Camden Haven Historical Museum

John Oxley Expedition 1818



 After naming Port Macquarie, the Oxley expedition travelled down the New South Wales Coast, through the Camden Haven area, then south to Harrington, then Newcastle.  Here we follow the route, using journal entries made by John Oxley.

8th - 11th October, 1818, the expedition camped at Port Macquarie.

October 12.We quitted Port Macquarie at an early hour on our course homewards, with all those feelings which that word even in the wilds of Australia can inspire. We kept at a distance from the sea shore for nearly six miles; the country was exceedingly rich, the timber large with frequent brushes. Just before we came on the beach, we observed an extensive freshwater lagoon, running for several miles behind the beach, bounded on the west by forest land of good appearance; a strip of sandy land about three quarters of a mile wide dividing it from the sea. At the back of Tacking Point rises a small stream of fresh water, which flows into the lagoon. The country is of moderate height. After travelling near fifteen miles, we stopped at the extremity of a sandy beach on a point of good land, with an excellent spring of water rising on it, about four miles north of the northernmost of the Three Brothers. Tacking Point, bearing N. 25 1/4 E. Two of our remaining three dogs, had been for the last two days deprived of the use of their limbs: one died this morning; the other, we brought on horseback with us, willing, if possible, to save the life of a valuable and faithful servant. We conjecture that something they had eaten in the woods must have caused so universal a paralysis.

13th October. The expedition passed by Grants Head, then into the Camden Haven Inlet. They followed the north side of the Camden River Inlet along the banks of Queens Lake. 

October 13.—Crossing the point of land on which we had been encamped, we came to a sandy beach, on which we travelled three miles and a half. At the end of it was an opening safe for boats, (and probably for small craft at high water), into an extensive lake. As we had no canoe by which to cross over, we were obliged to keep along its north shore with an intention of going round it. The lake formed a large basin with a deep channel, which as it approached the base of the northern Brother narrowed into a river-like form, and in the course of a mile it again expanded from the north-north-west to the south-west, to a very great extent. The land on its eastern side was low and marshy (fresh water). To the north and north-west, it was bounded by low forest hills covered with luxuriant grass; and to the southward and south-west extended along apparently the same description of country, nearly to the western base of the Second Brother. The ranges of high, woody hills laid down by Captain Flinders dwindle when approached into low unconnected forest hills. The Northern Brother, the highest of the three, is a long hill of moderate elevation, and is seen from such a distance in consequence of the other parts of the country being comparatively low. The timber was chiefly black butted gum [Note: Species of eucalyptus], stringy bark, turpentine tree, and forest oak [Note: Casuarina torulosa]. The stones are chiefly a hard sandstone. On the lake were great numbers of black swans, ducks, etc. Various small inlets from the lake much impeded us, and after travelling near seven miles along its shores, we halted for the evening near a small spring of fresh water, in a good rising grass country. The easternmost highest part of the North Brother was S. 4. W. From the observed amplitude of the sun at rising this morning, the variation was found to be 9. 33. E.

October 14,  The expedition camped on the Camden Haven River, probably downstream of Rossglen.

October 14.—We were considerably delayed in our progress this day by salt water inlets, which occasioned us much trouble to cross, and at length we were altogether stopped by a very wide and deep one, near the west end of the lake: it was too late in the day to take any measures for crossing it this evening; we therefore pitched our tents on the banks near a swamp of fresh water which borders on it and the lake, from which we were distant about one mile and a half. The inlet was brackish, and must have a considerable body of fresh water near its head. In our route we had disturbed a large party of natives, some of whom were busily employed in preparing bark for a new canoe. There were several canoes on the lake, in which they all fled in great confusion; leaving their arms and utensils of every description behind them. One of the canoes was sufficiently large to hold nine men, and resembled a boat; of course we left their property untouched, though we afterwards regretted we did not seize one of their canoes, which we might easily have done. We however determined to send back in the morning for the unfinished canoe, and try our skill in completing it for use. The ground passed over for the last six miles was hilly and very stony, but covered with excellent timber of all descriptions, and also good grass. There were plenty of kangaroos, but we had but one dog able to run; so that we succeeded in killing only a small one.

October 15. They returned to the entrance (named after Lord Camden), and camped on the North side of the inlet, probably the same campsite as 13th October.

October 15.—A party was sent back early this morning to secure the canoe, while we examined the river. The people returned in the course of the forenoon unsuccessful, as the natives had removed it with all their effects in the course of the night, throwing down and destroying their guniahs or bark huts. We also found that about a mile higher up the river, a branch from it joined that which we last crossed about two miles back, making an island of the ground we were upon. The main branch continued to run to the north-north-west, and north-west. We therefore lost no time in returning part of the way to the entrance into the haven, (which we named after Lord Camden), where we proposed to construct a canoe. The natives seem very numerous, but are shy: we saw many large canoes on the lake, one of which would be quite sufficient for our purposes.

16th and 17th October. John Oxley returned to the coast at the entrance of the Camden Haven Inlet for two nights, where they constructed a bark canoe, completed by the Saturday night.

18th October. On the ebb tide the expedition crossed over the Camden Haven inlet, although they lost a horse doing so. Oxley named Watson Taylor’s Lake.

October 18.—On Friday we returned to the entrance of the haven, and immediately commenced our endeavours to construct a canoe: our first essays were unsuccessful, but by Saturday night we had a bark one completed, which we hoped would answer our purpose; though I think if the natives saw it they would ridicule our rude attempts. This morning, the ebb tide answering, we commenced transporting our luggage, and in three hours every thing was safe over. A very serious misfortune however occurred in swimming the horses across: two of them were seized with the cramp near the middle of the channel, one with difficulty gained the shore, the other sank instantly and was seen no more; he was one of our best and strongest horses, and even now their weak state can ill afford a diminution in their number. This haven appears to have a perfectly safe entrance for boats and small craft at all times of tide, except at dead low water with a strong surge from the eastward, when it slightly breaks, but is still quite safe for boats if not for larger vessels. When we were in it, there appeared a safe and deep channel through the sand shoals which spread over it: the channel also appeared deep leading into the inner haven. There is plenty of fresh water in swamps, on almost every part of the shore on which we were. The higher lands abound with good timber, the points nearest the sea being covered with Banksia integrifolia, of large dimensions, fit for any kind of boat timber. It is high water full and change at ten minutes after nine, and the tide appears to rise between four and six feet. From a point near the entrance, several bearings were taken; and we also saw another large lake, or perhaps fresh water lagoon, Under the southernmost of the Three Brothers. A sunken rock was also discovered off to sea, lying upwards of two miles from the next point southerly of us, and bearing S. 5. W.: a deep clear channel lies between it and the shore. At one o'clock we departed, and by sunset had accomplished near fourteen miles of our journey. We saw the large lake under the Brothers from a high point on the coast very clearly, and found that on the north it was bounded by the North Brother, and separated from the sea by a strip of low marshy land about three quarters of a mile wide. This lake I think is a fresh water one: it was named Watson Taylor's Lake. The country west and southerly of the Brothers consisted of low forest hills; and a range of hills of moderate height, the entrance of which bore west-south-west distant twenty or twenty-five miles, ended near Cape Hawke, the country being to that range very low with marshes. A strip of sandy land half a mile wide bounds the shore, on which is good grass and water. On the beach where we halted we found a small boat nearly buried in the sand, but quite perfect. It had belonged to a Hawkesbury vessel, belonging to one Mills, which had been lost some time ago, and the crew of which perished. We halted on the beach, the South Brother bearing W. 32. N., and the Reef N. 53 1/2. E., and which we now saw extended near three quarters of a mile north and south, and lying two marine miles from the shore. It appears dangerous, since in fine weather (as to-day) the north part of the reef only breaks occasionally.

19th October, the expedition proceeded down the coast, to Harrington and eventually reaching Newcastle. 


Oxley Sources

Primary Sources

National Library of Australia, John Oxley. Negatives cabinet, NLA, edited by nla.pic.vn3509743 PIC/9259 LOC, 

Oxley, John, A Chart of Part of the Interior of New South Wales / by John Oxley, Surveyor General. edited by Arrowsmith, A. London, Soho Square, Hydrographer to His Majesty, 1822.

Oxley, John, Account of Mr. Oxley's Observations on the Variation of the Needle, &C. In New Holland, Edinburgh, Printed for A. Constable, 1821. microform. 

Oxley, John, Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales, Undertaken by Order of the British Government in the Years 1817-1818, London, J. Murray, 1820. 

Surveyor-General John Oxley to Governor Macquarie, Letter Dated 1 November 1818, In Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, v.10, 1819-1822, p.26-31., 1917

Wallis, James, An Historical Account of the Colony of New South Wales and Its Dependent Settlements: In Illustration of Twelve Views, Engraved by W. Preston from Drawings Taken on the Spot by Captain Wallis. To Which Is Subjoined an Accurate Map of Port Macquarie and the Newly Discovered River Hastings, by J. Oxley, Printed for R. Ackermann by J. Moyes, 1821. London. 

Note: Oxleys Journal is available electronically, as an ebook at The Project Gutenberg, on kindle and at Mitchel Library.

Secondary Sources

Crampton, Tim, +20: Remembering the Forgotten: Rewriting Australian History: The Untold Stories of John Oxley's 1817 & 1818 Expeditions, Lake Tyers Beach, Vic., Tim Crampton, 2008. 

Dunlop, E.W. 'Oxley, John Joseph (1784–1828)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 8 October 2018.

Grimmond, Richard, I Went with Oxley, Richard Grimmond, 2017.

Hunziker, Geoff, The Old Bar and Manning River Islands: A Short Folk History of the Lower Manning River: John Oxley 1818 to the New Century 2001 A.D Old Bar, N.S.W.: Geoff Hunziker, 2002. 

Johnson, Richard, 'John Oxley's Sydney Town House', Margin: life & letters in early Australia, vol. issue 2004, pp. 13-27.

Johnson, Richard, The Search for the Inland Sea: John Oxley, Explorer, 1783-1828, Carlton South, Vic., Melbourne University Press, 2001. 

Proudfoot, Helen, 'A Continent without Maps: Territorial Exploration in the Age of Macquarie- a New Look at the Journeys of John Oxley', Journal RAHS, vol. 79, issue 1993, pp. 20ff.

Ramsland, John, The Struggle against Isolation: A History of the Manning Valley, North Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1987. 

The Lachlan & Elizabeth Macquarie Archive. Www.Library.Mq.Edu.Au/Digital/Lema Accessed June 22, 2018

Tickle, Rob, John Oxley: A New Perspective, Veritas Archaeology & History Service, 2018.

Whitehead, John, Tracking and Mapping the Explorers. Volume 1, the Lachlan River Exploration, 1817, Oxley - Evans - Cunningham, Coonabarabran, NSW, J. Whitehead, 2003. 

Whitehead, John, Tracking and Mapping the Explorers Volume 2: The Macquarie River-Warrumbungle Mts-Pilliga Scrub-Liverpool Plains-Hastings River-Port Macquarie 1818-Oxley and Evans, Lismore: Southern Cross University Printery, 2005.he Expedition at Camden Haven