A Trip across the Mountain in  1841
 

The speed of a loaded dray was no more that that of a normal walking pace and a few loaded drays offered some transport to and from the towns and farms.

 In 1882 a Bathurst printer published the  letter from Sophia Stanger, who in 1841 crossed the mountains with her husband and five children. She had written a letter to her mother in England.   Sophie at this time was  6 months pregnant

A Journey from Sydney over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst Forty Years Ago Bathurst 1882.  Mrs. Sophia Stanger.

 

Sophie Stanger wrote of her trip in 1841

 

Bathurst NSW July 15th, 1841

My Own Beloved Mother.. The most speedy mode of travelling over the mountains is by the mail cart which leaves Sydney for Bathurst on certain days , but this is too expensive to be generally adopted as the lowest fare is 90/- each person: all therefore who cannot afford this and have no conveyance of their own are under the necessity of travelling  by some of the drays, numbers of which are constantly on the road to and from Sydney…She went on to say that "we agreed that he should take us in his own dray with two horses and our bedding and provisions for the journey. These drays are precisely the same as those used by the small brewers in England. We had hoped to have sufficient room, to have traveled the distance in a week and the have escaped the very undesirable company of the bullock drivers, who are almost sure to be convicts of the very lowest grade.   After this arrangement was made our driver, wishing to make the journey as advantageous to himself as possible, loaded the dray with various commodities of a bulk and weighty character paying no regard to our comfort or that of the horse's.  And now, dear  mother, fancy me with my five dear babes seated on the top of this miserable load….

 

On one of the coldest mornings in June ..the poor horses had evidently determined otherwise, both positively refusing  to act as leader. After much whipping, scolding and rearing up, the horse in the shafts fell down with the load  pressing heavily on some part of it, making it very restrictive  and with no difficulty, we again dismounted.  As is usual  in such cases we soon had plenty of help and plenty of advisers.

 

 

"Sure you wouldn't be thinking to cross the mountains with all those children, cried one and sure you'll lose all your babes, God bless them" cried another :"the Mountains are all covered with snow, you will certainly perish" said a third.  While others were utterly astonished a young girl should have so many children and especially three at a birth..

 

Every hour seemed to increase our perplexities for the horses would not stir an inch and the load was by far too heavy.  Our goods were gone on several days in advance of us and there we stood with just money enough to defray our expenses and none to spare for delays or fresh agreements, the driver coolly telling us that he was very sorry but his horse would not take the load and he would not go without it. 

 

It was in the midst of these troubles that I though my poor husband's courage would have failed him and never shall I forget his look when, with eyes filed with tears (not allowed to escape), he explained, "Dear, what am I to do"!

 

About mid-day, however we bade farewell to Sydney, the driver  having procured another dray and horses , dividing the goods between them. Owing to the roads being heavy after a fortnight's rain we made but eight miles that day, we made but eight miles that day and  as there was no food or water for our horses, we driver into an inn yard.  Now you must not expect it was one of those comfortable places so common in dear  Old England, where after, the fatigues of this troublous day, we might have been accommodated at a reasonable rate, but finding that  $4 at the lowest  would have been the demand, our drays were drawn carefully under a shed and for the first time in our lives with sorrowful hearts, we began to prepare our beds on the top, contrary to the usual mode which is under the drays.  I dare say you can believe we slept but little-poor Mary and Sarah both fell from the top, the latter's fall somewhat modified by coming in contact with the dog.  There would have been no danger of their falling out at all, but Eliza, not finding as much room as she had been used to, had slipped into the manger, where she slept peacefully for an hour or two , till the man, who had located himself somewhere in the neighborhood, arose to geed his cattle and mistaking her  cap for a corn stalk, handled it rather too unceremoniously. 

 

At daybreak we started again, but surely no Sabbath ever dawned and found us less prepared to welcome it.

 

As the roads were better , we reached Parramatta by noon, and by night found ourselves fully 18miles from Sydney and stooped at a beer shop, which affording no hospitable shed, we slept that night in the open air.

 

The next day we passed through Penrith, a pretty little village at the end of which we were with the drays, ferried across the Nepean (in a punt) a river about three hundred feet wide and from we first saw the Blue Mountains in all their magnificence .  Here, filling our bottles with water, we proceeded over Emu Plains and rested our horses at the foot of Lapstone Hill. 

 

Here we lighted our first fire, and seated around in true gypsy style, partook of our first comfortable meal.  Being anxious to reach the top before dark, we attempted once more to proceed but here the poor horses again raised objections and very soon the accompanying dray was backed fast in a tree, about nine feet below the level of the road and here we must have stayed had not a number of men forming the iron-gang (who was returning from their work of improving these roads) kindly assisted us, for a small sum of money to buy themselves tobacco.  They very readily strung into a harness of ropes, some drawing before, and thers pushing at the wheels.  These men are stationed at various places, with two or three soldiers over them, working constantly in heavy irons, and their labour generally appointed as a punishment.

 

But no language of mine can describe to you the beauty of Lapstone Hill, with its overhanging rocks on our left hand and its awful gullies on our right.  Once in particular, near its summit, we looked at each other in amazement, for the sun which shone brightly had penetrated its deepest recesses and lit up its waterfalls and foliage in matchless beauty, but while we passed slowly along Sol sunk behind the mountains to make your day, leaving us to shudder at what we had before admired.

 

In a short time, we reached the huts and were persuaded by the men to encamp for the night at this station.  The soldiers were very kind and gave the children a good tea in their quarters, while we lighted a large fire and prepared beds in a tent which  my dear husband had made for the journey and pitched for the night.  Here, not quite unmindful of the company surrounding us, it was decided that the  pistols  should be loaded.  And Joseph and the man acted alternately as sentinels through the night.   With the exception for the horses braking loose and pushing violently against our tent  and a little alarm by a smell of burning which proved to be the drivers night-camp, we arose somewhat refreshed and once more pursued our route.

 

Now again the roads were heavy and the drivers notwithstanding every effort  were constantly mortified by the horses standing still and then lying quite down. 

 

Through this day, poor Eliza walked on with dear baby and I  bought up the rear and blocked the wheels at ever  stop-page, sometimes left half-a mile behind this new but somewhat irksome duty.  Having made this day about eight miles, we encamped near a hut at Springwood and with mutual consent the next morning, parted with out guide who placing the horses abreast, proceeded with his load, leaving as to wait some other r conveyance.

 

Towards evening that day we were joined by five bullock teams and as one had behind his dray a new and empty one, we agreed with him to take us to Bathurst. 

Among these vehicles was the one loaded with our goods, which we had passed on the road, abut as they formed altogether a jolly company and had been a week coming from Sydney, they thought well to "spell" (as they termed it) another day.  But while they were carousing, our stock of provisions were diminishing, and it was with cheerful hearts that, about  eleven the next morning  we found ourselves on the road, comfortably seated in our new conveyance, and forming, as the procession moved slowly along, a formidable array-for, to  every dray, there were about three men to sear at, beat and take care of the bullocks, each team consisting of nine , and almost as many dogs. 

 

Now we had no more anxiety, for our cattle were sure though slow, and if any difficulty occurred, it was only to hook on some ten or eight others and soon all was set right.

Nothing occurred worth relating until we camped the second night, when having all our fires lighted, the winds blowing very cold and high took some of our sparks across the road and soon communicated with the bush.  Seeing it spread and blaze to a considerable extent amused us. It is not infrequently that in dry seasons the bush takes fire, spreading destruction for miles , burning down everything before it.

 

I should say that on these mountains, we felt the cold quite as severely as at any time I can remember in England and we daily expected snow, as it lays sometimes for weeks on these ridges, but dear Joseph  most cleverly, contrived to shelter us by placing our shi9s berths a the sides and covering the tope with canvas of our tents.

 

It was late one evening when we began to descend Mount Victoria.  At its top there is a sudden and awkward hill called soldiers Pinch which owes its name tot he folly of a soldier who being called on to block the wheel unwittingly placed his foot instead of a stone, which was of course crushed to atoms.  At the bottom of soldiers Pinch is another cluster of huts belonging to the Iron Gang Station.  Here the poor creatures all came out with the hope of buying tobacco and to enquire if we were the people with many children who had been set down on the mountains. 

Our road now for about two miles,, was a gradual descent, the road good, and the scenery beautiful by the setting sun.  And now we had reached the long-looked-for hill, which report says, is like going down the side of a house it being three miles long and as steep as you can imagine.  As the sight of it, the most stout-hearted bullock drive owns that he shudders.  On one part was a stone bridge about 150 yards long, and about three or four hundred feed above the level of the dell, which divided this mountain from another. 

 

In crossing this bridge, one now and then ventured to look over the slight parapet, and were pointed out the place where a wood-dray with three horses went over and also the spot on which two men had fought, and the one thrown headlong by the fiend-like fury of his antagonist,.  Above the clouds Mount Victoria  reared its craggy height and looked defiance to all around whilst beneath us on both sides, appeared forests and nearly fronting us, Mount Haye, from which by means of a telegraph, communications have been made with Sydney.

 

I should have mentioned that at the top of this mountain, while the drivers locked their wheels and yoked half their bullocks behind their loads, we took out dear children ( Eliza and I carrying one each and their father, two while dear Willie ran by their side). 

 

It was very near the bottom, with aching arms and weary feet we unanimously confessed it was far more pleasant to sit and read about mountains than to travel over them.  It was almost dark when we camped and had much difficulty in lighting our fires as the wind was very high and no water to be found within a mile, 

 

 

At noon next day, our bullocks were once more yoked  and we slowly climbed  another mountain.  The men, considering the worst of the journey was over, now began to drink rather freely, they certainly treated us throughout with the greatest kindness and respect, but their general language is of a more awful and profane character than common English swearing.  This part of our journey was beautiful in the extreme and romantic beyond description.

 

We greatly admired a particular type of parrot, numbers of them were flying from tree to tree, they were very different from the common parrot the colours being a bright mixture of red, green and blue.

 

Our resting-place this night was near a public house by the side of a mountain, which was almost perpendicular.  Through the kindness of our companions, we had here a nice supper of potatoes to eat with our last piece of meat and in the morning some milk for the children, which you must remember is now a great treat. 

 

In the middle of the next day the rain, which had threatened us long, now fell heavily and soon dropped fast through our tent, which had formed  a covering.  In this miserable plight, we again turned aside for the night.  My husband here covered the tent with blankets, which are the best preventative against wet and (pray, remember, should you be tempted while reading this to follow us here) we contrived to make our beds without getting out, dear Joseph, waiting on us, drenched with rain and shivering with cold, for here it was quite impossible to light fires.

 

This place  is called Solitary Creek, and very Solitary it is in west weather! Though this night we had many fears, for the wind at times threatened nothing less than to upset us altogether.

 

In the morning we started again with a rather more favourable sky, but the roads in a most horrible state from the wet, sometimes our wheels sank to their axles - and then Oh, the beating! The shouting! And the swearing!. Here again through mud and more we walked, and often, as the bullocks fell down or stuck fast, we carried the dear children.  As there are no such roads in good old England, you can form no idea how really bad they are.  Notwithstanding all that has been done to mend then, they remain, like Bunyan"s Slough of Despond" very little the better.  This day after many attempts we succeeded in obtaining a loaf of bread , 4lbs weight for which we paid 2s 6d.

 

 

The next day we came to Mount Lambie and then our stock of provisions was fairly exhausted, for several days  we had them anxiously and eaten sparingly - but now they were really gone and had it not been that our companions were kind, we must have fasted to Bathurst: but Paddy, a steady convict  for life, declared 'the women and children should not want while he had a morsel', and bought us a famous supply of potatoes.  It seemed rather strange at first, sitting down to this truly Irish meal, but I assure  you, we all ate heartily and felt more thankful-I may say safely add, then we have often done when rising from an English breakfast of bread, butter, and tea,  with milk, to say nothing of the many luxuries we often added, and which we now discovered as needless.

 

 

After a similar breakfast, next day, there was throughout the camp great washing, and shaving, and borrowing of looking-glasses, as we were then but fourteen miles from Bathurst, and hoped to reach it before sundown; all were cheerful and busy, except my dear husband and I, for you must not forget that sad inroads had been made upon our last pound-note.  As I have before said, our money had been converted into goods(except what we had deemed necessary to defray expenses of our journey); these as you may suppose, were of a heavy kind, and for every hundredweight we paid 12s.  This is thought a very low price, for in dry seasons it is as high as 25s.

 

Having met with such delay, and now with the uncertainties of the way in which we could get from Bathurst to Kings Plains and not knowing how long we might wait there for a conveyance - camping is not allowed near the settlement - and public-house charges are exorbitant -and friendless and unknown as we felt ourselves-we forgot that our Heavenly Father who had never left or forsaken us in so many troubles, was able to provide for us here; and before we had decided which should be sold-my dear husband's watch or mine, or the pistol-when we reached Bathurst Plains, and read the first milestone-eight miles  from Bathurst.

 

As my dear husband has given a description of this settlement, I shall hasten to say that, on entering it our driver told us they occupied a small cottage close by, and if we would like to  turn into it, they would sleep under the dray in yard.  This, of course, we joyfully accepted.  After giving our dear children a comfortable tea, and thinking and saying how much better it would be in a smoky cottage, with broken windows and dirty floor and cracks in the doors you might see through, than to be camping out, we set off to make a call on a Mr. Hughes.

 

The foreman of the Sydney Foundry, where my dear husband had been employed, had a daughter living with this person, and having a message from her mother, my dear husband though the would so well to see Mr. Hughes, who was able to give his advice, his opinion being generally worth having.

 

On our way we met the person who at first bought us from Sydney, and had just returned, and having heard that a quantity of drays were coming in, was then seeking us out to advise us by no means to proceed further, as it was not as all a a suitable place for Mr. Stanger.

 

He had seen Mr. Cooper, the younger, who, after hearing his description of him and his abilities, said he thought it would be quite inadvisable.

 

Here again, as you might imagine, we were in a great dilemma, and earnestly trusting that Mr. Hughes might be enabled to guide us right, we reached his door, and were still more dismayed to find that he was out for some days. 

 

Mrs. Hughes, however, is a very pious, sensible and business-like woman, and after hearing all said, she was quite certain it would be better to stay at Bathurst, as there was just such a person needed, and advised my husband to go the next morning and judge of the place for himself, and by no means to take his family on until he had seen the man, who as I before said,  had bought goods hoping to find a sale for them here.  He had taken a room for a week, and as his sale was to take place next day, kindly offered us the use of it, as he must pay the weeks rent for it.  As the week did not end for four days, there was a place at once for us to go into, while my husband made his decisions free of any expense. 

 

To save time, he hired a horse, for which he paid 10/- and the next morning started for the bush, leaving me to move from Paddy's cottage to the empty store; so once more packing our beds in the dray and tying dear Willie on the top, Eliza and I took two children each and walked behind that nothing might be lost.

 

 

As that part of Bathurst to which we were bound was over the river, we had favourable opportunity of viewing the place, which was beautifully romantic.  After fording the river, we soon reached our destination, and here stood our goods, which from all my husband had heard, he had thought best to detain.

 

After helping the man to roll in some of the heavy casks-there being no fireplace-we begged hot water from our neighbours, and giving the dear children a warm bath, all went to bed, and truly, dear mother, since I left my native land, I had never felt more depressed or forlorn, and my only consolation was as it had often been before, that you knew not wht hardships your children were enduring.  Here, dear Eliza did her utmost to comfort me and trusting that soon our way would be made clear, at length feel asleep.  Our repose was, however, soon broken by loud cries of 'murder' and the eloquent voice of a coarse Irishwoman defying a man to open her box.

 

As we were only separated by a glass door, you may suppose we were not a little alarmed for our best earthly protector was far away, and the only one left was a rough dog, which I had borrowed for the night and lay growling by my side.  We soon found it was a sad quarrel between a man and  his(should be) wife, who, after remonstrating with her for disturbing the free emigrants, gave her in charge, and left us thankful for the riddance.

 

 

 

The neighbours were kind in allowing us the use of their fires, but what we endured with cold you can scarcely imagine.  The climate in this part is very much like that of England, and this is the depth of winter. About noon, my dear husband returned and was never more welcomed. 

 

Three days after this, we were moved by our kind friend Mr. Hughes to the cottage and business my husband has mentioned, which, although humble is peaceful and homelike compared to anything since we left.  This we have made our Bethel, and with Jacob have vowed that now 'if the Lord will bless us and find us food to eat and raiment to pour on, and return again to our Fathers house, then he shall be our God, and the tenth of all we possess shall be His.

 

You will not think we eat the bread of idleness when I tell you we have begun bonnet and dress making and are called very clever. We are able to get just double the prices as at home, and as we are economical and my husband's salary is good, he as every week, a pleasant little errand to the Bank: and so dear Mother I hope we are very thankful, and trust we are just where we should be, as I do sometimes think that the prospect before us is rather cheering.  We know "the gold and silver is the Lord's". "He also maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow thereto".  If spared, I will soon write another long letter about my dear darlings, whom we are now looked upon for wealth-for such they really are in this land-and I only regret that for a long while it will bear but poor interest.  We only wish we could transplant many whom we are sure would do well, I often with that dear Aunt Giffen and family had been advised by me and come with us.  Shoes are very expensive, and they never think of mending.

 

 

Christopher, too, might do well indeed, any one who cannot get on at home.  Want is a thing never heard of here, and I assure you, an English family is made much of.  I have never yet heard of any who has not passed through many hardships on their first settling here, and we often feel thankful that we have been bought safely through this much of the portion assigned us.  I long, dear mother, to see your handwriting-I wish you would write every month.  I cannot, at times, suppress a tear, for although my dear husband has had many letters, I have received but one from B and M.  Tell Ellen she might, I am sure, write, for although the receipt of a letter generally unsettles us for days, still they are the greatness treat we have.  We feel very much the loss of society, for such as we have been blessed with is very scarce.  We are not so favoured as at Sydney with our minister, nor do we hear him with the pleasure or profit as we did Mr. Saunders, but we have found great friends in Wesleyans, and have every reason to love and speak well of them, besides, I hope, in this land, we have learnt to love all who love our common Lord, and can readily worship with any, whatsoever may be the form, for sectarianism has not yet ventured to cross the ocean and foundered be the bark in which she sets sail!. I shall think much of our dear Barbara in September,: pray tell me of all when you write, and what the dear babes are named?. I am often anxious to hear about dear old George and Miss-, and hope that you will begin with Barbara, and end with James, giving every particular.  And now dear Mother, farewell. Remember at the throne of grace your exiled children; cherish the hope of one day seeing us return and believe me

 

Your ever affectionate

Sophia.

 

Postscript 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.      William       1837 4 1/4 years

2.      Mary          1838 3 years

3.      Lucy           1839 2years

4.      Sarah         1840 15 months

5.      Eliza           1841 2 months

6.        Ebenezer    1842 Bathurst