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The Australian National University

Alison Cadzow - Women’s accounts of the Mt Bryan Expedition of 1839–1840

This paper considers the participation of white women in the Mount Bryan Expedition of 1839–1840 to the North West Bend of the Murray River in the new colony of South Australia. Organised by Governor George Gawler and Surveyor-General and well-known explorer Charles Sturt, the party included Gawler’s 14-year-old daughter Julia, Sturt’s wife Charlotte and her maid, Eliza Arbuckle. Through a close reading of Julia Gawler’s diary of the expedition, the account of Eliza Arbuckle and other historical sources, the paper explores their divergent and distinctly gendered perspectives on the expedition. While their accounts share some common ground with those of Charles Sturt and George Gawler, such as a focus on features of the landscape, they reveal different experiences and representations of the expedition compared to the men’s more development-driven accounts. As well as taking a keen interest in landscape features and commenting on the presence of Indigenous peoples, Julia’s diary involves explorations of her position as both a lady and as a young daughter who focuses on parental figures. In Eliza’s account, produced decades later and influenced by shifts in representational possibilities for women, themes akin to those of captivity narratives, such as fear of rape and racialised representations of male sexuality, are evident. Melodrama and romance influence Eliza’s account too, with personal and emotional explorations featuring prominently. The foregrounding of a gender rather than class identity in Eliza’s account is considered. How women have tended to be written out of Australian expedition and exploration histories is also broached, along with discussion of the impact of class on who is remembered and how in relation to this expedition. The ways in which women were positioned differently to the men on the expedition, as shown in the men’s accounts, as well as representations by artists and the press who debated the appropriateness or otherwise of women’s participation in the expedition is also evaluated. The paper argues that examining the women’s accounts can enrich understandings of what constitutes an exploratory expedition and how it may be represented, as well as women’s involvement in this practice of colonisation.


Dr Allison Cadzow is a researcher at the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the Australian National University. She is currently working for Dr Maria Nugent on her ‘Queen Victoria gave us the land’ project. Allison co-edited Nelson Aboriginal Studies (2012) for HSC-level Aboriginal Studies teachers in NSW with John Maynard and co-authored Rivers and Resilience: Aboriginal People on Sydney’s Georges River (2009) with Heather Goodall. She has previously worked at the National Museum of Australia on permanent exhibitions and at UTS on the Georges River Project, which examines cultural diversity and use of parklands in south west Sydney. In 2003 she gained her PhD in Social Sciences from UTS, which examined Australian women’s involvement in exploration expeditions from the 1840s to the 1940s. Articles on the expedition diary of Caroline Creaghe, a member of the Nicholson River expedition of 1883, and the impact of travel to Asia on the life and work of Marie Byles in the later 1930s to 1940s emerged from this research. Allison received the 2009 Library Council of NSW Honorary Fellowship to research the State Library of NSW collections on Marie Byles.

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