During the month of October 1836 a small band of some 28 persons was to be found slowly making their way north-east through unmapped country, some 120 miles north of the fledgling settlement which would become Melbourne.
The leader of the party was Major Thomas Mitchell who was the Surveyor General for the colony of NSW.
His second in command was the assistant surveyor, Granville Stapylton, who was an aristocrat and looked down on the remainder of the crew as ‘‘ticket-of-leave vagabonds and unhanged scoundrels’’.
Earlier in the journey, they had been joined by three or four natives, some acting as guides.
Mitchell had been itching for some years to carry out extensive exploration, but it was not until 1831 that he was given leave to do so.
His first two expeditions were to the north and west of Sydney, but for the third he was ordered to check and confirm, if possible, that it was indeed the Darling River that met the Murray River at what is now the town of Wentworth.
Both rivers had been discovered a few years earlier by Hamilton Hume.
Having carried out his orders successfully, Mitchell travelled upstream along the Murray to the approximate site of modern-day Cohuna and, instead of turning northwards, he headed south.
It was a wonderful season and the country was lush in comparison with the drought-stricken land to the north, so much so that Mitchell named the whole of what is now western Victoria ‘‘Australia Felix’’ (fortunate Australia).
Continuing southward, the party arrived at Portland, much to the surprise of Mitchell, and also the Hentys who had settled there two years earlier without telling the authorities.
From there Mitchell travelled east as far as Mount Macedon, and then turned north-east towards Sydney.
On October 13, the party reached a river, which he named ‘‘Swampy River’’.
In his journal he noted that the local indigenous tribe called the river ‘‘Currojalinga’’, and that it was of ‘‘very irregular width and spread into broad lagoons and swamps bordered with reeds’’.
This is what we now know as the Broken River at Benalla.
The stream was flowing, but appeared fordable; they ‘‘tried in various places, but the bottom was everywhere soft and swampy’’.
The man who was generally employed to look for suitable crossing places was James ‘‘Tally-Ho’’ Taylor.
This young man was the self-appointed bugler to the expedition.
When the major was returning to the main camp after reconnoitring the country, he would blow with full breath.
He had been brought up in a hunting stable in England and was proud of his prowess with swimming his horse.
Mitchell determined to use his boat to swim the cattle and horses across the river, but Taylor persuaded him to allow him to search for a spot, which would be the easiest place for livestock to get out of the river.
Taylor promptly rode into the river, out of sight of Mitchell, and almost immediately disappeared.
A minute or two later, the horse appeared and clambered out of the stream, but there was no sign of the rider, apart from his cap floating on the surface.
Four others from the party entered the water and within six or eight minutes they found the body at the bottom of the river, but no amount of exertion could revive the lad.
Mitchell noted that, ‘‘We consigned the body of poor Taylor to a deep grave... I was confounded with the most heartfelt sorrow when I turned from the grave of poor Tally-Ho, never to hear his bugle blast again.’’
Everybody in the party was surprised that Taylor had drowned, having been in the water for such a short time.
He was the only member of Mitchell’s party to lose his life on the entire expedition.
Later in the journey, they met a fellow who knew Tally-Ho and who told them that he was subject to fits, a fact that satisfied all as to the sudden manner of his death.
A rock monument, erected by the Benalla Historical Society, is at the eastern end of Kent St (Lakeview Close) at the top of the river bank to mark this tragic event.
— Alan Monger