1812 - 1898
George Grey Jr. was born in Portugal (the only son of Lieutenant-Colonel George Grey Sr.) Just a week before he was born, George's father was killed at the battle of Badajoz and his mother later re-married (Rev. Sir John Thomas, baronet of Wivenhoe) in 1817.
George was educated in England, running away from boarding school to join the British military serving with the 83rd Regiment of Foot. While with the regiment in Ireland, George developed a great sympathy for the plight of the Irish and did not approve of the way they were treated by his fellow officers.
After reading of Sturt's expeditions in Australia he applied to the Colonial Office to lead an expedition to he north west of Australia. His request was granted an in 1837 he sailed with a party of explorers to Cape Town and then on to the Kimberley coast.
The expedition began in December (the start of the rainy season) and this led Grey to write 'No country in the world is better watered than this portion of Australia.' His reports about this area were the trigger for the foundation of a new settlement at Camden Harbour that was in the end, a total disaster. (**)
The party started at Hanover Bay and moved inland discovering the Glenelg River. They were attacked by Aborigines and Grey was wounded. As supplies were running low they returned to the ship and sailed to Mauritius where Grey recovered from his wound.
In 1838 Grey arrived at the Swan River Colony and made some short excursions to Williams and Busselton. In February 1839 he led an expedition north along the west coast. (The party consisted of Grey, Auger, Coles, Woods, Hackney, Kaiber (an Aborigine), Walker, Smith, Ruston, Woods, Stiles and Clotworthy.)
Grey's exploration was met with one disaster after another and after losing all his boats he and his party had to walk all the way back to Perth.
To start with Grey was only equipped with three whale boats and only 3 of the 12
men with him were experienced sailors. They landed on Bernier Island to bury
supplies for later use and while there lost one boat and had to repair the other
two after a severe storm.
Supplies and water were lost, so the party moved to the mainland and found fresh water. From here they traveled north but finding nothing promising returned to Bernier Island to dig up their supplies. On landing they found that tides had swept the area and their supplies were scattered or ruined.
The two remaining boats with little supplies and water rowed off into a head wind arriving at Gantheaume Bay where both boats were wrecked in huge surf as the party tried to land. Now 500 kilometres from Perth the men had to face a long trek through unknown country.
Along the way, Grey discovered and named the Gascoyne, Murchison (after Roderick Impey Murchison, President of the Royal Geographic Society.) Hutt, Bowes, Buller, Chapman, Greenough, Irwin, Arrowsmith and Smith rivers. The party passed by what is now known as Kalbarri but was named Kaiber by the Aborigines.
The party divided in two, with the weaker men lagging behind as those in better health pressed on towards help.
Grey wrote in his journal as he pressed further south: ‘A disinclination to move pervaded the whole, and I had much the same desire to sink into the sleep of death... My Life was not worth the magnitude of the effort that it cost me to move; but other lives depended on mine, so I rose up weak and giddy, and by degrees induced the rest to start also.’
Once Grey reached Perth (April 21 1839) search
parties were sent out to rescue the second half of the men.
All but one had survived. The man who died was Frederick Smith (Smyth), a cousin of Florence Nightingale. His body was found on the beach two miles south of present day Lancelin. He was just 19. It is surprising that only one man was lost on the journey.
Grey wrote of Smith:
“I deeply regretted the death of poor Frederick Smith, who came out from England expressly for the purpose of joining me. When aroused by danger or stimulated by a sense of duty he was as bold as a lion, whilst his manner was gentleness itself. He was a gallant and enterprising spirit.”
Grey knew first hand what sacrifices the first explorers had to make and he later wrote in his journals:
'A strange sun shines upon their lonely
graves... ...but let us hope when civilization has spread so far, that their
graves will be sacred spots, that future settlers will sometimes shed a tear
over the remains of the first explorer, and tell their children how much they
are indebted to the enthusiasm, perseverance, and courage of him who lies buried
Grey went on to be Resident Magistrate at Albany, Governor of South Australia, twice Governor and then Premier of New Zealand, High Commissioner of South Africa and he served on the British Privy Council 4 years before he died aged 85.
(**) D.W. Carnegie - an explorer and prospector - was later to write of such expeditions: 'What a marvellous transformation the winter rains cause! It is then that the expert, or journalist walks abroad; it is then that we read such glowing accounts of rich grass lands, watered by countless creeks, only awaiting the coming of the agriculturalist to be turned into smiling farms and fertile fields.'
Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North West and Western Australia