Gregory Blaxland (17 June 1778 – 1 January 1853) was an English pioneer farmer and explorer in Australia, noted for initiating and co-leading the first successful crossing of the Blue Mountains by European settlers.
Gregory Blaxland was born 17 June 1778 at Fordwich, Kent, England, the fourth son of John Blaxland, mayor from 1767 to 1774, whose family had owned estates nearby for generations, and Mary, daughter of Captain Parker, R.N. Gregory attended The King's School, Canterbury. In July 1799 in the church of St George the Martyr there, he married Elizabeth, daughter of John Spurdon; they had five sons and two daughters.
The Blaxlands were friends of Sir Joseph Banks who appears to have strongly influenced the decision of Gregory and his eldest brother, John, to emigrate. The government promised them land, convict servants and free passages, in accord with its policy of encouraging 'settlers of responsibility and capital'. Leaving John to sell their Kent estates, Gregory sailed in the William Pitt on 1 September 1805 with his wife, three children, two servants, an overseer, a few sheep, seed, bees, tools, groceries and clothing. When he reached Sydney he sold many of these goods very profitably, bought eighty head of cattle so as to enter the meat trade, located 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) of land and was promised forty convict servants. Soon afterwards he also bought 450 acres (182 ha) at the Brush Farm (near Eastwood) from D'Arcy Wentworth for £1500, while also displaying some of his future characteristics by commencing litigation against the master of the William Pitt.
Blue Mountains expedition
In 1813, he led the first known European expedition across the area of the Great Dividing Range known as the Blue Mountains, along with William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth, on a journey which would open up the inland of the continent.
Blaxland's diaries show that he had a clear grasp of the scale upon which agricultural and pastoral activities would be profitable in Australia. In 1814, like many others almost insolvent because of drought and depression, he tried to persuade Governor Macquarie to sanction a scheme for the exploitation of the interior by a large agricultural company similar to the later Australian Agricultural Company of the 1820s. Macquarie would not agree nor would he allow Blaxland land in the interior for his own flocks. Since Blaxland then had to dispose of his livestock, he joined the colonial opposition to Macquarie, and in 1819 sharply criticized his administration to Commissioner John Thomas Bigge.
Blaxland visited England and in February 1823 he published his Journal of a Tour of Discovery Across the Blue Mountains:
- "On Tuesday, May 11, 1813,, Mr. Gregory Blaxland, Mr. William Wentworth, and Lieutenant Lawson, attended by four servants, with five dogs, and four horses laden with provisions, ammunition, and other necessaries, left Mr. Blaxland's farm at the South Creek, for the purpose of endeavouring to effect a passage over the Blue Mountains ..."
Later the same year Blaxland was awarded the silver medal of the Royal Society of Arts for some wine he had exported to London, and five years later he received its gold medal. In January 1827 Blaxland was elected by a public meeting with two others to present a petition to Governor Darling asking that "Trial by jury" and "Taxation by Representation" should be extended to the colony.
Blaxland is also noted as one of the first settlers to plant grapes for wine-making purposes. He was engaged during the next few years in wine-making. He had brought vines from the Cape of Good Hope, found a species resistant to blight, took a sample of his wine to London in 1822 and won a silver medal for it. While in England he published his "A Journal of a Tour of Discovery Across the Blue Mountains in New South Wales" (London, 1823.)
After the death of his wife in December 1826 he made another visit to England. Still opposed to the governor's authority, this time he bore a petition in support of trial by jury and some form of representative government, and again carried samples of his wine, for which he won another medal in 1828.
He successfully petitioned the Colonial Office for a drawback on the import duty on brandy imported into the colony and 'actually used in the manufacture of wine'. Always a man of moody and mercurial character, Blaxland devoted his colonial activities almost entirely to the pursuit of his agricultural and viticultural interests. He suffered great personal loss with the early and untimely deaths of his second son, youngest son and wife along with others quite close to him in rapid succession, which bore very heavily on his heart. He committed suicide on 1 January 1853 in New South Wales.
He is buried in All Saints Cemetery in Parramatta.
- Blaxland, Gregory (1823). A journal of a tour of discovery across the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. London: B.J. Holdsworth.
- State Library of New South Wales Digitised copy of Blaxland's journal, 1st ed. (London, 1823)
- Jill Conway, 'Blaxland, Gregory (1778 - 1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, MUP, 1966, pp 115–117.
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Blaxland, Gregory". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.