My004 : Cox's Pass | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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My004 : Cox's Pass

Item details

Name of item: My004 : Cox's Pass
Primary address: Off Mount York Road, Mount Victoria, NSW 2786
Local govt. area: Blue Mountains
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Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Off Mount York RoadMount VictoriaBlue Mountains   Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Mount York was the second of the sites in the Blue Mountains to be memorialised for its links to the grand narrative of the First Crossing. Like the Explorers' Tree (K 031), this occurred during the first phase of commemoration at the close of the nineteenth century. In addition to a shared explanatory narrative, Mount York had several other attributes which were influential in making it an important historic site. They included surviving and easily recognisable physical evidence of the 1814-5 road over the Blue Mountains, vice-regal and imperial connections, and precise documentation in an early historic period. Mount York also has a spectacular view, westwards over the Hartley Valley, Kanimbla Valley and the Vale of Clywdd. The view from Mount York became a symbolic focus as a vista of the western lands revealed after the struggle and triumph of the First Crossing. This view of the 'promised land' had been first suggested in the poetry of W. C. Wentworth in the 1820s and was reiterated throughout the nineteenth century using images, prose and poetry. It was again strongly celebrated during the 1913 Centenary.
Date significance updated: 01 Jul 09
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: William Cox
Construction years: 1815-1815
Physical description: Mount York is a flat plateau on the top of a sandstone ridge. The top of the plateau is full of structures and signage which identify the symbolic cultural meaning of this area. For a modern visitor there is little doubt that here is an historic place which still resonates with echoes of the myths important for white European settlers and colonisers, and their descendants. The structures at Mount York include a large obelisk erected in 1900, a neo-classical pavilion erected for the centenary celebrations in 1913, a rubble-work arched gateway with inbuilt 'Explorers Wishing Chair' and a diverse group of other monuments recording the achievements of the great and the good beside some of those less prominent, but lucky enough to have numerous descendants. There are also more utilitarian facilities associated with the use of the area for picnicking and other recreational activities.

The intensive work required for the building of the 1814 road descent from this mountain has left substantial physical remnants of the old Cox's Road visible in this area, including cuttings, retaining walls, fence sockets, and two bridge sites. These obvious remnants made this section of Cox's Road one of the best known and most celebrated in the past. The Pass at Mount York remains one of the most intact and most significant surviving sections of the 1814-1815 Cox's Road.

The Mount York obelisk was completed in 1900. It stands towards the extremity of the mountain spur, just before the cliff line. The base of the obelisk has inscriptions on all four sides. These commemorate the Explorers, Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth; the Surveyor, Evans; the Road-builder, Cox; and the Governor, Macquarie. The names of the Reserve Trustees at the time: Berghofer, Howell and Rienits, are also recorded on the monument.

The next major structure to be added to Mount York was the pavilion erected as part of the First Crossing Centenary celebrations in 1913. A domed canopy carried on eight Doric columns rests on a base 6 ft (1.8m) high on which stands a memorial tablet made of Bowral trachyte. The pavilion or canopy is placed in the centre of a courtyard 25 ft (7.5m) square surrounded by a panelled parapet 4 ft (1.2m) high. The height of the top of the finial on the canopy is 19 ft 6 in (nearly 6m). The pavilion was constructed entirely of reinforced concrete. It was originally unpainted, but was apparently painted white during the 1951 Federation jubilee celebrations. Renovations in 1988 provided the pavilion with additional interpretive plaques and an historically inaccurate 'heritage' colour scheme.

Whilst Mount York still receives intensive visitation for purposes such as viewing scenery, rock climbing and other outdoor pursuits, the site is no longer a major place of historic pilgrimage. In recent years some of the more accessible monuments at Mount York have become the target of vandalism by a generation for whom the explorers' myth is either unknown or unwelcome. This includes the removal of the ornamental portrait busts of the three explorers from the top of the monument completed in 1969.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The area around the lookouts is in reasonable condition for a site which receives intensive visitation from time to time. Facilities are fairly basic. Some vandalism is evident including graffiti on the Eddy Rock.
Date condition updated:24 Jun 09
Further information: Because the complex of monuments, roads and lookouts in Mount York Reserve constitutes a single heritage entity in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the assessment of each component part has taken account of the totality.
Current use: Walking track
Former use: Road


Historical notes: Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth reached the area of Mount York on 28 May 1813, and camped at 'the edge of the precipice.' On 29 May 1813 they descended from the mountain 'through a pass in the rocks'. When building the first road over the Mountains, the construction of a descent from this ridge took William Cox and his road party five weeks between 7 November and 14 December 1814. Mount York was officially named by Governor Macquarie during his tour over the Blue
Mountains in April 1815. It was named after the Duke of York, Frederick Augustus (1763-1827), who was the second son of George III and commander-in-chief of the British Army from 1795 to 1827. The naming of this mountain by Governor Macquarie gave it prominent regal and vice-regal connections.

Cox's Road descent was superseded by Lawson's Long Alley in 1824 and Lockyer's Road in 1829. Mount York was finally bypassed altogether by Thomas Mitchell's Victoria Pass in 1832.

At Mount York, after the main road over the Blue Mountains moved to Victoria Pass in the 1830s, little happened until the gazettal of a Reserve over the entire area in the late nineteenth century. This initially occurred in 1877 as Reserve No. 46 of 158 acres and was then re-gazetted as a slightly reduced area of 150 acres in 1881 as a Reserve for Recreation and Public Purposes. No relevant Reserve files survive either at State Records or within the present Department of Lands. Thus there is little detail about the business undertaken by the Trustees, or even about membership of the Trust. There are no minute books or other records.

In November 1895, a ceremony was held at the Mount York Reserve at which an illuminated address and an album of mountain views was presented by the Residents of Mount Victoria to Mr E. M. G. Eddy, Chief Commissioner of Railways, in recognition of his management of Mountain railway traffic. The 'Eddy Rock' at Mount York was named in honour of this event.

A local Committee was formed in 1895 for the purpose of erecting an obelisk in the Mount York Reserve to the memory of the early explorers. Articles about the proposal appeared in local and Sydney newspapers. The Committee received encouragement from descendants of prominent pioneer families, including Mr Charles R. Blaxland, Sir Francis Suttor and Mr J. B. Suttor. Public lectures were held to try to generate enthusiasm and funds but the project stalled. It was suggested that the obelisk should commemorate not only Blaxand, Lawson and Wentworth but also those others who had assisted in pioneering the route over the Mountains, including Evans, Cox and Macquarie. The successful tenderer was a Mr Lanfranchi at a price of £30 (not including the memorial tablets). The Mount York obelisk was completed in 1900.

The existence of the obelisk at Mount York, the spectacular views over the Hartley Valley from this famous vantage point, and the presence of historic relics of the old Bathurst Road, contributed to its selection as the major site for commemoration during the 1913 Centenary Celebrations. It was J. W. Berghofer, President of Blaxland Shire and also a trustee of the reserve, who initially suggested the idea of the centenary celebrations. Mount York was also reasonably close to the main railway line at Mount Victoria, and of sufficient area that large crowds could be accommodated. Despite fundraising efforts and a special purpose Treasury grant of £700, the Centenary Celebrations Committee of 1913 had to concentrate its efforts on only a few main projects and locations due to financial constraints. A major element proposed was the erection of a memorial pavilion planned to cost £400. The design for the memorial pavilion was prepared by George Sydney Jones, of Jones and Southcott, Architects, Sydney. The neo-Classical style pavilion with eight columns, cupola and a central tablet of polished trachyte, was intended to be the focus of the 1913 Centenary celebrations.

The contractor was Mr F. T. Collas of Marrickville, with the memorial tablet supplied by the monumental masons, Loveridge and Hudson. This structure was dedicated to the explorers Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, the surveyor George Evans, the road-builder William Cox and the visionary governor Lachlan Macquarie. The pavilion was incomplete on the day of the official centenary celebrations, as rain had delayed the construction work. It was not finally completed until December 1913.

After the 1913 Centenary celebrations more monuments and other facilities continued to be erected within the Mount York reserve. They included an eighteen-hole miniature golf course laid out in 1930 and a metal direction dial mounted on a concrete pillar which showed the direction and distances to Sydney, Bathurst and other points of interest. In 1931, a rubble work stone archway with an inbuilt 'Explorers Wishing Chair' was installed in a position mid-way between the 1913 Pavilion and the 1900 Obelisk. The 'wishing chair' was a project of the Mount Victoria Auxiliary Committee, to help raise funds for the Blue Mountains Anzac Memorial District Hospital which had opened at Katoomba in 1925.

Functions and celebrations were held at Mount York at significant anniversary dates, including 1938,1951,1963 and 1988. In 1951, the re-enactment of the crossing ended at Mount York where the 'explorers' were photographed observing the famous view, towards the west. The Blue Mountains Historical Society selected the Mount York area for an historic plaque as part of their project in the 1960s to mark significant sites, especially those associated with exploration. The Mount York plaque refers to the naming of the mountain by Governor Macquarie in 1815. A privately sponsored monument to the three explorers of 1813 was completed in 1969 by W. F. Gilroy and R. Gilroy, who at that time operated a kiosk and local museum from a small building in the reserve. The monument was originally designed by Mrs Doris Gilroy, who was a descendant of William Cox and the pioneer Collits family. It took three years to complete. The monument was strategically positioned at the start of Cox's Road down the mountain pass. A large rectangular base was topped by three portrait busts of the explorers which were sculpted by Josef Nesteriuk. More than 1,000 visitors attended the official unveiling of the monument on 14 December, 1969. The unveiling was performed by Alderman H. G. Coates, MLA.

In 1974 descendants of James Watsford, 'Australia's First Royal Mail Coachman', also erected a small memorial, which was unveiled by Alderman K. D. Dash, Mayor of the City of Blue Mountains. In 1979, the Orange Lands Office of the Department of Lands marked a series of historic early road crossings as public walking tracks from the Mount York ridge into the Hartley Valley.

In 1988, as part of Bicentennial Celebrations, a function was held at Mount York on 28 May 1988 to celebrate 175 years since the First Crossing. The Mount York Reserve was 'landscaped' for the event and the older structures were repainted. The obelisk erected in 1900 and the memorial pavilion erected in 1913 were given new (but historically inaccurate) 'heritage' colour paint schemes. The event at Mount York was attended by 'hundreds' of people including descendants of the Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth, Evans and Cox families, some in period dress. At the same function the first of a series of markers throughout the Mountains which commemorated the route of G. W. Evans was unveiled by A. K. Weatherburn, great-great-grandson of the Surveyor. These markers, the 'Footsteps in Time' project, were placed at locations close to each of Evans's camp sites throughout the Blue Mountains and were a Bicentennial Project of Blue Mountains City Council.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Mount York was named by Governor Macquarie during his 1815 tour over the Blue Mountains. It was named Mount York in honour of Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, commander-in-chief of the British army. The works to descend from Mount York to the valley below were the focus of the road-building efforts of William Cox and his road party in November and December 1814. Mount York included an early ramped or inclined bridge (no longer surviving). 'Cox's Pass' was named by Macquarie on the same 1815 tour. The area includes a wide range of monuments erected to record and explain the historic significance of the plateau. The various road alignments and memorials are severally and collectively of State significance.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Mount York became a symbolic focus of the journey over the Blue Mountains until the changes in road realignments during the later 1820s and 1830s. It again became strongly associated in popular imagination with the 1813 First Crossing especially after its selection to be the focus of the 1913 Centenary Celebrations and its memorialising with elaborate structures which commemorated the explorers and road-builders. Throughout the twentieth century Mount York has been the central site associated in the public imagination with the First Crossing of 1813 and with the subsequent celebrations and commemorations of the event. Mount York came to symbolise a transcendent moment in time, a pause in which a realisation was made that the 'impassable barrier' of the Blue Mountains could be crossed. A
major element of the importance of the Mount York area is the view to the north-west and west over the Hartley Valley towards the remainder of the Great Dividing range and in particular to Mount Blaxland, the terminal point of the 1813 crossing. Although viewed from here as a low and undistinguished hill, a marker installed on Mount Blaxland makes it clearly visible from the summit of Mount York. The view from Mount York has been regarded as a symbolic vista of the western lands revealed after the struggle and triumph of the First Crossing. All this is of State significance.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Mount York contains a significant archaeological resource in the form of surviving evidence of early Colonial road-building, including an early zigzag formation on the descent. There are many rock-cuttings, retaining walls, embankments and also some rare surviving inscriptions.
Integrity/Intactness: High
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Threats include vandalism, both deliberate and inadvertent. Use of the area for rock- climbing, including by commercial operators, has caused increased erosion of existing tracks and may cause long-term damage. There have also been some unsympathetic efforts at interpretation, for example the use of plaques fixed to the 'relics' of Cox's Road. Passive recreation uses are appropriate for this significant historic site. Completion of Plan of Management or Conservation Plan is highly desirable. We recommend also that MY 003,004,009, 010,011,012 and 014 should be subsumed in MY 008, Mount York and Environs.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanLocal Environmental Plan1991MY00427 Dec 91 183 
Heritage study MY004   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Blue Mountains Heritage Study1983MY004Croft & Associates Pty Ltd & Meredith Walker  Yes
Heritage Study Review, Blue Mountains1992MY004Tropman and Tropman  Yes
Blue Mountains Heritage Review2003MY004Jack, Hubert, Lavelle, Morris  Yes
Technical Audit BM Heritage Register2008MY004Blue Mountains City CouncilCity Planning Branch No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenGrace Karskens1988An historical and archaeological study of Cox's Road and early crossings of the Blue Mountains, New South Wales
WrittenSiobhan Lavelle2005A Respectable Mythology: the alchemy of fact and fiction in Blue Mountains place-making in Jane Lydon and Tracy Ireland (eds), Object lessons
WrittenSiobhan Lavelle2004Mount York: The Right Connotations and a Great View in Founding Fathers and Foundering Myths: Monuments to Explorers in the Blue Mountains, NSW, PhD thesis, Uni

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1170794

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