First use of horses in exploration

From when Major Edmund Lockyer first journeyed to King Georges Sound (Albany), this Report by Ensign Robert Dale is the first mention of horses being used on an expedition of exploration (but see Lieutenant William Preston’s report of an expedition to cross the Darling Range on page 81 of Western Australian Explorations 1826-1835) in any of the 36 reports that preceded it.

Dale was accompanied by William Locke Brockman, Private Terence Sheridan and an unknown ‘stockkeeper’.

31 July – 1 August 1830.
Having provided a sufficient supply of provisions for three weeks and prepared whatever was essential for my expedition, I left Perth in the morning of the 31st of July and in the afternoon reached Messrs Thomson and Trimmer’s on the Swan river a distance of about nine miles, on the following morning I proceeded to Mr Brockmans four miles higher up; who proposed accompanying me on my intended excursion. I was obliged to await there the arrival of the boat I had despatched from Perth with my provisions and there succeeded in swimming our horses over the river after experiencing some danger in the attempt owing to the Swan from the late rains having overflowed its banks to a considerable height.


2 August 1830.
On the second of August after having arranged our different packages and reduced them as much as possible, I proceeded with my Party consisting of Mr Brockman, one soldier & a stockeeper, the two latter each leading a pack-horse to carry our baggage across the Plain which extends from the left bank of the Swan to the base of Darlings range, until we reached (in a course varying from North to East) the foot of those hills, the ascent of which we commenced up a narrow defile through which a stream was running to the Westward, following this for one mile we left it on its leading us too far to the Southward, and proceeded due East till we encamped in the evening on the banks of a mountain torrent flowing to the north, after an estimated days journey of eleven miles.


3 August 1830.
After quitting our bivouac we ascended & continued along the summit of a ridge (from which no higher land was visible) for 21/ miles when we arrived at its eastern extremity from which we had a view of the Country round us for 8 miles; we soon afterwards crossed a broad stream flowing about NNW. 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. The greater portion of the country observed to day was sandy, in the valleys & on some of the hills we passed over a red loamy soil, producing grass of a tolerable description, and also the wild vetch. The trees consisting principally of Mahogany of a very vigorous growth, the blue & red gum, and a few Banksias.

4 August 1830.
Thermometer this morning at sunrise 33° an hour’s walk from the Depot brought us to a second branch of the Swan which we traced up for two miles & crossed it at a spot where it was flowing from the Southward. The Country here was of an open forest character. The trees consisting almost entirely of blue gum – this peculiarity I have observed in another part of the mountains about the same distance in the interior – continuing our course due East, we soon after were obliged to make a short detour to the Southward and as the country was swampy we had some difficulty in again crossing the last mentioned stream the banks of which were composed of a rich alluvial deposit – leaving the second branch of the Swan behind us – at about two miles further Eastward we halted for a short time during the middle of the day on the bank of a small stream which Mr Brockman & myself traced to its source, as we were led to think it might have its origin in a lake, on our ascending it for a mile in a S Easterly direction it appeared to terminate & be formed by the draining of swampy land – we here observed numerous traces of Emus – on returning to our party we again proceeded Eastward and taking a more elevated course passed over 25 miles of a very barren description of country, the trees being of a more stunted growth & the soil sandy, having its surface covered with loose fragments of iron stone – descending this ridge into a valley we had the satisfaction of discovering the first stream running to the Eastward – the trees on its banks consisting of blue gum, Casuarina, black wattle, and a tree similar in its growth to an apple, which bore a fruit resembling in form, although exceeding in size an unripe hawthorn berry, its wood had a remarkable sweet scent, and the bark a delicate pink colour – a specimen which we brought home with us has been pronounced by some professed judges to be sandal wood.

5 August 1830.
Last nights rain having rendered the country insecure travelling for the horses, we had great difficulty in proceeding a mile Easterly from our Bivouac, when our course was interrupted by the last mentioned stream flowing Northerly – on penetrating a short distance down its course with the expectation of crossing it we were obliged to return to nearly where we had forded it last night, where owing to the wet & hollow nature of the ground, we had to unload the horses before they could approach the margin – having carried the baggage across we attempted to remove it to a hill opposite the ford, but our progress was again soon stopped by a broader stream flowing to the North, the channel of which was too deep to ford it – recrossing to our horses we went a quarter of a mile below the junction of the two streams & employed the remainder of the day in swimming the horses across and getting our baggage over – to accomplish this we adopted rather a hazardous plan, for having selected a tree that was growing in the stream, we attached a long rope to one of its branches, when Mr Brockman and myself having previously crossed to the opposite side drew the different packages over as they were secured at the other extremity of the rope. The valley through which this stream flows is of some breadth, the soil being occasionally of a loamy description, & affording pasture for sheep – to day we saw a herd of Kangaroos, one of which we succeeded in killing after its affording us a fine run over a small elevated plain.

6 August 1830.
Leaving this latter stream flowing northerly we advanced in a due Easterly course for 8 miles, over a succession of barren, uninteresting ridges, seperated from each other at various distances by small grassy valleys, and clothed principally with a low stunted shrub, and a gum tree the bark of which was white, we then descended into a rich and picturesque valley of inconsiderable breadth, the luxuriant verdure of the grass and its banks Sloping down to a small rivulet gave it exactly the appearance of a lawn, three quarters of a mile further brought us to a brook running Easterly the soil & grass continuing good here – on the bank of this we Bivouacked.

7 August 1830.
Thermometer this morning at sunrise 44°. Shortly after quitting our bivouac, still preserving an Easterly course, we ascended a hill, and at its further base again fell in with the brook, on the banks of which we rested last night and which here intersected our course owing to its turning abruptly to the northward – it being too rapid & also too deep to ford it we constructed a bridge by cutting several long poles & placing them across a tree that was growing in the stream, over this we carried the baggage to the opposite side, having with some danger crossed our horses we picqueted them & pitched our tent on a small rich alluvial flat that skirts the margin of the brook – 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 – on the summit of this hill were three remarkable peaks, the valleys between them forming at their union an irregular basin, the highest of these we estimated to be nearly one thousand feet – I named this hill Mount Mackie in compliment to the Chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions.1

8 August 1830.
In order to avoid passing over the hill we ascended yesterday, which we found too much saturated with rain for the horses to attempt to traverse, we continued our course down the right bank of the brook in a North & North Easterly direction for two miles, when we had the gratification of arriving at the considerable stream we noticed yesterday, running towards the NW it had evidently overflowed its banks, the apparent channel or bed of the river being about 60 or 70 yards, the water was discolored & muddy with a rapid current, and enclosed between banks moderately clothed with trees & shrubs.

9 August 1830.
Thermometer this morning at sunrise 41°. We advanced this forenoon 2 miles up the left bank of the river, but with considerable difficulty owing to the soft & yielding nature of the soil in the neighbourhood of the river, caused apparently by excessive rain & not by inundation – being obliged to halt here the remainder of the day to refresh the horses, in the afternoon Mr Brockman & myself proceeded two miles higher up the stream, where we arrived at its junction with a brook from the SSW which latter we traced upwards for half a mile & then returned to our halting place.

10 August 1830.
Finding it impossible to make any further progress with our horses which were completely exhausted by their unusual exertions, and having secured them we left our tent pitched, considering them as a sufficient protection against the Natives, none of whom we had yet met with – we proceeded with two days provision to explore the left bank of the river towards its source, not deeming it prudent to be longer absent from our encampment than that time.

Recommencing our journey the medium course of which was SSE we in six miles arrived at a remarkable range of hills (which I propose naming the Dyott Range, in compliment to General Dyott the Colonel of the 63rd) rising abruptly and almost perpendicular from the Southern base and presenting a wall like barrier to the river below. They had a rich & verdent appearance and were clothed with grass to their summit & moderately wooded with gum trees – at this spot we heard the Natives, whose traces we had been following this morning; hailing each other at no great distance. We were fortunate this night in finding shelter from the rain which was pouring down in torrents, under a shelving rock, it was of considerable size, having the shape & appearance of the thatched roof of a cottage. In the neighbourhood of our bivouac & for some distance around, were large masses of granite, in one of these we discovered a cavern, the interior being arched & resembling somewhat in appearance the inside of an ancient ruin: on one side was rudely carved what was evidently intended to represent the sun – it being a circular figure about 18 inches in diameter, emitting rays from its left side & having within the circle lines meeting each other nearly at right angles. Close to this representation of the sun were the impressions of an arm & several hands. This spot appeared to us to be used by the natives as a place of worship – our walk to day for nearly 20 miles up the left bank of the river led us over a country well clothed with grass, apparently of the same description as that on the banks of the Swan, it had little underwood & was lightly timbered with a species of gum tree having a rough stringy bark of a light brown color, which appeared to us to be a different kind from any variety of the gum tree which we had observed on the Swan. The flats bordering the river being mostly flooded we were unable to judge of their general character. The soil in the uplands & hills being chiefly composed of a sandy loam with a stratum of clay about a foot underneath the surface rendered the travelling from the late rains rather fatiguing, as we were obliged to tread on tufts of grass to avoid sinking in many places in this wet and hollow ground – on the banks of the river were numerous holes the burrows of some animal which we were unable to see. We also found a litter of native dogs, the mother having left them on our approach, we succeeded in bringing two of them alive in our pockets to Perth.

11 August 1830.
Having only brought two days provision with us, we regretted being now obliged to retrace our steps to where we had left our horses, and proceeding N by West we in 7 miles arrived at the base of that part of the Dyott hills which rises so abruptly from the river, in 20 minutes we reached the summit after a fatiguing ascent, and were amply rewarded by commanding from it a greater expanse of country than could be observed from Mt Mackie – to the Eastward it presented a view of high timbered forest land, rising in alternate undulations & expanding itself from nearly North to SSE till it finally disappeared in the distance from 25 to 30 miles off, seemingly partaking as far as we could discern of the same character as the adjacent country. * 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. Quitting these hills, we at the termination of eight miles reached an our old encampment which we found had not been visited by the natives during our absence.

12 August 1830.
Mr Brockman & myself proceeded at an early hour again to explore the Dyott hills, while the men were employed in conveying the horses & baggage three miles lower down the river to the spot at which we found it and after walking about 7 miles we arrived at the northern side of the range, but were much disappointed in not being able to obtain a view of the Plain, as directly we reached the summit, it was completely obscured by the dense state of the atmosphere, and by the heavy rains which then set in. Having collected a few specimens of the rocks and taken a few bearings of the surrounding country we returned to our bivouac – on rejoining our men we found they had encountered so much difficulty in urging on the horses whilst loaded owing to the excessive wetness of the ground, that they had been obliged to unload them & carry the baggage themselves.

13 August 1830.
Thermometer at sunrise 39°. At 8 o’clock a.m. we commenced our route homewards over the same country we had passed a few days previously, but with far greater celerity, as we accomplished to day nearly the same distance that it then took us four days to perform, owing to our better knowledge of the Country & its being more passable to the horses which had now only a light load to carry. After proceeding ten miles from the river we had an interview with three natives on the banks of a stream which we had passed on the 5th inst and to which we descended for three quarters of a mile down a grassy hill, where we saw numerous traces of Emus which I think they had been just hunting. We found them very friendly, probably from the little intercourse they had evidently had with Europeans. After assisting us to load our horses they accompanied us some distance, being at great pains to direct us on our journey. In the evening we bivouacked on the banks of the stream we had so much difficulty in crossing on the 5th inst, having effected to day 15 miles.

14 August 1830.
Before commencing our journey this morning we were visited by three natives whom we recognised as having seen at Perth this intercourse with the settlers seemed to have the effect of rendering their manners more familiar and even daring, for on our leaving our bivouac & ascending a hill they attempted to prevent our pursuing our course, on account as we conjectured of their women being near, but on our making a detour to the left they joined us with apparent satisfaction. We this day accomplished 14 Miles in a Westerly course.

15 August 1830.
Thermometer at sunrise 46°. We left our bivouac at an early hour this morning wishing if possible to reach the Western base of Darling’s range before evening. We traversed a thickly wooded forest country with a sandy surface to the foot of that range and were enabled before night fall to reach the termination of our journey at Mr Brockmans house from which place we had been absent exactly a fortnight, but not before one of our horses became so completely exhausted that he sank to the ground, in which state we were obliged to leave him till the following morning.

General Remarks
In the course of this expedition we collected several specimens of the mineralogy of the country we traversed, among these are some varieties of Granite, rock crystal, and Limestone, some of these appear to be metalliferous but as they have been placed in the hands of a competent gentleman for the purpose of being analysed, whose report is shortly expected, it is unnecessary at present to hazard an opinion as to their specific properties.

We estimated the distance from Mr Brockmans house to the river which washes the base of the Dyott hills and which formed the extreme point or termination of our expedition to be upwards of 40 miles in a due Easterly course and to which there is no obstacle of sufficient importance to prevent a good communication being opened.

The general character of the soil of the country to the Eastward of Mount Mackie which we conceived to be the Eastern extremity of Darling’s Range, was a light sandy loam, the subsoil of which was clay which occasionally appeared on the surface, in some places there was a rich red loam and the banks of the last mentioned river were principally alluvial.
R Dale

On the 6th Sept Lieut Erskine (Pedders successor) proceeded on an expedition to explore the county [sic] to the Eastward of Darling’s Range, he penetrated as far as the river which I discovered and arrived at it about 4 miles higher than the spot to which I traced it, being unable to cross it he followed its left bank for 25 miles till he reached the place where I had first fell in with it, & where we had left a Depot of provisions; four miles lower down than this he left it running NW and proceeded West on his return home for four days when he arrived at the Western side of Darlings Range about 12 miles to the Northward of where the Swan issues from among the hills. He confirms the statement I made of the river, which he saw confined to its natural channel running at the rate of about 3 or 4 knots an hour, and also very deep, he describes the land as being rich & extending to some distance from the river. It is somewhat remarkable that I did not see a single native at the other side of the Mountains, probably they were deterred from making their appearance as we must have been the first Europeans they had seen. From Erskines account they appear to be in greater numbers and a more athletic race than the tribes in the neighbourhood of Perth.

1 Mt Mackie is 290m (951 ft) above sea level, and 130m (426 ft) above the nearby Avon.
* This being the most conspicuous hill of the range I propose to name Mt Bakewell in compliment to a friend