The Evans Expedition

As you travel along the Great Western Highway from Bathurst towards Orange, there is a signpost for Evans Plains. Depending on the time of year and recent rainfall, the outlook is often a vista of rolling green hills. That a man called Evans had travelled through this way is clear, but as many parts of Australia are named for people with loose associations with the area, it was only when I came across a statue commemorating George Evans at Bathurst that I realised that he was one of the early colonial explorers.

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Evans Memorial at Bathurst, commemorating his discovery of the Bathurst Plains

Recently there was an unveiling of an interpretative sign on the Hampton Road near Rydal in the hills beyond Lithgow. The sign has been created to compliment a memorial to George Evans and his exploratory party who crossed the Blue Mountains and the Great Dividing Range near Mount Cheetham, south of Rydal. The expedition was at the request of Governor Macquarie in 1813, and followed the track through the mountains left by the Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson crossing. This journey paved the way for the opening up of the western districts with Evans and his party travelling past the future town of Bathurst and out towards the village of Molong. The journey took 55 days and covered nearly 500 km. The party eventually turned back as supplies were running out.

Evans kept a journal, and he became increasingly effusive about the countryside which he was travelling through, identifying the potential of the grassed lands to satisfy sheep and cattle. With the colony in need of expansion, this was welcome news.

I cannot speak too much of the country. The increase of stock for some 100 years cannot overrun it, the grass is so good and intermixed with a variety of herbs.

The memorial near Hampton is close to the location of Evan’s camp on the night that the mountains were crossed on 30 November 1813. The sign is located beside an obelisk now located on Antonio Reserve, Hampton Road. The obelisk was erected in 1963 by the Lithgow Historical Society, and it commemorates Evans and his party. The interpretative sign was the work of the Lithgow branch of the National Trust, Lithgow City Council and Bill Hoolihan, a Hampton resident, along with three years of fundraising efforts.

The unveiling of the sign was attended by a large number of people from the local area and further afield, keen to keep the story of Evan’s journey alive. This included a welcome to country by a member of the Wiradjuri nation, and a short introduction by Lithgow Mayor, Stephen Lesslie, who said that without understanding our past, we struggle to find our future.

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Interpretative sign near Hampton

The common perception is that the Blue Mountains were crossed by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, and whilst they did blaze a trail – largely by following the well-worn paths across the mountains travelled by Aboriginals – it is Evans and his small team of travellers and convicts who really deserve this recognition.

An overview of this exploratory journey and Evan’s life was provided by Paul Brunton OAM, Emeritus Curator of the State Library. From Evans’ upbringing in Warwick as the son of an estate manager to his various roles in the colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania, Evans lived an eventful life. Brunton provided an overview, noting that despite his considerable achievements, there is relatively little remaining in the way of personal papers to provide insight into the man himself. Evans seemed to be conscious of his lack of a classical education, and this also had an impact on his career opportunities. When his journals were sent to London to share the expedition’s discoveries, feedback on Evans’ educational shortcomings – such as ‘Riverlett’ which is still honoured today – overshadowed his achievements.

Despite his successful expedition out across the western plains, and the payment of a reward and land grant in Tasmania, Evans’ career was somewhat inconsistent. He continued on as Assistant Surveyor-General for a spell, and was sent to Hobart to help with rectifying issues with questionable land surveying practices there. Macquarie called him back and forth to help with further expeditions through New South Wales, and he accompanied John Oxley on various explorations.

Evans lived a long life, marrying again after the death of his first wife and having at least a dozen children. What personal records there are show him to be a brave, thoughtful man who treated the men including convicts who accompanied him with compassion. He displayed empathy towards the indigenous people and the changes that would follow for them with colonisation. He expressed admiration for the country he was helping to explore and chart. His occupations are listed as art teacher, bookseller, explorer, farmer, landscape artist, public servant, shop owner, stationer, surveyor and surveyor-general. Quite a resume!

It is apt that Evans’ role in charting the plains beyond the Blue Mountains is being recorded and expanded upon for more people to appreciate.

[Photo: Paul Brunton at the sign dedication to George W Evans]

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Yuranigh’s Grave

I lived in the central west of New South Wales for over 10 years. During this time I travelled the highway more times than I care to remember, and the focus was usually on getting from point A to B as quickly as possible. There were many signposts and points of interest along the way, but most of these were merely noted as something that could be returned to at a later point when more time would be available to explore.

Recently I travelled this road again with my Mum, who has a wide range of knowledge on many topics. When we passed the signpost to Yuranigh’s grave, Mum mentioned that Yuranigh had travelled with Major Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell has appeared in some of my posts recently as I have wandered up and down the mountains, including his encounter with David Lennox, and his work on improving the descent from Mount Victoria. Mitchell’s exacting and pernickety nature had been referred to in True Girt by David Hunt. We found the time to take the dirt road up to see Yuranigh’s grave near Molong.

Yuranigh had joined Mitchell’s third exploration of tropical Australia. He was one of a group of about 30 men including 23 ‘prisoners of the Crown’ who accompanied Mitchell on this expedition. It was noted that Yuranigh appeared to have been added to the camp at Boree, near Orange, and remained for the entire journey. The esteem in which Mitchell held Yuranigh is apparent from this extract from the official journal:

(Yuranigh) has been my guide, companion, councillor and friend on the most eventful occasions during the last journey of discovery. Yuranigh was small and slender in person, but he was of most determined courage and resolution. His intelligence and judgement rendered him so necessary to me that he was ever at my elbow, whether on foot or horseback. Confidence in him was never misplaced. He well knew the character of all the white men of our party. Nothing escaped his penetrating eye and quick ear. 

Following the expedition, Yuranigh went to Sydney with Mitchell, and a request was made to the Governor that he receive a gratuity for his services. He later returned to the Molong area but he passed away soon after. Yuranigh is buried in one of the Gamboola paddocks with marked trees. Mitchell ensured that Yuranigh’s grave was fenced at government expense, and he paid for an inscribed headstone.

Carved tree, Yuranigh's grave, Molong

Marked tree, Yuranigh’s grave, Molong

Mitchell had been accompanied by Aboriginal guides on his three major expeditions ‘to assist with finding water and to express his peaceful intentions’. But the relationship with Yuranigh was something special, recorded not only in the official journal of the expedition but displayed in Yuranigh’s burial. This is how it was described in a newspaper article in 1943:

In the sheep pastures surrounding Gamboola homestead, near Molong, there is a lonely grave in an area at whose four corners are to be seen four trees marked in Aboriginal fashion. It is the grave of Yuranigh. He was buried there according to the customs of his tribe. The marked trees are a tribute of his countrymen. Over the grave is set a tombstone bearing the following inscription, the tribute of the white man:

To native courage, honesty and fidelity, Yuranigh, who accompanied the expedition of Tropical Australia in 1846, lies buried here according to the rites of his countrymen, and this spot was dedicated and enclosed by the Governor-General’s authority in 1861.

Yuranigh's grave, Molong

Yuranigh’s grave, Molong

An additional headstone was erected in 1900 and the inscription was repeated. According to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, the grave site is the only known site in Australia where Aboriginal and European burial practices coexist.

Yuranigh is remembered not only at this site, but there is a lagoon, a county in Queensland and a creek near Molong named after him.

Sources:  Molong Express and Western District Advertiser, Sat 17 Apr 1937; The Longreach Leader, Wed 15 Dec 1943; Australian Dictionary of Biography.

[Photo: view of Yuranigh’s grave with one of the carved trees under shelter]