Extract from The Journal of Botany Volume IV, London 1842;

Transcribed from the original text
and edited by Diane Challenor 

Part 4
28th August 1826 to 6th June 1828

This extract begins at page 297 of
The Journal of Botany Volume IV 1842


  • New Zealand 28th August 1826 to 20th January 1827
    • Paihia, Bay of Islands 9th September 1826
    • Cowa-cowa (possibly Kawakawa River) Early September 1826
    • Hokianga, Kiddee Kiddee River (possibly Kerikeri River) September 1826
    • Hokianga River 25th September 1826
    • Return to Paihia, Bay of Islands 2nd October 1826
    • Cowa-Cowa (possibly Kawakawa River) tributary of the Wycaddy (possibly Waitangi) 17th October 1826
    • Paihia, Bay of Islands 1826
    • Whangaroa 1826
    • The Bay of Plenty 1826
    • Bay of Islands 1826
    • Return to Port Jackson 20th January 1827
  • Florae Insularum Novae Zelandiae Precursor is published
  • Exploration to the north western Interior and the discovery of the Darling Downs 1827
    • The proposal for an exploratory journey to the north western interior 19th February 1827
    • Segenhoe 26th April to 30th April 1827
    • Dumaresq River 1827
    • The Darling Downs is discovered 5th June 1827
    • Cannings Downs, Peels Plains 1827
    • Mount Sturt 1827
    • Logan’s Vale 1827
    • Mount Warning Ranges are Sighted 1827
    • A practicable pass is seen in the distance 1827 (now known as Cunningham’s Pass)
    • Resumed his journey to the southward 16th June 1827
    • Logan’s Vale, Canning Downs June 1827
    • Dumaresq River 30th June 1827
    • Gwydir River 9th July 1827
    • Liverpool Plains 16th July 1827
    • Field River 19th July 1827
    • A week in Segenhoe then homeward via Mount Dangar to Bathurst 5th August 1827
    • Plains of Daby onward to Bathurst and Parramatta 16th August 1827 to 31st August 1827
    • Report to the Governor Lieut.-General Darling at Parramatta 1st September 1827
  • The remaining portion of 1827 and the early months of 1828
  • Request to return home to England 1828

New Zealand
28th August 1826 to 20th January 1827

Paihia, Bay of Islands 9th September 1826

A voyage to New Zealand having been long contemplated by Mr Cunningham, and the necessary arrangements having been made for the employment of his servants and horses during his absence, he embarked on board the Indian whaler for that interesting group of islands on the 28th of August, and landed on the 9th of September, at Paihia, the Church Missionary station at the Bay of Islands, where he was cordially welcomed, and most hospitably received by Mr Williams the head of the missionary department in New Zealand, to whom he brought letters of introduction from that exemplary clergyman, the Rev. Mr Marsden, the worthy founder of the missionary establishments in New Zealand. 

Cowa-cowa (possibly Kawakawa River) Early September 1826

Mr Cunningham’s first excursion was a boat expedition up the Wycaddy river, and of which he says: 

“We pulled about two miles from the entrance, when we reached the Cowa-cowa, a branch of the Wycaddy, proceeding from the south, whose banks at a few miles from its confluence are occupied by dense forests, (abounding with the Kai-Katea (Dacrydium excelsum, Don.,) and other pines of large size) which I should have rejoiced to have visited. However we continued upon the main river another two miles, and then hauling in upon a rocky point on the north shore, [p298] landed. 

“Whilst my friends amused themselves on the strand and skirts of the forest overhanging the bank, I ascended its steep acclivity, and with some difficulty effected a penetration through its underwood to the pitch of the ridge which appears generally to characterize the banks of this stream.

“Among several plants, unknown at present to me, being without fructification, that form small trees from fifteen to twenty-five feet high, I rejoiced to recognise a few of the genera of Forster, viz. :-

  • Veronica elliptica, a woody plant richly in flower, 
  • Corynocarpus laevigatus, showing flowering spikes, a very ornamental slender tree, with
     dark-green glossy foliage, 
  • Coprosma lucida, with clustered axillary flowers, 
  • Gaultheria anitpoda, 
  • Cineraria (Brachyglottis) repanda, a remarkable shrub with large ramified panicles, 
  • Panax arboreum, 
  • Lotus arboreus, (Carmichaelia australis, Br.,)

“I also gathered specimens of a shrub of Gentianae, and seemingly of our colonial genus Logania (Geniostoma ligustrifolium, A. Cunn.,) Leucopogon sp. of Mr Brown’s first section, &c. 

“In these woods, teeming with humidity, cryptogamous plants abound. I gathered a few Mosses, and some Ferns of the genera Polypodium, Aspidium, Asplenium, Davallia, (Loxsoma, R. Br.), Doodia, and Pteris, some of the first genus adhered to trees, but among the parasites (Astelia?) I could not perceive any of that most interesting tribe Orchideae. That genus of Proteacea, Knightia, I remarked a mere shrub, but nevertheless putting forth flower-buds. On the margin of these woods, just beyond the reach of the flood-tide, I perceived Myoporum laetum, Lepidium oleraceum, and a branching tree thirty feet high, with ternate and quinate leaves (Vitex littoralis, A. Cunn). 

“In penetrating these woods, I met with much impediment from the arundinaceous supple rambling stems of a Smilax (Ripogonum parviflorum), a single species of scandent Rubus, (R. cissoides, A. Cunn.,) with quinated narrow leaves, and the wiry stem of a species of Lygodium (L. articulatum,) without fructification. 

“Quitting this shore, we stood up the river a short distance, and again landed at a small native village, consisting of a few miserable hovels, [p299] scarcely capable of sheltering its inmates from the weather, being generally in a dilapidated state. The men were absent in their canoes, while their women were busily engaged in the preparation of the soil, which was very poor and stony, for the planting of Koomeras, or sweet potatoes. This operation was effected by a careful clearing of the surface of weeds, and then loosening it by a superficial digging, which exposed to our view the hungry nature of the soil. 

“As the weather appeared doubtful, and the wind had freshened much in the N.E. quarter, it was proposed to return; and by the hour of three in the afternoon, when we reached the open bay, the breeze had considerably increased, rendering it better for the boat to continue along shore direct to the ship rather than pull so far to leeward to land me at the missionary station. I therefore passed the night on board the “Indian”, and landed early next morning – it being my full intention, in order to form a clear idea of the vegetation of the woods, in the environs of this station, ere I commence my journeys to those at a distance, to make an excursion among the hills immediately at the back of this little settlement. 

“To afford an idea of the face of the country, it appears necessary here to state, that the surface of this part of the island (and I am informed it is generally so,) is a continued undulation constituting an assemblage of rounded hills and interjacent valleys, without any absolutely lofty land of mountainous character, or open level plains. 

“The summits of many (all ?) of these rounded hills are covered with Pteris esculenta, to whose roots the natives have, as their dérnier ressort, a resource whenever their sweet potatoes or maize crops fail. This species of Fern grows about three feet high, is very dense, and among it is frequently interspersed that rambling plant Coriaria sarmentosa of Forster, from the baccated fruit of which the natives express a drink, said to be intoxicating. 

“The slopes or declivities of these hills, and the interjacent valleys themselves, which are frequently exceedingly sharp in proportion to the proximity of the summits, and the dip of declivity, are clothed with trees of great verdure, [p300] but of very ordinary size, beneath whose shade exists an underwood so dense as to be difficult of penetration. 

“In these narrow valleys, therefore, which furnish generally at their base a rill of water, I sought to occupy myself in my onset, in my attempts to make myself somewhat acquainted with the vegetation of this neighbourhood, and although the fatigue of climbing sharp acclivities, descending abrupt slopes, and penetrating coppices, almost impervious, was excessive, I cannot say that I was not repaid by the novelty and variety of the plants phaenogamous as well as cryptogamous, which these solitudes display. 

“In some open places on the hills, Leptospermum scoparium, referred to by Captain Cook, was in flower, and if its habit reminded me of the colony of Port Jackson, and the friends I had left there, the pretty genus Drosera, so common in Parramatta and here at this period found in flower, did not fail to stir up within me feelings of affectionate remembrance for those whose courtesies I had experienced, and of whose hospitality I have so often partaken. 

“On the skirts of the woods I gathered specimens of Gaultheria antipoda in flower, and young fruit. Upon the trunks of the larger trees were some fine Mosses, and three species of Polypodium, besides (to my joy,) a charming plant of Orchideae (Earina mucronata,) with very narrow elongated leaves, bearing white flowers, which were, however, beyond my reach, but of which I shall secure plants on my return again to the colony. Knightia excelsa here grows to the height of sixty feet, and was putting forth its flower-spikes, as was also a tree called by the natives Koa-Koa, which I apprehend from its habit to be a Trichilia(Hartighsia spectabilis).

“In spots less secluded from the solar rays than the general mass, I detected Fuchsia excorticata richly in flower; and what really added to the novelty and beauty of the plant is, its pendant flowers, on their first expansion, are of a bluish-green cast, which afterwards change to red; and thus the plant has at the same time flowers of two distinct colours: it forms a small tree of twelve feet in height. Among the Ferns on the hills I observed Thelymitra longifolia, Forst. [p301] (T. Fosteri, Sw.) one of the few Orchideae found by Forster in New Zealand.”

Hokianga, Kiddee Kiddee River (possibly Kerikeri River) September 1826

An opportunity shortly occurred for Mr Cunningham being enabled to visit the west coast of the northern island. A party of his missionary friends having occasion to repair to the station at Hokianga, Mr Cunningham took advantage of the circumstance, to travel in company with these gentlemen.

Their first stage was by boat to the station on the Kiddee Kiddee River (Sept. 20th), where they were detained the whole of the next day by the threatening appearance of the weather; however, they took the opportunity of visiting a cascade on the river, of which our traveller speaks in the following terms :- 

“We at length penetrated to the margin of the river, where a most picturesque fall of water, from lofty rocks of the whinstone structure, was presented to us, of an interesting and imposing effect; the more so as its perpendicular drop is considerable, for an island of such a flattened or depressed character. 

“The river, at the point at which we had intersected it, murmured over whinstone pebbles, and formed a breadth not exceeding thirty feet. About an hundred feet higher up the river, the column of water fell into an ample, seemingly deep basin, at least eighty yards in width. We all stood awhile to contemplate the grandeur of the scene, amidst a heavy surcharged humid atmosphere, arising from the vapour that enveloped everything around us. From the bed of the river above this vertical dip, its waters fall, in one unbroken body, a space we estimated at seventy feet, into a continuation of its channel, much deepened by the perpetual pressure and wear of the falling column, whose breadth at the edge of the upper bed might exceed forty yards. Perceiving a deep recess within the cataract, formed by an excavation of the decomposing rock, from which rose a continued mist, I crossed the river, and by passing on the skirts of the woods vesting the banks, crept round into this spacious cavern, which being lined with a verdant vegetation naturally excited my desire to explore its interior, in the hopes that [p302] from its sides and even roof, some Filices and Musci, new to me, might be met with. However, I found the whole cryptogamous vegetation to consist of a Blechnum (Lomaria?) an Aspidium, a Doodia, some Mosses and phaenogamous plants, already noticed. 

“This excavation, which at present falls back in depth about sixty feet appeared to be enlarging by the disengaging of the decomposing or softer parts of the sides and roof, which falling down on the area beneath, is in part carried away by the impetuosity of those floods which at periods swell the river to an increased rise of two fathoms, when the cave is partially filled with the violent eddy water which are naturally formed by the increased column at these periods. We found the marks of the flood on the branches of the overhanging trees.”

Hokianga River 25th September 1826

On the 26th, they reached the mouth of the Hokianga river, after a toilsome journey from the wretched native paths they traversed, encumbered with a perfect network of matted roots, rendering it both painful and dangerous from their slippery state, to walk over; and also much inconvenience was experienced from the continued rains that rendered their bivouacs very unpleasant, and made the drying of botanical specimens a very tedious and almost hopeless process. 

Of the appearance of the headlands at the mouth of the river, Mr Cunningham says, – 

“Nothing can exceed the extremes of sterility its surface presents, the whole north Head appears a ridge of drift sand fifty or sixty feet above the sea, of which a large portion is perfectly devoid of vegetation. Many patches we found upon landing, to be formed in part, of an admixture of sand and argillaceous earth indurated by the weather, and loaded with an incrustation of iron sandstone, whose exterior presented nodules, fistulose or pipe-shaped pieces of the same material were also found scattered on the surface, where small pebbles of carnelian were not unfrequent. 

“On a closer examination of this remarkable Head of the river, it appears of the following geological structure: the base or lowest stratum visible, is an indurated white clay or marl (a few feet), its superincumbent a pudding-stone or [p303] bed of agglutinated gravel of whinstone pebbles, fifty to sixty feet thick, dipping S.E. and S., upon which, as the upper stratum, ridges 700 to 800 feet high of loose sand in some parts incrusted as above. Large masses of the pudding-stone were scattered on the beach; the whinstone pebbles of which it was composed were mostly spherical, and about the size of a 32lb. shot. The vast sands which rest on this detritus? of the last catastrophe of our planet, are of a brownish colour (probably tinted by iron everywhere prevalent), and contain many small clear crystals. 

“The only vegetable that appeared capable of maintaining an existence in such an extreme sterility of soil was Arundo australis, which grows in small tufts, and probably having long roots, found nourishment deep beneath the surface, where doubtless there is water; since in the declivities we observed a smart percolation of that element, which in the progress of its descent to the actual beach, frequently was taken up by the thirsty aridity of the sands, and often burst forth again at the surface, as the situation or position of the sand ridge might be. From the summit of the Head we had a distinct view of the entrance of the river, which we had just apprehension to fear, from all reports of it, was pregnant with danger.* However, notwithstanding the wind was acting against the ebb tide, the break of the sea was only in parts on the bar, which is said to be of various depths, extending from one shore to the other.

* They were expecting a small vessel belonging to the Missionaries, to meet them at this river.

“We perceived patches, over which we were told there were four fathoms at low water, which did not break, and which, to a person on shipboard, knowing the boundaries of the danger, might be considered a safe channel of entrance to vessels as large as 400 tons, having a leading wind and flood tide. 

“Respecting the little missionary vessel which we had expected to meet here on our arrival, we learned that a native had seen a small craft answering to her description two days since, off the mouth of the river, which at length stood off to [p304] the westward and disappeared. 

“I took a range on the higher points connected with the Head, which from the beach has a pleasant verdant aspect. I had however to regret, at the close of a fatiguing journey, to return to our tent with only a solitary plant worthy of consideration: it was Cassinia leptophylla, which forms a shrub of compact growth on the lower sand ridges. Fuchsia excorticata, with its pendant diversi-coloured flowers, ornamented the brushes in those spots nearer the beach, which were composed of Coriaria sarmentosa, Clematis indivisa, and some other shrubs frequent on the shores of the Bay of Islands.”

Return to Paihia, Bay of Islands 2nd October 1826

They continued at the mouth of the river until the 2d of October, when, hearing no intelligence of their schooner, which they now considered had returned to the Bay of Islands, they struck their tents, and turning their faces to the eastward commenced ascending the river on their route homeward, and reached Paihia at sunset of the 4th, much fatigued with their journey, from the almost continuous rains of this ever-weeping climate, and the execrable route they passed over, of which Mr Cunningham observes, – 

“With considerable labour, and much inconvenience to ourselves and the natives who carried our baggage, we traversed the irregular surface of these forests,* netted with the naked roots of the trees for five hours, when we all rejoiced to reach the open country, around which we could extend our view for several miles.

* It was on the margins of these forests Mr Cunningham discovered that interesting genus Alseuosmia, whose elegant flowers adorned the woods, and its delicious odours filled the surrounding atmosphere with fragrance.

“No person, who has not had experience, can form an adequate idea of the painful sensation excited in the soles of the feet, by a continued treading upon exposed bare roots, on a journey of several miles through these woods. The pain I endured, at the close of the day, was similar to what would be experienced by boiling water removing the cuticle of the soles of the feet; great as were these distressing sensations to me, notwithstanding my feet were protected by strong shoes, [p305] I was surprised to observe in how small a degree the feet of the natives were affected.”

Cowa-Cowa (possibly Kawakawa River) tributary of the
Wycaddy (possibly Waitangi) 17th October 1826

Shortly after this, Mr Cunningham took a canoe expedition up the Cowa-Cowa, a tributary of the Wycaddy, and the following are some of his observations on the primitive forests that line the river’s banks:- 

“On this occasion I took with me a fortnight’s provisions for self and native servant, and eight small plant boxes for living subjects of desirable genera, whose seeds cannot be transported to our colony, or are not produced in the seasons of my stay in this island. 

“The Cowa-Cowa at its confluence with the Wycaddy, appears full a mile wide, from which ample breadth however, it soon diminishes to about five hundred yards, and at the extent of ten miles narrows to rapids not more than twenty yards in width. The waters of these rapids we found of very considerable strength, rolling over a coarse pebbly bottom that required no ordinary exertion on the part of our natives to use their paddles effectively against its influence. 

“Passing round the extremity of a small island formed by the deposits of successive freshes for years past, and now clothed with a density of vegetation particularly of Coriaria, Coprosma, Gahnia, Logania, &c., we stopped and encamped on a bed of gravel. A succession of moderately elevated rounded mounds or hills densely wooded with small timbers, generally characterize the banks on each side of the Cowa-Cowa, the dividing or interjacent valleys presenting many minor ravines worthy of examination in my descent of the river next week. 

“A gannet that was shot furnished not only a repast for our natives, but its feathers were converted into ornaments for their heads. 

“The next morning (Oct. 18th), we continued our course up the river which preserved a nearly uniform breadth of twenty yards, for the most part of deep water, and bounded by close brushes and shaded forests. 

“At a short distance from our encampment, we observed some patches of land cleared for cultivation, and in its vicinity is situated a native village of some magnitude. Beyond this spot, the banks, which are not above eight feet [p306] high, are closed up by woods in which Kai-Katea, (Dacrydium? excelsum) of gigantic stature (80 to 100 feet), were frequent amidst the groups of other timbers of considerable bulk. 

“These forests partake of the same character generally of the other parts, for in a range I took through them, many of the same trees were frequent in exactly similar states without fructification. From the head and limbs of a large Kai-Katea, that had been felled for timber, I furnished myself with specimens in fruit, as also from a Laurus (L. Taraira), that has been broken down by the fall of the Kai-Katea. I also gathered seeds of Ripogonum parviflorum, and of the delicate Renealmia (Libertia micrantha), whose white flowers form a striking contrast to the heavy green of the Filices in these woods. 

“The large pigeon and a brown macaw abound in these forests, each finding ample provision in the fruit of aurus [possibly Laurus] Taraira as well as the flowers of the climbing plant of Pandanae, (Freycinetia Banksii, A. Cunn.), which are much sought after by the latter, and other birds on account of the succulent bracteas, which partaking of a sweetish taste, are eagerly eaten also by the natives. This scandent reedy-stemmed plant which first arrested my attention on the Hokianga, I rejoice to observe so abundant in these woods, from which I shall remove its younger plants, with the hope of introducing them in England. 

“In open places beneath the shade of the ferns, I found a little Hypericum (H. pusillum), of procumbent tufty habits, and in the brushes detected Rubus cissoides, profusely in flower. A tree sixty to seventy feet high, with smooth lanceolate leaves, which I had frequently noticed previously, I this day found bearing ripe fruit, proving it to be another Laurus (L. Tawa). In the alluvial soil on the banks of the river, I was much gratified in finding a plant of Pterostylis, (P. Banksii, R. Br.), remarkable for the noble size of the flower, which is produced at the top of a foliaceous stem a foot high. The plant appears rare, as I have only met with but few specimens, after a diligent search for it in the neighbourhood of the spot where I first met with it.

“The Cowdie or Kauri, (Dammara australis,) in these woods were [p307] very fine, of tolerable size, seventy feet high, and with some Kai-Katea (Dacrydium? excelsum), and Tanekaha (Phyllocladas trichomanoides), were the largest timbers these woods furnish. I procured some young trees of the latter for planting in my boxes: the Richea looking tree (Dracophyllum latifolium,) observed last month on the Kiddee-Kiddee river, l remarked in similar situations today without fructification and of sub-arborescent growth. 

Paihia, Bay of Islands 1826

“In descending the river, I landed on the banks in several places to fill my remaining boxes with Knightia excelsa, Laurus Tawa, and some other interesting plants. By reason of the flood tide having set, it was not until after sunset that I was enabled to reach Paihia.”

Whangaroa 1826

Some of the gentlemen attached to the station, being about to visit Wangaroa, Mr Cunningham availed himself of the opportunity, and accompanied them. While on this expedition he had the good fortune to detect a second species of that fine order Proteaceae, (Persoonia Tora, A. Cunn.,) only one being previously known, viz., Knightea excelsa, he also found the Areca sapida of Solander, in flower, which, from its hexandrous free stamens, he thinks improperly placed in Areca. 

His stay at Wangaroa was shortened on account of a quarrel among the natives, the result of which at one period appeared likely to assume a very serious aspect, so far as his missionary friends, with whom he was residing, were concerned; however, they contrived eventually to divert the wrath of the natives from themselves, and returned in safety to Paihia on the 23rd of November. 

The Bay of Plenty 1826

A trip to the Bay of Plenty, about two hundred miles to the southward of Paihia on the same east coast, was afforded Mr Cunningham, by the missionary vessel visiting that port for provisions: the result confirmed an observation of Sir Joseph Banks, of the great sameness of vegetation of widely separated tracts in New Zealand; for Mr Cunningham detected no plants that he had not previously found even as far north as Wangaroa.

Bay of Islands 1826

A few short excursions in the vicinity of the Bay of Islands terminated Mr Cunningham’s sojourn in New Zealand. The [p308] kindness of the Rev. H Williams, and the other gentlemen of the missionary station at Paihia, afforded him a return passage to Sydney in their little schooner the “Herald”; and after an affectionate farewell of his kind friends, with whom he had resided for four months, and from whom he received every possible attention and assistance in his pursuits.

Return to Port Jackson 20th January 1827

He embarked with his collections (which, from the unsettled state of the northern part of the island, were somewhat circumscribed) on the 29th of December, and after a tedious passage from adverse winds, landed in Sydney on the 20th of January, 1827. 

Florae Insularum Novae Zelandiae Precursor is published

The botanical products of this expedition are given at length, with descriptions of the new plants in the Companion to the Botanical Magazine, Vol. II., and the Annals of Natural History, Vol. I. to IV, under the title of Florae Insularum Novae Zelandiae Precursor, or a specimen of the botany of the islands of New Zealand, by Allan Cunningham, Esq.

Exploration to the north western interior and 
discovery of the Darling Downs 1827

The proposal for an exploratory journey to the north western interior 
19th February 1827

Mr Cunningham having understood that it was the wish of the colonial government that a more extended exploratory journey should be made in the north and north-western interior, for the purpose of investigating the capabilities of the country for agricultural and other purposes, communicated with the governor, lieutenant-general Darling, through the secretary, Mr MacLeay intimating his desire to conduct an expedition for the proposed purposes, and gave a general detail of the route he intended to pursue, and the portion of country he wished to investigate. 

In his public letter he says, 

“I have the honour to state to your Excellency, that in the prosecution of this journey, it is my design to proceed, in the first place, by the most eligible route from the colony (Parramatta) to Peel’s River, a stream that was discovered on the north side of Liverpool Plains, by our late indefatigable surveyor-general, Oxley, in his journey of 1818, who found it situate within the meridians of 150° and 151° East, in or about the parallel of 31° South.

“Upon fully preparing myself for my journey, I would take my departure from the point at which Mr Oxley had crossed this river, and in the [p309] direction of the meridian, would penetrate: north to the parallel of Cape Morton, in lat. 27° South. 

“In this northern journey would be ascertained the general features and character of a portion of our interior, comprehending four degrees of latitude, as also its geological structure, the nature of its soil, the importance and value of its timbers, and the number, magnitude, and velocity of the streams by which it is watered.

“In this excursion, moreover, would be determined how far the Brisbane River is to be considered as originating in the high lands near the coast, or whether the opinion that has prevailed is correct, of the identity of its stream with some presumed outlet from the eastern margins of our interior marshes, which (presuming that the declivity or dip of the country easterly favours the hypothesis,) may exist during pertain periods, of extensive overflows, occasioned by the vast quantities of water that are known to be poured into them by our own western rivers, during seasons of long rains.

“Should circumstances connected with my establishment permit, and a dry season favour me, it is my design, upon reaching the latitude of 27° S., to devote a portion of time to a western excursion, direct in the interior, with the view of gathering some facts in reference to the magnitude of those great marshes, and their extent northerly, from the latitude of 30 1/2° S., in which parallel Mr Oxley quitted their eastern margin in 1818.

“Independently of this consideration, the course I should thus pursue, and also my subsequent eastern and south-eastern routes, to an intersection of my outward track, would afford me the means of reporting to your Excellency on the variety of country my expedition would traverse. Should, however, the season prove wet, and the general aspect of the weather furnish too evident indications of an approach of much rain, upon my arrival at the parallel of 27° S., rendering it hazardous to my party to dip into a low declining interior, such as I am disposed to apprehend exists in that parallel of latitude, it would be highly imprudent to quit my position on the high eastern lands.

“Having, therefore, by an easterly course, endeavoured to discover the [p310] point at which Major Lockyer had penetrated up the Brisbane River from the sea, in September, 1825, in which I may be aided by extracts in my possession, from the journals of that gentleman, I propose, then, (having determined the geographical position of his extreme point of penetration,) to pursue a southern course, through the elevated country lying to the eastward of my outward-shaped track, and in my progress homeward, I feel satisfied I shall gather such particulars in reference to the very considerable expanse of undulated country stretching to the parallel of 31° S., as will prove highly interesting to the grazier, and important to the colony in general.

“In the progress of this lengthened tour, it will be my first consideration to construct a sketch of my route, on geographical principles, noting the directions of all the principal mountain ranges, and fixing their positions, not simply by the series of angles I shall employ throughout the country as I proceed, but by daily altitudes of the sun, taken at the meridian, and lunar distances, as often as these can be effected in the progress of the month.

“It will, moreover, afford me great pleasure (provided I can obtain, upon my return, dally corresponding observations made in Sydney during my absence), to observe the height the mercurial column at special periods each day, throughout my journey, in order that I may be able to determine, by barometrical admeasurement, the elevation above the ocean, of the country over which I may travel.

“To effect these important and very interesting points of this proposed journey, it is my intention to carry with me a sextant of superior description, divided to 10” – a Schmalcalder’s compass, combining most satisfactorily the circumferentor, the travellers and azimuth compasses, for the determination of the magnetic variation – an odometer, to measure the base lines – a mountain barometer, and a pocket chronometer.

“Having submitted at length to your Excellency a scheme of my proposed northern tour, of which the result will furnish an important material to fill up a considerable blank in the charts of the colony, I have the honour to lay before your Excellency a requisition for an outfit [p311] adequate to this journey, on which I shall be happy to proceed on or about Monday, the 26th of March next.

“I have the honour to be, 
“Your Excellency’s most obedient humble servant, 
“19th Feb., 1827.”

“His Excellency, Lieut.-General Darling.”

Allan Cunningham 19th February 1827

Segenhoe 26th April to 30th April 1827

This proposal was accepted, and on the 30th of April Mr Cunningham took his departure from Segenhoe,* (on an upper branch of Hunter’s River,) with six men, and eleven heavily laden horses, pursuing his journey northerly, along the eastern skirts of Liverpool Plains. 

* The packhorses and their leaders had been sent overland, unladen, to this station, the whole of the baggage of the expedition having been forwarded by sea to Newcastle, and thence taken up the Hunter in boats, to Segenhoe, Mr Cunningham accompanying it.

On the 11th of May he crossed Mr Oxley’s track easterly, towards Port Macquarie, in 1818, and from that point the labours of the expedition commenced, on ground previously untrodden by civilised man. On the 19th of May they entered a valley in lat. 30° S., which was named Stoddart’s Valley, (after Mr Cunningham’s esteemed friend, lieutenant, now lieutenant-colonel Stoddart,) and shortly after came upon the Peel River, and were enabled to ford it at a part where the breadth was diminished to fifty yards. 

On the 25th they had reached lat. 29° 10′ S., and there found a termination on the west to the hilly country they had lately traversed. 

“A level open interior, of vast expanse, bounded on the north and north-west by a distant horizon, broke suddenly on our view. At north-west, more particularly, it was evident to all of us that the country had a most decided dip, and on that bearing the line of sight extended over a great extent of densely wooded or brushed land, the monotonous aspect of which was here and there relieved by a brown patch of plain; of these some were so remote as to appear a mere speck on the ocean of land before us, on which the eye sought anxiously for a rising [p312] smoke, as indicative of the presence of the wandering aborigines, but in vain; for, excepting in the immediate neighbourhood of a river of the larger magnitude, these vast solitudes may be fairly said to be almost entirely without inhabitants.

“We had now all the high grounds on our right hand, or to the east of us, and before us at north, a level, wooded country.”

Dumaresq River 1827

Mr Cunningham’s intention of reaching the parallel of 27° S., on the meridian he was travelling on, was frustrated by the arid country he now got into, and after crossing the parallel of 29° S., he altered his course to the northeast and eastward, and shortly after crossed Dumaresq’s river, which at that point had a channel of from eighty to one hundred yards in width, but the stream in its present state was diminished to about thirty yards wide, and apparently very deep. 

The Darling Downs is discovered 5th June 1827

It was not until they had passed the meridian of 151° E., that they came into a country capable of affording their nearly famished horses a better means of subsistence, and on the 5th of June they reached an extensive clear tract of country, generally well watered, and affording apparently at all seasons of the year, grass and herbage of an extraordinary luxuriance of growth. 

These extensive tracts of clear pastoral country were subsequently named Darling Downs, in honour of his Excellency the governor: they are situated about the parallel of 28° S., and stretch east eighteen miles to the meridian of 152° E. They are watered by a chain of ponds which in wet seasons become united, and form an auxiliary to the Condamine river, which winds along their south-western margin.

Cannings Downs, Peels Plains 1827

The elevation of these downs above the level of the sea is about 1800 feet. Other clear lands in the vicinity were respectively named Canning’s Downs and Peel’s Plains; and from a square-topped mount in the neighbourhood, the view to the N.W. was over an immeasurable expanse of flat wooded country, without the slightest eminence to interrupt the common level, which, in consequence of the very clear state of the atmosphere, could be discerned to a very distant line of horizon verging on the parallel of 27° S. 

From the [p313] spacious surface of the vast levels, which are covered very generally with small trees, not a single smoke was seen to arise to indicate the existence of the wandering native in these solitary regions. 

Mount Sturt 1827

As all observation easterly towards the coast line, from the point of the ridge Mr Cunningham had ascended, was prevented by the more elevated ranges in the neighbourhood, he quitted the spot on which he had encamped at its foot, and with the view of penetrating towards the higher points of these mountains, proceeded south about four miles; when, on passing round the base of a second hill, which was named Mount Sturt, (in compliment to Captain Sturt, 39th regiment,) the party entered a very beautiful grassy valley, bounded by lofty lateral ridges; and extending several miles in a north-eastern direction to the foot of the principal range. 

Logan’s Vale 1827

Advancing a few miles up this vale, which was named after Captain Logan, the then commandant of the penal settlement on the Brisbane river, Mr Cunningham encamped on a small brook meandering through it to the south; and as the condition of his horses, and the state of his provisions, obliged him to close his journey northerly at this valley, he determined to occupy a few days in a partial examination of the adjacent country, and in making the necessary observations for ascertaining the situation of the encampment previous to commencing his return line of route.

Mount Warning Ranges are sighted 1827

On the morning of the 11th of June, Mr Cunningham, accompanied by one of his people, proceeded to climb the hills immediately above the tents, the elevated summits of which appeared likely to afford him a view of the surrounding country, particularly to eastward. Gaining, after some exertion, a lofty point of the lateral, ridge, they observed through some hollow parts of the back of the main range (which stretched before them at a distance of about ten miles,) portions of the country lying in the vicinity of the Brisbane river, at northeast, as also parts of the more distant lands situate at the base of the Mount Warning ranges, the cone of which was distinctly seen crowning that group of mountains at an estimated distance of 65 or 70 miles, bearing East [p314] 9° South. 

Had the weather continued favourable, it would have been important to have examined the main range with the view of ascertaining how far a passage could be effected over it to the shores of Moreton Bay or Brisbane River, from which points only, the very interesting pastoral country lying on the western side of these mountains can be accessible.

A practicable pass is seen in the distance 1827 
(now known as Cunningham’s Pass)

A very singular, deeply excavated part of the range, bearing from the station on the ridge about N.N.E,, was, however, remarked, to the pitch of which the acclivity from the head of a valley lying parallel with Logan’s Vale, and extending south-westerly to Darling Downs, seemed very moderate; and as this gap appeared likely to prove on examination a very practicable pass through these mountains, Mr Cunningham determined to employ a day in exploring it. 

These mountains, to the western base of which the exploring party had approached from a sterile southern region, form a leading range in this part of the country, and give rise to waters that fall as well on the coast as westerly to the distant interior; and as the barometrical observations, made on the lateral range whence the peak of Mount Warning was seen, gave a result of 3735 feet, and the extreme ridge appeared at least 300 feet higher, the elevation of this dividing range may be considered about 4100 feet. 

The forest ridges, which were heavily timbered with stringy bark (Eucalyptus) of great bulk, were found clothed to their summits with grasses of the most luxuriant growth; and being well watered by numerous trickling rills that appeared to originate between the shoulders of the hills, constitute a very spacious range of the richest cattle-pasture.

Upon examining the hollow back of the mountain ridge, it was found to be very rugged, large masses of rock having fallen down from the heads on each side into the gap, rendering it impassable; and as it was overgrown with strong twining plants, the thicket they formed was found nearly impervious. Immediately to the south, however, the range presented a very moderate surface, over which a line of road might be constructed without much labour, and at comparatively small [p315] cost, as the rise from the valley, extending from Darling Downs, proved by no means abrupt, and the fall easterly, from the ridge to the forest ground at its base, appeared of singularly easy declivity. 

Looking north-easterly from this eminence, the eye traversed with pleasure over a fine open grazing country, very moderately timbered with patches of clear plain and detached wooded ridges, to diversify the surface; and in no part did there appear any obstacle to prevent a communication either with the southern shores of Moreton Bay, or the banks of the Brisbane River. 

The base of these mountains is of a compact whinstone; on the higher parts was observed amygdaloid of the trap formation, with nodules of quartz, whilst the summit exhibited a porphyritic rock very porous, and containing numerous minute quartzose crystals. The situation of the tents in Logan’s Vale was determined as follows : – 

Latitude by meridional altitudes of the sun, the mean of five observations, 28° 19′ 45″ S., Longitude by account, corrected by bearings taken to fixed points on or near the coastline and compared with the mean results of several sets of distances of the sun, and star Antares, from the moon 152° 7′ 45″ E. The variation of the compass was found by azimuths to be 8° 18′ E.; and the distance from the penal settlement on the Brisbane, which bore compass about N.E., was estimated at seventy-five statute miles.

Although very recent traces of natives were observed in different parts of the Vale, only a solitary aborigine was seen, who, in wandering in quest of food, chanced to pass the tents; immediately, however, upon an attempt of one of the party to approach him, he retired in great alarm to the adjacent brushes at the foot of the boundary hills, and instantly disappeared. It therefore seemed probable that he had not seen white men, and possibly might never have had any communication with the natives inhabiting the country on the eastern side of the dividing range, from whom he could have acquired such information of the existence of a body of white [p316] strangers on the banks of the Brisbane River, and their friendly dispositions towards his countrymen. 

In the progress of the expedition northerly, it was remarked, that the plants of those portions of the interior lying between the parallels of 32° and 28° S., differ but little from the characteristic vegetation of the temperate parts of the colony generally – the many unpublished species, which were discovered in the course of the journey belonging for the most part to genera characterising the Flora of the colony and country immediately adjacent.* 

* The genus Acacia appears to have been found most abundant, for not less than thirty species of this elegant race were found during the expedition.

Upon gaining the parallel of 28° S., however, under the meridian of 152° E., a very decided change takes place in the vegetable productions. The brushes which densely invest the sides of the lateral ranges, were, on examination, found to be plants more usually to be observed in the intertropical parts of Australia.

Resumed his journey to the southward 16th June 1827

Mr Cunningham, on the 16th of June, resumed his journey to the southward; for, notwithstanding the benefit his horses had derived from rest and good pasture during the stay of the party in Logan’s Vale, they were all exceedingly weak, and his provisions so considerably reduced, that he was reluctantly compelled to relinquish the tour he had originally contemplated towards the western marshes into which the Macquarie River drains, and the more particularly as the appearances of the weather at the change of the moon had led him to apprehend that a period of heavy rain was about to succeed the protracted season of drought. 

Logan’s Vale, Canning Downs June 1827

On quitting Logan’s Vale, they commenced their journey through a fine open forest country, abounding in excellent pasture, and tolerable timber, and watered by a reedy creek running to the westward. In about nine miles they reached the north- eastern skirts of Canning Downs, which, in pursuing their course, they crossed at a part where their breadth did not exceed two miles. After passing through a heavily timbered [p317] forest, but slightly elevated above the mean level of the Downs, upon effecting fifteen miles they halted at a chain of small ponds, furnishing on their margin some tolerable grass for their horses. 

On the 18th, the party reached a marshy plain, which appeared to stretch several miles to the base of a lofty range of mountains at east, from whence ran a brisk creek to the westward. After penetrating for about six miles through an uninteresting forest of red gum, (Eucalyptus robusta) they at length reached the confines of a broken and mountainous country, exhibiting a geological character not previously met with in any stage of the journey. The rock was a very hard granite, in which the quartz, greatly preponderating, was unusually large. 

Their journeying to the end of the month was through a country of a most impracticable nature, composed of a series of glens and ridges of a most rugged description, through which they had extreme difficulty in leading their wearied packhorses. 

Dumaresq River 30th June 1827

On the 30th they reached the banks of the Dumaresq River, about fifty miles nearer its source than where they crossed it on their outward bound tract. The height of the river was 1040 feet above the level of the sea, showing a mean fall of four feet per mile between the two fords. The precipitous character of the country in a southerly direction, apparently continuing to some distance, induced Mr Cunningham to alter his course to the south-west, in the hopes of gaining a more easy route for his horses to travel over. 

Gwydir River 9th July 1827

On the 9th of July, they crossed their outward tract in lat. 29° 30′ S., and the next day (10th), came on the banks of a large stream which received the name of the Gwydir. 

Liverpool Plains 16th July 1827

On the 16th, they reached the ridges overlooking a level wooded country, extending apparently to Liverpool Plains, and where they experienced extreme difficulty in descending with their weakened packhorses to the level of those vast plains, a descent of about 1200 feet; however, by great precaution, this was accomplished in safety, after a journey of two hours of great anxiety, and then with a quickened pace, they prosecuted their course southerly through a forest-ground abounding in kangaroos. [p318]

Field River 19th July 1827

On the 19th, their crossed the Field River of Oxley, and reached Liverpool Plains on the 21st, and finally returned to their starting point Segenhoe, on Hunter’s River, on the 28th, having, in an absence of thirteen weeks, travelled upwards of eight hundred miles. 

The result of this journey was the acquirement of a knowledge of a portion of the interior 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.*

* For more lengthened details of this journey, vide 
The Australian Quarterly Journal for January and April, 1828. 
The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol . II., p. 99, 1832 ; and 
Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, Vol. II., p, 109, 1834-5

A remarkable feature in their tour was the paucity of inhabitants in the varied districts they travelled over. Five times only, in the prosecution of their journey were the aborigines seen, when, either in consequence of their timid dispositions, and the great alarm excited by the appearance of the packhorses or other circumstances, Mr Cunningham’s communication with them was entirely prevented, and no remark on their persons or their language could be made.

The few who suffered the travellers for the moment to view them at a distance appeared to be tall and well-formed, and of rather athletic make; possessing the same description of weapons as the aborigines, who more fully peopled the shores in the vicinity of Port Jackson; with whom, as being of the same primitive stock, they appeared to be fully identified, not simply in their general conformation, but in their wandering unsettled habits, and the full exercise of those savage instincts, by which they find their food in the trees, and their path through the forest.

A week in Segenhoe then homeward via
Mount Dangar to Bathurst 5th August 1827

Having afforded his people and horses a week’s rest at Segenhoe, Mr Cunningham quitted that station on the 5th of August, with the intention of returning to the colony by the way of Bathurst, owing to the broken rocky character of the country in the vicinity of Mount Dangar, round the south [p319] western base of which eminence their course lay. 

Plains of Daby onward to Bathurst and Parramatta 
16th August 1827 to 31st August 1827

It was not until the 16th that they reached their old encamping ground on the plains of Daby, on the Cugeegong River, and on the 23d they arrived at Bathurst, where it was found necessary to give the horses a further rest, and, on the evening of the 31st they finally arrived safely at Parramatta.

Report to the Governor Lieut-General Darling
at Parramatta 1st September 1827

Mr Cunningham waited on the Governor the next day, and laid before his Excellency a rough outline of the country through which he had penetrated, north of Liverpool Plains; and gave his Excellency some brief observations on the general results of the journey, with the whole of which the Governor expressed his entire satisfaction. 

On the delivery of a report of his late journey, accompanied by a map of the new discoveries, Mr Cunningham received the following letter from the Governor’s private secretary:- 

17th November, 1827.

“Sir, – I am directed to acquaint you, that his Excellency the Governor has forwarded the journal of your late expedition into the interior of this colony, with its accompanying map, to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State. His Excellency has been unwilling to delay transmitting to his Lordship the result of so interesting a journey, through an extensive portion of hitherto unknown interior; and he has had pleasure in bearing testimony to the zeal and enterprise with which it was undertaken, as also to the judgement and success with which it has been performed.

“I have the honour to be, Sir, 
“Your most obedient and most humble Servant,

“To A. Cunningham, Esq”

T de La Condamine 17th November 1827

The remaining portion of 1827
and the early months of 1828

Bathurst, Macquarie River, Illawarra
January to February 1828

The remaining portion of this year, and the months of January and February 1828, were employed in journeys to Bathurst, the Pine (Callitris) ridges on the banks of the Macquarie below that settlement, and the forests of Illawarra, for seeds and epiphytal Orchideae for transmission to the Royal Gardens. 

Request to return home to England 1828

At the same period, Mr Cunningham renewed [p320] a request, some time previously made, that a termination might be appointed for his labours in the southern hemisphere: he most touchingly says:

“May I be permitted again, most earnestly and respectfully to beg you, to weigh duly the several points submitted to your consideration, in my letter of March last, and in again urging my great desire to visit my native land. 

“I trust with the utmost confidence, that a service of fourteen years, in the arduous occupation of botanical collector for his Majesty’s Gardens, will assuredly obtain for me the permission to return to England in the earlier months of the next year; and, looking forward to the close of my labours in the colony at that period, it is my fullest intention to employ myself during the current year, in the performance of the several duties of my appointment; and (particularly as the season may favour me,) that of collecting living specimens of such plants as are still desiderata of the Royal Gardens.

“To this end, it is my design (in obedience to your desire,) to make my voyage to Moreton Bay in the cooler months of the year, in order to take up, for establishing in boxes, young plants of the Araucaria or Brisbane Pine, so frequent on the river bearing that name, as well as those of Flindersia, Carissa, Hoya and many other interesting genera, not known to exist, indigenously, to the southward of that penal settlement.

“I have been steadily engaged, independently of the bodily indisposition contracted during its progress, and under which I so frequently labour”

Allan Cunningham

“Several botanical excursions to various parts of the colony, and my visit to Van Dieman’s Land, will employ me to the close of the year; at which period, although I may not have received any instructions, I nevertheless shall be induced to hope, that the consideration of the length of the service in which I have been steadily engaged, independently of the bodily indisposition contracted during its progress, and under which I so frequently labour, will at once remove any objection to my quitting the colony that might otherwise exist, and justify me fully in taking my passage for England, in one or other of the next year’s wool ships, in charge of such collections as circumstances and season may have enabled me to form.”