In October 1831 James Holman, aka the Blind Traveller, embarked on an ‘expedition of a more novel character’ than any of his previous travels, to discover a new route from Argyle to Jervis Bay. Given Holman had previously travelled through Europe and Siberia, and on this particular journey around the world had already made his way through Africa, South America, and Asia, this was no small claim. Further, the fact that he was completely blind made the excursion even more remarkable. Holman set out with two settlers - Mr Galbraith and Mr Ryrie - a servant and two Aboriginal guides. This excursion was marked by a number of travails. They journeyed over ‘trackless, stoney gullies’, were impeded by ‘creepers of an extraordinary size and length’, and at one point the Blind Traveller was also ‘carried off his horse’ by unseen tree branches. The party also lost their provisions, spent one night sheltering in a smoke-filled cave after foolishly lighting their fire inside it, rather than outside as their Aboriginal guides had done. When one of the horses was injured the party had split in two, with Holman accompanied only by the guides. Eventually the expedition made its way through the bush to the sea near Jervis Bay, and travelled along the coast to a creek called Narawalla, where they met a large group of ‘natives’ whose offer to take them across in their canoes was refused. They then travelled to a small harbour called ‘Ulladolla’ by the natives, visited a farm at ‘Mooramoorang’, and then came across the Clyde River near Bateman’s Bay. At this point they undertook an arduous journey back towards Mr Ryrie’s, crossing over the mountains in a heavy downpour. It was only after they returned to Arn-Prior that they realised that had they followed the route recommended by their Aboriginal guides at the outset that ‘many of the inconveniences they suffered might have been avoided’. Had Holman and his settler hosts trusted the Aboriginal guides and other indigenous people they encountered, they ‘should have found a comparatively easy, and much shorter road to Jervis Bay, instead of being exposed to a variety of mishaps and desagréments that cast no little gloom’ over the entire journey.
Shino Konishi is a fellow in the Australian Centre for Indigenous History. She recently convened a conference at the ANU about the role of Indigenous intermediaries in the history of exploration and travel, and is co-editing now a book on the subject with Maria Nugent, Tiffany Shellam, and Allison Cadzow.