Blackman Jr. or Lawson: that’s the question.
There’s been much doubt cast over explorer William Lawson being the true discoverer of Mudgee, but one thing’s for sure he made plenty of inroads, and history in 19th century NSW.
William Lawson, a surveyor by trade, is most famous for being part of the first successful route made through the Blue Mountains in 1813. The mountains had become a barrier to westward expansion, so authorities were keen to push past it.
Alongside Gregory Blaxland, William Charles Wentworth, four convict servants, and a local guide, Lawson made passage through previously impassable deep gorges, and dense mountain bushland, making way for colonisation further west, according to National Museum Australia. Lawson was given 1000 acres near Bathurst as a reward from Governor Lachlan Macquarie.
The explorer went on, after that, surveying land further north, as droughts hit the Bathurst region around the 1820s. Lawson credited himself for discovering the site of Mudgee in 1821, but he attributed fellow explorer James Blackman Jr. as the discoverer of the Cudgegong River, a point some 16km away from Mudgee, according to the Australian Dictionary Biography.
The ADB said Lawson and his family took up land north of the Cudgegong River, and built farm dwellings on Bombira Hill, adding to his vast ownership of large estates across NSW. Later, he became a magistrate, and then politician in 1843, as a member of the first partly elected Legislative Council, before his death in 1850.
But since these times, the discoverer of Mudgee has been brought into question. The Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative reported in 1923 that the legacy of James Blackman Jr. was not honoured in the centenary celebrations two years prior, and that the explorer had asserted he was the first European in Mudgee.
The report said Blackman Jr. wrote in a letter that he had done more than reach the Cudgegong River, but had ‘discovered the road to Mudgee … and was in fact the explorer of the immediate district of Mudgee, and the pioneer of the white man in that locality’.
Even the Sydney Morning Herald weighed in eleven years later, saying Lawson did indeed reach Mudgee in November 1821, but not before Blackman Jr. had already done so.
“Blackman Jr. set out on his excursion between the end of August, and the beginning of November, 1821 – this is prior to Lawson’s earlier date of reaching the locality of the present Mudgee,” the report said. It went on to say that Blackman Jr. had ‘succeeded in reaching the river, called by the natives Cugee- Gang (now Cudgegong) and following the river, discovered the locality of Moudge, or Mortgee (now Mudgee) as the natives called it’.
Yet, the Sydney Sun reported Lawson being the first to traverse the Mudgee area in both 1921, and 1931 articles.
Despite these questions Lawson still remains an incredibly influential figure of the burgeoning NSW state, and the exploration feats north of drought-stricken Bathurst by him, and others certainly kick started a boom, and opened up much needed land for our early settlers.
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