Which hill did Governor Phillip climb on 26th April 1788?

1. Contemporary documents

Two writers who took part in the expedition led by Governor Arthur Phillip have left us their accounts. Extracts from their writings are reproduced in the Reference Section of this web site on the Quotations page. They are Phillip himself and Surgeon-General John White

Phillip was writing to his masters in London and his agenda did not necessarily include reporting his expeditions with full geographical accuracy. White's account is more detailed and useful to us for our present purpose. There are more extended extracts of their works, by which readers may judge their styles and accuracy, in the Reading Section where there are separate pages devoted to Arthur Phillip and John White.

2. Matching White's account to the map and the on the ground

The current NSW Lands Department map "Prospect" is useful for tracing the expedition's progress. A road atlas shows the landscape at a larger scale, which can be useful, but it has no countours. It is useful to pare down White's account to the bare essential needed for tracing the route, cutting out any any detail that is not relevant to the geography.

On 24th April 1788, according to White's account, the party reached a place on the Parramatta River where,

the tide ceased to flow; and all further progress for boats was stopped by a flat space of large broad stones, over which a fresh-water stream ran.

As far as I know, all who have considered the issue, are agreed that this description applies unmistakably to the future site of the Rose Hill settlement, now Parramatta. If you stand on the Church Street Bridge by the the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta you can still see the large broad stones in the river which prevent the passage of boats upstream. White continues.

On this fresh-water stream, as well as on the salt, we saw a great many ducks and teal, three of which we shot in the course of the day, besides two crows and some loraquets. About four in the afternoon, being near the head of the stream, and somewhat apprehensive of rain, we pitched our tents...

There is no hint here that they had left the main stream. The account indeed suggests they had been following it for the whole time since leaving Rose Hill. To start with, the stream is still known as Parramatta River as it passes through Parramatta Park. Following it upstream from Parramatta you are in general walking in a westerly direction. However you make two dog-legs to the north, each of about a kilometre. At the end of the first dog-leg, where you turn left to follow it westwards, its name changes to Toongabbie Creek. In unknown country you are clearly taking a gamble in following such a twisting course. You want to make westward progress but the creek is sometimes taking you north. How long do you continue to follow it? The alternative is to strike out on a compass course to the west, up the steep sides of the valley through the dense bush which probably covered the creek valleys at that time. White's description makes it clear they followed the creek. It must have been Toongabbie Creek; there is no other in the vicinity. It is debatable where their camp site, the "head of the creek," might have been but one possibility is the reserve known as Sue Savage Park. It does indeed seem as if you are coming to the head of the creek here. Or it may have been a few hundred metres further west where three or four small tributary creeks meet and there is virtually no main creek any more.

The next day... we pursued our route for three or four miles west... A little farther on we fell in with three huts, as deserted as the former, and a swamp... Though by this time very much fatigued, we proceeded about two miles farther on, in hopes of finding some good water, but without effect; and about half past four o'clock we took up our quarters near a stagnant pool.

Another full day had been taken, in which White estimated they had walked five or six miles (8 to 10 km). There is ample evidence that the early British explorers consistently overestimated the distance they travelled in the bush. So perhaps they only walked 3 or 4 kilometres. White does not say they are following a stream now, but does say they are travelling west. From the possible overnight camp site at Toongabbie they would be following a small tributary called Blacktown Creek for about two kilometres, since this would have taken them almost directly westwards anyway. Then there is a fork in the stream where there is now a small lake, so this may have been the site of the swamp. The choice now was to continue westward or fork off to the south. Considering their aim of progressing westward and White's report that were travelling west that day, it seems inconceivable that they would not follow the westward-leading creek. This probably dried out fairly soon. It is certainly a very small stream and today it disappears completely after it passes under the railway line into Maurice Bolton Reserve (off Blacktown Road about 150 metres south-east of Griffiths Street). The only water available would be stagnant pools. A more or less dry valley would have led them in a south-westerly direction to cross the noticeable dip in Bungarribee Road where there is now a Scouts Hut. A very small watercourse, often dried up, still follows parts of this valley. In other parts the water must run through underground drains. There would have been stagnant pools here in dry weather.

On the next day, 26th April, White wrote,

We still directed our course westward...

Note that White now describes their route solely as a compass direction, and not by reference to any creek or other geographical feature. At some stage the party would have climbed out of the dry valley for two reasons. Firstly it was leading them south-westward, and secondly, after three days of valley walking they would be wanting to reach some high ground to judge their rate of progress towards the Blue Mountains. In any case, the creeks were becoming so small that they no longer afforded even passably good routes. The expedition is likely therefore to have trekked over undulating higher ground, roughly along the line of present-day Bungarribee Road.

We crossed a water-course, which shews that at some seasons the rain is very heavy here, notwithstanding that there was, at present, but little water in it.

The landform here is more like a plateau dissected by small creeks that run from south to north, in other words across the party's westward course. Somewhere near the present Reservoir Road they would have crested a rise to see yet another one ahead obstructing their view of the mountains. The water-course they crossed may have been where there are now some footpaths, Brewongle and Fitzsimmons Walkways, which cross Bungaribee Road between Reservoir Road and Walters Road. There is no stream there now but the walkways run along a valley, so the drainage must be by underground storm drains.

Beyond the chasm we came to a pleasant hill, the top of which was tolerably clear of trees and perfectly free from underwood. His excellency gave it the name of Belle Veue.

The plateau ends fairly abruptly now with short but steep descents to the west and south. There are spot heights on the Land Dept. maps marked 84 and 81 metres. These two points still appear as noticeable hills on the ground even though covered with suburban housing. The first one they would come to, the 84 metre spot height, is now at the head of a small cul-de-sac of residential houses. While the houses and their fences almost obscure the view from the street, a peek over a gate shows that the Blue Mountains would have been clearly visible, providing that tree cover was not too thick. So this could well be Governor Phillip's Belle Vue.

Amazingly, the short street is called Bellevista Street, a rather odd compound of French Belle with the Italian (or indeed English) Vista. It seems likely that this is a coincidence, or rather, that the first residents followed the same train of thought as Governor Phillip, and named it thus because of the excellent views both westward and to the north and north-east. (Bellavista is the name of a suburb a few kilometres to the east.)

The 81 metres spot height on the Lands Dept. map has had a triangulation point on it named Bungarribee on the Lands Dept. map. This also has good views over the Blue Mountains (with some obstruction by modern housing) and could equally well be Phillip's Belle Vue.

In a valley below Belle Veue we saw a fire, and by it found some chewed root of a saline taste, which shewed that the natives had recently been there. The country hereabout was pleasant to the eye, well wooded, and covered with long sour grass, growing in tufts. At the bottom of this valley, or flat, we crossed another water-course and ascended a hill, where the wood was so very thick as to obstruct our view. Here, finding our provisions to run short, our return was concluded on, though with great reluctance, as it was our wish, and had been our determination, to reach the hills before us if it had been possible.

Beyond the 81 metre spot height to the west there is the broad valley of Eastern Creek, which fits the description of a "valley or flat." The final hill that the party ascended would therefore be Rooty Hill, 75 metres above sea level and a distance of another two kilometres from the triangulation point named Bungarribee.

3. The traditional interpretation

It has traditionally been held that Belle Vue is the same hill as Prospect Hill. The story generally goes that at some time following Governor Arthur Phillip's expedition to Belle Vue, the name of the hill was changed to Prospect Hill.

It is interesting to trace this version of events back in time to find where it originated. I have had a quick attempt and have found a version from 1982. This could of course be based an an earlier publication. My list, going back in time to 1988, is as follows:


A 2011 calendar sent by Blacktown City Council to all its householders states:

Prospect Hill was discovered by Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788 on one of his first expeditions in the colony. Phillips named it 'Belle Vue', later anglicised to Prospect Hill and then shortened to Prospect."

The Council's web site repeats the same version of events.


On the 26 April 1788 Governor Phillip led an exploration party that reached the Prospect area, resulting in him calling the now Prospect Hill, “Belle Vue Hill.”

The above are the opening words, under the heading Why Prospect? of the web site of the The Prospect Heritage Trust, a well-respected local history group (Prospect HT, extracted 22 Dec 2010).


Very early after first settlement, on 26 April 1788, an exploration party heading west led by Governor Phillip, climbed Prospect Hill. An account by Phillip states that the exploration party saw from Prospect Hill, 'for the first time since we landed Carmathen Hills (Blue Mountains) as likewise the hills to the southward' (Heritage, Prospect Hill, extracted 22 Dec 2010).

I have to say that the substitution of Prospect Hill for the Belle Vue of the original account by Governor Phillip is a blatant misrepresentation of that account.


1788. Expedition party led by Captain Arthur Phillip come across Prospect Hill en route to the Blue Mountains in search of more fertile land. Prospect Hill becomes a landmark reference point. (Holroyd 2008, p 7)


Prospect Hill, the site of the BMI Quarry, was the highest point between Sydney and the Blue Mountains, and in the early days of the colony was used as a navigational landmark. In April 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip and his party came to Parramatta and five days later ascended a small hill with extensive views of the surrounding area. Phillip named it 'Bellevue', which was translated as 'fine prospect', from this the general area became known as Prospect. (Wallace 1992, p 4).


Not long after the first European fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in January 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip and a party of men rowed up the Parramatta River and explored the area further west until they reached Prospect Hill in 22 April 1788... (Karskens 1991, p 14).

Whatever importance Phillip's 'Bellevue' - later Prospect Hill - had for the Aborigines, it soon acquired considerable significance for Europeans... It's new name 'Prospect' was also fitting for in a prospect was the possibility of a bright future. (Karskens 1991, p 20).


In 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip stood on a hill in this area south-east of later Blacktown and looked over the country toward the mountains in the west; he named the eastern side of the hill Bellevue. In 1789 Captain Watkin Tench (1758?-1833), an officer of marines, climbed to the top of the hill and saw the distant Blue Mountains. He was so enraptured by their rugged beauty that the rise was given the name of Tench's Prospect Hill; the title was later shortened to Prospect. (Pollon 1988, p 210).


The first Europeans to see the Blacktown district were a party led by Governor Phillip, seeking better farming country than was to be found near Sydney Cove. They crossed from Toongabbie Creek, through Girraween to near Fox Hills Golf Course, on 25th April 1788. The following day they climbed Prospect Hill, and were impressed by the fertile land they could see. Phillip first named the hill Bellevue, but later adopted the name Prospect Hill. (Kennedy 1982, p 22).

Prospect was originally named Bellvue by Captain Arthur Phillip in 1790. He later changed it to Tench's Prospect Hill (ibid., p 55).


The first Europeans to see the Blacktown district were a party led by Governor Phillip, seeking better farming country than was to be found near Sydney Cove. They crossed from Toongabbie Creek through Girraween to near the Fox Hills Golf Course on April 25 1788. On 26th they climbed Prospect Hill, and were impressed by the fertile land they could see. Phillip first named the hill Bellevue, but later adopted the name Prospect Hill. (Moore 1979, p 22).


The next day the present site of Parramatta was passed, and the Parramatta River was followed towards its source, where the night was passed. On the fourth and fifth days a westward course was taken but it is difficult to fix the exact point reached; still it is more than probable that the hill called Bellevue by Phillip is the Greystanes Hill at Prospect. On the sixth day a return was made to the head of Port Jackson, and Sydney Cove was reached by boat the day after. (Frederick Watson in Hist Rec Aust, Series 1, Vol 1, p xiv).

Frederick Watson is the earliest author I have yet found to have published this interpretation. That does not of course mean that he was its originator - I had previously thought that the Kevin Moore was and before that the Kennedys. Watson's description of the route accurately summarises the contemporary accounts but his "more than probable" interpretation is inconsistent with it. Moore attempted an explanation of the hypothesis by giving a route by which the expedition might have reached Prospect Hill. He suggests that the party headed directly westward from the later site of Rose Hill, thus climbing out of the valley of Toongabbie Creek, perhaps from the start of its dogleg to the NNE. Although Surgeon White, present on the expedition, wrote several times that the party later continued westward, he makes it clear that on the day they passed Rose Hill (Parramatta) they stayed by the fresh-water stream (Watson's Parramatta River) that flows by it.

In my view the above authors have given unsatisfactory interpretations of the primary sources. They have not convinced me that Belle Vue is Prospect Hill. As each later author has copied it from an earlier one however, it has become a self-perpetuating story and one that is now widely believed.

This is not to say that all historians have followed this 'traditional' view. Some have avoided claiming that Belle-Vue and Prospect Hill are the same, and their accounts are therefore more in keeping with those of the explorers who took part in the early explorations. Here are three examples:

Prospect. It was from the top of Prospect Hill that Captain Tench in 1789 first saw the Blue Mountains and it was in these circumstances that the locality [was] called Tench's Prospect Hill... gradually shortened to Prospect Hill..." (Harvey, 1977).

Prospect. Captain Watkin Tench discovered the area in 1789. From Prospect Hill he had a fine view across to the Carmarthen Hills (the name at the time for the Blue Mountains). The view gave the district its name (Anderson, 1989).

The first white men to set foot in the area [of Blacktown] in 1788 were a party led by Governor Phillip, seeking better farming country than was then to be found in Sydney Cove. In June 1789 Captain Watkin Tench and Surgeon Arndell led a small party from Prospect Hill and reached the Nepean Hill. (French, 2006).

4. Evidence-based methodologies used for determining the location of Belle-Vue

It is looking as though Kevin Moore in 1979 was the first researcher to trace an actual route on a map or on the ground based on Surgeon White's original account. Unfortunately, in my view, he was mistaken in his interpretation. This is a great pity because it may be that later writers have depended on his work in coming to erroneous conclusions about the location of Belle-Vue.

A more evidence-based historical method in determining the question was made explicit by Shelagh and George Champion in 1990:

In writing this monograph, we have set aside all previous interpretations and conjectures regarding the first inland exploration made by Governor Phillip in search of land suitable for agriculture.

We have used the primary source material enumerated below, and have examined on foot the terrain that Phillip would have encountered. Many early maps have been examined, to establish the extent and nature of changes that have been made to the terrain during the last two hundred years.

Part one is concerned with our interpretation of the primary source material provided in Phillip's dispatch to Lord Sydney dated 15th May 1788, Lieutenant William Bradley's hand-written journal A voyage to New South Wales 1786-1792, Surgeon John White's Journal of a voyage to New South Wales, Surgeon George Worgan's Journal of a First Fleet surgeon, Jacob Nagle's The Nagle journal, and the log of HMS Sirius, as well as the charts of Captain John Hunter dated 1738, and Lieutenant William Bradley.

Part two is a resume of how we believe historians misinterpreted many aspects of the expedition. (Champion 1990).

Unfortunately the Champions' brilliant analysis of Phillip's first land expedition (in the North Shore area) was not followed, as far as I can ascertain, by any similar analysis of the expedition of 21st to 27th April 1788.

Michael Flynn applied evidence-based methods to the issue of Belle-Vue in 1997:

Governor Arthur Phillip had explored the country west of Parramatta in April 1788. Historians have traditionally believed that on this journey Phillip veered south-west and ascended Prospect Hill. It is almost certain that they were mistaken. Phillip is much more likely to have followed the main course of Toongabbie Creek to the westward through Seven Hills and Blacktown before ascending Bungarribee Hill, at the summit of which is a small park fronting what is now Denis Winston Drive, Doonside, overlooking the mountains and OTC land along Eastern Creek. (Flynn 1997).

Alan Andrews' article in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society analyses all three of Phillip's 1788 land expeditions, using a methodology similar to that of Shelagh and George Champion. Andrews specifically criticises authors of descriptions of these expeditions for their "reluctance to take into account actual topography and to discredit exaggerated mileages assumed in the original accounts." (Andrews 1999). So Andrews has at least a sound implied methodology. Unfortunately it seems that, in applying it to the Belle-Vue expedition he fails to follow it almost at the first hurdle, where he states:

Just three days went by before the governor commenced his third western probe. Only two facts can be reasonably certain concerning the route: that on the third day they passed through the site of Parramatta, and that on the fifth day they wandered over Prospect Hill.

So Andrews is assuming from the start that Bellevue is Prospect Hill. All his subsequent arguments are coloured by this assumption, indeed I would say fatally tainted by it. He agrees about the site of Parramatta/Rose Hill but then argues that,

This 'freshwater stream' they were now on - with its ducks and teal - did not last long. They must have left the main stream that afternoon, though when they stopped at four p.m., considering themselves to be 'near the head of the stream', they were still some ten kilometres from the edges of its catchment.

I have pointed out previously, but make no apology for repeating, that John White's narrative makes no suggestion that the expedition left the freshwater stream. He says that they camped at 4 p.m. "near the head of the stream" and can only be implying that they have followed the same stream all afternoon from Rose Hill. Andrews omits this crucial passage from his otherwise copious set of quotations.

Then, when White reports on the climbing of Belle Vue, "His excellency gave it the name of Belle Veue" Andrews concludes that,

There is no doubt that they were on Prospect Hill.

Andrews then sets out arguments as to why the party were not further west than this. He does not consider the possibility that they could be further north, that is in the vicinity of Belle Vista Street or Bungaribee Hill.

Moore, Flynn and Andrews seem to be the only authors who have made serious attempts to align Phillip's and White's accounts with the actual lie of the land to the west of Parramatta. Yet they come to different conclusions.

5. Answers to questions

In offering my own opinion on the matter, I conclude with the questions which first occurred to me when I read the accounts of this expedition:

If Prospect Hill is Belle Vue, firstly why, when and by whom was the name change to Prospect Hill made?

There is no answer to this question in the literature of the time. The first recorded mention of the name Prospect Hill arose from an after-dinner walk to its summit by Lieutenant Philip Gidley King and Governor Phillip himself on 9th April 1790. This was ten months after Lieutenant Watkin Tench had climbed it without recording a specific name in his account. Both King and Phillip mention it in separate surviving accounts of the walk, King in the book published under John Hunter's name (Hunter 1793) and Phillip in the manuscript Notebook C (Collins 1791). The context suggests the name was already established by then. Neither mentioned that it was the same hill as Phillip's Belle Vue. One is drawn to conclude that it was not.

Secondly why did Phillip's expedition of 1788 take two days to progress from the location later known as Rose Hill to the hill they named Belle Vue, when Phillip walked from Rose Hill to Prospect Hill in 1 hour 45 minutes after dinner with Philip Gidley King in April 1790?

It cannot be that the route to Prospect Hill had been cleared in the meantime, making progress easier, for no grants of land were made west of Rose Hill until July 1791. It was reported by King that the route to Prospect Hill, "resembled a parkland a very pleasant tract of country, which, from the distance the trees grew from each other, and the gentle hills and dales, and rising slopes covered with grass, appeared like a vast park," presumably cleared of undergrowth by the Aboriginal use of firestick burning to keep undergrowth from reaching dangerously fire-prone proportions. Prospect Hill had been a notable Aboriginal landmark from time immemorial known as Mar-rong so there was probably a track to it already. The route Phillip had taken to Belle Vue on the other hand, if it is where I suggest, followed the winding Toongabbie Creek, covering a greater distance in the process. Furthermore the creek valley would have contained more dense undergrowth, being less susceptible to firestick burning. Again the most logical answer is that Belle-Vue was a different hill to Prospect Hill.

Why, when Watkin Tench climbed Prospect Hill in June 1789, did he not mention in his account that this was Phillip's Belle Vue?

Prospect Hill was undoubtedly climbed by Lieutenant Watkin Tench's party on 26 June 1789, but he does not mention whether it then had a name. He must have known about Phillip's April 1788 expedition and the naming of Belle Vue. Every officer in the colony would have known about it. One is therefore drawn to the assumption that Prospect Hill was until then unnamed, and therefore that it was not Belle Vue.

6. Conclusion

In 1979 Kevin Moore may have been the frist to try and trace in detail the route taken by Governor Phillip's 1788 expedition to Belle Vue. His interpretation of White's account seems flawed however, leading him to conclude that Belle Vue was in fact the same place as Prospect Hill. This was unfortunately accepted uncritically by many authors.

In 1990 Shelagh and George Champion outlined a detailed methodology for analysing Phillip's 1788 expeditions but did not apply it to the Belle-Vue expedition. Alan Andrews outlined a similar method, though in less detail, but his application of that method, for reasons I have stated above, also appears to be flawed.

My own investigations used the Champions' method of comparing the first-hand accounts, mainly that of Surgeon White, with explorations on the ground and the topography as shown by large-scale maps and aerial photographs from Google Earth and other sources. My conclusion is that Belle-Vue was probably located near to Bungarribee Road, Blacktown. Michael Flynn has also allied topographical knowledge to examination of first-hand sources and has come up with the same conclusion as I have, and I must acknowledge that he did so much earlier.

If the conclusion re-iterated by many authors, that Belle Vue is Prospect Hill, is correct, it leaves an unsaitisfactory situation regarding the question I have asked in the previous Section above. On the evidence available at present it appears that there is a strong balance of probability that Belle Vue is not Prospect Hill but an "eminence" such as Bungarribee Hill or Bellevista Street, near Bungarribee Road, Blacktown.