The Surveyor General and his Legacy

John Joseph William Molesworth Oxley (1784 – 25 May 1828)

Growing up in Australia most people recognise the name Oxley, as it is attributed to High schools, Rivers, Districts, Streets, Ships, Highways and reserves. But what is the real story behind John Oxley, and why is he still so important today? 

John Oxley had an interesting start to his career from the age of 15, where, in 1799, he entered into the English Royal Navy as a midshipman in London. As a serviceman, he carried out Coastal Surveying of Australia and Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). With a number of promotions over the years and expeditions under his belt, he sought the position of Surveyor-General in 1810. 

This is where the really important history begins. 

John is one of the most significant surveyors in Australian history. John was tasked to explore the Macquarie and Lachlan rivers in NSW, as the rivers were thought to be flowing westerly instead of easterly towards the known coast. After a number of weather and difficult route setbacks, John was able to theorise that the Lachlan River and the Macquarie River led to an “Inland Sea” and that anything west would be marshland. This of course was incorrect.

During the Macquarie River expedition, John started out from Bathurst and surveyed the river. After losing the river in the Macquarie Marshes, they continued to survey other rivers they came upon across NSW. Through the Liverpool Plains, across the Peel River, connected to the Hastings River, and reaching the coast in what is present-day Port Macquarie. John was able to complete his expedition in 2 years with surveys and maps of inland NSW.

Why was this all-important? Well, it allowed Governor Lachlan Macquarie to continue the colonisation of Australia with surety and confidence that there was running water and good ground. Governor Macquarie was so thrilled in fact that he granted Oxley 1000 acres of land near Camden NSW to raise his young family. 

John Oxley, played an important part in the exploration and opening up of eastern Australia to settlers, starting the development and understanding of surveying in regional NSW to what it is today.

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