EUROPEAN EXPLORATION OF THE RICHMOND RIVER
ALLAN CUNNINGHAM, BOTANIST AND EXPLORER
While the official acceptance is that Captain Henry John Rous 'discovered' the Richmond River in August 1828, the book 'Lismore - one hundred 1879-1979' says that it was actually the botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham who first charted the entrance to the Richmond River in 1827. It states:
"After an exhaustive inspection of early papers, maps and documents in the Mitchell Library, and also in the Lands Department, it is evident that accuracy as to dates was not considered an absolute essential by our first historians. This may be partly explained by the fact that explorations and surveys were feats not to be accomplished in a few months or even in a year. Then, after their return to civilisation, the explorer and surveyors had to write their official despatches to the Governor, who in turn forwarded them to England. This, though we read that the Richmond was discovered by Captain Henry John Rous in August 1828, and this appears to be taken as official, there was published in the "Australian Journal" of January, 1828, a short description of the Richmond, stating that there was 12 feet of water at half-flood, and from 14 to 20 feet at the mouth, with a constant ebb-tide.
In Governor's despatches (Mitchell Library) there is to be seen the original of Allan Cunningham's letter to Governor Darling, dated December 16, 1828, in which he tells of his journey the previous year, during which he discovered the Darling Downs, explored the head of the Richmond, and reached Mount Warning, which he described "as seen daily from the seaboard by passing mariners". It was on this journey that Cunningham discovered the famous "Gap" in the Great Dividing Range. So that it is practically certain that while Allan Cunningham was exploring the head of the Richmond, Captain Rous was discovering the Richmond River. Cunningham in his despatch mentions Rous' discovery, as the "embouchure of the Richmond". This also explains the map dated 1827. Cunningham's explorations were of the greatest importance to the eastern portion of Austrlaia, and were the means of establishing an enormous cattle and sheep industry. His official position was that of His Majesty's Botanical Collector."
Henry John Rous (1795 - 1877) was a British naval officer and the first European to explore the Richmond River (Daley, 1967) . He was born into privilege in 1795; the second son of Charlotte Whitaker and John Rous, Viscount Dunwich and 1st Earl of Stradbroke of Suffolk, England.
He entered the navy in 1808 aged 13 years as a first-class volunteer. He was involved in three attacks on enemy convoys, was complimented on his bravery, promoted lieutenant aged 19 years, commander aged 22 years and post-captain aged 28 years. In 1825 aged 30 years he was given command of the frigate 'Rainbow' and arrived in Sydney in 1827.
He had a keen interest in horse-racing and he imported a stallion named 'Emigrant' (Emigrant Creek).
On 14 August 1828 he left Sydney in the 'Rainbow' to explore the northern rivers of New South Wales. He chartered the Tweed River (which he referred to as the Clarence) and on his return journey, on 26th and 27th August, explored a river which he named the Richmond and its north headland which he named after his friend Charles Gordon-Lennox, the 5th Duke of Richmond (Richmond River) of the Lennox line (Lennox Head).
He published a report of his discoveries in the Australian Quarterly Journal of Theology, Literature and Science, October 1828, pp 42-43 (National Library of Australia, 1828). He said:
"The Richmond in lat 28 deg 53 m long, 153 deg 33 m fills the opening in Flinders's chart about 14 miles to the southward of Cape Byron you steer in due west between two sand banks on which there is a heavy surf then haul up to the north shore, where there is deep and smooth water close to the rocky point, sheltered by the outer bank - the entrance is wide, 12 foot on the bar at half flood, and from 14 to 20 feet deep at the mouth with a constant strong ebb tide from 3 to 5 miles per hour mid channel, although there is a regular rise of 6 feet by an under flood - a sand bank projects from the inner south shore narrowing the channel to about 300 yards - it then opens suddenly to an expanse of two miles with two dry sand banks in the centre the main body running W by N 1/2 N then striking to the SW in a fine arm 24 feet deep nearly a mile E wide - It was explored in that direction about 20 miles where it had not shoaled its depth and it width was half a mile running SW by S - 17 miles from the entrance there is a NW branch extending 5 miles and ending in a low marshy jungle and at the entrance there is a north branch about 8 miles in extent - the banks low covered with long grass and mangroves, having the appearance of being often flooded - the general outline of the neighbouring country appeared to be flat open forest on the western bank and thick jungle to the eastward with fine timber, and as you ascend the river the tea tree, mangrove and swamp oak give place to Morton pines, cedar, yellow wood, palms, and gum trees - the banks in general not exceeding 10 feet in height, rich alluvial mould as far as the eye could reach to the WSW not a hill could be discovered of any size, and on the whole it appeared a remarkably flat country. Many natives were seen and a few huts upwards of 30 feet in length and 6 feet in height".
He returned to England in 1829 and retired on half-pay. In 1835 he returned to sea on the Pique, which grounded in eastern Canada. Without keels, rudder or pumps he made the 2414 km journey to England. Aged 41 years he married Sophia Cuthbert, 2 years later was elected steward of the Jockey Club and devoted the rest of his life to the turf. He was promoted rear admiral aged 57 years and admiral aged 69 years, but never went to sea again. He died without children aged 82 years.