Captain Charles Sturt is regarded as an icon in the history of Australian exploration.
In 1828 Sturt received permission from Governor Darling to explore the area of the Macquarie River in western New South Wales. It was not, however, until 10 November that the party started out.
It consisted of Sturt, his servant Joseph Harris, two soldiers and eight convicts; on 27 November Sturt was joined by Hamilton Hume as his first assistant. Hume’s experience proved to be very useful.
A week was spent at Wellington Valley breaking in oxen and horses and on 7 December the real start into comparatively little known country was made. 1828–29 was a period of drought and there was difficulty in getting sufficient water.
The courses of the Macquarie, Bogan and Castlereagh rivers had been followed, and though its importance was scarcely sufficiently realized, the Darling River had been discovered. The party returned to Wellington Valley on 21 April 1829.
The expedition proved that northern New South Wales was not an inland sea, but deepened the mystery of where the western-flowing rivers of New South Wales went.
In 1829 Governor Darling approved an expedition to solve this mystery. Sturt proposed to travel down the Murrumbidgee River, whose upper reaches had been seen by the Hume and Hovell expedition.
In place of Hume, who was unable to join the party, George Macleay went “as a companion rather than as an assistant”. A whaleboat built in sections was carried with them which was assembled, and on 7 January 1830 the eventful voyage down the Murrumbidgee began.
In January 1830, Sturt’s party reached the confluence of the Murrumbidgee and a much larger river, which Sturt named the Murray River. It was in fact the same river which Hume and Hovell had crossed further upstream and named the Hume.
Several times the party was in danger from the Aborigines but Sturt always succeeded in appeasing them.
Sturt then proceeded down the Murray, until he reached the river’s confluence with the Darling. Sturt had now proved that all the western-flowing rivers eventually flowed into the Murray.
In February 1830, the party reached a large lake which Sturt called Lake Alexandrina.
A few days later, they reached the sea. There they made the disappointing discovery that the mouth of the Murray was a maze of lagoons and sandbars, impassable to shipping.
The party then faced the ordeal of rowing back up the Murray and Murrumbidgee, against the current, in the heat of an Australian summer. Their supplies ran out and when they reached the site of Narrandera in April they were unable to go any further.
Sturt sent two men overland in search of supplies and they returned in time to save the party from starvation, but Sturt went blind for some months and never fully recovered his health.
By the time they arrived back in Sydney they had rowed and sailed nearly 2,900 kilometres of the river system.