Bicentenary of the Great Western Road

2014/2015 marked the bicentenary of the building of the Great Western Road by William Cox and his men.

william cox


Read William Cox’s diary from 7 July 1814 to 14 January 1815.

At Emu Plains he wrote:


Journal kept by Mr. W. Cox in making a road across the Blue Mountains
from Emu Plains to a new country discovered by Mr. Evans to the westward.


July 7.

After holding conversation with his Excellency the Governor at Sydney
relative to the expedition, I took leave of him this day.

July 11.

Began converting a cart into a caravan, to sleep in, as well as to take
my own personal luggage, which was completed on the 16th.

July 17.

Left Clarendon at 9 a.m.; arrived at Captain Woodruff’s farm at noon. The
carts from Richmond arrived at 2 p.m., and at 4 the two carts and waggon
arrived from Sydney with provisions, slops, tools, etc. Mustered the
people, and issued bread to them.

July 18.

At daylight gave out the tools to handle and put in order. Issued half a
week’s provisions to the whole party. Began work at 10 a.m. to make a
pass across the Nepean River; the banks very steep on the east side. In
the afternoon issued to the workmen a suit of slops, and a blanket to
each man (thirty in number). In examining the slops, two pairs shoes and
three pairs trousers were deficient. Gorman, who had charge, states the
case had been broken open when he took it out of the Parramatta store.
Wrote to his Excellency the Governor for additional bullocks and some
small articles of tools. Weather fine, clear, and frosty.

July 19.

Tuesday. Finished the road down the right bank of the river. The swamp
oak on Emu side very hard to cut and root. In the afternoon began our
operations on Emu Plains. A complaint being made of the pork, which was
issued at 6 lb. pieces, were very deficient. I examined the Commissary’s
return, which stated there were 53 6 lb. pieces in each cask. Counted the
remaining, and found 51 left. Examined the mess book, and found 18 pieces
had been issued, making 69 in all, instead of 53. Weighed the 51 pieces,
and they weighed 24 lb. over 4 lb. pieces quite, with brine and salt.
Ordered Gorman to issue the remainder as 4 lb. pieces until further

July 20.

Sent the ‘smith to Field’s to make four new axes and steel two of the
English ones. Gave him 20 lb. of iron and 4 lb. of steel. Fine, dry

July 21.

The ‘smith completed laying the axes, and steeled five others. Much
trouble to-day with the axes; the timber being hard, they all turned.
Kept the grindstone constantly going. Made good progress on Emu Plains;
the men worked very well. Weather clear and frosty.

July 22.

The ‘smith steeled two more axes, and made nails of one. The working gangs
removed two miles to the south-west on Emu Plains. Wind very high in the
afternoon. One of the fellers, W. Lonain, received a hurt in the face and
shoulder through the limb of a tree falling on him. Hard frost and clear.

July 23. william cox diary entry 23 july 1814 – also on this day Sir John Jamison arrived in Sydney on the Broxbornebury.

Hard frost and clear weather. Sent all provisions, tools, etc., to a hut
on the left bank of the river, which hut is fitted up to receive our
provisions as they arrive from Sydney. Gave the blacksmith the tools,
iron, steel, etc. Lonain, who was hurt yesterday, much better. I wrote to
the Governor for two men’s pit-saws, iron, and steel. Examined the ground
leading from Emu Plains, and fixed on the spot to cross the creek at, as
well as one to begin ascending the mountain. The soldiers with Gorman and
Kelly all went for Emu Plains to-day.

July 24.

Examined the ground and marked the road from the creek to the
first depôt (with Lewis). Gave a pound of tobacco to Field for a lot of
cabbage, which I gave to the workmen. Purchased 4 cwt. 1 qr. of bran for
myself, which I forwarded to the depôt, at 10s per cwt., delivered at
Martin’s. The workmen exerted themselves during the week, much to my

July 25.

Finished a crossing-place over the creek, and worked from the creek to
the crossing-place where you ascend the mountain. Sent the two carpenters
to the depôt to build a tent-hut, and put in order the depôt fit for the
receipt of the provisions, etc. Cloudy weather, but dry.

July 26.

Made a complete crossing-place from the end of Emu Plains to the foot of
the mountains, and began to work up them. The ascent is steep; the soil
very rough and stony; the timber chiefly ironbark. Sent the stonemason to
the depôt to build or line the chimney, as also the ‘smith to put up
his forge. Sent the superintendent with a man to mark the road from the
depôt through the bush to the next forest ground, a distance of about
five miles. Ordered the corporal and soldiers to prepare to remove in the
morning from the bank of the river to the depôt, with a cartload of
provisions, and there to remain until further orders.

July 27.

Removed the soldiers and provisions from the river to the depôt.
Worked up the mountain; measured the ground from the ford in the river to
the creek leading from Emu Plains to the mountain, three miles; marked
the trees at the end of each mile, at the left side of the road. Removed
my caravan from the river to the depôt on the mountain, a distance of
five and three-quarter miles and slept there the first night.

July 28.

Went to Clarendon, and left R. Lewis in charge.

…and so the diary goes as the men worked building the road across the mountains.

Further reading: