1st October 2014: Australian Pioneers: The Story of John and Gregory Blaxland

Wye Historical Society began its new season of lectures on Wednesday 1st October when Janet Hullett gave a fascinating talk on "Australian Pioneers: The Story of John and Gregory Blaxland".

Born in Fordwich into an ancient Kentish family the brothers were educated at the King's School in Canterbury and went on to manage family estates in Kent. Encouraged in particular by Sir Joseph Banks who had accompanied Captain Cook's first expedition to Australia John and Gregory decided to emigrate. John agreed to invest a capital of £6,000 in the Colony in return for grants of land, permission to buy stock and free passage. In September 1805 Gregory and his family set sail. John, his wife and children followed, arriving in Australia on 3rd April 1807.

During their first few years in the Colony the brothers faced various challenges. John's priority was to establish himself and his brother in agriculture and food production. But despite making progress the brothers complained that they had not received the acreage of land and the size of workforce they had been promised. They came to be known as the 'Troublesome Blaxlands'. Eventually, they were granted additional acreage but Gregory in particular, saw that the possiblity of realistic expansion of farming was by exploring the terrain on the other side of the mountain range (the Blue Mountains) that hemmed the Colony in. No one had yet managed to cross these mountains.

In May 1813, however, Gregory and two companions together with their servants, dogs and horses achieved what others had failed to accomplish. After trekking and climbing for 19 days they found themselves on the far side of the Blue Mountains. As a result the Colony, till then a confined, insulated tract of land could look forward to expanding into a rich, extensive continent.

Meanwhile John continued to develop his agricultural enterprise acquiring new tools, and building mills and a lime-works. Gregory on the other hand became increasingly interested in wine production. In 1822, 26 gallons were submitted to the Royal Society of Arts in England and in due course were awarded their Silver Medal. It was the first wine of quality to be produced in Australia and represented the beginning of what would become a very important industry.

Through their various successes the brothers' reputations grew. They were among the notables who, in 1827, signed a petition requesting trial by jury, taxation by representation and the establishment of an elective assembly. Gregory was chosen to take copies of the proposition to London and present them to both Houses of Parliament. In 1829 John was appointed to the Legislative Council where he took a keen interest in the Colony's financial affairs. Respected for his sense of justice and fairness and for his great contribution to life in the early days of the Colony, he died in 1845. Gregory died in 1853 remembered always for his courageous crossing of the Blue Mountains. Thus the Blaxland brothers of Kent have a proud place in the history of Australia.

Jenny Oram