The Avon River was first sighted by Ensign Robert Dale of the 63rd Regiment on 7 August 1830 during one of his preliminary explorations eastwards of the Swan River settlement, however, the first use of this name by Dale was in his journal of 28 October 1830 during a subsequent visit to the region when he was accompanied by Governor Stirling. He then explored further after Stirling’s return to Perth. It is probable that Stirling chose the name, although the choice may have been made prior to the Governor’s visit as it was used by James Henty who carried out his own examination of the region in October 1830.
During further explorations in September and October 1831, in the company of G.F. Moore, Dale concluded that a connection between the Avon and Lennard Brook was probable. This assumption was shown to be suspect when Moore followed the Swan River upstream for some distance in January 1834 and suggested a connection between the Avon and Swan rivers. This connection was finally confirmed when R.H. Bland and others traced the river’s course from York to Upper Swan in May 1834.
Confirmation that the Avon River was the same watercourse as the Swan River took five years after first settlement. Though it was long suspected to be case it took many expeditions before there was no doubt the Avon joined the Swan.
In October and December of 1829 Ensign Robert Dale made two trips up the Helena River, searching for a route through the Darling Scarp or ‘the mountains’, as they were often referred to.
Between 7 and 22 April 1830 he was part of an expedition led by Captain Irwin to trace the Swan River. Although no journal of this trip exists they clearly did not get over the Darling Scarp to the open country of the Avon Valley.
In June Dale made another attempt to penetrate ‘the mountains’. No diary of this trip survives.
In August 1830 Dale made a further attempt to penetrate the ‘Darling Mountains’. It was on this trip that horses were used for the first time in exploration. It was also on this trip that he sighted but did not name the Avon River. On 7 August Dale recorded:
“Mr Brockman & myself proceeded in the mean time to examine an elevated hill bearing ESE about a mile distant – on arriving at the summit we were gratified by obtaining an extensive prospect over a comparatively level country to the Eastward, through which we observed flowing at the apparent distance of two miles a considerable stream.”
Dale rued the fact that he could have become aware of the river and surrounds eight months earlier:
“I had also an imperfect view of an elevated peaked hill which I had ascended while on an expedition into the interior in December last, bearing about SW. If I had then penetrated a days March further I should then have made the same discoveries which I have now accomplished.”
Twelve weeks later he was in the area again, this time with a larger party including Governor James Stirling, to examine the area around Mount Bakewell (later to become York). On the 28 October 1830 Dale recorded that he crossed the Avon River although it was clear from Thomas Henty who recorded crossing it in a different location while exploring at the same time as Dale that the name was already in use. Stirling, or possibly Surveyor General Roe, probably named it after Dale’s return from his August expedition.
In September 1831 Governor Stirling:
“… having determined to commence a settlement on the other side of the Darling range and several settlers being desirous to take the same opportunity of going over to their grants, Mr Dale, an officer of the 63rd Regt was chosen to point out the most direct practicable Route as he had explored that part of the country before & had been the first to penetrate the country beyond the range.”
George Fletcher Moore, Advocate General of the colony and an avid explorer, further recorded:
“It was thought also a good opportunity to combine with this expedition, an exploratory excursion for some distance in a SSE & NNW direct line from Mt Bakewell which is the centre of York District where the settlement was intended to be formed. The river “Avon” was supposed to run nearly in this line as the country had before been examined 20 miles up & 10 miles down its stream. It was now proposed to go 50 miles in a SSE & 50 miles in a NNW line from Mt Bakewell…”
Dale, Moore, a man named Thompson, and Private Sheridan made the journey to the north of Mount Bakewell. Before the party turned to the west to cross the Darling Scarp, Moore considered the country and consulted his charts and on 5 October 1831 recorded:
“begin to feel confident that the Avon & Swan are identical”
Two days later when they crossed the Lennard Brook on their homeward journey along the base of the Darling Scarp this stream also became a candidate:
“come to another valley & there to Lennard’s brook which immediately strikes us all to be the Avon”
In his letters to Surveyor General Roe after the expedition, Dale advised that the party crossed the Darling Scarp to the coastal plain.
“Proceeding from this in a Southly direction along the base of the range we crossed several small Streams issuing from fertile looking valleys & at the distance of 9 miles arrived at a river, which from its direction and the body of water it contained, seemed likely to be where the Avon discharges itself upon the plain. Having ascended for 4 miles before we could ford it, we found the soil on its banks rich and the vegetation luxuriant.”
In January 1834 G.F. Moore wrote to the Editor of the Perth Gazette to give an account of his ‘excursion to trace the Swan River to its junction with the Avon River’. As background to his current excursion Moore described his previous explorations with Dale in October 1831.
“[the Avon River] running about 85 or 90 miles in a northerly course till our appointed route compelled us to leave it making its way into the Darling range in a Westly direction. We proceeded abt 20 miles further northd then turning West, came out upon the plain on the West side of the Darling range, without again crossing any considerable stream of water. Being thus certain that the Avon River must be South of us, we looked anxiously to find it issuing out of the hills upon the plain. Coming abt 12 miles Southd we were stopped by a considerable stream rushing strongly from the hills, which we were obliged to ascend for four miles before we were enabled to cross with safety. This is called Lennards Brook. Having passed no stream North of the Avon, & the space intervening, being in our opinion, too inconsiderable for the collection of such a body of water, except from that river, we naturally concluded that Lennards Brook was the channel by which the Avon discharged its waters. The size & strength of the stream, the appearance of the land adjacent, & the broad alluvial flats, all favoured this opinion, to which we yielded the more readily, as the Swan River was not usually considered in any other light, than that of a mountain stream of ordinary appearance. But more mature consideration, -more mature acquaintance with the nature of the country & a greater familiarity with the language of the natives, have long made me doubt the propriety of our first opinion. This doubt has for some time strengthened into a firm belief, that the Swan is but a continuation of the Avon. To reduce this belief to a certainty young Mr Shaw & myself set out on Friday morning the 24th, with the understood though not avowed object of tracing the course of the river to York & returning by Guildford.”
On this 1831 trip Moore believed he had got to within about 25 kilometres of where he had left the river when heading north from Mount Bakewell in 1831 (probably in the vicinity of present day West Toodyay). The condition of their horses’ feet and their general fatigue forced them to retrace their steps.
Only a few months later, in May 1834, Rivett Henry Bland, du Bois Agett and Spencer Trimmer followed the river from York to ‘Mr Shaw’s’ on the upper Swan, thus confirming what was long suspected to be true.
THE SWAN AND AVON RIVERS – By a recent discovery it has been fully and satisfactorily established (in confirmation of opinions long entertained), that the Sawn [sic] and Avon Rivers are one and the same. Mr Bland, accompanied by Mr Agett and Mr S. Trimmer, left York on Sunday morning last, and following up the course of the Avon, after a journey of four days, arrived at Mr Shaw’s, on the Upper Swan. Water was found in abundance, but in pools, and not in a connected stream: they met with considerable difficulty in passing along the banks of the River, as it was lined with rugged rocks of granite and quartz. The particulars of an excursion undertaken by G. F. Moore, Esq., about 30 miles up the River from Mr. Shaw’s, was published some short time back; the conclusions that Gentleman arrived at regarding the connection of the Swan with the Avon, although the distance from York has been proved to be greater than he comp[u]ted, this expedition has confirmed. Mr Bland estimates the distance from Mr Shaw’s at about 110 miles; presuming this statement to be correct, of which there can be little or no doubt, the course of the Swan River may now be said to pass over an extent of country not less than 170 miles from the town of Beverlee, the source still remaining an object for further discovery. The present discovery affords rather more of interest than importance, the land on the banks of the River not being considered to be available for extensive agricultural or pastoral purposes, until arriving at the York District previously explored. We commend the enterprise of the Gentlemen who have at length set this question at rest – attended, as it must have been, with difficulties, which Mr Bland assures us, he should not feel disposed again to encounter. The party was mounted, and the horses have suffered considerable injury. We shall endeavour to obtain a more detailed account of the expedition, coupled with the course of the River.