Gregory Blaxland – a born leader that crossed the Blue Mountains in only 21 days
Gregory Blaxland was born 17 June 1778 at Fordwich, Kent, England, the fourth son of John Blaxland and his wife Mary. In July 1799 in the church of St George, he married 20 year old Elizabeth, daughter of John Spurdon; they had five sons and two daughters.
Gregory Blaxlands parents were close friends of Sir Joseph Banks who appears to have strongly influenced the decision of Gregory and his eldest brother, John, to emigrate to Australia. The enticements were real and the government promised them both land, convict servants and free passages, in accord with its policy of encouraging ‘settlers of responsibility and capital’. Leaving John to sell their Kent estates, Gregory sailed in the William Pitt on 1 September 1805 with his wife, the three children, two servants, an overseer, a few sheep, seed, bees, tools, groceries and clothing and so on this day they commenced their sail into Australia’s history as it was only was 8 years after that he would lead an expedition across the Blue Mountains.
Blaxland and his family reached Sydney on 1 April 1806, where he sold many of the goods he brought with him very profitably. Very quickly Blaxland had gained quite the reputation of being the salesman that could make a quick profit. With his profits he then bought eighty head of cattle so as to enter the meat trade, located 2,000 acres (810 ha) of land at St Marys and was promised forty convict servants. Soon afterwards he also bought 450 acres (180 ha) at the Brush Farm (near Eastwood) from D’Arcy Wentworth for £1500, while also displaying some of his future characteristics by commencing litigation against the master of the William Pitt. A further parcel of 2,280 acres (920 ha) was granted for a farm at the South Creek located near St Mary’s.
As Blaxland settled into life at the foot of the Blue Mountains he would often look west and with some level of astonishment perhaps wondered why people could not cross the Blue Mountains. Early in 1813 Gregory Blaxland, who needed more grazing land, obtained the approval of Governor Lachlan Macquarie for an attempt to cross the Great Dividing Range, known as the Blue Mountains, following the mountain ridges, instead of following the rivers and valleys. Once he received permission after some discussion, he then secured the participation of William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth in the expedition, which was successful in reaching a point where they looked beyond and saw the open grazing lands of the new promise land. This achievement of course changed the future of this great country allowing settlers to travel west to the thousands of kilometres of unknown land. Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson stopped short of going over the mountain as they were confident enough that others would now do this. The crossing took 21 days, and 6 days to return.
In February 1823, 10 years after his achievement, Blaxland published his Journal of a Tour of Discovery Across the Blue Mountains (London, 1823) in which he wrote:
- “On Tuesday, May 11, 1813, Mr. Gregory Blaxland, Mr. William Wentworth, and Lieutenant Lawson, attended by four servants, with five dogs, and four horses laden with provisions, ammunition, and other necessaries, left Mr. Blaxland’s farm at the South Creek, for the purpose of endeavouring to effect a passage over the Blue Mountains’
In recognition of the successful crossing, all three explorers were granted by Governor Macquarie 1,000 acres (400 ha) of land west of the mountains
All wasn’t well in the colony:
Gregory Blaxland was an entrepreneur and salesman and is also noted as one of the first settlers to plant grapes for wine-making purposes. Following the crossing he was engaged during the next few years in wine-making. He had brought vines from the Cape of Good Hope and found a species resistant to blight.
Blaxland’s diaries show that he had a clear grasp of the scale upon which agricultural and pastoral activities would be profitable in Australia. In 1814, like many others almost insolvent because of drought and depression, he tried to persuade Governor Macquarie to sanction a scheme for the exploitation of the interior. Macquarie would not agree nor would he allow Blaxland land in the interior for his own flocks. Blaxland was far from impressed and outraged, after all he was a skillful negotiator so as a result of the Governors decision Gregory Blaxland had to dispose of his livestock and he joined the colonial opposition to Macquarie.
In 1822 Blaxland returned to England and displayed his fine wine from the Colony to great applaud and as a result he was awarded the silver medal of the Royal Society of Arts for the wine he had brought to London.
His wife whom he loved dearly died in December 1826. In January 1827 Blaxland was elected by a public meeting with two others to present a petition to Governor Darling asking that “Trial by jury” and “Taxation by Representation” should be extended to the colony. Still opposed to the governor’s authority, he made another visit to England, taking a petition in support of trial by jury and some form of representative government, and again carried samples of his wine, for which he won a gold medal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1828.
He suffered great personal loss with the early and untimely deaths of his second son, youngest son and wife along with others quite close to him in rapid succession, which bore very heavily on his heart and those close could see that he was a mere shadow of the man he once was. Sadly, the explorer that lead the expedition across the Blue Mountains in 1813 and opened up the interior forevermore, committed suicide on the 1 January 1853 in New South Wales and was buried in All Saints Cemetery in Parramatta. His son John was a prominent businessman and member of the New South Wales Legislative Council.