Charles BONNEY 1813-1897
1839 Newspaper Report of his 1839 Overland Expedition
Henty's Station, Portland Bay District to Adelaide, South Australia
"The Sydney Herald" Monday, 24th June 1839

Mr. BONNEY'S JOURNEY, FROM PORTLAND BAY TO SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
[From "The Southern Australian"]

The information contained in the following detail of Mr Bonney's late overland journey with cattle, from the neighbouring colony, is of so much importance that with pleasure we give it a place in our columns :--

"Mr Bonney left Mr Henty's (of Portland Bay) new station on the Glenelg, on Monday the 18th of March last, accompanied by ten men, and two native boys of the Bathurst district, two drays, and about three hundred head of cattle.

It was determined by Mr Bonney to take the most direct route possible from the stating point, the junction of the Wannon of Major Mitchell with the Glenelg in lattitude 36 31', and he accordingly directed his course to the westward. It was immdiately found, however, on crossing the Glenelg that the country declined into a flat sandy level from the north to the S.S.W. as far as the eye could reach. Mr B. travelled two days to the southward of west, over a country of a most singular description--it is a mass of swamps stretching occasionally across ten miles, and divided the bits of she-oak timber, growing on sandy soil on which there is abundance of fine feed for cattle--the oat-grass growing luxuriantly. The swamps themselves are covered with rushes, and at present are for the most part dry on the surface, but on all fresh water could be obtained by digging a few feet. Expecting this country to extend to the northward, Mr Bonney changed his course to the north-west, and, after four or five days travelling in that direction, finding the country changing its character, and the swamps failing to supply a sufficiency of water for the cattle, he turned off towards the coast and in a few hours came to an extensive swamp running close under a limestone ridge, and which appeared to lie in a line parallel with the coast at a distance of five or six miles from the shore. Here water in abundance was found, and plenty of feed. The next day, proceeding in the direction of the coast, keeping the limestone ridge on the left, Mr Bonney came on a large fresh water lake, about twelve miles in length, and four miles in breadth, which Mr B named after his friend, Lake Hawdon. The lake is situated in the centre of a very extensive swamp, through which there being great difficulty in gettting the drays, the party skirted the edge and fell in with firmer ground.

On leaving the lake, the swamps ceased for some time, and the party travelled for about ten miles through a dense forest, in some places of a scrubby grass tree, and in others of she-oak, when they again came upon a swamp where good water was found by digging. The swamp here was scarcely a foot deep, covering decomposed limestone, through which it was necessary to dig to find water. The depth required was generally four or five feet, and by the morning the hole was filled within three feet of the surface.

On the day following, Mr Bonney unexpectedly struck a Bay a little to the nothward of Cape Bernouilli, the limestone ridge which had hitherto marked the line of coast having here disappeared. The cattle had now been without water for two days, and the weather being oppressively hot, the party halted and endeavoured to procure it near the sand hills. Water was found in abundance in one instance within six inches of the surface, but it was not practicable to water the cattle sufficiently in this manner, from their treading the sand into the water-trenches as fast as the men could clear them out.

The weather having suddenly changed from extreme heat to cold and showery, Mr Bonney determined, though still at the distance of one hundred miles from the most easterly point of Lake Alexandrina, to make an effort to reach it. He accordingly directed the party to proceed by the borders of the dry swamp which was divided from the beach by the sand ridge running close to the shore. The ridge was covered with she-oak, and produced excellent grass, which, with the cold weather, enabled the cattle to travel without water during the three days they continued in this route. On the fourth day, having made in that time about fifty miles, the party left the swamps, finding them bearing more to the westward and being occasionally under salt water.

The country now entered upon was sand hills covered with low brush, occasionally intersected by narrow swamps, in one of which a water-course was found, wherein was a hole of water so extremely brackish as to be totally unfit for human use The cattle, however, drank it with avidity and some of the horses also got at it. Water, however, sufficiently palatable for use, was obtained by digging about three feet in the water course. The party was now within about forty five miles of the lake, and Mr Bonney hoped to reach it without difliculty ; but the next day became so excessively hot, that in travelling eight miles, three horses and several head of cattle gave in exhausted, probably owing to their having drank too much of the brackish water at the last resting place. The working bullocks also failed, though the party had rested during the heat of the day.

It was not evident that the herd could be taken forward en masse ; and Mr Bonney therefore took the resolution to proceed with the main body of the cattle, leaving the weakly portion to be taken back to the last watering place, directing the men left in charge to dig holes sufficiently large for the cattle to obtain good water. The drays were left where the working bullocks gave up, in charge of three of the men. Mr Bonney accompanied by four men and the two native boys accordingly started by moonlight, and travelled during the night eighteen miles in a northerly direction, over a barren sandy country, covered with low brush. During the heat of the day, while the party rested, Mr. Bonney walked to a somewhat high sand hill, from which he saw, as he imagined, water at the distance ten miles to the westward. In the evening the party started in the direction of the water, but after travelling twelve or fourteen miles and not reaching it, they rested until daylight, when no appearance of water in any direction could be observed. The course was now altered to the north west, Mr Bonney judged from the appearance of the country that he was still to the eastward of the lake. The whole party were nearly exhausted for want of water, and obliged to rest, owing to the heat, at almost every two miles. In a few hours Mr Bonney discribed in the distanece a timbered ridge ; and more joyful than all, the native fires evidently marking his proximity to the lake. At this time the party were forced to walk, the horses being scarcely able to crawl, one of the men, who was extremely ill, mounted, but the horse fell down under his weight, and on mounting another horse the man became too ill to proceed further. The party therefore halted till the cool of evening upon a plain covered with white sand, without bush or shade of any kind. In the evening the thirst of the party having become insuportable, Mr Bonney directed a calf to be killed, the blood of which was drank by all but one man.

The party lay down to rest, and in about an hour and a half Mr Bonney arose considerably refreshed, and observed the cattle drawing off in the direction he wished to proceed. In about two hours the men were awoke and collected the horses and straggling cattle that remained, and followed the track of the main herd, which continued in a north-west direction. The cattle had evidently, with instinct peculiar to the animal, smelt the water of the lake, though then nine miles distant, and the party only overtook the herd two hours before daylight, within half a mile of the water, though it was not until sunrise that the proximity of the lake was observed, the shores being surrounded with high reeds. The water was not perfectly fresh at this spot. The shores here extend to the southward a considerable distance, and about six miles to the westward they contract to a narrow creek, apparently connecting it with tle main lake. Mr Bonney returned the next day to the dray, a distance, in a direct line of thirty-seven miles, and in a couple of days more they were also brought up to the lake. The distance between Mr Henty's station and the lake--in a direct line about two hundled and fifty miles--was thus performed in nineteen days. The latitude of the point where Mr Bonney struck the lake was 35 34'. The herd having now rested ten days, Mr Bonney proceeded in northerly direction over a sandy ridge, and at the distance of about eight miles came upon a point of the main lake, the water of which is perfectly fresh. The shores were also covered with reedy flats, which were in some places but a mile in breadth. In a few hours more they found the entrance of the Murray to the lake. The valley of the Murray at this point was about a mile in width, and consisted of reedy flats, with water nearly on a level with the banks. The party now followed up the river to latitude 35 9', where Mr Bonney determined to attempt the passage of the river, at the spot where it was contracted to the breadth of one hundred and forty-five yards. It was eventually accomplished with some difficulty on account of the steepness of the banks on either side. The herd then passed through the dead scrub for about fourteen miles, and Mr Bonney left it in good condition on the fertile pastures of Mount Barker. The number of cattle missing and left behind was twenty-three.

Mr Bonney states that notwithstanding the difficulties he encountered, and which he considers inseparable from a first attempt, that the route which he thus opened between Portland Bay and South Australia, must become the high road from New South Wales. Independent of the vast saving in the distance, he has no doubt that on a more careful examination of the country, a safe and well watered route would be found, over which it would be practicable to bring stock and sheep to South Australia at all seasons of the year."--Southern Australian, May 8.


"The Chronicle" (Adelaide, SA) Saturday, 20th March 1897.

Obituary. THE LATE Mr CHARLES BONNEY.

Mr. Charles Bonney, one of the pioneers of settlement in South Australia, died at his residence, Thornley, Woollahra, near Sydney, on Monday. Mr. Bonney was born in 1813 and was the son of the Rev. George Bonney, vicar of Sandon, a little village near Stafford, in the valley of the Trent. His grandfather was also a clergyman, residing in London, aud it is related that having to preach before the court just after the reconciliation of George II, with the Prince of Wales, he unfortunately commenced the service with the words "I will arise," &c, which allusion to the prodigal son gave great offence to the court. After the death of his father Mr. Bonney remained for seven years at a grammar school at Rugeley, of which his brother was headmaster. He was then appointed as clerk to a judge in Sydney, and left England on August 5, 1834, in a vessel called the John Craig. After 18 months in Sydney he accompanied Mr. C. H. Ebden to the latter's station on the Murray, where Albury now stands. The new settlement of Port Phillip was exciting attention, and at the request of Mr. Ebden, who wished to send sheep over there, Mr. Bonney undertook to lead an exploring party from Albury to the present site of Melbourne. The Ovens River could not be crossed, as it was in high flood, and the Murray was again reached at the point now callect Howlong ; but having no boat the party could not cross, and had to return to the station by the route they came. Greater success attended another attempt made in December, when the Goulburn was struck and an almost straight course was made to Port Phillip, which was reached on January 7, 1837. The settlement then consisted of a few huts with one newly-erected weatherboard store.

In order to return to Sydney Mr. Bonney had to cross over to Launceston and there wait three weeks for a passage. Returning to the station at Albury he started with 10,000 sheep for Port Phillip, and formed a sheep-station in the fertile district of Kilmore. On returning from the settlement he found that two bushrangers and a station hand had visited his camp and induced six of his men to abscond with them. One of the absconders was an old "lag" named Cummerford, and he and another of the gang named Dignum afterwards confessed that they had murdered their seven companions in the district of Portland Bay and had burned the bodies. The only reason for the slaughter appeared to be that Cummerford and Dignum were Irish and the others English. The murderers attacked their comrades while asleep. While being taken to the scene of the murder Cummerford seized a constable's musket, shot him dead, and made his escape. He was afterwards retaken and hanged at Sydney. Dignum was sent to Norfolk Island for life.

Love of exploring led Mr. Bonney next in the direction of South Australia. Mr. Joseph Hawdon was fitting out a party to take cattle overland, and stopping at Mr. Bonney's station, at Mount Macedon, invited him to join the expedition. The Darling was nearly dry and gave no trouble in crossing. The natives proved friendly, and in following their tracks, which were generally short cuts avoiding the bends of the river, Lake Bonney, so called by Mr. Hawdon after his companion, was discovered. Adelaide was safely reached and was found to be a collection of rude huts with a few more substantial buildings in course of erection. The people were surprised and delighted at the arrival of a herd of cattle overland, as up to this time they had been living almost exclusively on kangaroo flesh. After returning by sea to Melbourne and Sydney Mr. Bonney was in February, 1839, ready for a second journey to South Australia. This time the coast route was taken. The cattle were collected near the Goulburn and tbe party consisted of ten Europeans and two blackboys. After passing the Grampians the Glenelg River was struck, and a plunge was made into what Captaiu Hart had pronounced an impassable desert. Though the country was very much dried up from the long-continued drought the explorer managed to obtain water every day on some of the extensive swamps lying to the westward of the River Glenelg. As he approached the coast he came upon a lake which he named Lake Hawdon. Mount Muirhead and Mount Benson were also named by Mr. Bonney after two of his, stockmen. At Lacepede Bay their troubles began. The weather was hot and the want of fresh water was so great that the working bullocks knocked up when some 40 miles from the lakes, and a camp was formed, while Mr. Bonney, with the stockmen, two native boys, and the cattle, pushed on. Before reaching Lake Albert they were reduced to such straits that a calf was killed and they drank the blood. At length the country changed. Some she-oaks were met with, and on climbing a tree Mr. Bonney saw the great fresh water lakes in the distance and a native camp fire a few miles away. The cattle were with much difficulty forced across the Murray, and reached the other side with the loss of one bullock and a horse. A run for the cattle was found in the Gumeracha district which, till then, was unknown to the settlers.

An account of Mr. Bonney's adventurous journey was printed in the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register of April 27, 1839, under the heading "New Route Overland." As a result of the journey the shipping of sheep from Melbourne and Tasmania ceased, the land route being taken instead. Mr. Bonney was asked to accompany Major O'Halloran's punitive expedition against the murderers of the crew and passengers of the schooner Maria. About 40 natives were captured, and two were hanged. After this episode he returned to Melbourne overland, and having obtained a share in Mr. Ebden's cattle run on The Murray took up his abode there in 1841. A great depression ensued and cattle became almost unsaleable, so that Mr. Bonney gladly accepted the offer of Sir George Grey, then Governor of South Australia (1842), to take the position of Commissioner of Crown Lands in this colony. Later on Mr. Bonney was a member of the first Ministry in South Australia, under responsible government, being Commissioner of Crown Lands and Immigra tion from October 24, 1856, to August 21, 1857, during the existence of the Finniss Administration. He was then a member of the House of Assembly for East Torrens. Resigning his seat on January 26, 1858, he remained out of Parliament until March, 1865, when he was elected to the Legislative Council, but in the following year he resigned his place in the Upper House.

For many years past Mr. Bonney had resided in Sydney and was the last pioneer receiving a pension under the Constitution Act of 1855-6, the annual amount being 250. He had been afflicted with blindness for some years. His family comprises two sons and three daughters. All, with the exception of Mr. A. E. Bonney, who has been employed in the Engineer-in-Chief's Department, Adelaide, for, 20 years, reside in New South Wales. His brother, Mr. Ernest Bonney, was formerly in the same department, but is now a surveyor in Sydney.




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