Surveyor's notebooks | State Library of New South Wales

Surveyor's notebooks

Since the first days of European settlement, surveyors have explored and mapped Australia. Expeditions led by colonial surveyors like John Oxley, George Evans, Thomas Mitchell and Charles Sturt, were some of the most significant ever undertaken.

These men routinely faced hardship and life threatening challenges. Forced to adapt quickly in unfamiliar landscapes, they coped with extreme living conditions while working with crude equipment. They measured with chains and steel bands and made complex mathematical computations using logarithmic tables and slide rules.

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Good surveyors could measure and compute well. Training was practically-based, undertaken as part of military service or working for a government board.

The two main responsibilities of the surveyor were to determine the party's position from day to day, and to keep a daily record of their route so that any discoveries made could be retraced.

The surveyor started his measurements from a known location (usually the point of departure) recording the distance travelled each day and every change of direction taken - noting all compass readings and landmarks such as rivers and hills.

All notes were written in a bound notebook. The type of information recorded included descriptions of the topography of the land, the tree cover and flora and fauna descriptions, encounters with Indigenous people and evidence of minerals. Meteorological and astronomical observations were often recorded, and skilled surveyors included watercolours, drawings and pencil sketches.

The information gathered in the field was then used back in the surveyor's tent to develop a drawn plan which would be completed back in the surveyor's office at the end of the expedition.