Maritime Heritage of the Batavia Coast Part 10: Local land impresses Europeans looking to expand

Dr Howard GrayMidwest Times
George Fletcher Moore.
Camera IconGeorge Fletcher Moore. Credit: Supplied

STANDFIRST

In part 10 of the series Maritime Heritage of the Batavia Coast, historian Howard Gray looks back on how glowing reports on land surrounding Geraldton were investigated by the Europeans.

Following his remarkable walk from Kalbarri to Fremantle in 1839, Lt George Grey’s glowing reports of extensive tracts of fertile country in the neighbourhood of Moresby’s Flat-topped Range aroused the attention of other Europeans.

By this time they had occupied all the readily-accessible land near the Swan River. Some sought permission from the Government to extend to this new area Grey had named Victoria Province.

Governor Hutt was intrigued by the “major” river Grey passed by and called the Hutt River (after the Governor’s brother). If there was a navigable entrance it might be a useful harbour, so in late 1839 he directed HM Colonial Schooner Champion to investigate.

Champion, with Captain Dring in command, carried as a passenger George Fletcher Moore, advocate-general and member of the Legislative Council. Moore was an experienced settler with one of the largest sheep flocks, keen to assess for himself the potential. He reported: “We did not succeed in finding an entrance to a large estuary or lake which was seen by Captain Grey some distance from the coast… nor did we see any river worth speaking of …”

Alas, Grey had probably seen the vast but shallow Hutt Lagoon, famous today as “the pink lake”, salt-encrusted and teeming with red-pigmented bacteria and algae.

On January 26, 1840, Moore’s party aboard Champion returned southward to examine the bay near Moresby’s Flat-topped Range. Captain Dring reported: “Anchored in a bay not laid down in the charts . . . A reef breaks off the point, the north part of which bore west-south west; but it extends far more to the north, and breaks, I presume, in bad weather . . . I consider this bay an excellent anchorage during summer; and, I think, from the appearance of the beach, it must be safe in winter.”

Moore reported on the bay to the south of the peninsula: “To the south of the tongue of land which forms the bay there is also another bay, which would be completely sheltered from all northerly winds so as to combine between the two bays perfect shelter at all seasons of the year.”

The landscape ashore also impressed him: “From the deck of the schooner where she lay we had a view of the entire slope of ground from the beach to the top of the range, about five or six miles distant. The range seems to consist of isolated hills rising from an elevated plain. Judging by the eye at that distance, the entire space . . . appeared a grassy country, thinly sprinkled with some low trees or shrubs, perhaps the acacia. If this be the case, and that there be water sufficient, of which there is no reason to doubt, this may certainly turn out to be the finest district for sheep pasture that this colony can possess.”

It seemed just as Grey had described it, full of promise for the land-hungry settlers.

Howard Gray’s award-winning book Jambinbirri-Champion Bay is available at the WA Museum Geraldton or online at westralianbooks.com.au. He can be contacted at hsgray@midwest.com.au.

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