Gregory Packsaddle

For simple and efficient equipment both for pack and saddle horses we do not know a better model than that adopted by Augustus C. Gregory, Commander of the North Australian Expedition, and now Gold Medallist of the Royal Geographical Society, with whom we had the honour of serving from 1856 to 1857.
The pack saddle, made under the direction of Mr. Gregory, consisted of two boards of Australian cedar, about twenty inches long by seven broad [500mm x 180mm], inclined at such an angle as to sit fairly on the horse’s ribs, and at such a distance from each other that the spine should remain uninjured between them. These were connected by two stout bows of iron, 1 1/2 in, broad by 3/8 in thick [38mm x 10mm], arching well clear of the horse’s back, and having on each side hooks firmly riveted into them for the suspension of the bags in which our provisions, &c, were stowed. The crupper was buckled round the aftermost bow, and the straps for the attachment of the breasting, breeching, and girths were screwed on the outside of this cedar planks. We hope the illustration on the next page is sufficiently clear to indicate the position of these without further description; it will be seen girths cross each other as they pass under the belly.

A pair of pads, sufficiently large to prevent not only the saddle but also the packs chafing the horse, were attached to the boards by thongs passing through holes bored in either end, so that upon occasion we could easily remove them to re-arrange the stuffing, and tie them again in their places. A thick felted saddle cloth was invaluable as an additional protection. The form of the bags will also be readily understood by a glance at the frontispiece. They were of stout canvas, as wide as one breadth of the material, and the ends were formed by a pear-shaped piece let in, and strongly roped round the seams; the loops at the upper part were bound with leather, and iron cringles or grummets were let in, by which to hang them on the hooks. No other fastening was used, so that if a horse fell in the rugged mountain paths, or fording a rough and swollen torrent, it was an advantage to him to shake of his bags at once, while we were generally able to fish them up again before even such perishable stores as sugar could be reached by water, through the pack and double bags of canvas in which we kept them. Nothing whatever was allowed to be fastened to the bows above the suspension hooks; indeed there was a general order that the horse should carry nothing that was not contained in the side bags. The smaller bags for flour, sugar, and other stores, were also the length of one breadth of canvas. One end was formed by a circular piece of canvas about eight inches [200mm] in diameter, and the other was left to be closed when they were filled. The inner bag was of plain canvas, and this was covered by another that was well saturated with boiled linseed oil; these held about fifty pounds [23kgs] of flour, &c., and in each flour bag two 1/2 lb [225grams] tins of gunpowder were kept perfectly secure from fire or water; we generally ate the flour as fast as wanted the powder. Each side of the bags was numbered, and carefully balanced one against the other, the stowage of each being from seventy to seventy five pounds [32-34kgs], so that the total load of the horse should not much exceed 160lb [73kgs].

Lord, W.B. & Baines, Thomas, Shifts and Expedients of Camp Life Travel, and Exploration, H. Cox, London, 1871, pp. 30-32.

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John Septimus Roe

The explorations of John Septimus Roe after he arrived in Western Australia are well recorded but dispersed.

The tenth Volume in Western Australian Exploration series chronicling all exploration from 1826, The Western Australian Explorations of John Septimus Roe 1829 - 1849 has, for the first time, brought all Roe’s Western Australian explorations together in the one book.

These include the little-known surveys he made of the Albany region while serving with P.P. King aboard the Mermaid and later the Bathurst, and culminate with his defining, five month, 2000 kilometre 1848-49 trip south-east to the Russell Range.

Roe is often referred to as the ‘Father of Australian Explorers’ for his training and mentoring of explorers such as A.C. Gregory, F.T. Gregory, John Forrest and Alexander Forrest, all of whom gained fame in their own right. Others trained by Roe included Robert Dale, Robert Austin, Arthur Hillman, H.M. Ommaney and Charles Hunt.

Kim Epton
Series Editor

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Tough Country, Tough Man

Alfred Wernam Canning was a tough man. He needed to be to accomplish the feats he did. Feats that contributed greatly to the development of Western Australia at the time. Feats whose legacies today are iconic.

He worked in tough country. Tamed slightly today by powerful and reliable 4WD vehicles, good communications, refrigeration and hi-tech navigation systems but still tough country.

Phil Bianchi’s all encompassing work about the Canning Stock Route, ‘Work Completed, Canning’ records just how tough this man was and some of the individual feats he performed during his surveys.

Canning’s 1833 kilometre survey of the No. 1 Rabbit Proof Fence took four years to complete and nearly took his life.

Several years later Canning was asked about his difficulties during the Survey – the longest single survey ever completed in the world:

Alf Canning (1860-1936)

Alf Canning (1860-1936)

After going about thirty miles [50 kilometres], I found the camel was too sick and I walked back and followed my companion’s tracks up the river, where I found them with the camels.

I had great difficulty when approaching Wallal with regard to water. I had several of my camels poisoned some distance east of Gregory’s Range and I had finally to get over to Wallal. I was afraid to take the
camels there on account of their condition and I sent Trotman [2IC] and an Afghan named Hassan up the [Oakover] river to try and find a place where the camels could spell and recover. I then started out, taking one camel with me with the intention of getting to Wallal. The camel was sick, but I thought he would carry me there.

What distance was that?

About 70 miles [112 kilometres].

How long did that take you?

I started one morning and walked all day and one night until I picked up the tracks and got to the camp about 10 o’clock the next day. Next morning I started with another camel from the junction of the De Grey and the Oakover, where they had got to. I rode the second camel out 36 miles [58 kilometres]. He did not appear to be well, so I tied him up and cooked a damper, which I gave him to eat, to keep him from eating anything else. I got him up in the morning and took him another six miles, making 42 [68], in all when he went down. He did not die while I was with him but I waited with him for a while and when I saw he would not get better, I took everything off him so that he would have a chance to track back. I then walked to Wallal.

That was another walk of eighty miles [129 kilometres] from where you left the party?

Yes. After leaving the camel I walked on to Wallal, starting the next morning after having slept in the spinifex near him. I happened to strike the telegraph repairing station absolutely straight. I got something to eat, stayed there that night and started back next morning to pick up Trotman and Hassan. I walked back to the camel, picked 70 lbs of instruments and walked 42 miles [68 kilometres], to where Trotman was camped.

The camel had previously carried the instruments?


Was the camel dead?


On arrival at camp Canning had to lie down. He said to Trotman:

“Had a bit of a walk.”

and then passed out from exhaustion and dehydration.

In 1929, at the age of 68, Canning returned to the Stock Route to carry out an 18 month Well Restoration Project. He walked the whole distance of the Route twice. He would lead the men to a well and while they were cleaning it out he would walk ahead 24 kilometres to locate the next well. And then repeat the process.

When Canning was being interviewed by The West Australian in 1931 his wife said that she had learned from his men that he had walked the whole 1600 kilometres, from well to well, over sandhills and all manner of rough country and had swung the axe with the youngest at halts.

“Don’t drag those things in”, said Canning.

“But people should know,” replied his wife.

“People should know nothing,” was his reply.

“I went out there to do a little job and it’s done. Why make a fuss about it?”

The 700 page 'Work Completed, Canning’: A Comprehensive History of the Canning Stock Route is the ninth in the Western Australian Exploration series and is available from the publisher, Hesperian Press.


Kim Epton
Series Editor

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Change of Title of Expedition

From the excerpt of Ensign Robert Dale’s August 1830 report (Exploration Number 1830/212see below) it can be seen that he made an exploration with Captain F.C. Irwin in April 1830, Ensign Robert Dale’s expedition to trace the Swan River, 7-22 April 1830.

In his report of his January 1834 exploration of the Swan River, G.F. Moore recorded that he saw axe marks on a tree left by Irwin’s party in 1831 (see below). While the native’s identification of Irwin can relied upon (given their ability to recognise faces and Irwin’s stature in the colony) the year stated (1831) is more problematic. It unlikely that Irwin made two trips to the same location that were both missed.

No reference is provided in Volume 1 to substantiate the dates of Dale’s April 1830 trip but assuming they are correct there wasn’t much left of April for another exploration to occur. Rank prevails and the title of Exploration Number 1830/97 has been changed to Captain Irwin’s expedition to trace the Swan River, 7-22 April 1830.

Exploration Number 1830/212
Robert Dale’s expedition to explore the ‘interior of this Country to the Eastward of Darling Mountains. 4 August 1830

Continuing our course due East, we obtained a view of the valley of the Swan, and could discern beneath us through the trees, that river falling over a bed of rocks – on descending I recognised it to be a waterfall which I had passed when accompanying Captn Irwin on an expedition into the interior in April last – quitting this and proceeding a little to the Southward of East, we in three miles again came to that river and continued along its left bank till we arrived at the termination of Captn Irwin’s journey, where he had left a Depot of provisions – we had the satisfaction of finding them uninjured – as we had had a journey of 12 miles this morning, I determined to rest here the remainder of the day to refresh the horses.

Exploration Number 1834/24
Mr G.F. Moores Report of an Excursion to trace the Swan River to its junction with the Avon River – 24 January 1834

It was near this that, whilst observing a tree of that wood which has the scent of raspberries, growing on a picturesque knoll, which overlooked the river, we were surprised by finding that one limb had been cut off by an axe, & two branches had been fixed across, evidently for the purpose of either marking the spot, or of arresting the attention. I have, since our return, learned from one of the natives that this was done by Capt Irwin, who went so far up the valley in 1831. He did not see any natives at that time, & the circumstance of their having observed so close as to recognise him afterwards, shews with what jealousy they watch the steps of the intrude

Kim Epton
Series Editor


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Hidden Gem

Dr Marion Hercock’s The Western Australian Explorations of John Septimus Roe 1829-1849 is the most complete work on our first Surveyor General ever put together. And contained within it is a hidden gem.

Ecologist Dr Ian Abbott has prepared each of the Appendixes on Fauna and Ecology written for the Western Australian Exploration series, part of his career output of more than 240 papers.

Dr Abbott’s appendix on fauna as reported by Roe over his exploration career in Western Australia addresses 36 different animals that can be identified with certainty - birds (21), mammals (7) fishes (3), crustaceans (2), reptiles (2), and molluscs (1), - and a further four mammals, one fish, and one bird that can be identified with less certainty.

But it is in his Discussion that we are presented with the seldom seen side of John Septimus Roe. Abbott presents him as a ‘proto community or landscape ecologist’ and discusses Roe:

• as an astute and perceptive observer;
• as an observer of Aboriginal burning of the landscape;
• as a collector;
• as a patron;
• interpersonal skills and empathy with animals.

John Septimus Roe (1897-1878)

John Septimus Roe (1897-1878)

This new and unique view of Roe adds an unexpected dimension to the Volume, greatly enhancing its appeal.

The Western Australian Explorations of John Septimus Roe 1829-1849 is one of 16 volumes in the Western Australian Exploration series. This masterful work contains 34 reports, five appendixes, 22 maps, four illustrations, innumerable sketches and hand drawn maps, and three indexes.

Kim Epton
Series Editor


Abbott, I., Appendix 2, Fauna and ecology. In Hercock, M.H., The Western Australian Explorations of John Septimus Roe 1829-1849, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, 2014, p. 631-43.

Dr Ian Abbott is a consultant ecologist with wide field experience in western and eastern Australia and the Galápagos; he has degrees from the University of Sydney, Monash University, and the University of Western Australia. Dr Abbott has expertise in biogeography, island, forest and historical ecology, and ecological history, as well as expert knowledge of trees, invertebrates, birds and mammals.

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World’s Largest Tombstone

There are many mysteries in Western Australian history. Consider just one case – the story of the World’s Largest Tombstone.

During Robert Austin’s 1854 groundbreaking exploration through the Murchison to Shark Bay he found what he claimed to be the world’s largest tombstone.

Austin records:

… 4 miles from Goomalling the only passage for a cart is through a narrow defile between two rugged hills, from which large granite rocks have slipped, and nearly blocked up the intervening space.  One of the largest of these rocks, Norcott informed us, was lying on a poor black fellow who was passing and was buried under it when it fell.

This melancholy story invested the stone with a degree of interest; so I examined and measured it, and found the length 52 feet, height 46 feet, and thickness 33 feet; and the sharp form and dimensions correspond so exactly with the depression in the adjacent escarpment from which it had fallen, that I am satisfied the fracture is of comparatively recent date, and I am disposed to believe the sad accident occurred as stated, so that this rock, which contains 79,936 cubic feet, and weighs nearly 6000 tons, is probably the largest tombstone in the world.

Austins Pillar, as this mysterious monolith is known, has been investigated by local farmers, members of the Western Australian Explorers’ Diaries Project, anthropologists, and many members of the public and, to date, there is no valid conclusion to Austin’s claim.

What is not in dispute is that there is nothing even close to Austin’s description anywhere in the area. There is a rock nearby, known since the first settlement of the district as Tombstone Rock – a named derived from the same tale Austin received.

But it is the wrong shape, in the wrong location and in the wrong position (it is a rock split by the process of weathering and did not fall from a height), and serves only to confuse modern day seekers of a solution to this mystery.

Austin’s journal was published by the Western Australian Explorers’ Diaries Project as The Finest Goldfields in the World.

Kim Epton
Series Editor

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Father of Australian Exploration

Naval officer, hydrographer, explorer, founding Surveyor General, settler and father, John Septimus Roe helped make Western Australia what it is today.

Roe’s early education at Christ’s Hospital and training as an officer in the Royal Navy and his work for the Admiralty Hydrographic Office developed his talent for sketching.

His field notes and sketches are typically accurate and objective. They are a record of the area at first contact by European settlers. The landscapes and waters, the aboriginal people and their place names, as well as the plants and animals of the south west of Australia were all noted by Roe.

Roe’s expedition reports, field notes and maps have been annotated, summarised and indexed in The Western Australian Explorations of John Septimus Roe 1829-1849. The reports are complemented by expert analyses of native plant species, native animal species, and navigation and surveying.

This tenth volume in the Western Australian Exploration series is a companion volume to Western Australian Exploration Volume 1 1826-1835 and Western Australian Exploration 1836-1845.

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Kim Epton
Series Editor

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George Fletcher Moore

Edward John Eyre is well known for his courageous trek across the barren south coast of Australia.  The Forrest and Gregory brothers are famous for their exploratory exploits. The names of Hann, Hunt ,and Canning evoke admiration for the work they did in opening up our great state. And Giles, Warburton and Carnegie triumphed in the desert. But what about the indefatigable George Fletcher Moore? While not covering the same distances or going as remote as these great explorers he was active at a time when the early settlers where busy just trying to establish themselves, see what was around them, and find new farming land, all with very few resources.

In the establishment phase of the colony Moore led or was part of eleven expeditions that explored north and south of Mt Bakewell, the Avon Valley, the Swan/Avon River, around York, Wongan Hills, Bolgart, the Abrolhos/Hutt River, Gantheaume Bay and the area around the river named after him, Moore River.

George Fletcher Moore (1798-1886)

Not only did Moore lead numerous expeditions, he compiled a dictionary of Aboriginal words, wrote books, composed a song to Western Australia titled Western Australia For Me, and in his spare time was the Advocate General of Western Australia.

On arrival in Western Australia Moore obtained a grant on the upper Swan River which he named Millendon. His farming interests gradually displaced his legal interests and by 1884 he owned about 10,000 ha of land, including valuable town properties. From the time he arrived in Western Australia he kept a journal detailing the difficulties he encountered in developing his property, the labour problems, frequent food shortages and inflated prices.

This Diary of Ten Years Eventful Life of an Early Settler in Western Australia, Jim Cameron's carefully edited and annotated The Millendon Memoirs: George Fletcher Moore's Western Australian Diaries and Letters, 1830-1841 and the third Volume in the Western Australian Exploration series, Evidences of an Inland Sea (with an Introduction by Professor Jim Cameron), form a trilogy that is an important record of early colonial life.


Kim Epton
Series Editor

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The Calvert Expedition, Charles Wells and George Jones

Larry Wells was in charge of what was known as the Calvert Expedition in 1896-97.  While crossing the Great Sandy Desert he split his party at Separation Well.  Charles Wells and George Jones left for the north-west.

Larry Wells (1860-1938)

They intended to rendezvous with the main party at Joanna Springs.  This oasis in the desert was known only from a description in Colonel Warburton’s report, made 23 years previously. Larry Wells was unable to locate Joanna Springs and pushed onto the Fitzroy River, the agreed alternative rendezvous point.

Wells and Jones did not turn up at the Fitzroy and search parties were mounted.

Nat Buchanan joined the search as did William Rudall.  Rudall’s explorations while searching for the missing explorers revealed a huge area of previously unrecorded country. David Carnegie, who had arrived in Halls Creek after his desert journey from Wiluna, held his party ready to join the search but was not required.

During one of his searches Wells determined that the location of Joanna Springs, the first rendezvous point, was incorrect by 15 kilometres. It was more than six months before the bodies of Charles Wells and George Jones were found. They were returned to Adelaide for a State funeral.

The Journal of the Calvert Expedition is available at Hesperian Press. It is a Companion Volume to the Western Australia Exploration series.

Kim Epton
Series Editor

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The Journal of the Brockman Droving Expedition 1874-75, edited by Nan Broad with Peter Bridge, is the second volume in the Western Australian Exploration series. The following is extracted from page 7 of the Volume:

By 9 o’clock we all turned in around the campfire and soon fell asleep to the music of the ring of about a dozen horse bells as the poor animals were luxuriating on the rich green grass after their hard and trying journey from Geraldton.

At midnight we were all awakened by a great stampede of the horses accompanied by a great ringing of bells as they came galloping towards the campfire. When within about a hundred yards of the camp they halted, and turning their heads in the direction from which they had come, and kept up a chorus of snorting for some minutes. I was puzzled to think what could have alarmed them, but I have always noticed that all animals in a strange country – especially horses – are very nervous and easily alarmed. Cattle at times will become panic-stricken and will rush off in a wild mob trampling down everything before them. Our horses upon this occasion may have caught the scent of some belated native wanderers, but whatever was the cause of the alarm it was not repeated, and they gradually started to feed again until the morning.

By daybreak we were all astir and while some went for the horses others got breakfast and packed up ready for a start.

The Journal of the Brockman Droving Expedition 1874-75 is the story of one of the greatest early stock droves in Australia. In 1874 John Brockman answered the call to assist the Clarkson droving party, stranded on the Murchison River in drought conditions and successfully drove the several thousand cattle and several hundred horses over scarcely explored country with no further loss of men and minimal loss of stock.

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Kim Epton
Series Editor

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