William Cox was appointed by Governor Macquarie to construct a road across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst. New farming land was needed to support the growing settlement of Sydney. Cox completed the road in six months, following a route surveyed by George Evans the previous year.
Although it seems there had been earlier expeditions penetrating beyond the Blue Mountains, and the local Dharuk people had no doubt been traversing the range for millennia, the crossing by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson in 1813 opened the way for a new road to the interior. Sheer cliffs had thwarted previous attempts to find a way through the valleys to the west. The successful expedition, following the ridges, reached the top of the range on 29 May 1913.
Following this expedition, the surveyor George Evans crossed the range and camped on the site of the future town of Bathurst. He named the area’s river after Governor Macquarie and named the Bathurst Plains after Lord Bathurst, the British secretary of state for the colonies.
Governor Macquarie lost little time in appointing William Cox to the task of opening up a road to the gentle slopes beyond the mountains. The Gazette recorded in July 1814:
It being the Intention of His Excellency the Governor to send in the course of a few Days a Working Party, of thirty Men, under the Protection of a Guard of eight Soldiers, to commence the Construction of a Cart Road from “Emu Plains” (hitherto erroneously called Emu Island) situate on the left Bank of the Nepean River, across the Blue Mountains to the extensive Tract of Champagne Country lately explored by Mr Evans; and William Cox, Esq. Of Clarendon Park, having in a very handsome and liberal Manner made a Tender of his personal Services in the Superintendance and Direction of the said very important Undertaking, His Excellency has accordingly accepted of his Proposal; and in Consequence has entrusted to his Care and Judgement the entire Execution of the said Work.
Cox assembled a team of thirty convicts and eight guards to build the road across the Blue Mountains. He was assisted by two Aboriginal men: Colebee from the Darug Tribe and the Boorooerongal Clan and Joe from the Mulgoa Clan.
Starting at Emu Plains on 18 July 1814, in just four months the team had completed a road covering a distance of 47 miles to Mount York. In just six months, Cox had crossed the Blue Mountains with a road of one hundred and one miles all the way to Bathurst.
The road opened the way for new settlement although this was limited in the early years. The steep grades of Cox’s road made it unsuitable in places for horse-drawn vehicles. In 1832 a new road from Mount Victoria to Hartley was built by Major Thomas Mitchell. This road made it possible to travel safely via wagons and coaches, but the route was still not much travelled until the gold rushes of the 1850s.