Cunningham’s Trail July 10-11, 1827

August 9, 2016

The Gwydir error and the Riddle of Ten “Missing Miles”.

Allan Cunningham and his six men, eleven horses and several dogs, are on their homeward journey. They have crossed their outward path near Warialda Rail and had made camp, near dark, on July 9, beside a small creek with little water (probably Oakey Creek).

The next morning, they are surprised to find that they are so close to a big River.  Cunningham writes….

“10th July. (Tues) 
We had no sooner quitted the Ground on which we had encamped, than at a distance of not exceeding 200 Yards, we came upon the right bank of a stream, forming a handsome reach of deep water 70 Yards wide, with steep soft Banks, and bending round the northern extreme of the lofty range to an open declining Country at N.West.  This river we traced upwards, on its right bank to a safe ford, by which we cross’d to its opposite bank, over a bed of Gravel, measuring 146 Yards in breadth.  Above the bed of this River, which the prolonged season of Drought had reduced to a very low level, we remark’d the traces of floods 55 feet in the branches of the Swamp Oak skirting its Channel.      

When therefore, in Seasons of Great Rains this River is swollen to the Extent, of which we have the most obvious proofs, the rush of the impetuous torrent, bearing logs of timber down its declivity of channel to a depressed Interior, must be awfully grand!

Congratulating ourselves for the first time, that we were travelling in these Regions in a dry season, we continued our Journey to the South along the Eastern base of the Range, about 10 miles, when upon discovering water, in a narrow Gully, we again rested, at a distance (by estimation, from the appearance of the rocky Hills on its Eastern side) of three miles to the westward of the River –  Our latitude at noon was 29°.41’.23”., and the Elevation of our Encampment was only 1007ft.

11th July. (Wed).      After penetrating about 6 miles S.S.W. thro’ a barren uninteresting tract of Country, wooded with blighted Iron-bark; the lofty Range continuing to bound our View to the Westward we at length came upon the left Bank of a fine River, which was bending to the North having so much the Character magnitude, and general appearance of the Peel, that had I been ignorant, of the direction, whence that stream had proceeded, and of the situation of its channel several miles to the Eastward, I might have confounded, the present discovery with Mr. Oxley’s River.        

Tracing its bank up, about a mile, upon a rich appletree flat, we quitted it, at a slight bend it had taken to the Eastward, and resumed our Course to the South along a Valley which appeared progressively to expand before us, bounded by a range of Hills on the East, which separate it from Stoddart’s Valley, and on the West, by a continuation of the elevated forest Range along the Eastern base of which we have been travelling during the last two Days.    

Upon effecting about 14 miles, we rested on the Bank of the River, which, altho’ at this period greatly reduced is evidently, in seasons less injurious to vegetation, a stream as large as the Peel – its gravelly channel at this particular part, being nearly 150 Yards in breadth.

This stream, which rises in the elevated Country connected with Hardwicke’s Range, (The Nandewars) and doubtless joins the Peel, two or three Miles to the Southward and Westward of the Spot, on which we had encamped the last Evening received the name of Horton’s River, and the valley through which it flows was called Wilmott Vale each in honor of the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies – the lofty range of Hills that bound this Valley on the west, & which we observed to stretch from North to South many miles, being entitled Drummond’s Range.

This River, which is form’d by the junction of these Streams, began almost immediately after their Confluence to assume a more regular and uniform appearance and upon its passing beyond the Northern extreme of Drummond’s Range it presented as far as we could perceive a noble reach, exceeding 200 feet in width , and apparently at a great depth of water – a character, which, as it had passed to the Westward of all the Hills, & had enter’d a flat declining Country, it doubtless preserves, in its progress to the N.W. This river thus constituted, and which at spot whereon we had Encamped on the Evening of the 9th was found to be only 895 feet above the Ocean, was named in honor of the right Honorable Lord Gwydir.”

Cunningham gave name to the Gwydir River from the junction with the Horton River. He still believed that the River he had crossed at Bingara, and which now joined the Horton, was the Peel River. He had wrongly assumed that the Peel flowed north from Tamworth and was always to his east. He had in fact crossed it on his outward journey, but, being so small, in a dry year, had thought it a minor stream.

The mystery of the Journey of July 10 and 11, is where the 10 miles, referred to as being travelled southwards after crossing the Gwydir on the 10th, took the party. The campsite of the 9th, if at Oakey Creek, is less than 4 miles, in a direct line to the campsite of the 10th.

Another riddle is his estimation that the “junction”, which he never sighted, was ”two or three Miles to the Southward and Westward of the Spot, on which we had encamped the last Evening”. It should have been south-east of the campsite of the 10th.

Next week, the party encounter’s their first frosty weather, and they sight the volcanic landforms of Kaputar.