'Mount Cairncross a remarkable round-topped hill'
Little bit of history
On 12 May 1819, while conducting a survey of the Hastings River, Lieutenant Phillip Parker King and Surveyor General John Oxley landed on Little Rawdon Island where, from the edge of the bank, Mount Cairncross, a remarkable round-topped hill which is conspicuously seen from the coast over the entrance of the port, appeared over the next reach, and formed a rich picturesque back-ground for the view.
This seems to be the first written record of Mount Cairncross and appears in King’s Narrative of a Survey of the Inter tropical and Western Coasts of Australia – Performed Between the Years 1818 and 1822.
Mount Cairncross lies some twenty four kilometers inland and reaches a height of 536 meters. Although lower than the ranges beyond, it forms the dominant feature on the western skyline and its distinctive shape explains why it is known locally as the ‘Sleeping Elephant’.
Unfortunately, King did not say how the hill acquired its name. Few Europeans had come to the area prior to his visit, and although Oxley’s party undoubtedly saw the hill as they made their way down the Hastings River in 1818 Oxley did not mention it, nor did it appear on his original map of the area. Before then only James Cook and Matthew Flinders are known to have come close to that part of the coast but neither records the hill in his log. Cook sailed past during the night and could not have seen it, while Flinders wrote only that:
The coast from Tacking Point to Smoky Cape is generally low and sandy; but its uniformity is broken at intervals by rocky points, which first appear like islands. Behind them the land is low, but quickly rises to hills of a moderate height; and these being well covered with wood, the country had a pleasant appearance.
However, a difficulty arising from King’s Narrative is that it was not published until 1827 and included references to events that took place at Port Macquarie subsequent to his visit. In a similar vein, Mount Cairncross was not shown on the 1822 edition of Oxley’s Chart of Part of the Interior of New South Wales, appearing only in a later edition of the map containing additions to 1825. It is, therefore, conceivable that the name arose after the establishment of the penal settlement in 1821 when the hill would have become familiar to more people. Nevertheless, in looking for the source of the name the focus must be on King and Oxley.
The only ‘Cairncross’ with whom King has been found to have had a connection is Jane Cairncross, the wife of Barron Field, a judge of the Supreme Court of Civil Judicature in New South Wales. The Fields arrived in Sydney in February 18174 and when King, who was born at Norfolk Island but had spent most of his life in Europe, returned to Australia in September the same year, a friendship developed. King’s regard for Barron Field became apparent when, during a voyage along the northern coast of Australia in May 1818, King named the Barron and Field Islands ‘after my friend.’
Yet, if King did not name Mount Cairncross, who did? Oxley can almost certainly be ruled out because the first and only connection between his name and the hill was when it appeared, without comment, on the 1825 edition of his plan of New South Wales.
King’s account of his subsequent voyage mentions two places called Cairncross—Mount Cairncross and Captain Francis Allman, the first commandant at Port Macquarie, can also be tentatively ruled out since no connection can be found between him and the name ‘Cairncross’ other than that he might have known, or known of, Jane Field.
A possible link could be made to Allman’s successor, Captain John Rolland, who assumed command in April 1824 but died unexpectedly in November the same year. He was a member of the Rollands of Auchmithie in Forfarshire13 but nothing has been found to associate his family with the Cairncross-Glenesk district of Forfarshire. Even so, Rolland was responsible for the discovery of rich agricultural land immediately to the north of Mount Cairncross. This was later named Rolands Plains and land at its upper end became Glenesk. Yet it still seems unlikely that Rolland was responsible for naming Mount Cairncross because unless he recorded the name very soon after his arrival at Port Macquarie—and there is no evidence of this—there would have been insufficient time for it to have been incorporated into either King’s Narrative or the edition of Oxley’s map on which it first appeared.
Hence, in the absence of contradictory evidence, Hordern’s assertion that Mount Cairncross was named by Mount Cairncross...
Phillip Parker King for Barron Field’s wife, Jane Cairncross, is the most acceptable explanation.
Looking at Mount Cairncross from the Hastings River
[Photo taken by Available Light Images}