Having decided to journey west of Horton’s River, Cunningham’s party are faced with the barrier of Hardwicke’s Range (Mt Kaputar and Mt Grattai) to the west, and some steep and difficult terrain (the Nandewars) to the south.
In his log book Cunningham writes….
On quitting the spot on which we had rested during the last night we immediately perceived that there was no Course we could pursue, by which we could avoid a hilly Country, since at the Head of Wilmott Vale a few miles distant was perceived of rugged hummocky Region, thro’ which we could not possibly penetrate, I determined to attempt the Country immediately before us at the South, & accordingly directed the people to the most practicable acclivity in the Neighbourhood by which my Horses with great Exertion gained the Summits of the principal Ranges.- At an Elevation of 2500 feet we continued our Journey southerly about 15 miles over a broken, mountainous Country. At noon of the 15th we found ourselves exactly in the same parallel, that we had reach’d on the 17th May; viz 30o.22’.10”, when on rising to the pitch of a forest-ridge, we had a most extensive and most exhilarating View from S.E. by the way of S. to W.S.W.
At S.S.E. I clearly identified certain points of the Country in the Vicinty of Mitchells River, (the Namoi River) and at S.S.W. perceived Mount Tatley which with the several remarkable points of Van Sittart’s Hills from a striking feature of the Landscape of the N. Western sides of the Liverpool Plains, at S.W. at a distance of 90 miles we could distinctly trace the rugged Outline of Arbuthnot’s Range (the Warrumbungles) in which Mount Exmouth 3000 ft. above the plane of the Country, was singularly conspicuous.
Beyond, and more to the West and W.N.W. a vast immeasurable level stretch’d to the very remote azure line of Horizon, throughout which we did not perceive a single ascending smoke to indicate an Inhabitant.
In about 2 miles, this mountainous tract, over which we have been travelling from the North abruptly terminates in steep rocky Heads, which immediately overlook an apparently perfect level wooded Country extending South to Liverpool Plains, the clear patches of which we could perceive at S.S.W. We therefore on reaching the Edge of one of these terminating points, which by a lateral ridge appear’d to be connected with a Valley falling to the level forest ground beneath, attempted to conduct the Horses along the declivity; almost immediately however we were stop’d by a Ravine lined with Rocks, & representing a Wall nearly perpendr. several hundred feet in depth; and having examined a second break in these mountains which also terminated in a steep rocky Glen, altho deep & precipitous, we observed that we could alone descend with safety to the low Country by tracing the back of one of the forest Ridges in the neighbourhood, of which several appear’d to be of gradual fall to the common level of the Country below us. However as the afternoon was drawing to a close, it was deemed adviseable upon meeting with Water to halt until Daybreak. At Sunset the results of Baromet. Compution gave us a height of 2740 ft. above the Sea, and as I judged the mean level of the wooded Country immediately beneath our Tents could not exceed 1200 ft., it was obvious, that our descent from these mountains, could not be otherwise than attended with Danger to our Horses.
The next day Cunningham was able to descend to the lower ground of the Liverpool Plains and camped that night on the Namoi River (then named Mitchell’s River), still unaware that the Peel was its tributary. Several days later they returned to their starting point at Segenhoe in the Hunter Valley.
Next article, a Summary of Cunningham’s journey, and the possibilities for “Cunningham’s Trail”.