Cunningham’s Trail: The unexplained Riddles

August 9, 2016

Where was he when he saw evidence of cattle and were there two “white man’s huts” discovered? You be the judge.

This extract from the log book of explorer Allan Cunningham shows how his writing creates a riddle. It is Saturday, May 19, 1827. Cunningham, on his journey north has camped on a “rocky creek” about half way between Bingara and Barraba. His journey of the 19th reads….

19th May.
Resuming our journey at an early hour, from a rocky creek, on which we had Encamped, and having penetrated about 3 miles thro’ a lonely uninteresting forest of tolerably level surface, we reached the base of an abrupt ridge of sterile Forest hills deeply graded by narrow Gullies, which, declining in a Northward direction fell into a grassy bottom.

Upon passing, on a variety of Courses over the backs of these dried Ridges, suddenly a break in the Hills at N.W. afforded us a confined View of a level wooded Country of unbounded Extent, to which there appear’d an approach by a narrow vale before us.

Descending these Hills, without much difficulty to the appletree flat, and continuing our Journey northerly, the valley gradually expands, very steep rocky forest ridges, from its boundary on its Eastern and Western sides, and a small limpid stream, originating in the Congregated Hills at its Head, murmer’d over the stony – bed of its Channel, throughout the Center of the Vale, beneath the shade of Casuarina, a swamp oak more or less dense.

In accomplishing our 8th mile, I observed the meridional Altitude of the Sun which gives me 30o.02’30”, & then continuing our Journey along the Valley another six Miles, I was induced to encamp on the bank of the Creek, where the grasses were very fresh and luxuriant. We were not a little surprised to observe at the Head of this Valley, so remote from any farming Establishment the faeces of Horn-Cattle two or three days old, on the grass, as also the spots on which, from eight to a Dozen of these Animals had reposed, at so recent a period, that the young blade, which was of strong and luxuriant growth, had not recover’d its upright position. From what point of the Country these cattle had originally strayed, appear’d at first difficult to determine, on consideration however, we thought it not improbable, that they were stragglers from the large Herds, that are well known to be running perfectly wild on plains at the base of Arbuthnot’s Range, which by a reference to the Chart proved to be distant from this Vale, about 70 miles to the S.W.

The discovery however in the progress of the Homeward bound Journey of this Expedition, of a shed that had been erected by white men, on a spot about 3 miles to the N.E. of this vale, subsequently induced me to conclude that as it had appeared evident, Europeans had been wandering through that part of the interior some few months previously., certain Convicts, who might have escaped from Port Macquarie, had probably driven these Cattle before them from that penal settlement, in order to ensure, during the limited period they could sustain a vagrant life, a certain provision.

Upon the Range on the Eastern side of the Valley I discovered several undescribed plants of the most interesting Genera, and the rock, (at head of page: LOGAN’S VALE) which on the extreme ridge was a species of flint of curious laminated figure was observed to repose on large bodies of serpentine, obvious in the lower parts, & towards the base of the Range.

During our stay in this Vale, (which I have have had much pleasure in naming Stoddart’s Valley) I was enabled to determine the position of my Encampment in very tolerable precision. – The result of my obns. placed our Tents in Lat.29°.58’52” So. Long. By aut. 150°. 33’.30” Est. and the mean results of Barometrical Computation (showing a very Considerable declension of Country northerly in the progress of our last stage, give a mean Elevation above the sea of only 1161 feet.

The “riddle” is as much about when his transcript was written as it is about what was written. If the words were written on the 19th or 20th of May, 1827, then the reference to “The discovery however in the progress of the Homeward bound Journey of this Expedition, of a shed that had been erected by white men, on a spot about 3 miles to the N.E. of this vale,..” can only refer to travel made on that day and the “white man’s hut”  must be one discovered south of Bingara and is not the one he discovered on July 9, SW of Warialda, on his return journey.

If the transcript was re-written, after the Expedition ended and the “white man’s hut” referred to is the one in Stonehenge NP,  SW of Warialda, then the location given as “about 3 miles to the N.E. of this vale..” is out by a great distance (nearly 50km) from his May 19 camp.

Were there TWO huts seen on the Expedition? Certainly the sighting of cattle pats on May 19 makes the prospect more likely.
Is there another explanation? You be the judge. One other piece to the puzzle is that May 20 was a Sunday, and Cunningham always “rested” on Sundays and could have made “local” expeditions on that day.