did not succeed, “for the brushes [p562] stretched across our path due east, and so we had to force a way through to the N.E. At last a patch of open forest enabled us to proceed, when we came upon the elbow of a rivulet[*] (running from E. to N.W.).”The land on each side of this was a beautiful sward of grass capable of forming rich pasturage and permanently watered, so that Cunningham believed that he had reached a stretch of better country.

[* He named it Macintyre’s Brook.]

He continues: “We had, however, difficulties new and fresh in reserve for us ere the labours of the day were closed. This beautiful stream we found too deep to pass; but, tracing it up over a verdant carpet . . . about three-fourths of a mile, we discovered a pebbly shallow . . . and, gaining the opposite bank, we resumed our course to the N.E. over a narrow strip of forest flat which appeared to stretch along each bank of the rivulet.

“Compact thickets of like description with the patch we had already passed, again stretched from East to West, over a surface of ground so truly level, as to afford me, as far as we could observe, not the slightest rise, whence any observations might be made of the extent of these jungles or the direction (supposing them to be strips and not extensive masses) in which they were disposed in these and regions. Finding ourselves thus hemmed in, and although with every discouraging prospect before us, I nevertheless determined to persevere in an attempt to force a passage onward to the N.E. bearing however in mind that should we fail in effecting it in a few hours, we could at least return on our track to the rivulet, where our horses would rest on fine pasture, and on the banks of which we might subsequently pursue our way to the eastward although perhaps on a course in the first instance not better than E.S.E.

“As these thickets from their very margin presented a density almost impervious to packhorses I directed an active man to follow me with an axe to remove every obstacle that would prevent their passing forward on a course, which I endeavoured steadily to pursue by compass to the N.E. In many parts the quantities of fallen timber were so considerable and the stems of an acacia 5 feet high were so closely grown together and interwoven with other plants as to present at first view a barrier altogether impenetrable inducing at one stage of our penetration an apprehension of being eventually obliged to return to the river.

[p563] “A laborious circuitous route enabled me to avoid these intricacies, and as we subsequently came upon small patches of much thinner brush and more open to the sun and air whereon we allowed the horses to breathe, we were encouraged to proceed.

“Thus we continued cutting down small trees and opening the brush for the horses, for about four miles, when we were gladdened on arriving at an open clear forest, enabling us to prosecute our route to the N.E. without inconvenience. Meeting with a chain of ponds in about 3 miles falling to the eastward, containing good water we again rested, as men and horses were sinking beneath the labours of the day. The course and distance made from the morning’s encampment, notwithstanding the difficulties of the way, being E. 41 N. 11 miles.”

Cunningham extended the 31st day’s stage through rising ground to the north-north-west, where water was found in a stagnant state “by a little deviation from our line of course to the S.W.,” and the party encamped in a forest flat of blue and spotted gums. Earlier in the day, from the summit of a range, he had faintly descried another range at a distance of eighty miles, this being low, detached, and stretching eastward N. 2°W. to N.1° E. Somewhat further towards the east lay yet another range with a pointed peak in the centre. A high range which extended to the north-north-east and south-south-west and bore east-south-east twenty-five miles, he named Macleay’s Range. The ranges with which he was surrounded were too high to admit of an extended view towards the Mount Warning Ranges, but to the west-south-west-by-west and thence to north was a vast expanse of level land, bounded only by the horizon.

June 1-3. Monotonous country, continually rising to the E.N.E.” For twenty miles a barren and uninteresting territory was traversed; on the 3rd, at a camp on a stony creek, the latitude observed is given as 28°17’49” S., and long. (by acct.) 151°21′ E., and mean height above the ocean 1404 feet.”

Cunningham resumes: “Although we have been rising each stage during the last week progressively to a somewhat more elevated line of country than that through which we have of late passed, we have yet to arrive at nutritive pasturage, that upon which my horses have (it may be said) miraculously subsisted being everywhere seriously affected by the droughts of the year. Nevertheless situated as we were, it was impossible to pursue a[p564] better course than N.E. easterly, we therefore again continued our journey in that direction on the morning of the 4th ascending a series of rather heavily timbered forest ridges . . . rough and stony surface.

“At our third mile whilst in the act of passing over the brow of one of these hills the voices of natives were distinctly heard, and almost immediately we perceived several Indians in motion among the timber, not however before they had evidently had for some moments the first gaze of surprise at us, as the trunks of the trees being as black as the bodies of these people had prevented our descrying them as quickly. I happened to be accompanied by only one of my people, the others being with the packhorses that were working up another part of the rising ground behind the natives, where the acclivity was more moderate. On my calling to the packhorse leaders, the natives stood and viewed us at the distance of about 100 yards, occasionally retiring behind the trees, again walking about in great uneasiness. The spot was their encamping ground, and as they had their women and children with them, whose respective voices we could distinctly recognize, they could not leave their fires with that precipitation which their great alarm induced by our presence would evidently have urged.

“The instant however the people in charge of the horses had replied to my call, from the gully whence they were ascending to me, the agitation of the natives became extreme, they therefore having already hurried away their gins and little ones, ran off with the utmost despatch through the brushy woods to the northward. I could have rejoiced to have brought about a communication with these Indians, had my people been with us, or had we met each other on more open ground, than a confined brushy forest, for I felt perfectly satisfied that as soon as their fears had been removed by our pacific overtures to them, they would have proved themselves of friendly disposition, as they neither made any reply to us, or appeared in the least disposed to place themselves in menacing attitudes, or exhibited their weapons to deter us from approaching them. Under the circumstances however of our meeting, I deemed it prudent, as soon as I perceived them, to stand still until they had made their little arrangements to depart, I could have proceeded quickly upon them, but the consequences might have been serious to us, as we had no arms at the time, and those people might have been disposed to have disputed the ground with us, on the score[p565] of their women and children which nature teaches even the savage it is a duty in man, as a husband and parent to protect.

“Here my people had joined me, they had passed the fires of these aborigines which were seven in number, and about them they recognized the bones of the bandycoot and bustard, of which latter, the feathers were strewed around, and upon the flesh of which these Indians had been feasting.

“Upon joining again we continued our journey, and immediately quitting the more open forest ground, entered a dense brush of Acacia Daviesiae, the wand-like stems of which indurated by fire, proving a very serious annoyance to us. With great bodily exertion to man and horse we penetrated about 4 miles through thicket ten feet high and upon making forest ground on its eastern skirts we traced a narrow valley (falling easterly) in search of water.”

Following the valley for a little distance the party halted at a rocky water-hole, where they spent the night.[*] Smoke seen during the day to the northward and eastward, and the frequent screech of the white cockatoo, told Cunningham that water was not far away. Next day, June 5th, setting off in an east-north-east direction, after two miles he crossed a rocky creek,[**] with pools of good water and green grass on its margin; and from “the pitch of a ridge”[***] above it he obtained a “most agreeable” view of open country, which from its aspect he felt would reward him for his toil and crown his labours.

[* Brushy Vale on the maps 1504 feet above the sea.]

[** 1,717 feet above the sea.]

[*** One of the highest points between Thane’s Creek and Sandy Creek according to Sir A. Morgan.]

This was in fact Cunningham’s first view of the Darling Downs.

A gap in the forest ridge revealed eight or nine miles of open downs of great extent rolling away easterly to the base of a lofty range, lying north and south and distant about three miles. The sight of such a country in the distance revived the drooping spirits of his people wonderfully, and they proceeded forward at a quickened pace to the eight mile stage, where they arrived at a parallel of 28°11’10” S. The timber became thinner and “we had not advanced half a mile,” writes Cunningham, “before we came upon a patch of open plain skirted by a low ridge on its western side and forest ground at the opposite point. With great satisfaction we perceived, as we approached the downs, that small patches or strips of mist extended throughout their length, and a[p566] line of swamp-oaks stretched along their south-western extremes, showing us that these extensive tracts were not wanting in water.”


[* This river rises in the Dividing Range about sixty miles from the sea, flows north-west for 250 miles, then bends west and south-west. On being joined by the Maranoa, it runs to the south-west under the name of the Balonne. Cunningham crossed it near Toolburra.]

“Upon accomplishing a journey of thirteen miles [the last one] we stopped on the left bank of a small river that comes from the S.E., which appeared likely to give us trouble to pass, as . . . there was very deep water . . . with a current flowing to the N.W.” While the men fished there during the afternoon, at a spot half a mile above the encampment, they noticed three natives in the bush on the opposite bank burning the grass. They showed no signs of alarm, but afterwards walked away at a leisurely pace and passed out of sight in the forest. Cunningham fixed the situation of his encampment here as being in 28°9’37” S. (by observation at noon of the 6th of June) and 151°41’30” E., and its mean elevation above the sea, 1,402 feet.

“After quitting our resting place immediately after noon,” he continues, “on June 6th, proceeding up the river half a mile, we crossed to the opposite bank by a ford that had been previously discovered by my people. From this stream, which was named Condamine’s River in compliment to the officer[*] who is A.D.C. to the Governor, we entered upon the extensive downs, pursuing our way to the E.N.E. along their southern margin. During the afternoon and following day we travelled their whole extent to the base of the mountains which bound them at their eastern extreme, and were able to make the following observations.

[* Thomas de la Condamine, A.D.C. to Governor Darling.]


“These extensive tracts, which I have named Darling Downs in honour of His Excellency, are situate in or about the mean parallel of 28°8′, along which they extend 18 miles to the meridian of 152°. On the north side they are bounded by a rise of lightly wooded ridges, skirted on their opposite margin by a level forest of box and white gum. A chain of deep ponds passes along the[p567] central lower portion throughout its whole length and falls westerly into the Condamine River[*]; their breadth varies; at the western extremity it appeared about 1½ miles, towards the eastern limits it was estimated at 3 miles. Grasses and herbage were of the same species in similar situations in the southern country; no plant appeared more striking than a rib-grass (Plantago struthionis), the leaves of which measured 12-15 inches in length. From these lower grounds downs of a rich black and dry soil, clothed with abundance of grass . . . stretched on an east and west line, constituting a range of sound sheep-pasture convenient to water but beyond the reach of floods. . . . Such is the character of the Darling Downs, which comprise little short of 28,000 acres.”

[* The chain of ponds is now known as Glengallan Creek. In consequence of the drought conditions of 1827 the water here, as in some other places, had ceased running.]

Towards the close of the afternoon of June 7th Cunningham advanced north-by-east through open apple-forest when, upon reaching the base of a curious flat-topped Mount[*] which terminated the range of mountains on the east side, his party encamped. He writes of this spot: “We found there a narrow creek with the finest patch of meadow pasturage I have seen in New South Wales, and determined to remain there two days to rest our wearied horses, some being reduced to the last stage of debility.” He also wished to examine the dark brushes covering the mount from its base to its summit, since the plants growing upon it had an intertropical appearance. On the morning of the 8th, accompanied by one of his people, he set out to climb the Table Mount, at the foot of which stood his tents; for two hours they had to make their way through a thicket of plants like those Cunningham had seen on the Brisbane in 1824, until at last they gained an open spot on the summit, whence an excellent view of the country was obtained. From north by way of west, thence to south and south-east, he took bearings of the most remarkable points.

[* Mount Dumaresq.]


He noticed that at N.N.W., and especially at North, the country formed a series of densely timbered ridges extending from the chain of mountains immediately to eastward, which [p568] appeared to constitute the main or Great Dividing Range separating the coast district from the interior. From the N.W. to West and thence to South the eye traversed a vast expanse of open land–in the distance apparently tame and uninteresting, but within the scope of twenty miles showing every pleasing feature of hill and dale, woodland and plain. To the north of Darling Downs large, clear patches of land [Clifton Plains] were named Peel’s Plains, whilst those to the S. and S.S.E. were christened Canning Downs “in honour of the Right Hon. George Canning.” The extent of these downs, through which ran a stream bending its course to the N.W., Cunningham was unable to gather, but the lofty ridge bounding them to southward (which lay nearly east and north) was entitled Herries Range.

He spent a great part of the day botanizing until heavy weather from the north and signs of rain made him hasten back to the camp with his specimens. In describing the Table Mount where his tents were pitched Cunningham writes: “The rock composing the mountain is whinstone, extremely cavernous, the cavities containing crystallized quartz.” This flat-topped mountain was named Mount Dumaresq, and on its northern side a grassy valley extending north-east from Darling Downs to the foot of the Main Range was entitled Millar’s Vale.

Rainy weather now set in, and the travellers could not leave their camp until June 10th, when it had cleared up. Having taken bearings of his route, Cunningham wished to proceed to some high ranges eastward, and obtain a view from their summits of different points of the coast. A hill in his path of square form, similar to Mount Dumaresq, and bearing south-south-east from it, obliged him to go four miles to the south-east of his course.


Upon passing round the south-western foot of this hill, which he called Mount Sturt in honour of Captain Sturt of the 39th Regiment, his party travelled over “patches of downs ” and then pushed again to the north-east. They came to the entrance of a valley and in five miles crossed a small swamp-oak creek[*] winding southerly through it, and halted on its banks in an apple-tree flat clothed with green. On entering this valley, which was named Logan’s Vale in honour of Captain Logan, commandant[p569] at the settlement at Brisbane (distant to the north-east about seventy-five miles), they observed that the soil round the foot of a tree had been dug and broken-by natives evidently, in search of the larvae of insects (a favourite delicacy with them); and that at a short distance beyond this spot another tree had just been barked. Cunningham looked for the black woodman, who he felt sure was close at hand, but did not see him. It was thought, however, that probably he had concealed himself in the dark brushes extending from Mount Sturt, which bounded the route on the left, or possibly in a hollow on the right by which the stream, winding through the vale, escaped southerly. “It was,” says Cunningham, “in the brushy forests clothing the slopes of the lateral ranges on our left that I first clearly and satisfactorily recognized a pine which I subsequently identified with the species of Araucaria so frequent in the dark forests that invest the banks of the River Brisbane.”[**]

[* Possibly Swan Creek of the maps.]

[* A. Cunninghamii: See (under date June 10, 1827) Allan Cunningham’s report to General Darling. Cunningham had seen this tree during his visit to Moreton Bay, and, as already mentioned, he then noticed that there existed the difference between it and A. excelsa, the Norfolk Island Pine.]

He continues: “I determined to occupy two or three days in this vale making observations to enable me to determine my position . . . whilst my horses were recovering from . . . the effects of the scantiness and bad quality of the pasture during the journey. June 11th.–A sharp frost, the thermometer at 7 a.m. had sunk to 30°. Having directed the occupations of my people . . . accompanied by one man I proceeded to a part of the range immediately above our tents whence I hoped to make all remarks on the journey to the northward and eastward that I considered indispensable to a satisfactory closure of my journey. In an hour we reached the summit of the ridge . . . we continued to ascend from one tier to another (generally in a north-eastern direction) until about 3 o’clock we gained a lofty point. From here we observed through some hollow part of the extreme range in our front (about 1½ miles away) portions of the country in the vicinity of the Brisbane River at N.E., also parts of the more distant lands at the base of the Mount Warning Ranges, the cone of which we distinctly saw crowning the group of mountains about 65 or 70 miles away. It was with much satisfaction I took the following bearings. Cone of Mount Warning, E. 9° S. High peak of the chart[*] N. 50° E. Spot on which the tents stood on Logan’s Vale, W. 44° S. about 5 miles.

[* This was named Mount Flinders.]


[p570] “Had the day continued fine and clear, I should have endeavoured . . . to have gained the highest ridge . . . about 2 miles distant . . . it would have enabled me in taking a survey of this . . . mountainous land to have observed how far a passage over these lofty ranges could be effected by which the . . . country passed over could become accessible from the shores of Moreton Bay or Brisbane River.[*] We, however, noticed from the station to which we had climbed a very deeply excavated part of the main range bearing from us about N.N.E. two or three miles, to the pitch of which there appeared a tolerably easy rise along the back of a forest ridge from the head of Millar’s Valley. So remarkable a hollow in the principal range I determined not to leave unexamined, since it appeared . . . it might prove to be a very practicable pass from the eastern country to the Darling Downs and thus form the door of a very considerable grazing country.”

[* A passage from the sea-coast to the interior.]

Rain, which fell in heavy showers, obliged Cunningham and his man to leave the range, descending by a rocky gully. He says: “At 8 o’clock we reached the encampment perfectly drenched, myself never more disposed to sink beneath excessive fatigue.” And adds: “These forest ridges were covered to their summits with grasses of luxuriant growth, and were watered by trickling rills. These mountains, to the bases of which we have approached, form a leading range and separate the eastern and western waters.” From his observations Cunningham calculated that the height of the Dividing Range was about 4,100 feet.

The night of the 11th was boisterous and wet, and next day rain confined the explorers to their tents. On the morning of the 13th, the weather being somewhat clearer, Cunningham sent two of his men to Millar’s Valley to examine the mountain gap that he had discovered in the range, and thence to eastward, to take bearings. He himself stayed in the bush round his tent collecting specimens of the plants there, which were for the most part of an “intertropical” character. The situation of his encampment he places in lat. 28°10’45” S. and long. 152°7’45” E. This was his most northern point. The height here of his tent above the shores of Moreton Bay was 1,877 feet.

Not until noon on the 14th did the men return with the[p571] account of the hollow back in the Dividing Range at the head of Millar’s Valley. The following report of their observations was sent by Cunningham to General Darling: “They ascended a narrow ridge by which they rose gradually seven miles to a distance of about one mile from the highest pitch of the Gap, when the difficulties appeared to consist of the ruggedness of the large masses of rock that had fallen from the heads into the hollow and the brush with which these boulders were covered. On ascending the south head they observed a rather easier passage over the range where a road could be constructed, the acclivity from Millar’s Valley being by no means abrupt and the fall easterly from the range to the forest ground at its foot appearing exceedingly moderate.” To the north-east lay an extensive tract of grazing land, with patches of plain and ridge, and in no part apparently was there any obstacle likely to prevent direct communication either with the southern shores of Moreton Bay or with the banks of the Brisbane.[*]

[* Cunningham’s Gap lies fifty miles south-west from Brisbane and sixty miles west of Point Danger.]


Cunningham now began his preparations for his return home. He felt quite unable at this stage of the expedition to carry out his original plan of exploring westward from the point which he now had reached, and on 16th June he left Logan’s Vale on his homeward journey and in nine miles reached the northern skirts of Canning Downs. In a southerly course over these he crossed a winding creek with steep, soft banks, which flowed westward through the downs and which he thought fell into Condamine’s River.[*] His route passed through fine trees of red gum (Eucalyptus robusta) and swamp-oak (Casuarina) until, having completed fifteen miles, he halted at a chain of small ponds. On the 17th he gave the men and horses a rest. Lat. 28°21’17” S., long. 152°02′ E., mean height above the sea, 1,567 feet.

[* On this day he passed close to the site of Warwick.]

Breaking up his camp on the 18th at eight o’clock, he started again and reached a mossy plain which ran to the south-east, having a swamp-oak creek winding through its centre. On arriving on the bank of this watercourse, which he crossed, marks of natives were seen. After seven miles the party rested here,[p572] and it was noticed that the banks of each side on the creek were studded with fragments of granite in which were pieces of quartz. At sunset Cunningham found they were 1,854 feet above the sea. A mile farther, on June 19th, they descended between large detached blocks of rock to the channel of a brisk rivulet, which had a considerable dip to the south and flowed among masses of granite, “forming many a strange grotesque figure.” Fording the river again with difficulty, the route now led them to the eastward, and here the explorers met with a narrow but deep creek which ran from that direction to the rivulet. After crossing it they ascended lofty hills on the western side, and encamped for the night beside a stream falling over some granite rocks.

At eight o’clock next morning they again started in a southerly direction, and at the sixth mile an extensive view was obtained of lofty, detached hills beyond which rose the Mount Warning Range, whose cone, however, was not visible. At three o’clock, to rest the horses, Cunningham halted on higher ground than he had passed over since leaving the Liverpool Range above Hunter’s River, the situation of his tent by calculation being 2,592 feet above “the seacoast at Cape Byron,” which bore east ninety miles from the encampment. Here the party remained during continuous wet weather, which ultimately cleared on the evening of the 23rd.

On June 24th, after following a course towards the east-south-east, they crossed the stream, which by now had become exceedingly rapid, at a ford discovered by one of the men; and passed over a succession of lofty ranges (part of the main or Great Dividing Range), heavily timbered with gum-trees, beneath which grew large masses of ferns and plants frequently seen at Five Islands (Illawarra). On quitting these forests, open scrubs and spongy swamps lay in their path, and at noon of June 25th, at a black, sterile spot on these granite mountains, Cunningham took his bearings, and found that he was 2,969 feet above the sea level, in lat. 28°44’48” S. Five miles from here he descended into a swampy valley and pitched his tents. On the 26th advance was stopped by the roughness of the country, which became appalling. “Large detached masses of granite of every shape towering above each other, and in many instances standing in almost tottering positions, constituted a barrier before us; beyond these a deep ravine formed a curve from E. to S.W., which was itself bounded by a rocky ridge at least 250 feet high.”[p573] Observing an opening to the northward Cunningham followed a running stream in that direction which (although the party had travelled eleven miles) brought them back to within two miles of their last camp, only a rocky ridge separating them from it.

By still following the small stream, at an early hour on the 27th they reached a point two miles farther north, and, after passing round the northern end of a formidable ridge, turned westward through brushy forest composed of stringy-bark, honeysuckle (Banksia compar), and cypress. At the twelfth mile, descending in a south-west direction to a level flat, the tired men reached the reedy bank of a rivulet, “which at our eighth mile we had quitted on its passing southerly through a broken gap in the western stony ridge where, doubtless augmented by other streams, it appears to be Macintyre’s Brook, which we had forded on the 30th ultimo 60 miles to the westward; the elevation of its bed above the sea being little more than 800 feet. Here the mean height on which stood our tents was 2,254 feet.”On passing this rivulet Cunningham tried a course to the south-west along a continuation of the flat to the base of a forest ridge, and stopped at an early hour of the day (on 28th) to allow the farrier daylight to shoe the pack-horses (in lat. 28°55′ S.), where a narrow valley provided both water and grass.

June 29th. “The barometer showed that we had ascended 330 feet since the morning. By far the sharpest frost we had experienced on this journey. Our thermometer, fully exposed about sunrise stood at 25°, and ice one-fourth of an inch thick crusted the surface of stagnant pools in the rocky watercourses.

Pushing southerly again, Cunningham soon was obliged to turn to the north-west–“a deep glen, at least 100 yards wide, with yawning, perpendicular, rocky sides and a small river[*] at its stony bottom running to W.,” cutting him off from all communication with the country to the southward. Whilst his party kept along the ridges to the north-west, he sent one of his men to skirt the ravine and to look for a slope to the bed of the river by which they might descend and reach the opposite or southern hills. This was found about a mile away, and, as the day was advancing, their course was altered to south-west again and they soon arrived at the grassy slope. The latitude, from an observation taken at noon on the upper edge of the ravine, was 28°59’56” S., and “as this,” says Cunningham, “is nearly the[p574] parallel of the creek on which we had rested on the 26th of last month, and in the neighbourhood of Dumaresq’s River, there can be no doubt about the water of the glen, which we had found flowing briskly to westward at a higher level of 650 ft., being one of its tributaries.”

[* The Glen River.–Note in MS.]

He continues: “On 30th June our passage over this shallow stream was not easily effected, for its bed upon examination was found so rocky and irregular that it became unsafe to lead a laden horse across its channel, the baggage here being conveyed over on the men’s shoulders.” The course to the west-south-west–on climbing the hills from the bed of the glen–now led over high ridges and narrow valleys. At the sixth mile a valley was seen lying about east and west, and through which flowed a river skirted with swamp-oaks. The stream was found to be fifty yards wide, running to the westward and abounding in water-fowl. After crossing a stony fall to its left bank the party encamped on a spot where the luxuriant pasture, so necessary for the worn-out horses, induced Cunningham to remain for the whole of the next day. The river took its rise in the mountains to the northward and eastward at an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet above the sea, and from its size and tendency he at once identified it. It was the Dumaresq River, which he had forded to the westward on the 28th of the preceding month. It formed a handsome reach in front of their tents three-fourths of a mile in length by about fifty yards in breadth, and had an average depth of twelve feet. By observation he fixed this part of the river as being in lat. 29°1’14” S., long. 151°31’30” E. Its height above the sea was 1,040 feet.

July 2-3. “Having remarked from the hills . . . that the country lying in our direct line of route to the southward was altogether impassable, I proposed to trace the river through the vale to the westward with the hopes that we should be enabled to pursue our course homeward in a more direct line.” Some of his people who walked down the vale in quest of game noticed that the river at first inclined north of west and afterwards bent to the southward. “We accordingly,” he tells us, “proceeded along its left bank, which in a mile inclined with the vale to N.W., the latter becoming larger, presenting wider flats of good grass, on the opposite bank from which the boundary hills continued lofty, stony and thickly wooded, and receded considerably to the northward. At the third mile, a stream from north by east, after passing through a gap in the mountainous land, joined the[p575] Dumaresq, which here bends westward and eventually south-west showing by its increased width of 60 to 70 yards and more regular depth and the length of its reaches how much it had profited by the confluence with a stream which was evidently the Glen River that had been passed two days before.”

Open, thickly-wooded flats, one or two miles wide, extended along each bank, on which were very big blue-gum trees. The travelling proved so easy that Cunningham says he “ventured to extend our day’s journey to fourteen miles, which the horses have accomplished with great ease.”

“We halted on the river at a part where the breadth across to the opposite bank (which was perpendicular and of a reddish earth) was not less than 100 yards. The flats on the opposite side were on fire, and, as we remarked patches in flames near us, it was evident there were natives in the neighbourhood. The river appears to continue its course to the southward and westward towards an obviously lower country through which our route to-morrow will lie. Our dogs caught an emu on the flats, and the anglers had scarcely cast their hooks into the river, which at this part appeared very deep, than their success commenced. Several fish of the cod of all the western rivers were caught in the course of the evening, of which one weighed 15 lbs.”

July 3rd. “A very cloudy morning with every sign of rain at sunrise: the wind, freshening at S.W., dispelled the clouds and at noon a fine day appeared. We continued our journey about 7 miles in a S.W. direction down the river, when the valley, taking a decided bend to W.N.W. and N.W., turned the course of the river in that direction. We therefore quitted this fine stream, and, pursuing a line of route to S.W., arrived (at our ninth mile) upon a small patch of plain, the lat. of which proved to be 29°12’03” S. Onward we passed, over several stone forest ridges and narrow valleys, for about three miles, when, observing from S.E. to S.S.E. before us a lofty, broken country, I deemed it prudent to halt . . . our tents were therefore pitched in a barren valley giving us plenty of water, but our horses had scarcely any grass.

“Before sunset I climbed a high hill in front of our encampment to observe the country, and on reaching its summit had a fine view. A crescent of lofty, rocky ranges appeared to stretch from east to south-east, thence to south-west. As these were fronted by a deep ravine, the whole presented so precipitous and savage a feature as forbade any attempt to pass beyond them to[p576] the southward. I, however, remarked that as all the hills appeared to terminate to northward and westward, a course in that direction for about four miles would probably lead me to a moderately surfaced country, over which horses could travel to the southward and westward without difficulty. On quitting the sterile valley in which we had halted, we pursued a steady course to the northward on the morning of the 4th, and . . . in about five miles perceived that we had advanced sufficiently beyond the northern termination of the loftier ranges to allow us to stand more to the westward. In another mile . . . we shaped our course to southward and westward, which we pursued without interruption during the succeeding twenty miles.

“Throughout an extent of 13 miles the timbers were of ironbark, box and white-gum . . . the soil poor and unproductive of grass, and, as no rain had fallen for many months, it was with difficulty that we discovered sufficient water for ourselves and horses. At length we crossed, on the afternoon of the 5th, a stream flowing to southward and westward, to which I gave the name of Anderson’s Brook[*] in compliment to my friend of the medical staff of the colony. Beyond the stream the grasses appear altogether of a brighter hue. At noon of the 5th our lat. was 29°24’09” S., and at the close of day we rested on a well-watered patch of good grass.

[* The Severn of modern maps.]


[* Part of the Macintyre River.]

6th July. “Upon passing onward to westward through open forest about 3 miles we reached the right bank of a deep river about 30 yards wide and trending to the N.N.W. This river, which originates in the mountainous country at N.N.E., bore signs of being a channel by which vast bodies of water are carried to the N.W. interior . . . at this season it is little other than a chain of large, canal-like ponds separated by shallows of gravel of which its outer banks are formed. . . . This stream which was named Burrell River, doubtless augmented by Anderson’s Brook in a few miles further to westward, falls into Peel’s River.”

Cunningham continued his journey for twelve miles through gentle, open forest with good, sweet grass, and then passed the eastern extreme of a cypress ridge, where again large masses of[p577] granite rock were seen. From a spot southward of Burrell River an extensive view of the line of country lying west of Shoal Bay was obtained. “Of the capacity of this indentation, discovered by Captain Flinders in 1799,” says Cunningham, “we know little, as it appears not to be visited by vessels, probably on account of the character of its title and waters.” He describes the inland country at this point, its soil and timbers, and says: “At our ninth mile the forest ground became broken and a breccia or puddingstone appeared, and at length we descended to a rocky creek having little water, but so thickly brushed with tea-tree (Melaleuca) and Leptospermum as to oblige us to cut a path for the horses.”

Difficult country now obliged him to bear away on the 7th to north-west among ridges, from which he descended to a narrow, woody valley immediately bounded on the north by Masterton’s Range (observed on May 23rd) and watered by a broad, reedy creek, “evidently the channel by which the streams we have of late crossed pass to the westward.” He had accomplished sixteen miles when he came to a part of the valley where there was good grass, and there he directed the tents to be pitched.

July 8th. The marks of natives wandering in quest of food were noticed on the timber through which the travellers passed on this day. There were steps on the tree trunks, evidently cut to aid the blacks in climbing, although the bush furnished few opossum and apparently the natives had been seeking larvae or pupae, upon which they must chiefly have lived. These were most often found in the knot at the upper limbs of a straight-grown box. The latitude of the encampment here on the 8th is given as 29°34’02” S., longitude (from the meridian of Logan’s Vale) being 150°35’50” E. Cunningham writes: “In order to avoid a rocky part of the valley through which the channel of the reedy creek[*] wound westerly, I pursued a course to the S.W. over stony boundary hills, and passed through a barren, scrubby wood productive of many curious plants. In this sterile forest, which afforded me many specimens, we were not a little surprised to meet with a shed of most temporary erection, 24 feet long by about six feet broad, and formed by eight strong posts of young trees having their bases well secured in the earth, supporting a horizontal wattled roof, slightly thatched with gum-tree boughs, about ten feet from the ground. Upon examination, it[p578] was evident that it had been set up by white men who knew well the use and application of the axe, and from the appearance of the ends of the timbers we judged it to have stood so for four months. There were several small bark huts of natives in the neighbourhood. . . . I arrived at the conclusion that the persons who had erected this screen from the sun (for it formed no protection from rain or bad weather, being narrow and open on all sides), had been cedar-cutters, who, having escaped from Port Macquarie, distant E.S.E. 165 miles, had joined a tribe of natives and were wandering at large through this distant interior.”

[* He was now again close to the site of Warialda.]


July 9th. Cunningham crossed his outward track about the seventh mile of this day’s stage, having ascertained that he had reached the parallel Of 29°35′ S. A very open country now was traversed, thinly timbered, but almost destitute of water. At the seventeenth mile, near the base of a remarkable range seen in the outward journey, several other points of known country were recognized. A halt was made at dusk (on the 9th) at a small creek. The report runs: “We had no sooner quitted the ground on which we had encamped, than at a distance not exceeding 200 yards we came upon the right bank of a stream forming a very handsome reach of deep water, seventy yards wide, with steep, soft bank, and bending round the northern extreme of the lofty range to open country at N.W. This river we traced on its right bank upwards to a safe ford, by which we crossed to its opposite side over a bed of gravel measuring 146 yards in breadth.[*] Above the bed of the river, which the prolonged season of drought had reduced to a very low level, we remarked the traces of floods 55 feet in the branches of the swamp-oaks skirting its channel. When, therefore, in seasons of great rains, this river is swollen . . . the rush of the impetuous torrent bearing logs of timber down its channel to a depressed interior must be awfully grand!”

[* Cunningham crossed the Gwydir on fallen swamp-oaks on his homeward journey to the westward of his former crossing.]

This river, named by Cunningham in honour of Lord Gwydir, has its source in the New England tableland near Armidale, between Guyra and Uralla. From either of these places to Moree is roughly 200 miles. A few miles below Moree the river [p579] disappears and its waters spreading through numerous watercourses and swamps are carried into the Barwon. sixty miles further west and thence to the Darling.


Continuing his journey southwards, Cunningham on July 11th [1827] came to another river which trended to northward, “having so much the character, magnitude and appearance of the Peel,” that he says he might have confounded it with Mr. Oxley’s discovery, which he thought it joined. He traced it for about a mile and called it Horton’s River, and the valley through which it flowed he named Wilmot Vale, while the lofty hills bounding this vale on the west he called Drummond’s Range. Horton’s River took its rise in the highlands connected with Hardwick’s Range (of Oxley), and on the 12th the explorers, in the hope of finding a less difficult country to traverse, turned into another valley “at a remarkable break in the ranges, through whose centre a tributary of Horton’s River meandered.” They then resumed a south-west course and spent the night in a solitary spot amid very steep, stony hills, where the valley grew narrow towards the south-west. To the westward, not ten miles off, Hardwicke’s Range towered above their encampment.

On the 13th [July 1827] there was a hard frost for an hour after sunrise. From this spot for two days the route southerly led over very rugged, mountainous country, during which the horses could only with great exertion gain the summits of the principal ranges at an elevation of 2,500 feet. At noon on the 16th, from a forest ridge, Cunningham had an extensive view from south-east by way of south and west-south-west of Mitchell’s River (or Namoi). Mount Tetley, the rugged outlines of Arbuthnot’s Range, and points of Vansittart’s Hills, on the north-west side of Liverpool Plains, were also recognized. On the 17th the party descended the hills, and, reaching level country, pursued a direct course to the southward. The country lying north from Liverpool Plains was composed of flats, wooded lands, and scrub watered by shallow channels. After nine miles they reached a flat where they found a water-hole of stagnant water, and were glad to rest there. On the trunks of the trees around them they noticed marks made by natives with an iron tomahawk, which, says Cunningham, reminded them that they were approaching[p580] the abode of civilized man. At their 18th mile they arrived at a more extensive flat, which they crossed and believed to be Barrow’s Valley of Mr. Oxley. After encamping on the margin of a wood without finding water, they started again at sunrise, and about four miles farther, by following a southerly course, they made the right bank of Field’s River, which, having received the waters of Mitchell’s River, now formed a channel within steep banks eighty yards wide. Tents were pitched on the opposite bank, and its situation by observation was found to be lat. 30°54’14” S., and long. 150°10′ E.

Describing the home-coming of this expedition, Cunningham writes as follows:

“July 20-28 [1827]. On leaving Field’s River, which had taken a bend to eastward, we resumed our course to the southward, and, having travelled 27 miles . . . we reached the northern outskirts of Liverpool Plains soon after noon of the 21st. Over these spacious levels we travelled 25 miles to the southward, almost to the northern base of the Dividing Range, before we found water for ourselves or our horses; and, after resting the whole of the 24th [July 1827], we climbed over the Dividing Range by a practicable pass to the westward of that part at which we had crossed it in May. Pursuing our route to the eastward about fifteen miles, we intersected Dartbrook and on 28th July [1827] returned to Segenhoe, on Hunter’s River, having been absent 13 weeks, in which space we had travelled over 800 miles of country.”

Summing up the results of this journey he says”

“To the colonist the chief gain is the discovery of pastoral country lying north from the parallel Of 31°S. to almost the shores of Moreton Bay in 27°30′ S., and between the meridian of 150° E. and the coast-line; while to the geographer this tour has furnished material by which 200 statute miles of previously unknown interior may be added to the general charts of the country.”

He adds:

“Five times only in the progress of the journey were the aborigines seen, when, either by alarm excited by the strange appearance of the packhorses or other circumstances, our communication was entirely prevented . . . the few that suffered us to view them at a distance appeared to be tall, well-formed persons of rather athletic features, possessing the same description of weapons as those who people the shores of our colony, with whom they appeared to be identified in their wandering habits and the manner by which they find their food in the trees and their path through the forest.”


Cunningham gave his people and horses a week’s rest at Segenhoe and left there on August 5th [1827] to journey back to Parramatta by way of Bathurst. Owing to the ruggedness of the country near Mount Dangar, round the south-west base of which their route lay, the party did not reach their old camp at Dabee on the Cudgegong until August 16th. Having crossed Smith’s River they fell in with ravines, and were compelled to turn back and to seek a route to Dabee by passing through Bylong Valley, which had been found by William Lee some time previously. From Dabee they proceeded to Bathurst, where they arrived on the 23rd, and here again they rested, finally reaching Parramatta on the evening of the 31st. Next day Cunningham waited upon Governor Darling and laid before him an outline of the country through which he had penetrated and the report of his proceedings as related above.

Major Mitchell, in his first expedition (1831-1832), ascertained that the rivers discovered by Cunningham were sources of the Darling. In his course northward Mitchell reached a stream called Kindur (the Gwydir) by the natives, which he considered to be the river discovered by Cunningham. Crossing this river, and travelling northward, in 29°2′ S. he came upon the Karaula or Dumaresq. Tracing it down, he found that it joined the Gwydir only eight miles below the point where he had crossed the latter stream, and that, after uniting, they flowed to the southwest finally, as he discovered in a subsequent journey, joining the Darling.