Private Terence Sheridan

In the absence of Western Australian Exploration Private Terence Sheridan would be only a footnote in the history of exploration in Western Australia. He was described as a ‘servant’ of Ensign Robert Dale but more correctly he was a ‘batman’ or orderly. Sheridan accompanied Dale on eight explorations:

  • Mr Robert Dale’s 1st First Excursion to Trace the Helena River, in October, 1829.
  • Mr Robert Dale’s excursion to trace the Helena River, December 1829.
  • Ensign Robert Dale’s expedition to trace the Swan River, 7 to 22 April 1830.
  • Robert Dale’s expedition to explore the ‘interior of this Country to the Eastward of Darling Mountains.’
  • Ensign Robert Dale’s examination an opening in the Mountains ESE from Perth, 15 to 17 June 1830.
  • Mr Dale’s second Journal of an expedition whilst Exploring the country Eastward of Darlings Range.
  • Ensign Robert Dale on an expedition to examine the country 40 miles to the northward of Swan River, 30 November to 6 December 1830.
  • An Excursion undertaken to North and South of Mt Bakewell.

G.F. Moore observed Sheridan’s behaviour and eccentricities on the September 1831 trip north and south of Mount Bakewell:

9 September 1831.
…. It was here I first took notice of Mr Dale’s servant “Sheridan” a soldier. He was afterwards a great source of amusement. Well Sheridan How did you pass last night? – Why Sir I just lay on that ‘dentical spot all night beside the fire rain or no rain for I thought I might as well keep one side dry any way – the side that was “in under me” – Morning or evening – wet or dry – busy or idle, Sheridan whistled or sung without ceasing. It was his duty to wheel a perambulator (an instrument for measuring the distance) and off he started with it this morning singing with Stentorian voice the old drum- beat “Tither rõw dõw dõw dõw Tither ither rõw dõw Tither ither rõw dõw dõw.”

A fortnight later Moore continued his observations of Sheridan:

22 September 1831.
… come to a long deep & narrow lake of fresh water – 4 miles long – 80 or 100 yards wide – amazing quantity of ducks on it. Sheridan’s mode of calculation was quite Irish, 1000 Sir? Why 1000 would not be missed out of them.

Sheridan’s efforts allayed their thirst:

4 October 1831.
Tuesday morning, … we hastened our preparations, but had scarcely commenced breakfast when they began to come in numbers so we packed up & proceeded. Dale (having a servant to arrange for him) had got his breakfast. I had swallowed half of mine. Thompson had scarcely tasted his & Sheridan had got none …

Towards evg anxious about water find none – halt near sunset, council of war My proposal to look for water rejected – very dull – our horses knocked up & ourselves provokingly thirsty. Sheridan takes his gun & runs to look comes back laughing with intelligence that there is a shallow swamp with water not 100 yards off – how droll if we had gone without it all night – have a fine dinner of ducks – sleep on the ground & sleep well on blackboy rushes strewed thickly under – cloak & canvas over.

More Information


Kim Epton
Series Editor


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Confirmation that the Avon River joins the Swan River

It was five years after the Swan River Colony was settled before it was confirmed that the Avon River was the same watercourse as the Swan River. Though it was long suspected to be case it took many expeditions before there was no doubt the Avon joined the Swan.

In October and December of 1829 Ensign Robert Dale made two trips up the Helena River, searching for a route through the Darling Scarp or ‘the mountains’, as they were often referred to.

Between 7 and 22 April 1830 he was part of an expedition led by Captain Irwin to trace the Swan River. Although no journal of this trip exists they clearly did not get through the Darling Scarp to the open country of the Avon Valley.

In June Dale made another attempt to penetrate ‘the mountains’. No diary of this trip survives.

In August 1830 Dale made a further attempt to penetrate the ‘Darling Mountains’. It was on this trip that horses were used for the first time in exploration. It was also on this trip that he sighted but did not name the Avon River. On 7 August Dale recorded:

“Mr Brockman & myself proceeded in the mean time to examine an elevated hill bearing ESE about a mile distant – on arriving at the summit we were gratified by obtaining an extensive prospect over a comparatively level country to the Eastward, through which we observed flowing at the apparent distance of two miles a considerable stream.”

Dale rued the fact that he could have become aware of the river and surrounds eight months earlier:

“I had also an imperfect view of an elevated peaked hill which I had ascended while on an expedition into the interior in December last, bearing about SW. If I had then penetrated a days March further I should then have made the same discoveries which I have now accomplished.”

Twelve weeks later he was in the area again, this time with a larger party including Governor James Stirling, to examine the area around Mount Bakewell (later to become York).

Captain James Stirling, RN, (1791-1865)

Captain James Stirling, RN, (1791-1865)

On the 28 October 1830 Dale recorded that he crossed the Avon River although it was clear from Thomas Henty who recorded crossing it in a different location while exploring at the same time as Dale that the name was already in use. Stirling, or possibly Surveyor General Roe, probably named it after Dale’s return from his August expedition.

In September 1831 Governor Stirling:

“having determined to commence a settlement on the other side of the Darling range and several settlers being desirous to take the same opportunity of going over to their grants, Mr Dale, an officer of the 63rd Regt was chosen to point out the most direct practicable Route as he had explored that part of the country before & had been the first to penetrate the country beyond the range.”

George Fletcher Moore, Advocate General of the colony and an avid explorer, [IMAGE] further recorded:

“It was thought also a good opportunity to combine with this expedition, an exploratory excursion for some distance in a SSE & NNW direct line from Mt Bakewell which is the centre of York District where the settlement was intended to be formed. The river “Avon” was supposed to run nearly in this line as the country had before been examined 20 miles up & 10 miles down its stream. It was now proposed to go 50 miles in a SSE & 50 miles in a NNW line from Mt Bakewell…”

Captain James Stirling, RN, (1791-1865)

George Fletcher Moore (1798-1886)

Dale, Moore, a man named Thompson, and Private Sheridan made the journey to the north of Mount Bakewell. Before the party turned to the west to cross the Darling Range, Moore considered the country and consulted his charts and on 5 October 1831 recorded:

“begin to feel confident that the Avon & Swan are identical”

Two days later when they crossed the Lennard Brook on their homeward journey along the base of the Darling Scarp this stream also became a candidate:

“come to another valley & there to Lennard’s brook which immediately strikes us all to be the Avon”

In his letters to Surveyor General Roe after the expedition, Dale advised that the party crossed the Darling Range to the coastal plain.

“Proceeding from this in a Southly direction along the base of the range we crossed several small Streams issuing from fertile looking valleys & at the distance of 9 miles arrived at a river, which from its direction and the body of water it contained, seemed likely to be where the Avon discharges itself upon the plain. Having ascended for 4 miles before we could ford it, we found the soil on its banks rich and the vegetation luxuriant.”

John Septimus Roe (1797-1878)

In January 1834 G.F. Moore wrote to the Editor of the Perth Gazette to give an account of his ‘excursion to trace the Swan River to its junction with the Avon River’. As background to his current excursion Moore described his previous explorations with Dale in October 1831.

“[the Avon River] running about 85 or 90 miles in a northerly course till our appointed route compelled us to leave it making its way into the Darling range in a Westly direction. We proceeded abt 20 miles further northd then turning West, came out upon the plain on the West side of the Darling range, without again crossing any considerable stream of water. Being thus certain that the Avon River must be South of us, we looked anxiously to find it issuing out of the hills upon the plain. Coming abt 12 miles Southd we were stopped by a considerable stream rushing strongly from the hills, which we were obliged to ascend for four miles before we were enabled to cross with safety. This is called Lennards Brook. Having passed no stream North of the Avon, & the space intervening, being in our opinion, too inconsiderable for the collection of such a body of water, except from that river, we naturally concluded that Lennards Brook was the channel by which the Avon discharged its waters. The size & strength of the stream, the appearance of the land adjacent, & the broad alluvial flats, all favoured this opinion, to which we yielded the more readily, as the Swan River was not usually considered in any other light, than that of a mountain stream of ordinary appearance. But more mature consideration, - more mature acquaintance with the nature of the country & a greater familiarity with the language of the natives, have long made me doubt the propriety of our first opinion. This doubt has for some time strengthened into a firm belief, that the Swan is but a continuation of the Avon. To reduce this belief to a certainty young Mr Shaw & myself set out on Friday morning the 24th, with the understood though not avowed object of tracing the course of the river to York & returning by Guildford.

On this 1831 trip Moore believed he had got to within about 25 kilometres of where he had left the river when heading north from Mount Bakewell in 1831 (probably in the vicinity of present day West Toodyay). The condition of their horses’ feet and their general fatigue forced them to retrace their steps.

Only a few months later, in May 1834, Rivett Henry Bland, du Bois Agett and Spencer Trimmer followed the river from York to ‘Mr Shaw’s’ on the upper Swan, thus confirming what was long suspected to be true.

THE SWAN AND AVON RIVERS – By a recent discovery it has been fully and satisfactorily established (in confirmation of opinions long entertained), that the Sawn [sic] and Avon Rivers are one and the same. Mr Bland, accompanied by Mr Agett and Mr S. Trimmer, left York on Sunday morning last, and following up the course of the Avon, after a journey of four days, arrived at Mr Shaw’s, on the Upper Swan. Water was found in abundance, but in pools, and not in a connected stream: they met with considerable difficulty in passing along the banks of the River, as it was lined with rugged rocks of granite and quartz. The particulars of an excursion undertaken by G. F. Moore, Esq., about 30 miles up the River from Mr. Shaw’s, was published some short time back; the conclusions that Gentleman arrived at regarding the connection of the Swan with the Avon, although the distance from York has been proved to be greater than he comp[u]ted, this expedition has confirmed. Mr Bland estimates the distance from Mr Shaw’s at about 110 miles; presuming this statement to be correct, of which there can be little or no doubt, the course of the Swan River may now be said to pass over an extent of country not less than 170 miles from the town of Beverlee, the source still remaining an object for further discovery. The present discovery affords rather more of interest than importance, the land on the banks of the River not being considered to be available for extensive agricultural or pastoral purposes, until arriving at the York District previously explored. We commend the enterprise of the Gentlemen who have at length set this question at rest – attended, as it must have been, with difficulties, which Mr Bland assures us, he should not feel disposed again to encounter. The party was mounted, and the horses have suffered considerable injury. We shall endeavour to obtain a more detailed account of the expedition, coupled with the course of the River.

Kim Epton
Series Editor

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Expert Footnotes

A feature of all volumes in the Western Australian Exploration series is the expert annotations.

One could go to the State Records Office of Western Australia at the Alexander Library in the Perth Cultural Centre and find the originals of the diaries that are reproduced in the various volumes. A knowledge of the archival system in use and the finding aids (coupled with a free afternoon) make this a relatively simple task. The time spent in unearthing original documents is rewarding and can engender a feeling of being closer to the writer. But anyone who has waded through the horrendous handwriting and idiosyncratic spelling and grammar found in many of these documents knows the frustration of encountering indecipherable text, unknown historical terms, and references to persons, places and events that may be unfamiliar to the reader.  This is particular so with the names of features recorded by explorers. Many of these were never officially approved or are not known by that name today which makes trying to retrace the route particularly difficult.

The Western Australian Exploration series solves the problem of the difficult text. Volunteers with the Western Australian Explorers’ Diaries Project have read the original document up to four times and rendered it to a useful and easily readable document. Their efforts, largely unnoticed, greatly enhance the reader experience.

The Footnotes contain biographical information on a wide variety of historical figures prominent at the time of an expedition who are not recorded in the Biographical Information Appendix at the rear of the Volume. The Footnotes also contain the present-day name of geographic features and places mentioned in the text, meanings of historic terms, details of other expeditions and a wealth of ancillary information.

Kim Epton
Series Editor


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The Master Deserves To Be Hanged Immediately

Some weeks before James Stirling and his fellow settlers aboard the Parmelia and HMS Suplhur arrived off the west coast of Australia to found the Swan River Colony, Captain Charles Fremantle was aboard the frigate HMS Challenger, anchored outside Garden Island, preparing to ‘take possession of the western coast of New Holland on behalf of the Crown’.

H.M.S. Challenger

The passage into Cockburn Sound was rocky and the chart was incorrect.  Captain Fremantle did not like the appearance of the anchorage and expressed his doubts as to the suitability of the anchorage for establishing a Colony.

Charles Howe Fremantle (1800-1869)

He had to establish a safe passage into Cockburn Sound.  On 27 April 1829 the weather was clearing and he sent:

… the Master, 2nd Master and a Mate with 3 boats and buoys to mark out the passage in and desired him to hoist a flag when ready, and I would move the Ship. At 3 o’clock observed the flag, weighed the Anchor, and stood for the boats; the master came on board when near the Channel having as I supposed all his marks distinct, and the buoys on the necessary rocks. On seeing one of the buoys, I asked him which side he intended going & he answered the Starboard; the Ship struck immediately, he having mistaken the buoy on the rock for the one in the fairway & consequently ran the ship immediately on the top of it.

She hung about five minutes & struck three or four times, once heavy; hove all aback & commenced getting the boats out, when she moved and floated…

Never since I have been at Sea have I witnessed anything to equal the carelessness and stupidity of the Master; he placed a buoy on a rock and then steered for the buoy & ran the ship immediately on it. It was a thousand chances that we escaped being knocked to pieces, which must have been the case had it not been beautiful weather. The Master deserves to be hanged immediately.

Unless I attend to everything myself ever so trifling, something invariably goes wrong; so much for the assistance a Captain derives from his Officers.  If I had had no Master the Ship would not have run on shore.  Nothing has annoyed me so much since I entered the Service.

Fortunately for Mr Bradshaw, the Master of the Challenger, Fremantle’s wrath had not the capacity to be translated into action and he survived the mishap.

Kim Epton
Series Editor


Lord Cottesloe, (Ed.). Diary & Letters of Admiral Sir C. H. Fremantle, G. C. B. Relating to the Founding of the Colony of Western Australia. 1928. (Hazell, Watson & Viney: London)


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Attack of the Xanthorreas

In January 1835 Dr Joseph Harris was with Alfred Hillman from the Survey Office on a 23 day trip to look at land grants and further explore the country near the Hotham and William rivers.

They were accompanied by Samuel Burges, another member of the Burges
 clan, Constable Dobbins, Joseph Strelley Harris (son of Dr Harris), Captain Marshall MacDermott, Constable Riley, and a corporal and two privates from the 21st Regiment.

On the first night out the party camped about 20 kilometres SSE of Kelmscott and settled down for the night. Harris recorded#:

A quantity of wood was collected for supplying the fire during the night, and we were all asleep at 9 o’clock. At midnight we were aroused by the most alarming cries— “the natives, the natives are among us!” I started up, and saw a dark shadow passing swiftly near me. All were now awake, and running against each other, scarcely comprehending the cause of alarm, or extent of danger; but adding their shouts to the general uproar. A voice now cried, “I have him: I have got him fast.” “Where? where? blood an oons, where?” cried another close beside me, on his knees, with his gun pointed from his shoulder, —we had overturned each other. The intimation of a capture implying the certainty of an enemy in the camp, added to our confusion; figures were seen running to and fro— who could know in the dark where to retreat? or whether the spear would strike in front or rear? —’twas dreadful! Pinjärra, and blood-thirsty retaliation, was in our minds; the fire brightened a little, and showed the position of the party, —some were on the ground—dead, or dying, perhaps, —one was roaring dreadfully.

Harris’s remark about ‘blood-thirsty retaliation’ was a reference to what has become known as the Battle of Pinjarra^ that occurred not many kilometres south of their location less than three months previously. Harris further recorded:

Mr Hillman now called on us to assemble around him, and keep silent, that we might ascertain if strangers were among us. To our inexpressible delight, we got together unhurt, and no strangers were seen; “but where is the captured native,” we all cried. It proved to be only a blackboy,* closely hugged by one of our party; and further inquiry elicited that a dream had caused the whole alarm. This was at first denied, and as all declared they had been cool and silent spectators of the scene, a short pause of apprehension again ensued—the terrible cries and yells then must have been the war cries of natives! No sounds of retreating foes could be heard however, and the seizure of the blackboy seemed to put the matter beyond a doubt; the sharp shrubs around accounted for the fancied pricking of the spears; loud fits of laughter succeeded; and tales were told of surprise leaps made in the moment of alarm.

A sentry being placed, we once more got to rest. The next morning, renewed laughter, and good-humoured jokes, enlivened our breakfast, and occasionally cheered our march during the day.

* Xanthorrea preissii now commonly known as the grass tree or, sometimes, balga.


Kim Epton
Series Editor


^ J S Roe, with Sir Jas. Stirling & party, to Murray River & back to Perth – on which journey the natives were punished at Pinjarra. In Shoobert J. (Principal Editor), Western Australian Exploration Volume 1 1826-1835, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, 2005, p. 381.

# Journal of Doctor Joseph Harris, with an extract from the journal of Mr Marshall MacDermott, on an expedition to the Hotham River. In Shoobert J. (Principal Editor), Western Australian Exploration Volume 1 1826-1835, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, 2005, p398.

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William Nairne Clark

The wacky William Nairne Clarke was a tempestuous character in Western Australia’s early history.

In 1832 he was the victorious party in Western Australia’s only fatal duel.

Apart from exploring much of south-west Western Australia in a series of six expeditions, he published the short-lived Swan River Guardian.

Prior to that he published Western Australia’s first book, A report of the late trial for libel !!! : Clarke versus Macfaul, September 4th, 1835.

Clark was an inveterate writer of disputatious Letters to The Editor concerning the exploration of the country between Perth and Albany – something of which, of course, he had first hand experience.

Clark appears in Western Australian Exploration Volume 1 1826-1835 and Western Australian Exploration 1836-1845, along with 300 other explorers.

Kim Epton
Series Editor

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Where is the Plants Appendix for Volume 1?

If you are looking for the Appendix on Plants in Volume 1 of Western Australian Exploration you won’t find it.

There were 10 Appendixes in Volume 1 but not one on Plants.

The botanical expertise of Professor Alex George wasn’t available at the time Volume 1^ was published. When he was asked to prepare the Appendix on Plants for Western Australian Exploration, 1836-1845 (Volume 2)*, he kindly offered to rectify the deficiency in Volume 1. The two Appendixes appear in Volume 2, starting at page 386.

Professor George has contributed each of the Appendixes on Plants written for the Western Australian Exploration series. Using his vast experience he is able to deduce the scientific names of the various plants mentioned by the explorers from information such as locality, landform, associated vegetation and/or soil. While many can be named with confidence, for others there is insufficient information to be able to suggest a precise scientific name and these are listed as ‘probably’.

This policy of publishing ‘missed’ material continues with the omitted Collie’s 1829 Expedition to the Serpentine River being included in Volume 2. Similarly, biographical information is continually updated as new information becomes available making Western Australian Exploration biographies complete and accurate.

Kim Epton
Series Editor

^ Shoobert J., Western Australian Exploration Volume One December 1826 –December 1835, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, 2005.

* Hercock, Marion & Milentis, Sheryl with Phil Bianchi, Western Australian Exploration, 1836-1845, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, Western Australia, 2011.

Dr Alex George, AM, is a retired consultant botanist, editor and indexer, and holds the position of Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Murdoch University. He worked at the WA Herbarium for 22 years and then spent 12 years in Canberra as the Executive Editor of the Flora of Australia project. He has also served at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England, as Australian Botanical Liaison Officer. His taxonomic research has focused on the families Proteaceae, Myrtaceae and Gyrostemonaceae, resulting in naming many new species and several new genera. His main research interests are now Australian botanical history and bibliography.

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