Overlanders #3: Hawdon, Hepburn and Gardiner


Hawdon, Hepburn and Gardiner

This post is in two parts. The first part, The Men, is the narrative of their journey from the settled districts of New South Wales ("the Sydney side") with "upwards of three hundred cattle", southwards to the new settlement at Port Phillip Bay. Their trip, made in the last three months of 1836, was the first 'overlanding' of livestock to the Port Phillip District. The second part, The Cattle, extends the story to 1846, when the progeny of this first herd were in turn 'overlanded' to South Australia. The point here is that 'overlanders' were not explorers as such, but speculators. The moving of livestock between colonies was, first and foremost, a commercial exercise. Their purpose was not about learning to be competent 'stockmen' and 'drovers' (although they necessarily had to learn this vital skill, and quickly), but to be successful 'dealers' in a distant market.

1. The Men
John Hepburn's letter to Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe, dated 10 August 1853, in 
Bride & Sayers, [1898] 1983, Letters from Victorian Pioneers, Currey O'Neil, South Yarra VIC, pp. 59-64

1.1 Setting off from the Murrumbidgee
"...I had joined my friend Gardiner [Joseph Gardiner whom Hepburn had met in 1833 when he was captain of the Alice sailing from England to Van Diemens Land - Gardiner was one of his passengers] and Joseph Hawdon in a Port Phillip speculation, to take a number of cattle to that place, overland...the sum [I] invested in the above speculation was 200 Pounds. Mr Gardiner strongly urged me to accompany the expedition to Port Phillip, which I did...In the month of October 1836, the party met at Howe's station on the Murrumbidgee by appointment, Mr Hawdon having mustered the cattle [from his brother's station near Bateman's Bay] and brought them to the above station...about 180 miles from Sydney. We started with the cattle down the Murrumbidgee...It must be observed, that [this] was the first expedition in which stock, either of sheep or cattle, started from the Sydney side."

1.2 Following the Major's tracks
"On our arrival at Gundagai we met a part of Sir T. (then Major) Mitchell's expedition, who had come direct from Portland Bay, in charge of a Mr Stapylton, who gave us some useful information respecting the route. We kept down the river to Guy's station, then the farthest down, and of course the outside squatter...From this station we took our departure from the river, and kept nearly a S.W. course...We reached the Murray River in about fourteen days. When the Major crossed the country it had been very wet, but many places where we had encamped were destitute of water when we passed, although the lapse of time was short; the tracks of [Mitchell's] drays were deeply cut, and ours, which was moderately loaded, did not make a mark."

1.3 Crossing the west-flowing rivers
"The Murray was running bank-high, and much discussion took place about the crossing. We first got the cattle across with a great deal of trouble, tied the tarpaulin round the body of the dray after the wheels were taken off, and got all safe across, taking a little of the load at a time. In getting the horses over, mine was drowned. This was a serious loss that could not be replaced for love or money, and, what was most annoying, I was compelled to walk, or ride on the dray when tired. We kept [to] the Major's track for the whole of the next three weeks. On our arrival at the Ovens River we had the misfortune of breaking the axle of our dray, which delayed us for some time. After leaving the Ovens, we had much difficulty in getting across what is now called the Broken River. I named it the Portage Creeks, they being five in number where we crossed, and so soft was the ground that we had to carry the whole load across on our backs to saved the fished [fixed?] axle-tree for the remainder of the journey."

1.4 Meeting the Natives
"[At the Ovens River] a number of natives made their appearance, and I must confess I was much surprised to see the alarm it caused amongst the men; nothing but guns and pistols was in requisition, and at one time I was left to fish [fix?] the axle by myself. Mr Hawdon followed the blacks, who were very shy; but one, who had seen white men before, allowed Mr Hawdon to prevail upon him to come to the camp. After a short time he made quite free. We saw nothing of the tribe afterwards...This man continued with the party until we crossed the Goulburn, when he took his departure without ceremony. He was no use to us, with the exception of assisting to lighten our stock of provisions, which was not over-abundant...On our reaching the Goulburn we saw many symptoms that induced us to think the number of natives was considerable, but we never saw one. Still keeping the Major's line on a creek running into the Goulburn, we came on a very large encampment, about 70 mia-mias, but all the natives fled on our approach, leaving their fires burning..."

1.5 Getting over the Great Dividing Range
"[We decided] to shape a course across the ranges in a straight line for our destination...After some rough travelling...we then took a S.E. course across the Mount Macedon Ranges, and a very rough journey we had. After surmounting all difficulties and getting safely through the ranges, the Port Phillip country opened to our view, very much to the satisfaction of our whole party...and from the top of an elevated spot discovered the Bay, and with the aid of my glass saw a ship at anchor. We continued our course from on eminence to another, and at last saw the smoke rising, as we supposed, from the settlement. We here determined to take the cattle no further for the present."

1.6 Arriving at the Port Phillip settlement
"The next day Gardiner, Hawdon, and myself started for the settlement. The horse I rode was quite done, being one of the stock-horses. Hawdon, who travelled too fast for Gardiner and me, left us about noon. We arrived about four p.m.; but Mr H., having overshot the mark, did not arrive until nine p.m., his horse being quite done up. There were only a few huts in the settlement...other huts were only slabs stuck in the ground, forming a roof...no accommodation was to be had for money. This was in December 1836. There were several horses and fifteen head of cattle in the settlement. We were looked on by most people in the settlement at the time with great jealousy, and many would not believe our report. Hawdon and Gardiner started next day for the cattle, and brought them into the settlement...Provisions were [priced] very high during our stay, and we killed a bullock, one of the best, of course, for the good colonists to keep Christmas in good English style."

2. The Cattle

2.1 Hepburn's account - 1836
Bride & Sayers (eds.), 1983, Letters from Victorian Pioneers, Currey O'Neil, South Yarra Vic, p. 64
"The next step towards settling was to make a station...We crossed the Yarra at the only ford we could find [Dight's Mill]...and took up ground on the south side of the river...and what is known as Gardiner's Creek. This was the first cattle station in Australia Felix...Mr Gardiner and myself purchased Mr Hawdon's share of the cattle, and some six months after, Mr Gardiner purchased mine, so that he became the sole owner."

2.2 Russell's account - 1837
P.L. Brown (ed.), 1935, The Narrative of George Russell of Golf Hill, OUP, London, p. 153
"The Clyde Company purchased 100 cows at 10 Pounds each from Mr Gardiner...in the spring of 1837...About the end of the year 1838, the cattle were moved from the Leigh Valley to the stony plains between Native [Hut] Creek and the Tall Tree...They did very well on the stony plains, and several small drafts of fat cattle were sold out of them. They were allowed to increase in numbers until they reached 800, when they were all sold to Mr Charles Gray during 1846, excepting from 100 to 200 head. Mr Gray drove the cattle across the country to Adelaide, and sold them there; and I believe he made a little by his speculation."

2.3 Russell's account - 1846
P.L. Brown (ed.), 1959, Clyde Company Papers, Volume IV, 1846-50, OUP, London, p. 51
"Dear Gray, I enclose a list of the Cattle as you requested, giving statements of their ages, sexes, and descriptions as well as I can, which I hope will (with your previous knowledge of the Herd) afford you all the information you require. The price, as I stated to you, is 35/- [35 shillings] all over, which I should think is not more than their value...[This letter is endorsed, 'The above offer is accepted by Mr. Gray. G.R.]."

2.3 Gray's account - 1846
Charles M. Gray, Western Victoria in the Forties: Reminiscences of a Pioneer, Reprinted from the Hamilton Spectator in 1939, pp. 13-15
"Before leaving Adelaide I sold by description another herd of between six and seven hundred belonging to my friend, Mr Russell...I started for Melbourne, purchased horses and other things for my journey, rode to Mr Russell's with the men I had engaged, took delivery of the cattle, and started. During the first part of the journey I had considerable trouble in watching the cattle at night, as they were rather wild, and, not withstanding my vigilance, the men allowed a few to escape, but the weather being fine during the journey I had a pleasant trip. Arrived at the place for delivery, I left the cattle and rode into Adelaide to report my arrival to the purchaser, who soon came out, took delivery, and gave me bills in payment. After a few days in Adelaide I started to ride home...camped in the scrub at 'McGrath's Flat', where there was a well...After journeying three or four days alone in the scrub, where the note of a bird is never heard [the '90 mile desert', an expanse of waterless Mallee], I reached a station near the South Australian and Victorian boundary, and in a few days more reached  Nareeb Nareeb [his own station in the Western District]."

2.4 Gray's account -1847
"After remaining at Nareeb Nareeb for some time assisting in the usual work on the station, finding that the bills taken in payment of cattle had not been honoured upon reaching maturity, I determined to ride [back] over to Adelaide. For several days of the first part of my journey I had stations to call at and stop the night, but on leaving the last of these -- 'Lawsons' [near the S.A./Vic. border and on the eastern edge of the scrub] - I ommitted to get a piece of cooked meat and damper. This I did not discover until several miles on my journey, so did not return, hoping to get fish from the blacks when I reached the 'Coorong' [a salty watercourse on the other side of the mallee scrub]...however, I was disappointed, as, upon reaching the water I found...[only] two old lubras...I rummaged in [their] beenacks (food bags)...to find only one small fish, which was so decidedly 'high' that even after two days and nights without food I could not eat it. So had to content myself with my pipe and pannikin of tea...I rode as far as the River Murray, crossed on a small punt, which with the weight of myself and horses seemed to bend about like a sheet of thin tin on the water. Stopping the night at the only house of accommodation there was (a two-roomed hut built of reeds cut on the river), I started after breakfast, taking the road for Adelaide...upon reaching Adelaide I saw the agent (Mr John Baker) who had sold the cattle, and prevailed upon him in consideration for a pretty stiff commission to take up the bill and give me cash for the amount of it...After the large amount paid the agent, I was averse to being mulet [sic] in a further sum by way of exchange, so took gold for the amount of the bill (several thousand pounds), had it put in a bag and tightly rolled in a rug to prevent its jiggling. It was then strapped onto the saddle of my led horse, and off I started for Nareeb Nareeb. I got as far as the Murray the first day. The next three nights I had to camp out, and regretted being overtaken by three men, who were journeying so far in the same direction. I would rather have been alone than in the company of strangers, but there was no help for it. Upon reaching the end of our day's journey I used to take the saddle off my pack horse, throw it on the ground in the most careless manner, so that upon parting from my fellow travellers after our three days companionship they, I am certain, had not the slightest idea of what my led horse was carrying. After one night in the bush alone with wild dogs howling around me, I had stations to stop at every night during the rest of my journey, but was glad to reach Nareeb Nareeb, rest a day, get a fresh horse, and proceed to town with my gold. [Note that this is a reference to minted coins, not mined nuggets, as the discovery of gold in Victoria did not occur until 1851]."


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