The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast


Originally Posted 24 April 2014:

Three Things Relative To The Period 1834-1841: Part 2

View-from-mt-clarence- stirilings
Stirling Ranges from Mount Clarence. Photo courtesy of Red Bubble

It’s not a great picture, I know, but the view from Mount Clarence looking north offers a glimpse of two distant ranges. The nearer and smaller of the two (out of view to the left) is the Porongurups; the larger and more distant (in picture) is the Stirling Ranges. Each of the earliest visitors to Albany climbed Mount Clarence and Mount Melville and spotted the hills much as they appear above. Experienced cartographers amongst them, the newcomers would have reasoned that Oyster Harbour probably acted as catchment for ground drainage and that more than likely a series of waterways ran south from the ranges back toward King George’s Sound.

Kalgan - Lower - Steep Banks
The Kalgan; beautiful, but too shallow and steep-sided for town planners. Photo courtesy of Brett Coulston.Relative to the view, what they found was disappointing. Oyster Harbour was dangerously shallow and its entrance too narrow to accommodate larger and more frequent shipping. Plus, of the two rivers emptying into it, one (the King) was impossibly short and shallow while the other (the Kalgan) too quickly narrowed and shallowed as well. It ran on a much greater distance than the King but its lower reaches were steep-sided while the upper was not only barred by a rock bridge but petered out as well.

From simple observation King George’s Sound was amongst the finest natural harbours any of them had come across, but with no navigable river or fresh water source of genuine significance feeding into it, the location was impossible to recommend in absolute terms. If King George’s Sound had been fed by a river of even moderate significance, such as the Swan, then it is almost certain James Stirling would have chosen the Sound over the Swan River as the primary site for his colony.

Something of a damp opening to this piece, but I figure the disappointment it expresses is similar to that experienced by those who first arrived and both wanted and expected more. It hurts a bit, doesn’t it? Outdone, the title I gave to the collection of stories came from somewhere. . .

Further north, the Kalgan becomes no more than a chain of ponds.
Further north, the Kalgan becomes no more than a chain of ponds.

As a military settlement for the first three years wide-ranging and intensive exploration was neither practical nor warranted. It didn’t stop the camp leaders from wanting to know what else lay about them but the first genuine explorations the other way weren’t until the end of the occupation. Collet Barker was the first to go west in 1830 followed by J.S. Roe when he came down with Stirling for the summer of 1830/31. Roe’s Surveyor’s Department assistants employed at Albany, Raphael Clint and Alfred Hillman, followed up but real interest always lay to the north of Albany, not least because of the need for an overland route between the Sound and Swan River, but also, the Kalgan was the best there was and from a commercially exploitative point of view there was farmland to consider.


Upriver - Map

Above: Another view of the Surveyor General’s 1833 map of Western Australia.  The circular yellow line represents the land contained within the Kalgan and Hay Rivers which both rise north of Mount Barker. All of the early hinterland explorations were concerned with this area.  If you look closely you can see the various exploration routes.The Stirling Ranges are identified but not yet named in English, however many other local place names are in existence, some of them now redundant. The high-resolution map can be viewed here.


During the garrison years development of the hinterland wasn’t important. The military camp was provided for by the government farm at Strawberry Hill, by fish from the sea, and by meat from its small livestock herds and kangaroo shot by themselves or with the help of the Menang. However, as soon as Stirling and Roe took control and the settlers started arriving the explorations increased in both number and range.

The following explorations in the Kalgan River area took place  between 1827 and 1837

Lockyer/Alone – Exploration of French River (Kalgan) 1827
Wakefield/Mokare/Nakinah  – Excursion to Mount Purrengorep (Porongurup, via Kalgan) 1828
Wilson/Mokare  – North and north west of King George Sound 1829
Barker/Mokare  – French (Kalgan) River 1830
Collie/Mokare  – Four excursions in the vicinity of King George Sound 1831
Roe/Nakinah/Wannewar – Northward and westward of King George Sound 1831
Henty/Manyat  – North of King River 1831
Dale/ Nakinah – Stirling Ranges (Via Kalgan) 1832
Collie/Manyat – French River (Kalgan) 1832
Von Hügel/Cheyne – Excursion to Kalgan River 1834
Roe/Cheyne/Ayennan/Mongowart – Moorilup (Kalgan), Hay and Sleeman  Rivers 1835
Belches/Taylor/ – Kalgan and Hay Rivers 1835
Roe/Tulicatwale/Wannewar – King George Sound northwards toward York 1835
Harris/Taylor/Kartrull – King George Sound via Kojonup and York to Perth 1837


The switch from an economically independent locality, such as the garrison was, to a free settlement relying on natural resources and the ingenuity of its settlers for survival and growth spelled massive cultural change.

The most influential of the Kalgan trips was Alexander Collie’s exploration with Manyat in 1832 (highlighted in bold).  Collie returned bubbling with enthusiasm for the prime farmland he’d seen at the river’s head and hurriedly declared the find to his friend, the Surveyor General. Collie was rewarded with a 5000 acre grant. The two settlers of primary importance at the time, George Cheyne and John Morley, were still awaiting grants for their investment in the colony, and (effectively being the paymasters of the Resident Magistrate by way of taxes and licences) quickly applied and obtained their land holdings as well. Morley gained 4000 acres and Cheyne a more than decent 15,000.  Another ex-militay associate of Stirling’s, William Preston, gained a further 2000 acres.

And so began the ‘opening up’ of the farmland north of Albany.

Looking toward the Stirlings over good farmland at Moorilup
Looking toward the Stirlings over good farmland at Moorilup

Looking for opinions on the early land grants I found a December 1946 article in The West Australian newspaper  reviewing  the discovery of Moorilup and how it became known as Kendenup. The article, written 68 years ago, is eager to point-out the exploitative nature of the grabbing which took place by Stirling’s ex-military associates and the earliest settlers, and also introduces another main player into this history, Captain John Hassell.

It’s worth making the point at this stage that the so-called good land found by the explorers at places such as Moorilup came in remote parcels. It wasn’t just that the explorers were on horseback or foot and that the distances they could cover were small compared to today, it is a feature not just of the South Coast area but of the entire south-west corner of Western Australia; save the Karri forest perhaps. The settlers were exclusively British and will have been used to the idea of high rainfall and abundant grass (not what they found at the Swan River) yet they believed the colony offered enormous opportunity. But they had to be quick and tough and absolutely determined.

The secretive Kendenup homestead at old Moorilup. Photo unattributed.
The secretive Kendenup homestead at old Moorilup. Photo unattributed.

Captain Hassell’s 1838 decision to settle at Albany instead of along the Tamar River in  northern Tasmania marked him out, along with Cheyne, as one of those men. John Morley was enterprising and certainly hard-working but the extent of his success was never able to be determined, as future posts will reveal. Patrick Taylor, as I’ve already suggested, wasn’t at all made of the so-called sterner stuff. His life turned inward and sour and unrewarding as a result. Captain Symers proved himself a survivor at a very early age but his life and times were some of the most difficult of all. He had to fight extraordinarily hard to achieve, in the end, materially very little.

The two captains, Symers and Hassell, arrived in their own ships, as did Stephen Henty and his brothers. The Hentys recognised the unfavourable nature of the country along the South Coast and like so many others who were too late to get the water frontage along the Swan, bid farewell and sailed east. Plenty of others were to arrive in later years but those histories still need to be lifted out, to be examined and picked over. The descendants of some of these families have compiled interesting catalogues of their forbears trials and tribulations in and around old Albany and there are plenty more still to be researched.

The motivation I had for beginning this project was enough for me to pick out a few characters of interest and to the follow their paths, which is what I’m doing here, but I guess I want to make the point that you can only follow the paths that are there. So many of the early settlers hardly left a trace. For some, those traces were deliberately obfuscated because they didn’t want to be known or found, particularly during the convict years but earlier than that too. Multi-national shipwreck survivors, abandoned sealers and jump-ship whalers came ashore in surprising numbers along the South Coast from around the turn of the 19th century right through to the 1880’s and beyond, some of them taking their chances with the natives in otherwise wholly uninhabited country. These are the stories of people who could not read or write, for whom it was better if there was no record at all, even if they could.

When you begin trawling through the available information it’s easy to recognise that the people who ‘succeeded’ were privileged. The one’s who got to write the history, ‘the history makers’, such as the explorers and military commanders I pointed out earlier, are the ones researchers have to follow because they’re the ones who made lasting visible paths. Along those paths they leave mention of many others, which I suppose we need to be grateful of, because without them we could only possibly be covering the same old historical ground over and over again. I wanted to refresh my memory of Vancouver, Flinders and Lockyer, the story of the Amity and settlement at Albany, but I didn’t want to stop at that either. Like Nigel Prickett, who researched the lives of Aboriginal sealers and whalemen who found their way across the sea to New Zealand, I wanted to look into the lives of persons who were less than well-known. To find them though, I had to start like everyone else, at the beginning, with the great note-takers of their day, the colonial elite.

Cheyne came to Albany because he couldn’t secure water frontage along the Swan River. He wasn’t interested in transporting by cart or dray in a country with no roads so his claiming of 15, 000 acres at  Moorilup came as a sizeable surprise. If nothing else it reflects the sales job Collie did. Cheyne eventually got out to his grant but not before a couple of years had elapsed. What was the point, there was no labour and he could do nothing with it, and besides, he was distracted by the ever-increasing whaling activity off-shore. As soon as Resident Magistrate Collie’s replacement, Richard Spencer, convinced Captain Hassell the land 30 odd miles to the north was the best going, Cheyne stepped in and sold his lot, in entirety.

Cheyne’s intention for claiming 15,000 acres at Moorilup was never to farm it, but to sell it, and when Morley saw what was going on, he sold too.

Swan River sketch 1838 - C.D. Witenoom

Opposite: Cheyne probably envisioned river scenes such as this, C.D. Wittenoom’s 1838 view of Perth from Mnt Eliza, but couldn’t get it. Hugely determined he took up at Albany and then at Cape Riche where water transport provided him with the means to make his fortune.

Good for Cheyne. He turned his attention to the sea (as we’ll discover in the third and final post in this little block), while Captain Hassell took up the mantel of lead pastoralist by sailing off to Sydney with the intention of returning with as many sheep as he possibly could. Hassell went on to become a massive land owner and his presence in these pages continues. His confidence led others to take up wool grazing and soon there were farms stretching a further 60 miles inland as far as a place on the developing Perth Albany road called Kojonup. They spread east too, around the north-western end of the Stirling Ranges along the Gordon River to Eticup and eastwards again to the head of another river, the Pallinup.

By 1840, after Richard Spencer had suddenly died and George Grey had taken up the R.M’s position, there was a viable stock route running from Albany through Kojonup to the Williams River and on to the Avon Valley and the town of York. This attracted Edward John Eyre, the lead player in Taking Advantage, story five in the Outdone collection.

Upriver - Google Earth

Above: The hinterland widens. A Google Earth page-capture I’ve doctored to highlight the spread of pastoralism.

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