When the expedition led by Gregory Blaxland (1778-1853) William Lawson (1774-1850) and William Charles Wentworth (1790-1872) left Blaxland's South Creek farm on 11 May 1813 in quest of a passage over the Blue Mountains, their departure was noted quietly in a paragraph on page 2 of the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser several days later. Noting their spirit and determination, the writer also made special mention of their "prudentially taking with them four sumpter horses" (Anonymous 1813).
The Gazette writer's particular comment on the decision to take packhorses is interesting. As the "grand narrative of the Blue Mountains crossing" (Lavelle 2012, p. 28) developed over the next two hundred years the four horses, along with the four 'servants' and five dogs, slipped into the background, becoming mere decorative appendages to the main story of the "dauntless three". Little thought and few words have been given to them.
Was the decision to take the horses in fact a prudent one, introducing, as explorer/historian Ernest Favenc argued in 1888, a new era of exploration in which horses would play a significant part or is bushwalker/historian Ross Brownscombe (2004, p. 223), writing over a century later, correct in concluding that the decision to take them was a bad, even stupid, one with the horses proving more of a hindrance than a help? The four sumpter horses deserve reflection and offer an interesting angle from which to approach the 1813 expedition.
© John Low