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Exploration by Land

G Collingridge and WC Piguenit, 'Crossing the Picton', 1888 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Sea voyagers made some landings in Van Diemen's Land but few attempts to explore inland, an exception being the excursions made by naturalists of the d'Entrecasteaux expedition between their Recherche Bay anchorage and South Cape Bay in January–February 1793. Largely, land exploration can be said to have commenced with European settlement. Between 1803 and 1806 surveyor James Meehan, searching for land suitable for grants, examined the upper Derwent valley and eastwards to Pitt Water. Deputy-Surveyor George Prideaux Harris, in 1804, explored areas close to Hobart (Pitt Water, Betsey Island, River Derwent, D'Entrecasteaux Channel, Bruny Island, and Huon River). Botanist Robert Brown, accompanied by mineralogist AWH Humphrey, followed the Derwent upstream in 1804, perhaps as high as its junction with the Ouse (or Dee) River. In May, they walked from Hobart to the Huon River valley.

The first north-south crossing was undertaken in 1807 by Lt Thomas Laycock who travelled from the Tamar to Hobart in eight days, seeking (without success) relief for the new northern settlement. Surveyor Charles Grimes followed Laycock's route that year and surveyed the Macquarie River. The examination of the interior was assisted by settlers searching for agricultural lands. John Beamont, in 1817, travelled up the Shannon River to Great Lake and south-west to the Nive River. In 1823 James Ross, with Thomas Scott, discovered Lake Echo westwards from his Shannon property. Captain John Rolland, from 1823, traversed the country westward of the Tamar to the Mersey River, which led to the opening up of Mole Creek plains. Mount Roland (sic) was named for him.

Unofficial explorers included convicts roaming the outback as bushrangers. Alexander Pearce (1822) and James Goodwin (1828), escapees from Macquarie Harbour, made west to east crossings through difficult country before official surveyors appeared on the scene. Details of convict discoveries were, however, rarely available to officialdom. Given the relatively small size of Tasmania, the Survey Department accepted responsibility for its examination, although not all of its surveying can be regarded as original exploration. Thomas Scott, in 1821, examined parts of the island's north-east, while Henry Rice in 1820–21 and Scott in 1822–24 surveyed east coast districts. After surveys in the north-west and west coasts, Scott issued his 'Chart of Van Diemen's Land' in 1824. He also reported on Port Arthur in 1828. King Island was surveyed by GW Barnard in 1826.

The programme of government surveyors was stepped up after 1827 under Surveyor-General George Frankland. John Helder Wedge in 1828 pushed southwards from Circular Head, then westwards to Mount Cameron and the country bounded by the Montagu and Welcome Rivers. John Darke, in 1833, examined the country around Wylds Craig while a track was cut to Lake Pedder in 1836. James Erskine Calder followed the Huon River up to the Picton in 1831 and, in 1837, reached the Arthur Range. William Sharland claimed to have sighted 'a very extensive lake' from Mount Charles during his 1832 expedition to the upper Derwent, but the honour of naming Lake St Clair was reserved for Frankland in a follow-up expedition of February 1835. Exploring westwards from the River Nive, he reached the lake's shores, discovering it to be the source of the River Derwent, while also naming Mounts Olympus and King William. The Florentine River and Vale of Rasselas were then crossed and Wylds Craig climbed. After Frankland's return to Hobart, the party under Wedge progressed to the Gordon River and Lakes Pedder and Maria. In 1840 Calder blazed an overland track to Macquarie Harbour which was followed by Sir John and Lady Franklin in their adventurous excursion in 1842. That same year Nathaniel Kentish, from Kimberley, crossed the Kentish Plains to the mouth of the Leven River.

The exploration of the west and north-west benefited from the establishment in 1825 of the Van Diemen's Land Company. Promised substantial grants, the Company despatched its employees in search of agricultural and pastoral lands. Alexander Goldie and Joseph Fossey, in July–September 1826, travelled by boat and overland to Cape Grim, Mount Cameron, Arthur River and, during the return, landed at Detention River. Jorgen Jorgenson, in 1826, attempted to trace a stock route from Hobart across the Central Plateau to Circular Head. Two attempts from the Shannon via Great Lake and Lake Augusta were thwarted by poor weather, with progress restricted to the Walls of Jerusalem, near Lake Adelaide. In 1827, Jorgenson and Clement Lorymer made a second attempt, from Circular Head down the west coast to the Pieman River, but the expedition was abandoned and Lorymer drowned in the Duck River during the return. In 1827 Henry Hellyer, the Company's leading surveyor/explorer, reached the Hampshire and Surrey Hills, and climbed St Valentine's Peak (Flinders 'Peak like a volcano') while, the same year, Fossey travelled from Launceston via the Mersey and Forth Rivers and discovered the Middlesex Plains. The Company's grant of 350,000 acres, when finally negotiated, included large sections of Hellyer's and Fossey's discoveries.

George Augustus Robinson, 'Conciliator' of the Tasmanian Aborigines, travelled extensively in unexplored areas of the west, north-west and east between 1829 and 1834, but his priority was to locate Aborigines still in the wild. Robinson was no mapmaker nor were his discoveries communicated to government. In 1852 James Scott, based in Launceston, explored the north-east to Cape Portland, returning along the coast. Scottsdale was later named for him.

In later years government surveyors and private prospectors were active in western Tasmania. Geologist Charles Gould, in 1859, searched for mineral deposits from Lake St Clair to the Eldon Range and Mount Murchison and, in 1862, passed by without detecting the (later) celebrated Iron Blow mine at Mount Lyell. Surveyors Charles Percy Sprent, Edward Counsel and EG Innes were also in the field, undertaking detailed explorations and track cutting, but it fell to James 'Philosopher' Smith, in 1871, to discover the deposits of tin which became the rich Mount Bischoff mine. Further prospecting led to the development of mines at Zeehan, Mount Lyell and Renison Bell.

Further reading: Australian encyclopaedia 3, Sydney, 1963; C Binks, Explorers of western Tasmania, Launceston, 1980; S Franks, 'Land exploration in Tasmania, 1824–1842', MA thesis, UT, 1958; R Giblin, The early history of Tasmania 2, London, 1939; A Jones, Backsight, Hobart, 1989; N Plomley (ed), Friendly mission, Hobart, 1966; Tasmanian year book, 1970; T Vallance et al, Nature's investigator, Canberra, 2001.

Dan Sprod