Explorer, soldier and public servant, Charles Sturt (1795-1869) was born on 28 April 1795 in India, the son of an English judge in Bengal, then under control of the East India Company.
In December 1826, after a brief period in England, he set out for Australia – in charge of convicts on the Mariner (ship) – arriving in Sydney on 23 May 1827. Having arrived in Australia from the Home Country, at this time, a man of Sturt’s pedigree and credentials had a few options – politics, the army or explore inland in the new colony. After a short stint in the military Sturt chose the latter.
Earlier inland expeditions by John Oxley and Allan Cunningham had charted a number of rivers and the general view was that there must be some great inland sea. On 10 November 1928 Sturt (with local explorer Hamilton Hume) set out on his first expedition, to trace the course of the Macquarie River (northwest from Sydney) and hopefully find this great inland sea.
At this stage I draw attention to the map pictured above which may assist if you are not familiar with the rivers and geography of south east Australia. To further assist you, I have added a few numbers to the map. 1 = Macquarie River, 2 = Gundagai, 3= point where the Darling River joins the Murray River and 4 = Lake Alexandrina.
While on this expedition Sturt came across ‘a noble river’ flowing to the west which he named, the Darling, after the then governor of New South Wales. On his return to Sydney he sought permission for a second expedition to trace the Darling to its assumed outlet in the inland sea. He got permission instead to explore the Lachlan-Murrumbidgee river system and proceed to the Darling only if the Murrumbidgee proved impassable.
On 3 November 1829 Sturt’s second expedition left Sydney. It proceeded though already settled country until it reached Gundagai, the then westward limit of European settlement. In 1930, to mark the centenary of Sturt’s expedition, a cairn (picture 1) was erected on the northern riverbank (now in the Gundagai River Caravan Park) to mark the point Sturt and his group crossed the Murrumbidgee in 1829. An incredibly well informed reader will be aware that the river crossing occurred on 28 November 1829 and not on 30 November 1829, as indicated on the cairn!
Proceeding on along the Murrumbidgee, on 14 January 1830 Sturt came across and joined a ‘broad and noble river’ later named the Murray in honour of Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the colonies. On 23 January the expedition came across a large stream flowing in from the north which Sturt was convinced was the Darling River. It was. On 9 February they arrived at Lake Alexandrina whence they walked over the sandhills to the southern coast of Australia without having found any great inland sea.
A ship which Governor Darling had promised to send from Sydney to the Sturt and his group back didn’t eventuate. After a long hard overland slog Sturt arrived back in Sydney on 25 May 1930. Not happy, Mr Darling!
One word of practical advice. As I indicated earlier, the cairn is located within the Gundagai River Caravan Park. This park is private property so do ask at the reception desk before you make your way into the park in search of the cairn. This is especially important if you are driving a large four wheel drive vehicle with a tow-bar capable of easily removing any caravan in the park ! In my excitement to see the cairn I failed to ask permission and got a dressing down – fair enough.
Address: 67 Middleton Drive