Cunningham's Grave, Burdenda
Before describing something of our life in Queensland I would like to relate an interesting bit of history associated with the Hunt Bros' sheep station property of Burdenda on the Bogan River in N.S.W.
The Surveyor General of New South Wales, Major Thomas Mitchell (he had been appointed to that office in 1828) set himself the task in 1831 and again in 1835 of following up the discoveries of John Oxley and Charles Sturt in trying to unravel as to where the Macquarie and adjacent rivers flowed. Sturt after incredible labour and at the expense of his health had established to his own and most people's satisfaction that all of the rivers in the central west flowed eventually into the Murray and thence into the Southern Ocean. However Mitchell made no attempt to conceal his jealousy of Sturt and, holding Sturt's ideas in some contempt, refused to accept that the Darling flowed into the Murray, believing that it had a separate as yet undiscovered destination. So in 1835 he mounted an expedition in which he explored further west than either of his predecessors and worked his way down the Bogan River.
The following quotation is from “Cassell's Picturesque Australasia” published in 1889. In March 1835 Mitchell at the head of a very large expedition, endeavoured to trace down the Darling....A sad incident marred the expedition at its very outset-namely the loss of Richard Cunningham, the younger brother of Allan, who had accompanied Mitchell as a botanist. He was no bushman, and had repeatedly been warned not to stray from the camp. One day, however, he was missing, and though a search was promptly instituted, he was never seen again. We have not space here to tell the sad story. It is the old, old one of the man who strays and gets bushed, wanders on hopelessly round and round, crossing and recrossing his own track; recklessly abandons his horse, his hat, his pipe; even leaves the bank of the flowing creek, which is his only hope of safety. So the searchers found it had been of Mr. Cunningham. They found his horse dead from thirst; they found his tracks, traces of him everywhere, and not for eighteen days-till all hope was gone-did they abandon the quest; and not till their return journey did they discover that, starving and parched with thirst, he had fallen in with the blacks, who had brutally murdered him.
Bill Peach's “The Explorers” puts the incident regarding the blacks in a somewhat more favourable light: A lonely grave near the Bogan River marks the first casualty of this campaign-the botanist Richard Cunningham, brother of the explorer Allan Cunningham. He wandered away from the party and became hopelessly bushed. Mitchell spent a fortnight searching for him before moving on. It was later found that Cunningham was picked up by Aborigines when he was crazed from exposure. They thought he was possessed by evil spirits and they killed him.
I recently received from Dorothy Woodhouse, (one of my treasured “distant relatives”), some notes and extracts from Mitchell's journal and a map showing that the grave of Richard Cunningham is within the boundaries of the Burdenda Station, on the west bank of the Bogan River and about five kilometres east of the homestead. The Journal of Major Mitchell, who is perhaps better known as Sir Thomas Mitchell, as he was knighted in 1839, records that on 17th April 1835 Cunningham was missing but “the occasional absence of this gentleman was not uncommon...” Mitchell “had repeatedly cautioned this gentleman about the danger of losing sight of the party in such country; yet his carelessness in this respect was quite surprising.” Cunningham used to go off from the line of the route of the expedition searching for plant specimens, and rejoin the party later.
They cooeed, fired guns, left notes in the bush, fired rockets and questioned Aborigines before continuing along the Bogan. Mitchell himself searched widely despite a sprained ankle. Tracks were found, also Cunningham's dead horse, etc. but no trace of the botanist himself. On 21st April Mitchell wrote: “We explored every open space; and we looked into many bushes, but in vain.” On 28th one party brought back Richard Cunningham's “saddle and bridle, whip, one glove, two straps and a piece of paper folded like a letter...” On 2nd May 1835 Mitchell recorded “We passed a small pond, the name of which was Burdenda and afterwards came to Cudduldry, where we encamped, with the intention of making what further search we could for Mr. Cunningham.” Further small parties went out searching as the main party went forward, and these tactics were apparently followed as Mitchell proceeded down the Bogan. On 10th May they “moved (on 345 degrees) for Nyngan...”
Writing from Bathurst, 7th December 1835, Lieut. Henry Zouch reported that on receiving instructions from the Colonial Secretary dated 17th October 1835 he went into the interior “for the purpose of ascertaining the fate of Mr. Cunningham....” He left Bathurst 24th October for Buree (Boree); leaving Boree on 29th he proceeded, having the good fortune to meet “with two blacks who knew the particulars of a white man having been murdered on the Bogan”. He took these as guides, and “on the borders of a lake named Budda” they encountereda tribe of aborigines numbering about 40. Zouch made all of these prisoners “without any resistance on their part”, and questioned them. They acknowledged that four of their number had killed a white man; three of these they “delivered up”-the fourth was away. Searching the camp, Zouch found “a knife, a glove and part of a cigar case” which the three natives owned to having taken from a white man. A witness from the expedition was sure these items belonged to Richard Cunningham. The three murderers were Wongadgery, Boreeboomalie and Bureemal. They claimed that they and another “about six moons ago, met a white man on the Bogan, who came up to them and made signs that he was hungry, that they gave him food, and that he encamped with them that night. The white man repeatedly getting up during the night excited suspicion, and they determined to destroy him the following morning, which they did by Wongadgery going unperceived behind him and striking him on the back of the head with a nulla nulla, the other three then rushing upon him with their weapons, speedily effected their purpose.”
Zouch was taken “three days journey” to the spot of the murder by one of the prisoners Bureemal. The other two were left under guard but escaped. “On Tuesday, 10th November I arrived at a place called Currindine where the black showed me some bones, which he said were those of a white man they had killed, and pointed out a small portion of a coat, and a Manilla hat”.
Arriving back at Bathurst, Zouch planned to send Bureemal to Sydney, along with the articles collected. Bureemal, “as far as is known was later freed, probably because there were no witnesses to testify one way or another.”
And that is the story of Richard Cunningham's grave at Burdenda!
Perhaps I should add for those interested, that by 1835 Mitchell realised that the Macquarie and Bogan, the Gwydir and Dumaresq, and all the streams in between were, in fact, tributaries of the Darling which, in the following year he was able to prove flowed into the Murray. It was while proving the latter that he explored south of the Murray into what is now called Victoria and discovered the Loddon River and the fertile areas between there and the Wimmera and Glenelg Rivers which he called “Australia Felix”.