Charles Cooke Hunt was born at Brighton, Sussex, England in 1832, and later joined the Royal Navy, acquiring his Masters Certificate in 1859. He fell from a yardarm to the deck, broke his kneecap and was pensioned off.
C.C. Hunt arrived in Western Australia in early 1863 and worked as mate on the New Perseverance, a coastal trader. In February 1863 he joined a sea and land expedition in the De Grey and Nickol Bay area.
In 1863 Henry Maxwell Lefroy had completed his expedition to the area known as Lake Lefroy near Kambalda. The York Agricultural Society pushed for further exploration. Hunt’s uncle, prominent farmer J.T. Cooke, promoted Hunt as an ideal expedition leader and he was chosen for the job.
Early in 1864 C.C. Hunt lead his first expedition, a flying visit to the interior. His party included Robert Hardey, Edward Robinson, trackers Cowitch and Tommy Windich. This expedition left York on 15 March 1864 and returned 16 April 1864 after travelling as far as the Koolyanobbing Ranges.
His role on his second expedition, 9 July to 4 November 1864, was to explore the country east of York to determine potential for agricultural and pastoral activity. His party of seven travelled 560 kilometres to the east. During this trip he named Hampton Plains, after Governor Hampton.
On his third expedition, 3 January to 4 October 1865, he was charged with clearing a track to the east and with sinking wells at convenient intervals. He had a party of six pensioner soldiers, 10 probationary prisoners and a native tracker. This track later became known as Hunts Track. Hunt had developed a permanent supply of water for 500 kilometres from York, by building wells, tanks and dams as far as Lake Lefroy.
His fourth and final expedition, 9 July to 25 October 1866, was his best-equipped. Hunt’s party totalled 17. His role was to:
- Complete the track to Slate Well and on the way to build as many dams, wells and tanks as there was potential;
- Survey any blocks suitable for pastoral holdings;
- Examine the land further east to see if more could be taken up between Hampton Plains and the South Australian border.
Little rain had fallen that season and the expedition took place under drought conditions.
The heavy strain of the exploration work seriously affected Hunt’s health. He was advised by the Colonial Surgeon to take leave and rest. In his diaries Hunt occasionally mentioned he was too sick for work.
In 1867 he went to Geraldton and worked as a road surveyor. Hunt became ill in December 1867 and entered hospital in January 1868, dying of heart disease on 1 March 1868 at the age of just 35. He was buried at Geraldton.
Hunt’s Track opened up the interior to explorers, travellers and shepherds. Most importantly it linked a series of 26 wells, dams, tanks and soaks, securing a safe and reliable route to the Hampton Plains. This track and the watering points along it were to play a crucial role in the 1880–1893 gold rushes. It was the main route to the Eastern Goldfields.
© Kim Epton 2018
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