John Bidwill Letter 1851
The Commissioner of Crown Lands, Wide Bay District, to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, reporting loss of Oxen and Dray etc. and failure in the attempt to open a road to Brisbane.
Laid before the Executive Council, 29 July 1851
Wide Bay District, Tinana, May 30th 1851/ 1st July
I have the honour to report, that in accordance with the sanction of His Excellency the Governor, contained in your letter No. 904 30th May 1850, I started on the 5th March last to commence marking a direct line of Road, to Brisbane.
I had been for a long time unable to purchase a team of Bullocks, or I should have commenced this work some months ago:
It is with great regret, that I have to report the failure of my attempt, and will proceed to detail as shortly as possible, the circumstances which led to my making the mistake, which caused such a disastrous termination to the journey.
On reference to the map, it will be seen, that a line drawn about SSE from Maryborough to Durandur, the most Northerly Station on the Brisbane, is only about 90 miles in length. A road runs nearly North from Brisbane to Durandur, and it was my object, to strike this Road, a few miles to the South east of the “Glasshouses”; the most Southerly of which, is only about 10 miles to the North of this Station.
I had once walked from Durandur to the top of the Glasshouse; called by Leichhardt, “Beowah” (Beerwah) and back again, in one day: when on the top of the cone, I could see nothing but level country, apparently, free from scrub, to the North or North East, and it was therefore my intention, to pass to the Eastward of “Beowah”, after I should succeed in passing the range dividing the waters of the Mary from those of the “Moorouchidore” (Maroochydore). I did not anticipate much difficulty in this, as it was reported by several persons mostly of credit, that they had been within a few (9 or 10) miles of the “Glasshouses”, when looking for Runs about the head of the Mary, and, that there appeared to be before them nothing but tolerably level country.
On commencing my journey, I met with a good deal of obstruction, from the nature of the Country; this I was prepared for, as I had previously examined it, and I was able to mark a nearly straight and very level line, for about 50 miles, over a very mixed description of Country, very well watered.
I then met with a long range of Hills, running about SE but turning towards the Coast at the North, and forming a semicircle – The northern end of this range is of the same sandstone as that of the Blue Mountains, and the gullies.
As I know the country, I judged it better to follow the old track, which I knew passed the Brisbane range, a few miles West of Durandur, and when I reached that place, procure the assistance of Blacks who know the Country, to guide me by the best road, back to the spot where I then was. We proceeded about 4 miles further on the old road, and encamped.
Next morning, we found both the blacks had absconded. I managed to track the road for about 8 miles further, where, all trace of wheels were lost – I had been joined the day before, by a volunteer, a Mr Colin Hunter, a Squatter on the look out for Runs, and I left the Dray in his charge while I went forward, to endeavour to find the Road.
I climbed a very high hill, and discerned “Karora”, within about 4 miles East by North and although the whole country seemed covered with scrub I saw a naked ridge running nearly East, and lying between where I was and the Glasshouse (as I thought it). I returned to the dray, and told Mr Hunter to remain nearby where he was, but, to employ the men in cutting down the bank of the last creek, which he had crossed (and which, would have been quite impassable for the return) while I went in to Durandur on horseback, and returned with a guide. I took one man with me, and two horses, and provisions for about a day for each. We continued along the ridge until nightfall following a well beaten Blacks path, which led through several small scrubs which occasionally covered the top of the Ridges. We saw the recent tracks of three horses, and the passages through the scrubs had evidently been enlarged to let them pass; a tomahawk had also been used, to cut the small trees and vines out of the way, (which is never done by Blacks) at some more distant period than the passage of the horses; all these indications served to confirm me in the idea, that I was close to Durandur.
At nightfall, I found myself in a scrub on the table top of a stony mountain, having lost the path in the dusk. Next morning, I was unable to find any path, and commenced the descent of the side of the mountain, in a South East direction through the scrub.
I continued cutting my way with a bill-hook, in a straight line through a scrub of the most impassable description until the middle of the next day when I emerged on some open ridges, surrounded by scrubs, but having a very well beaten Blacks path running along them, in a S.E. and afterwards, in an easterly direction.
I continued onwards through the flat country, covered with dense scrubs, except at intervals for the whole of the next day, constantly expecting to emerge on the open country near Durundur. At the close of the third day, I found a scrub before me, into which, I could not discover any track passing, and as we were beginning to be weak, I made up my mind to return to the dray by the path we had come.
After retracing my step across several openings of forest land, I at last, was unable to find where I had left the scrub, and on climbing a very high hill, I could see nothing to the Northward of me, but an enormous expanse of scrub, surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains.
I could not see Karora. My strength was quite inadequate to the task of cutting a new line, through this enormous scrub and I followed a track on the top of a very high ridge, towards the SW or West which led through “Bunya” scrubs, to a tableland of which the waters ran due south.
I of course thought that I was on one of the heads of the Brisbane, and that I should breakfast next morning, at “Kilcoy”. Before the end of the day I found out my error, as I arrived at a large River running West or W.N.W which could only be another (and to all the Wide Bay people unknown) branch of the Mary.
Faint and weary we persevered in a due South course, until the middle of the seventh day, where, just as I had reached the top of the real Brisbane Ranges, some Blacks overtook us and advised me, not to go in that direction, which led to Kilcoy, but to descend into a valley on the left, at the head of which was a pass leading to Durandur. We procured a little honey and a couple of grubs from these Blacks, which with one bird which I shot, was the whole of the food we were able to obtain, during the eight days which had elapsed from our leaving the dray, until we reached Durandur.
I passed within two miles of the real “Beowah” (Glasshouse) and the resemblance to the Northern one was so perfect, that I could not wonder at my having been mistaken.
This Northern group of conical hills, almost exactly resembling the “Glasshouses” is not laid down in any Map or chart which I have seen, nor are they visible from the Sea. I imagine that from “Karora” to the Glasshouse near “Durandur” is 40 miles in a straight line.
After resting one day at “Durandur”, I purchased a couple of fresh horses, in order to get back to the dray as soon as possible, but it was obviously useless to attempt reaching it, by the route I had come, and I determined to return to Maryborough by the Road.
I travelled with the utmost expedition, but found on my return home, that on the sixth day after my leaving the dray, that party were attacked by Blacks, and everything was stolen.
Mr Hunter appears to have acted with great want of resolution, and the men returned to this place on foot, leaving the Dray and Bullocks, without any attempt to bring them home.
One of the men (Henry Walker) appears to have behaved very well, but being unsupported by Hunter or any of others, was wounded by a spear in the thigh.
On my return, I found that two parties had started in search of me – the second party, consisted of three Gentlemen, squatters in the Burnett District – Messrs. G.Mocalta, A. Farquson and P. Lawless and Mr. Assistant Surveyor Labatt.
It was certainly satisfactory to my mind to hear from them on their return, that they all made exactly the same mistakes as I did, with regard to the “Glasshouse”, “Durandur” and the table land which I supposed to be the head of “Kilcoy” creek.
I have taken steps to recover Bullocks (which I believe are safe) and the Dray, and I hope, that His Excellency the Governor will not think that I have been to blame in the conduct of this unlucky business.
With every disposition to think on reviewing my conduct, how much better I might have done in certain instances, I really do think, that I could not under all the circumstances, have acted otherwise than as I did. I am a serious loser by the robbery of the dray, my whole travelling kit, containing many articles which I cannot replace in this country, a valuable watch, about £5 in silver, my diary, and other things, having all been abandoned to the Blacks.
I still hope at some future time, to complete this line of road, as my dearly bought experience in the nature of the country, will enable me to avoid many difficulties.
I have the honour to enclose the depositions of three of the men, in relation to the attack of the Blacks. I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient servant,
J.C. Bidwill (Commissioner)
(New South .Wales State Archives. NRS 906 Colonial Secretary’s Special Bundles Document Number 51/2712. Transcribed from the original. Reproduced with permission from NSWSA)