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Crossing the Blue Mountains -4
3 Sisters, Blue Mountains, Australia.
Were Blaxland, Lawson & Wentworth really the first?
Blaxland, Lawson & Wentworth, 1813

Blue Mountains, Australia, History

The "Official" Story

Everyone knows that Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth were the first Europeans to succeed in crossing Australia's impenetrable Blue Mountains, and thus opened up the way for the colony to expand onto the vast fertile slopes and plains of the west. Previous expeditions had tried, of course, but all failed. The only way across was via the three explorers' innovative ridge-top route.

Well, it makes a nice story.

Blaxland, Lawson & Wentworth, 1813

By the time Gregory Blaxland, Lt. William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth set out, a considerable amount of information had been gathered.  Not only did they know of numerous routes which didn't work, but they had George Caley's observations of the main ridge, made from Mt Banks.  They also knew that the most successful efforts were those which followed ridges.

They set out, on May 11, to mount the "main" ridge from Emu Plains, and followed a route similar to that of the Great Western Highway and railway to Mt Victoria. They then followed a finger ridge to Mt York, arriving late on May 28.

Gregory Blaxland

Mt York

The view from Mt York is not, as implied by some accounts of history, one of expansive pastures. It is of the upper Cox's valley, with the Great Dividing Range blocking the view to the west.

Descending into the valley, they came to the same bank of the same river as they had been on 12 days ago - the Cox's flows to the Nepean.  They could have got there by following the river, as John Wilson apparently had.

Their turn-around point was Mt Blaxland, some 12km short of the Great Divide. They had discovered a way over the Blue Mountains, and an area of pasture on the other side. It was May 31, they had been travelling for 21 days, and had covered about 93km; an average of about 4.5km per day. They returned to Emu Plains in 5 days.

This route was later to become that of the highway and railway. However, it was Francis Barrallier's route which became the stock route, as it offered better feed along the way.

Their report to the Governor Macquarie was modest; it was later writers who polished up the story and made them into heroes. Macquarie took no action to exploit their discovery.

Wentworth was later to advise that a railway across the Blue Mountains was impossible.

George Evans Crosses the Divide

Six months later, George Evans led a team which followed the Three Explorer's route, and continued on, over the Great Dividing Range, to where Bathurst now stands. He thus became the first European known to have reached the rich pasture land of the Western Slopes and Plains.

Governor Macquarie now became seriously interested. He commissioned George Cox to build a road along the route, and personally made the trip to Bathurst soon after it was completed. Bathurst, which did not yet exist as such, was to become Australia's first inland city.

Why do they get all the credit?

Two reasons come to mind:

  • The Three were respectable (unlike Wilson), and British (unlike Barrallier).
  • Previously, it had been in the governor's interests to promote the belief that the mountains were impenetrable. Had Governor Hunter been so inclined, he could have followed up on John Wilson's explorations and had a road to Hartley by 1800, and one to Goulburn soon after.

It is not our intention to denigrate the achievement of the Three Explorers. Rather, we seek to put it back into proper perspective; in fact, the perspective in which they themselves apparently saw it.

Continued: George Evans.....  


The main source of information for this work is Chris Cunningham's "The Blue Mountains Rediscovered", 1996, Kangaroo Press. We recommend the book to anyone interested in pursuing this topic. See our Shopping Arcade for booksellers.

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