The Landsborough Tree on Gregory Downs

In 1861 William Landsborough, searching for Burke & Wills, found and named the Gregory River, after the Queensland Surveyor General, on Tuesday 19th November 1861. “It is the finest and greenest looking inland river I have seen in Australia”. A couple of days later, just prior to discovering and naming Macadams Creek, Landsborough marked a tree on Gregory Downs not far from the 20 Mile outstation which still stood until 1990 in a small clearing beside a station track between Buffalo Hole and the 20 Mile. As the tree had been dead for quite some time and was deteriorating, the section containing the blaze of the tree was cut down on the 28th July, 1990 and it is now preserved at the Planet Downs (now Gregory) Homestead.

Remains of the Landsborough Tree at Planet (now Gregory) Homestead

A steel post bearing the same markings as the original blaze was concreted into the remaining stump.

Dr Ludwig Leichhardt had also passed through previously in 1845 and making a sweep inland (around 20kms South of the present site of Burketown) reached the Albert River and then came across “a fine brook” which he named Beames Brook.  Further up stream Beames Brook was to subsequently form one of the boundaries of “Gregory Downs”.

The tree on Gregory Downs was at first thought to be one of Leichhardt’s, due to, what was thought to be, two “L’s”, however, research indicates that the path of Leichhardt’s 1844-45 expedition to Port Essington was much closer to the coast having to cross numerous creeks, many of them tidal.  Leichhardt had crossed the Albert River and eventually reached and named the Nicholson at longitude 138 degrees 55’ approx in August 1945, which would be about 12 kms South East of Doomadgee. From here they travelled North West and there is no indication in his journal of any exploratory excursions to the South which could have been as far as the location of the Gregory Downs “L” Tree.

From reading Landsborough’s Journal and by simply plotting backwards from Landsborough’s discovery of Macadam Creek on Friday November 22nd 1861 it was fairly easy to confirm the location (as the writer knows it) of the “Gregory Downs“ tree at it’s original site on a small open plain approximately 2 kms West of the bank of the Gregory River and adjacent to the, then existing, track to the 20 Mile Outstation. 

Camp 6, as noted on the tree was probably somewhere between the river bank and the tree itself although more likely on the river.

Charlie Schaffert (Gregory Manager), Tim Bettington (Visitor) and Lew Blackmore (Gregory Owner 1943 to 1979). (circa 1953)

Further back plotting from the river Western bank of the Gregory River (Camp 6) almost certainly sees the party cross the Gregory River from the Eastern side just North of the 20 Mile Outstation at what is called the Top Angle Crossing. From Landsborough’s Journal, they had “marked a tree” on the Eastern bank before they crossed “with a broad arrow before LC+”

Back tracking further places Camp 5 fairly close to the “Gregory Downs” and “Punjaub” boundary on the Eastern Bank of the Gregory River.

The trouble with plotting from Landsborough’s Journal is that he does not use bearings but merely compass points (assume magnetic, not true) such as SE or SSE etc and his distances are probably estimations. As his sextant was damaged in the wreck of the brig “SS Firefly” he had no accurate way of determining his position to confirm distances. Landsborough’s references in his Journal to “left bank” and “right bank” are also given when looking down stream.

It would be particularly interesting to try and ascertain where Camp 4 was as it was at this place that they buried the branding irons, intended for marking trees. “We found the branding irons did not answer for branding trees, as it took a much longer time to do so than mark them with a tomahawk, so we buried them at a tree marked “Dig”, at the camp we left this morning”. Most likely this camp was North of the “Punjaub” homestead on the Eastern bank of the Gregory River somewhere.

Emeritus Prof. Peter Saenger from the Centre for Coastal Management,
School of Environmental Science & Management, Southern Cross University
at Lismore, in NSW has studied this tree and writes:

My reading of it is as follows: broad arrow over C.VI over a large L over 61. The broad arrow was used by official government parties, C. VI refers to camp 6; there is one large L centred under the arrow; below is clearly 61, which I assume refers to 1861. Camp 6 was in December 1861.”

Landsborough Tree with markings blackened with charcoal

As well as searching for Burke & Wills this expedition also planned to head to Central Mt Stuart in the NT, however they had to turn back at around Camooweal due to lack of available surface water. He had also named the Barkly Tableland after Sir Henry Barkly, Governor of Victoria and named another river near Camooweal, the Herbert River, but this was later changed to the Georgina, after the Queensland Governor’s wife.  

Memorial in Camooweal
Memorial in Camooweal

In October 1862 Landsborough returned to Melbourne and was acclaimed as the first explorer to cross all Australia from north to south and his glowing reports caused a rush to the Gulf country. The explorer later became a controversial police magistrate at Burketown.

Footnote: There is another Gum Tree marked by Landsborough on the right bank of the Gregory River about 2 miles south of the Riversleigh Boundary. The markings are Broad Arrow over RTR over N10 over 1862 (Camp 10 was 10th November 1861 – maybe this tree was marked on the return journey at the same camp site? – On 10th January 1862 Camp Number 35 was on the right bank below the O’Shanassy River )

Note:- Feature Photograph of Lew Blackmore and the Landsborough tree colorised by Charlie Hanna


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