2020Charles Grimes – Surveyor – The Yarra River

7 June 2020

Charles Grimes (1772 – 1858) was an English surveyor and was the first European to see the Yarra River.

As the New South Wales surveyor-general Charles Grimes, in 1802 he sailed in the Cumberland to examine King’s Island and Port Phillip. He discovered the Yarra River on 2 February 1803 but reported unfavourably on the possibilities of settlement at both.

It was on 30 January 1803, he and his party landed at Frankston and met around thirty of the local inhabitants. On 2 February 1803, he discovered the mouth of the Yarra River. Next day Grimes ascended the river in a boat and explored what is now the Maribyrnong River for several miles. Returning to the Yarra it was explored for several miles but the boat was stopped by Dights Falls

The journal of another member of the party, James Flemming, has been preserved, and in it he several times refers to finding good soil. Although it was evidently a dry season Flemming, thought from the appearance of the herbage that “there is not often so great a scarcity of water as at present“. He suggested that the “most eligible place for a settlement I have seen is on the Freshwater (Yarra) River“. 

There are two memorials to mark the event –

  1. A cairn atop Dights Falls
  2. The Charles Grimes Bridge is a bridge over the Yarra River in Melbourne, Wurundjeri Way, South Wharf Docklands

The inscription reads “This cairn was erected conjointly by the Kew, Collingwood, and Heidelberg councils as a monument to Charles Grimes, Surveyor-General of New South Wales, and party, the first white men to discover the River Yarra, reaching the Yarra Falls on February 8, 1803; also to mark the crossing of the river near here with cattle by the first overlanders, John Gardiner, Joseph Hawdon, and John Hepburn, in December, 1836.”

The cairn doesn’t have a date, but by the style of construction, I guess it would be from the 1930s. I couldn’t imagine such a cairn being built today in Melbourne, with the greater awareness people now have of Aboriginal stories. It is not that the monument says anything untrue. Yet it tells only part of the story. Homage to the Wurundjeri.

Not far below is the confluence of the Yarra and the Merri.