Botanist and Explorer
In 1827 Allan Cunningham already had vast experience in the
exploration of Australia, both by land and sea.
He was acquainted with botanist
Robert Brown and was a Botanical Collector for the Royal Gardens at Kew. He was under
the patronage of Sir Joseph Banks when he arrived in Australia on the Surry in 1816. His dedication to botany led him on many
journeys - he accompanied John Oxley to the Lachlan River in 1817 and joined Phillip Parker King on
many expeditions over the next ten years. He was on King's third expedition which included surgeon
Hunter and he was on King's fourth and final survey expedition in 1821 which included
Montgomery. He accompanied John Oxley's second expedition to Moreton Bay in September 1824 when the first
settlement was established at Redcliffe.
For his dedication and achievements in botany and exploration he earned the respect of Government
in this first decade, however his best was yet to come. The crowning achievement of his career,
came in 1827 when he
offered his services as leader of an expedition proposed by Sir Ralph Darling. The expedition was
to explore the inland country west of the Great Dividing Range between the Hunter River and Moreton
The expedition consisted of six men, 11 horses and several dogs. Cunningham took with him a
Schmalcalder's pocket compass, a chronometer, barometer and an odometer as a distance gauge. The
horses were all sent overland from Sydney to the Hunter River but Cunningham himself travelled by
sea to Newcastle on Sunday
15th April 1827 on the Lord
Liverpool probably captained by Alexander Livingstone.
At Newcastle he loaded his supplies on to the Port Stephens boat in readiness for sailing
up river. The Port Stephens boat was one of three boats used for carrying settlers and their
supplies up the Hunter River at the time and was capable of carrying four tons of goods. Cunningham
shared the vessel with others who were travelling north.
DEPARTURE FROM SEGENHOE
The members of the expedition all met up again at Glennie's farm Dulwich and proceeded together to Segenhoe near Scone. The expedition
left Segenhoe on 30th April to cross the Liverpool Range at the head of Dartbrook
It has been written that the Dartbrook was so called from an incident when one of two government
surveyors who explored the area in 1824 had been wounded by a spear or dart during an attack by
Aborigines. (This was Henry
Dangar's expedition which crossed the Liverpool Ranges but retreated when attacked by
the Wanaruah tribe).
There were no attacks from natives on Cunningham's expedition but conditions were arduous. In
crossing the ranges the way was so steep that pack saddles were taken from the horses and carried
on the men's shoulders. They camped high on the ranges where the Liverpool Plains could be seen
away to the horizon. Until this time the expedition had been guided by Peter McIntyre.
After descending the northern slopes of the range on 5th May Cunningham headed north to the
Peel River passing through
open bush composed for the most part of iron bark and box.
He then crossed the Warrah and Quirindi Creeks and observed marks of natives on the trees and bark
huts which had been recently occupied but the first encounter with natives was not until they
reached Manilla River.
Being a little in advance of the horses, he wrote, I had no
sooner reached its right bank, than my attention was arrested by the appearance of smoke, which was
rising from the forest ground on the opposite bank and immediately I perceived four natives and a
child, who having previously observed me were standing for the moment in a state of extreme
surprise and alarm.
On May 21 the expedition reached a broad river later named the Gwydir by Cunningham; after passing
through barren wooded country broken by ridges and gullies they passed close to the present site of
Warialda. They changed direction and came to the Macintyre River finding it little more than a
channel of sand, the country then being in the grips of a devastating drought. Cunningham was
concerned about the scarcity of water for their own needs as well. The horses were weakened by the
journey and lack of pasture and half the original rations had been consumed by the end of May.
Winter and the possibility of bad weather became overriding considerations as he pondered how much
further he should penetrate north. He determined to turn more to the east rather than persevere on
a northerly course as originally planned and consequently came upon the 'handsome westward flowing
river 30 yards wide and very deep' which he named the Dumaresq (named for Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Dumaresq). The party
crossed this river near the present site of Texas and continued on for the next six days through
hard, monotonous country and dense thickets.
On 6th June west of the present site of Warwick, Cunningham obtained a most agreeable view of open
country. This was, in fact, Cunningham's first sight of the pasture land which he was to name the
Darling Downs - more than 5,000 square miles of fertile black soil plains and valleys west of
Moreton Bay. Through these Downs flows the Condamine River which they crossed on this day. Beyond
the Condamine, Cunningham found 'downs of a rich black and dry soil, clothed with abundance of
grass'. In a valley to the east of the Condamine which he named Logan's Vale in honour of Captain Logan, commandant of
the settlement at Moreton Bay, Cunningham rested his men and horses. He climbed the ridge above
where he had encamped and from there observed at a distance of two or three miles to the north east
a very deeply excavated part of the main range 'So remarkable a hollow in the principal range I
determined not to leave unexamined.'
RETURN TO PARRAMATTA
From here he could have made his way across reasonable flat country to the Brisbane River and
Moreton Bay. But this was not his intention, and on June 16, he left Logan's Vale to return. By
July 9 he had crossed his outward track near the Gwydir and continued south across the Liverpool
Plains and over the Liverpool Range by a pass slightly to the west of that which they had used in
May. The expedition reached Segenhoe again on 28th July after an absence of 13 weeks. They rested
at Segenhoe and left on 5th August to travel by Bathurst to Parramatta where he submitted a report
of his expedition to Governor Darling.
In July and August 1828 Allan Cunningham returned to Moreton Bay by sea and explored the country
southward to the Logan River and Macpherson Ranges and found another gap, now known as Cunningham's
Gap. He was accompanied on part of this expedition by botanist Charles Frazer who arrived on the
Guildford in 1816 and Captain
RETURN TO ENGLAND
Allan Cunningham returned to England and was later offered the position of Colonial Botanist at
Sydney. He declined this position in favour of his brother Richard Cunningham who was murdered by
Aborigines on the Bogan River in 1835. Allan Cunningham did return to Australia (on the Norfolk in 1837) but his
constitution was weakened by the hardships and deprivations of his travels and he died in 1839.
* According to Henry Dangar's map there were two passes used to cross the Liverpool Range, one at
the head of Dartbrook (which is the one taken by Allan Cunningham), and the other at the head of
Page's River. Dangar noted on his map that the Page's River route was easier, however Allan
Cunningham and his guide Peter McIntyre may not have known this as Dangar's map didn't reach the
colony until September 1828.
OBITUARY OF ALLAN CUNNINGHAM
Letters from Australia announce the death of Mr. Allan Cunningham, on the, 27th of June last.
"His health," says Captain King, R.N., in a letter to the secretary of the Geographical Society, "
received a severe shock in New Zealand, and ever since he has been rapidly declining. Two hours
before his death — having been inaudible all day— I told him that the governor had received a
letter from Sir Gordon Bremer, giving a favourable report of the new colony at Port Essington, when
in a moment his eyes glistened, and in a rapid and audible voice he said, ' Well! did they go
inland?' I told him, ' not far.' He then fell off again, and scarcely said any thing more. He died
calmly and without a sigh."
"Mr. Cunningham was in the 48th year of his age, having passed twenty-five years in active
scientific researches in Brazil, and in New Holland and the neighbouring islands. In 1814, Mr.
Cunningham received the appointment of Botanical Collector to the Royal Gardens at Kew, left
England in company with Mr. Bowie for Rio, having, through the influence of the late Sir Joseph
Banks, obtained permission from the Portuguese government to travel into the interior. The
travellers reached as far as St. Paul's, where they remained some time, and made many valuable
collections, which were transmitted to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
After a residence of two years in Brazil, Mr. Cunningham parted from his companion (who went to the
Cape of Good Hope), and embarked on board a vessel for Sydney, where he arrived in 1817. He shortly
after joined Mr. Oxley, the surveyor-general, on his expedition down the Lachlan river, and on his
return, he accompanied Captain Philip Parker King in his four voyages of survey on the north and
north-western coasts of New Holland. In these voyages he made some interesting collections.
Mr. Cunningham afterwards visited New Zealand, Van Diemen's Land, and Norfolk Island, and also took
several journeys through the Liverpool Plain district and the Moreton Bay country, the whole of
which were equally fruitful in a botanical as well as in a geographical point of view; Mr.
Cunningham being the original discoverer of the pass into the Liverpool Plains, and also connecting
the Moreton Bay country with the colony of Sydney.
"In 1830, Mr. Cunningham returned to England, after an absence of seventeen years; and on the
unfortunate death of his brother, Mr. R. Cunningham, who was killed by the natives while with Major
Sir T. L. Mitchell's expedition to the Darling river, he accepted the appointment of Colonial
Botanist, which his brother had held, and returned to Australia in 1837.
The situation not affording him those opportunities of research that he had anticipated, he
resigned it at the end of the year, and in May, 1838, embarked for New Zealand, where he remained
till October, when he returned to Sydney in a very debilitated state of health, from his constant
exposure to the rains of that climate during the winter season. From that time his constitution
continued gradually to break up, till death relieved him of his sufferings.
Few men have done more for botany and geography than Allan Cunningham, and his loss will be
sincerely deplored by all who had the happiness to know him -
The Colonial Magazine and Commercial-maritime Journal, Volume 1 By Robert Montgomery Martin
Hunter Valley Map......
Cunningham's expedition departed from Dulwich (bottom right) and probably proceeded along the
route shown above through James Bowman's
Ravensworth to Muswellbrook; then to St. Heliers and on to Segenhoe.