Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Bells Line of Road

Much has been written throughout this year on the crossing of the Blue Mountains as we celebrate 200 years of the crossing by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson.
Archibald Bell Jnr (1804-1883) is credited with discovering another route across the Blue Mountains in 1823 when he was only nineteen years of age. He apparently got the directions from an Aboriginal woman and this route (from Richmond to the Coxs River) became known as Bells Line of Road, offering a quicker route from the Hawkesbury over the mountains and westward.

Information about the discovery were published shortly after in The Sydney Gazette 9 October 1823

We are happy to announce that Mr. Archibald Bell, junior, of Richmond Hill, has, after one unsuccessful attempt, at last effected a passage from that part of the country to Cox's River (on the other side of the Blue Mountains), which as the pass across these mountains trends so much to the northward, will not only be the readiest route from the Hawkesbury and Hunter's River, but will be as near from Parramatta as the old road over the mountains by way of Emu ford, and infinitely less difficult and sterile. Mr. Bell is entitled to the sole merit of this discovery; and is now gone to repeat and survey the route accompanied by a Gentleman from the Surveyor General's Office, and with government men and horses. He travels N. W. from Richmond about 14 miles to Picture Hill, and thence due W. to Tomah, which is a round hill seen on the right from the burnt weather-boarded hut on the Bathurst Road. On going West about half way up this mountain he turned to the South, and after proceeding about a mile in that direction, found an excellent passage down it. He then proceeded round the side of an opposite hill, about a mile and a half in a N. W. S. W. direction, and then bore W. for the remainder of the day, and N. W. the next day till he reached Cox's River. He found no rocky ground till after leaving Tomah, and the whole distance of it then did not exceed 8 or 9 miles. The greatest difficulty he had to contend with, was in the thick part of his way to Tomah, so much so that in one place he was forced to cut his way through three miles. He left a good tract all the way he went, and was never obliged to unlade(sic) his baggage horses. The whole of Mount Tomah is covered with ash, and sassafras trees of a prodigious size. It is only after leaving Tomah that the country assumes, for 5 miles, the appearance of the Bathurst Road in point of grass; but even, for that space, the feed is better than near the weather-boarded hut on that road. After that distance excellent grass continues with little variation for the rest of the way;  there is plenty of water the whole way. The distance of this route, from Richmond to Cox's River, may be estimated at about 35 miles; but the return of the Government Assistant Surveyor, and party, will enable us certainly, to lay down and perhaps shorten the road.

Bell kept a journal of his explorations, and descendant (Gt-Grandson) Frederick Douglas Bell donated the journal to the Mitchell Library in 1977 [MLMSS 1706 ADD-ON 1071] The journal was transcribed in the Royal Australian Historical Society Journal in 1980 (Vol. 66 Pt 21 pp. 91-96).

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