Clarence River History: Sea and Land Exploration-Introduction

This is a story of European settlement of the Clarence River District in northern New South Wales. A story of people and events of more than one hundred and eighty years ago. Most long forgotten or shadows in the mist of time.

I have always had a certain passion for history although my forefathers were not early pioneers of the Clarence River District.

Although this area had been original settled some thousands of years of years before  by the aboriginal peoples of the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl nations, this is the story of European settlement. The story of discovery through sea voyages as well as land exploration, and then the story of each group as they arrived. I have spent much time locating people from all walks of life and told their story. I have tried to show where they came from, when and why they settled here.

For more than two hundred  years the eastern side of the Australian continent escaped the notice of the marine explorers and traders whose ships sailed from Europe, around the Cape of Good Hope ,to China and the East Indies. The marine maps which existed showed only the western and northern coastline of the Great Southland or New Holland, as the Dutch called it.


Captain James Cook(1728-1779). Nathaniel Dance. BHC2628

It continued to remain a mystery until 1770 when an Englishman, James Cook, in the Endeavour, discovered the east coast. After landing at Botany Bay he resumed his voyage slowly up the coastline, surveying briefly as he went and naming outstanding landmarks.


Cook’s landing at Botany Bay in 1770. Lithograph by unknown artist, first published in the Town and Country Journal New South Wales, 21 December 1872Unknown author


Although he missed the entrances to the rivers now known as the Clarence and Richmond, it is not surprising as he passed this section of the coastline at night. On Tuesday 15 May he noted a rocky headland which he named ‘Cape Byron’, for Vice Admiral John Byron.

Continuing northward, the following day he almost ran aground, but sighted breakers in time to alter course and sail out to sea. He named the rocky point, ‘Point Danger’, and a high mountain peak some miles inland, ‘Mt Warning’. No mention is made of the river, now known as the Tweed.

He proceeded up the coast under going many trials. When finally  the Endeavour passed through the Torres Straits, Cook took possession of the East Coast of the great continent in the name of George III., naming it New South Wales.

Although Cook gave a glowing report of the land, it was many years before England showed any interest at all in the place. After the successful revolt of the American Colonies from English rule, a major problem arose with the transportation of convicts, which had formerly been sent to the American Colonies. New South Wales was then chosen as a site for a new convict colony, and in 1787, Arthur Phillip and his Fleet set sail for the distant shore, finally arriving in January 1788. Port Jackson was chosen for the site of the settlement, although the convict settlement was referred to as ‘Botany Bay’ for a number of years. From small beginning the settlement grew.


Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001,Grafton,published by author.

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