Hunt was born at Brighton, Sussex, England in 1832 [not Scotland, nor 1833 as is often quoted], the third son of John, London auctioneer/upholsterer and Mary Ann Cooke.John and Mary were married on I January 1827 at Bosham in Sussex.Charles was christened on 4 July 1832.
He entered formal naval training classes at Liverpool in 1848. During his service he fell from the yardarm of a vessel onto the deck, broke his kneecap and was pensioned off. In 1859 he was recorded on the Mercantile Navy List as a Master.Hunt acquired his Master Certificate at Liverpool, England.
He maintained his links with the sea and eventually made his way to Australia.
C.C. Hunt arrived in Western Australia in early 1863 and worked as mate on the New Perseverance, a coastal trader. In February 1863 he joined a sea and land expedition in the De Grey and Nickol Bay area.
Henry Maxwell Lefroy reported favourably on the area since known as Lake Lefroy near current day Kambalda after his expedition there in 1863. The York Agricultural Society pushed for further exploration. Hunt’s uncle, prominent farmer J.T. Cooke, promoted Hunt as an ideal expedition leader and he was chosen for the job.
Early in 1864 C.C. Hunt lead his first expedition, a flying visit to the interior. His party included Robert Hardey, Edward Robinson, trackers Cowitch and Tommy Windich. This expedition left York on 15 March 1864 and returned 16 April 1864 after travelling as far as the Koolyanobbing Ranges.
Exploration Eastward of York
His role on his second expedition, 9 July to 4 November 1864, was to explore the country east of York to determine potential for agricultural and pastoral activity. A secondary task was to find a way through to South Australia, however, this task was fairly soon abandoned. His party of seven, supplied with 23 horses and 22 weeks of rations, travelled 560 kilometres to the east. During this trip he named Hampton Plains, after Governor Hampton.
The expedition was hampered by young and difficult to manage horses and poor quality equipment with much valuable time spent on repairing saddle bags, harnesses and hobbles.
Wells and Track Expedition
On his third expedition, 3 January to 4 October 1865, he was charged with clearing a track to the east and with sinking wells at convenient intervals. He had a party of six pensioner soldiers, 10 probationary prisoners and a native tracker. This large team hampered Hunt’s attempts to discover other grazing lands. The lack of rain and permanent water supplies made further progress into the interior impossible. However, he achieved his main aim of developing a permanent supply of water for 500 kilometres from York, by building wells, tanks and dams as far as Lake Lefroy.
Eastern Interior Expedition
His fourth and final expedition, 9 July to 25 October 1866, was his best-equipped. Hunt’s party totalled 17. His role was to:
- Complete the track to Slate Well and on the way to build as many dams, wells and tanks as there was potential;
- Survey any blocks suitable for pastoral holdings;
- Examine the land further east to see if more could be taken up between Hampton Plains and the South Australian border.
Little rain had fallen that season and the expedition took place under drought conditions.
The heavy strain of the exploration work seriously affected Hunt’s health. He was advised by the Colonial Surgeon to take leave and rest. In his diaries Hunt occasionally mentioned he was too sick for work.
In 1867 he went to Geraldton and worked as a road surveyor. Hunt became ill in December 1867 and entered hospital in January 1868, dying of heart disease on 1 March 1868, a few months short of 36th birthday. He was buried at Geraldton.
The track to the Hampton Plains that Hunt developed in 1865 and 1866 became known as Hunts Track and was the basis for the route to the goldfields, variously known as the Old York Road, the Goldfields Road or the York to Goldfields Road. Some maps showed it as the Yilgarn Road.
Hunts Track opened up the interior to explorers, travellers and shepherds. Most importantly it linked a series of 26 wells, dams, tanks and soaks, securing a safe and reliable route to the Hampton Plains. However, the lack of a permanent water supply was still a major concern and only a few pastoralists established farms on the newly discovered lands.
Although Hunt’s work east of York had little immediate impact on the colony of Western Australia, it proved invaluable 20 some years later when gold was discovered at Southern Cross and then Coolgardie. A track was surveyed from York to Coolgardie in 1889 by Henry King and Frederick Brockman using the route mapped by Hunt. As thousands of prospectors streamed to the goldfields, the track and wells and dams established by Hunt became an invaluable lifeline, without which the discovery and mining of gold would have been made much more difficult.
© Kim Epton 2019
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