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‘A very tolerable addition’: Leichhardt’s mapping of the Balonne River

Paper presented by Dr Martin Woods, National Library of Australia
Leichhardt symposium, National Museum of Australia, 15 June 2007

DR MARTIN WOODS: As we have heard today, exploration may be about the pursuit of science, or testing personal character, uncovering the unknown. It may encompass artistic pursuits and inspire literature. But at its heart, at least as Leichhardt and others understood it, exploration was about land, and mostly the acquisition of land. The name ‘Leichhardt’ features in many collection items held by the National Library, and in other libraries. Named after Leichhardt and found on maps, especially in Queensland, are numerous regions and features – from gorges, downs, rivers, creeks and gullies to points and ranges, the Leichhardt Highway and, of course, the Leichhardt Tree. These and many others are points on the landscape featured on maps that record the name ‘Leichhardt’. On the other hand, it is worth noting how few maps created by Leichhardt himself are to be found.

Marcel Aurousseau, who translated the known Leichhardt letters in the 1960s, listed the surviving original draft maps by Leichhardt. These included a rough outline of the north east coast of Australia for the Port Essington expedition as well as a large scale plan on ten sheets, together with a reduction of that plan, that are all held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney. There are a few rough geological sketches in Leichhardt’s journals but otherwise no known map sheets drawn by Leichhardt of his second attempted grand expedition to Peak Downs and, as far as anybody knows, none of the third expedition.

I am going to talk about the Balonne River expedition. Perhaps the map most people would associate with Leichhardt is this map of the Port Essington expedition [shows Samuel Perry map courtesy of National Library of Australia]. It was run off in the Hibernian printing office in Sydney in 1846 by Samuel Perry, not by Leichhardt, although it includes some of Leichhardt’s mapping. It was a popular map of a celebrated expedition, and widely distributed. Leichhardt in his writings expressed some pleasure at seeing this map, because it depicts the distance covered - more than any other Australian land explorer to date. It is the first of a number of printed maps of Leichhardt’s expeditions, particularly of his Port Essington expedition, which begin to appear, but actually one of only three maps printed in his lifetime that he had a hand in.

[Shows Arrowsmith map courtesy of National Library of Australia:] Here is another far more detailed map, actually titled, ‘A detailed map of Dr Ludwig Leichhardt’s route in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington’ by John Arrowsmith, 1847. This is only a small portion of a map on six sheets showing Leichhardt’s route, or part of it, and including some of his notes on geology and vegetation. It shows all the qualities that made Arrowsmith a collector’s favourite and the choice of the British government of the time for military and ordnance survey or taxation mapping. In 1834 Arrowsmith published the London Atlas, which was considered the best set of such maps then in existence. He was known to be particularly favourable to publishing Australian and other colonial surveys. In this map we can actually see a little of the western Condamine and Balonne system which Leichhardt skirted on his way up to Port Essington.

Had he had time in his dotage to reflect on a long life of expeditioning, we would have had an entirely different record available to us but, as we know, Leichhardt’s exploring days were numbered, and his maps are extremely scarce. So we were very pleased when last year one came up for sale and we were able to pick it up. Doubly surprising, it was a copy not listed by Aurousseau.

[Shows Leichhardt map courtesy of National Library of Australia:] This is a map of the South Queensland Downs showing the Balonne/Condamine river system and stretching in the north to the Dawson, drawn in September 1847. While I think you will agree it is not a particularly attractive map, there are a few characteristics which make this one interesting. Most obviously, it was dedicated by Leichhardt in his own hand to the recipient, Arthur Hodgson. Leichhardt had 14 copies of the map run off - we know this from his journal - and one dedicated to Henry Stuart Russell is held by the State Library of New South Wales. These two maps are the only known survivors of an expedition rarely considered, and the last known mapping by Leichhardt.

On the surface it would seem an unremarkable map, of an unremarkable side journey, between the failed Peak Downs expedition and his final outing. This exploration of the western Darling Downs and area recently called Fitzroy Downs by Thomas Mitchell after the new governor of New South Wales is given a brief treatment in Colin Roderick’s book Leichhardt, the Dauntless Explorer. But other than this, it’s usually ignored or omitted. A recent publication for schools that I looked at does not mention it and in fact includes repetitions of things that have been subsequently corrected. I’m hoping that we can do more correcting today. When you hear the following, I hope you will see this expedition in a different light.

It was brief - six weeks - and limited in scope, covering a few rivers in the Western Downs, so perhaps its omission is understandable. What I would like to assert about this relatively minor undertaking, of which our map together with the one in the State Library of New South Wales are the only known depictions, is a role to play in advancing our understanding of his motivations and of his relationship with the Downs. Drawn just six months before the final departure of the Leichhardt party from Jimbour Station in March-April 1848, this map encapsulated an expedition that, as far as Leichhardt is concerned, exorcised some demons and righted wrongs as well as making some practical contributions to settlement ambitions of his squatter supporters.

At one level the map tells the story of a locality Leichhardt knew well, the Darling Downs. It was from here that he commenced most of his expeditioning and drew much of his support base, where he recuperated and felt comfortable, and where in conversation with the squatters he renewed his expeditioning urge. I want to now put to you a list, from Leichhardt’s journal, of the recipients of the Balonne River map in 1847. It includes some of his strongest supporters, mostly Drawling Downs squatters, who themselves benefited from his explorations: [Arthur] Hodgson, [Henry Stuart] Russell, [Joshua] Bell, [Matthew] Goggs, [James] Blyth, [John] Dangar, [James] Ewer, Robert or possibly the brothers John and Archibald] Campbell, [Christopher] Rolleston, [Thomas] Alford, [John] Arrowsmith, [Arthur Sidney] Lyon and [Samuel] Perry.

Of those listed, I have been able to find images of Arthur Hodgson, Henry Russell, Joshua Bell, Christopher Rolleston and Samuel Perry. The outsiders in the list are John Arrowsmith, the London publisher with a penchant for Australiana; Arthur Sidney Lyon, the publisher of the brand new Moreton Bay Courier, much later the Courier Mail; and Samuel Perry, the surveyor who produced the popular map for Leichhardt. The remaining characters in Leichhardt’s notebooks and recipients of the map were landholders on the Downs. Most had assisted with donations of animals or equipment or hospitality, and would do so again.

As they are at home on the land, let’s put them there with this map of Queensland recording pastoral stations [shows map of Queensland pastoral stations courtesy of National Library of Australia]. The first of these stations is Eton Vale, the station owned from 1840 by the squire-squatter Arthur Hodgson, owner of one of the first stations in the Downs. Hodgson was later active in politics as prime mover behind the Moreton Bay and Northern Districts Separation Association, a trenchant advocate of convict labour and restricted voting franchise. He was a general manager of the Australasian Agricultural Company, was for many years the member for Darling Downs and Clarence, and was later Minister for Public Works and Goldfields in the 1860s Mackenzie ministry. Educated at Eton, hence Eton Vale, he entered the navy. After reaching Sydney, like so many others he sought to occupy the choicest pastoral country, which he did in the newly opened up territory of Darling Downs in 1840. After some early reverses Eton Vale became the centre of Darling Downs society. Leichhardt first visited there in 1844 and took Hodgson’s younger brother Pemberton for a time on his first expedition.

Cecil Plains was the property of Henry Stuart Russell. He was the son of an East India Company officer, educated at Harrow. He reached the Downs in 1840 also and stayed for a time with Hodgson. Something of an explorer himself, Russell wrote the quirky tome Genesis of Queensland, which includes a copy of the Balonne River map. Cecil Plains station stretched for about 30 miles on either side of the Condamine River. Russell took part in a couple of exploring expeditions looking for suitable land around the Boyne River. He was first visited at Cecil Plains by Ludwig Leichhardt in 1844 and Leichhardt went that way again on many occasions, including his last ill-fated expedition.

Other dedicatees included the squatter politician Joshua Bell, who owned the famous Jimbour Station on the northern edge of the Downs from where Leichhardt set out to Port Essington, and to where he returned defeated after his second expedition. There were station owners who included: Matthew Gogg, whose first station on Acacia Creek had a carrying capacity of 6000 sheep, while his later station, Chinchilla, had an area of 37,000 acres; James Blyth whom Leichhardt first met on his return from Peak Downs in 1847 while the newcomer was looking for suitable land to claim as his own; likewise John Dangar, not yet a property holder in the area but soon to be one; James Garnett Ewer, another whom we know benefitted from Leichhardt’s Balonne explorations; a ‘Campbell’, who is either the Campbell brothers John, Colin or Archibald who owned the 60,000-acre Glengallan station, or Robert Campbell and James Andrew, owners of Jondaryan which is 65,000 acres in area; and Fred Isaac, who owned the Gowrie run of 50,000 acres on Oakey Creek.

Then there is Christopher Rolleston who arrived as Governor Gipps’ new Commissioner of Lands for the Downs in the mid 1840s allowing the squatters to register their lands. Last but not least was Thomas Alford, innkeeper of the house that Leichhardt enjoyed on several occasions, for ‘it was very agreeable to have a bit of comfort after the rough life in the bush’. Alford’s house was one of the earliest buildings that formed the basis of the township of Drayton.

But let us return to Leichhardt on the tail end of his attempt to cross westwards in 1846-47, a journey that expired prematurely and exasperatingly for the explorer right at the point he was to turn west. We have heard today how Leichhardt returned in triumph from his Port Essington expedition and was inspired to undertake an even more ambitious campaign. The contrast with the former journey could not be starker: following the same departure route from the Downs and across the eastern rivers, the streams had become swollen and impassable, and Leichhardt and his party had endured seven months bogged in the mud of outback Queensland, lost most of their stock and contracted dengue fever, not to mention attacks of sand flies and haemorrhoids. When complaints and inconstancy of some of his fellow expeditioners forced Leichhardt to accept defeat, they had covered a mere 800 kilometres - compare this with an impressive 4800 kilometres to Port Essington. It was still an exhausting expedition, and Leichhardt and the other expeditioners must have been depleted in every way imaginable.

So it seems odd that another expedition could be mounted so quickly, just two weeks after returning. We know that Leichhardt nursed rheumatic limbs and, by Russell’s account, adopted the drastic remedy of positioning his shoulder over a burning lamp. Whether apocryphal or not, this description of rheumatic torture has some basis in truth, if you try to read Leichhardt’s journals after the Peak Downs expedition. Remarkably, within two weeks of returning to Cecil Plains, he and his working men (for he had shed the gentlemen he had foolishly recruited previously) set out to fill in some detail of the western Downs.

On the one hand, the expedition to the Downs in the aftermath of the failed second campaign is understandable but, on the other, a puzzle. Perhaps the rivalry with Sir Thomas Mitchell explains some of it. As he sat at Cecil Plains in July 1847, Leichhardt read and reflected on Mitchell’s recent discoveries. He found that Mitchell had travelled to the west of him, further distant than Leichhardt had been in that direction, and claimed the much hoped-for course to the northern river system was within his grasp. It’s worth recounting a little of Mitchell’s fourth expedition here to explain how Leichhardt might have felt.

While Leichhardt had been flogging himself fruitlessly, Thomas Mitchell had been in the field and returned declaring that his ‘Victoria’ River flowed into the Gulf of Carpentaria. Mitchell had himself been somewhat frustrated by lack of government support for his plans to explore northwards and saw with some regret the success of Leichhardt’s Port Essington explorations, wherein Leichhardt became, as most thought at the time, ‘the most important figure in the history of exploration of northern Australia’. Succeeding finally to secure government funds, Mitchell set out on a more westerly route to the north than Leichhardt had followed, exploring the idea of a constant stream to the Gulf. Proceeding from the junction of the Darling and Macquarie rivers past the Balonne and up along the Maranoa, as he noted early on in his journal, he hoped this would prove to be even more important than his discovery of ‘Australia Felix’ ten or more years previously and, in his own words, ‘the most momentous’ achievement in Australian exploration. In fact, though a great deal of useful territory was mapped, rather than an Australian Mississippi, Edmund Kennedy returned in February 1848 having established that Mitchell’s ‘Victoria’ flowed not north but south east to be part of Cooper’s Creek, and so renamed the ‘Victoria’ the Barcoo.

[Shows Clint map courtesy of National Library of Australia] Another popular map in its day is this one by Raphael Clint, showing both Leichhardt’s Port Essington expedition and Mitchell’s fourth expedition a year or so later. You can see that Mitchell skirted the Balonne in April 1846, declaring it ‘as fine a looking river as any I have seen in the colony’. Travelling further north, at times inspired by the greater imagined goal, he described the hitherto unexplored lands to the north west of the Darling Downs as ‘the finest country I have ever seen in a primeval state’. This ‘champagne region’ he named Fitzroy Downs, after the new governor. Further north, at the Barcoo, Mitchell believed he was within striking distance of a stream he imagined was traceable to the remotest verge of the horizon, and which he named the Victoria. However, as you can see in this map, the river turns back on itself. Troubled by dwindling supplies and leaving the ‘pass to Carpentaria’ still unexplored, Mitchell returned in December 1846 sure of his findings but short of his goals. Leichhardt, meanwhile, was still bogged.

If we wind forward to Cecil Plains in July 1847, Leichhardt has returned, but Kennedy is yet to report in with the Barcoo correction. At almost the same moment that Leichhardt is at Cecil Plains writing an account of his journey and trying to find some positives, Mitchell arrived in London looking to publish his account of his 1845-46 expedition, written during the four months voyage. As Leichhardt says in letters to friends and colleagues: ‘I find he has crossed my track at Expedition Range, but farther west than I did; his Mudge-kye is the most distant of my Christmas Range, his Nogoa is my Comet River though I did not go as far as to see the junction of the Salvator and the Claude.’

Leichhardt was unwilling to accept some of Mitchell’s claims and sought to bring them within his own discoveries - as he says in a letter to King and to Lynd, ‘His Belyando turns out to be my Cape, and his Victoria will turn out to be the Clarke.’ In this detail Leichhardt is wrong. The Barcoo, as Kennedy renames it, does not reach up to the lower Burdekin River. Leichhardt was ready beforehand to cast doubt on the larger claim already being trumpeted in London of ‘a river leading to India’.

It was a declaration most geographers doubted but which Leichhardt could not ignore. Sitting there at Cecil Plains he wrote, a hint of Schadenfreude on the page, ‘poor Kennedy and Sir Thomas will be sadly disappointed, if that was [not] to be the case’. Interestingly, while Leichhardt makes no direct mention of Mitchell’s claims of a north-western river system, he is keen to consider Sir Thomas’ track as the starting point for his next journey westward, acknowledging its use as a road to move north.

Before that enterprise could be commenced, Leichhardt set out to examine the country between ‘my track and Fitzroy Downs’ to check the land between his previous tracks and Mitchell’s. Perhaps also he needed to put some distance between the sorry Peak Downs adventure and resuming the westward quest. Certainly to achieve the feat he realised he needed to shore up his Darling Downs support, to obtain moral support and material backing. And on their part, there was an ever-present need for land expressed by the squatters, as the Downs began to fill up.

Reports from Mitchell’s expedition of land in the Western Downs and Mount Abundance area had already spread across the colony, and people were beginning to head west over the ranges to take up country. In fact, almost the first news Leichhardt received on his return from Peak Downs in June 1847 could have come from one of his dedicatees James Blyth who, with his partner Arthur Chauvel, was being allowed a temporary squatting by another, Matthew Gogg. It was apparently Chauvel and Blyth’s gunshots that the Leichhardt party heard on arrival at Dogwood Creek on the then northern limits of the Downs. We know from Leichhardt’s journals that James Ewer was also in the area when the party arrived. Though we don’t know what conversations ensued, Leichhardt departed for the Western Downs soon afterwards. We’ll see later that Ewer, Gogg, Dangar and others took note of Leichhardt’s findings.

On balance there were too many reasons why this brief sortie made sense than would be denied by disappointment or ill health. In his lengthy article on the Balonne expedition published in October 1847 in the Sydney Morning Herald, Leichhardt set out in detail the journal of his expedition. The starting point was Cecil Plains on 9 August 1847. It doesn’t seem as though he’d left there after his previous trip. If the Peak Downs campaign was wrecked by the want of ‘good comrades’, as Leichhardt termed it, the Balonne sortie was to comprise only the ‘working men’. Considering the experience they had just endured, this must have seemed lunacy to some; however, they completed it with relative ease. They followed a dray track to Gogg’s Station at the head of Acacia Creek which leads down to the Dogwood and on to the Balonne, an extension of the Condamine. They then travelled southward down Acacia Creek to the Dogwood, and then continued westward, checking and mapping a number of wet and dry creeks up and down. They regarded the country from undulating ironbark forests and open box plains, both considered good, and brigalow acacia scrub, not as good, to low ‘puffy’ or ‘scrubby’ myall country and soft boggy ground, both not at all good. Leichhardt reported seeing a number of large Aboriginal groups, he surmises gathering for a bunya bunya feast. The explorers eventually tired of the ceaseless ridges and scrub, and Leichhardt returned to Cecil Plains on 20 September, where he drew the map.

The expedition seemed to restore both health and confidence, and Leichhardt was able to make a number of corrections regarding Mitchell’s expedition. These are too numerous to go into here, but his notes include new and recalculated distances, coordinates and elevations. Overall, his assessment of the country was not particularly flattering. He concluded that, should stations be formed on the heads of these various creeks, the respective roads will have to follow down the creek and join the main road along the Balonne, which would be rendered extremely circuitous and difficult by numerous gullies, backwaters and deep creeks which join that river. He claimed that the stations would then become isolated as a result of broad belts of scrubby country intervening between the creeks. He also assessed that the powerful tribes along the Balonne and its numerous lagoons would be dangerous enemies along the scrubs, which would allow them ‘a secure retreat from settlers’ aggressions’. He concluded that ‘considering the long and precarious land carriage, and the high rate of wages, particularly in remote stations, I do not believe that sheep farming will pay even as far as Horsetrack River’. And as regards transport, he concluded that the distance from Brisbane to the junction of the Cogoon and the Balonne would be prohibitive - according to his estimate 332 miles, and 400 miles if considering it as a dray road. Looking further to the north and west, his overall assessment politely undercuts the Mitchell claims about Fitzroy Downs. While he is inclined to believe Mitchell on some points, he did not think that the patches of open country seen by Mitchell would form an uninterrupted belt of downs to the east of the Grafton Range.

After the Balonne expedition Leichhardt was able to say in a letter to his brother-in-law that, rather than having lost a year of his life, he was not reasonably happy with his fellow expeditioners and was consumed with preparations for his new journey to begin in May 1848. Leichhardt sets out the options for his route into the interior and also makes mention of the Balonne map, ‘As soon as I have arranged a map in a smaller scale, comprising at the same time the Dawson and the Robinson, I shall send it to Mr Rolleston to whom I promised it’ - Rolleston being the land commissioner.

And with Rolleston so naturally to the squatters [shows map of land taken up in the western fringes of the Downs between late 1847 and 1849]. Perhaps Leichhardt had underestimated the country. Downs pastoralist Fred Isaac travelled with Leichhardt to Sydney after the Balonne expedition. He obviously liked what he heard because in 1849 he took up Doolacka, which had an area of 56,000 acres. James Ewer took up the run of Yamo, supplementing his previous holdings. Matthew Gogg, who had a station on Acacia Creek, took up Chinchilla in 1848, considered by most to be a far superior run. And John Dangar took up Wallan, also in 1848. The latecomer Blyth attempted to set up a station on Leichhardt’s Horsetrack Creek, though by all accounts failed there. But all in all it had been a tolerable addition.

MATTHEW HIGGINS: It is always interesting to see that relationship between explorers and squatters, because of course in Leichhardt’s case, although his main interest was science, he couldn’t do what he wanted to do without the support of landholders who were the group in society who had the most to gain through the results of trips like this. Are there any questions for Martin?

DICK KIMBER: Thank you very much, Martin, for a wonderful presentation. You mentioned Mount Abundance and I read somewhere – it might have been in an old Hemisphere magazine - that Leichhardt left a dray there on his return from one of his expeditions. I wondered whether anyone has looked into the copious correspondence held in some library in detail to see whether there are any further comments about Leichhardt? I certainly haven’t.

DR MARTIN WOODS: No, I can’t say that I have either. It’s interesting when you mention Leichhardt and drays and his relationship with bullocks in that he certainly harnessed his expeditions to bullocks, and particularly with the Peak Downs, one of the great disasters is losing all of the cattle. However, he was willing to leave them and proceed on. The difference between Mitchell, who by this stage was aged around 50 and Leichhardt, who was aged 33 or 34 at this time, is that Mitchell never left the bullocks, the drays. In fact the mistake that people have observed that Mitchell made is that, after looking into the distance from the top of the hill and seeing a string of trees which he imagines to be the Victoria, he’s unwilling to proceed further because his supplies are running low. Mitchell can’t see, as Kennedy later does and as Leichhardt surmised, that that river was going nowhere. But, sorry, I can’t answer your question.

DAVID NASH: A simple question: how accurate is this map?

DR MARTIN WOODS: A lot more accurate than what was there previously. Leichhardt had by this stage been taking coordinates and, if you compare his map with this 1880s pastoral map it lines up pretty well, although the orientation is slightly different for some reason. All of the previous maps - such as Clint’s map that we saw comparing the two expeditions - had no detail on any of the rivers. No-one was really sure in which direction each of the rivers went. They suspected the rivers led up from the Balonne, which supported the idea of a kind of northern river system. So it was important for Leichhardt to map the area out. I think it was quite accurate, and perhaps his cartography is underestimated. While he could certainly navigate using his observation of the direction of rivers and the lay of the land as well as his observation of the geology, I think he benefited from a relationship with PP King, a celebrated hydrographer and navigator, in the mid 1840s.

MATTHEW HIGGINS: Thank you very much, Martin, for your presentation.

Date published: 14 March 2008