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|North Australian Expedition - 1855-6.|
In the mid-19th century the British Colonial Office was persuaded (by the Royal Geographical Society and the Committee of Merchants of the City of London) to finance an exploratory expedition into Northern Australia. Augustus Gregory, then aged 35, was selected to lead the expedition of 19 men.
The expedition sailed from Sydney in the barque Monarch and schooner Tom Tough. The ships made their way through Torres Strait, across the top of Australia and south to the mouth of the Victoria River. In mid-September 1855 the two ships reached the mouth of the Victoria River. Horses were unloaded, with some losses, while sheep and supplies were transferred to Tom Tough before Monarch left the expedition to continue her trading voyage. Gregory and part of the group set off with the horses to explore the region east of the river while most of the party proceeded up the Victoria River in Tom Tough to set up the expedition's base near present-day Timber Creek. A boab tree marked with expedition information still marks the site of this base camp.
Gregory's party rejoined the main group at the expedition base near the marked boab tree then a series of survey trips were made from this base. In the next eight months they mapped a vast area and collected a large number of plants and other specimens.
On 21 June 1856, Gregory set off with a small party to explore the river systems of the Gulf of Carpentaria on the way to Brisbane. Two weeks later the rest of the party dismantled the base camp and boarded Tom Tough to return by sea. As they left, the boab tree was marked with the still easily legible date 2 July 1856. The site of the base camp, and the boab tree carved with the expedition departure date has been established as a tourist site. Not only does the site commemorate one of the most successful exploration expeditions in Australian history, it also contains a still living boab tree which was an adult tree 150 years ago.
After leaving the Victoria River, Tom Tough went to Timor to buy supplies intending to deliver them to Gregory at the Albert River. Unfortunately Tom Tough was found to be unseaworthy in Timor and could not make the planned meeting. Gregory waited three days at the Albert River before continuing overland to Brisbane. Four months after leaving the base camp, Gregory's party arrived in Brisbane after a most successful North Australia Expedition which had not had any member killed.
Gregory had not been particularly impressed by the pastoral potential of much of the land he explored but he assessed some land as suitable for pastoral development and this was seized on by optimistic readers to justify pastoral development of the region.