Allan Cunningham was sent to Australia by Sir Joseph Banks in 1816 to collect seeds, bulbs and living plants for the living collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, then the premier botanical garden in Europe.
On his arrival in Sydney Governor Macquarie assigned him to the first major inland expedition in New South Wales, commanded by John Oxley, who was charged with exploring the courses of the Lachlan and Macquarie Rivers. After a gruelling five month journey Cunningham arrived back in Sydney to find that Banks had attached him to a major surveying expedition led by Phillip King, to continue the exploration of the northern and northwestern coasts of Australia begun a decade earlier by Matthew Flinders. After a seven month's journey the King expedition returned to Sydney, but King, while awaiting favourable weather for his second surveying voyage, decided to visit Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) to chart the newly discovered Macquarie Harbour. Cunningham joined him, and climbed Mount Wellington near Hobart, as well as exploring Macquarie Harbour.
Between these major expeditions Cunningham undertook shorter explorations in the Sydney district and as far south as Five Islands (Illawarra).
The Australian Botanical Journals of Allan Cunningham, Volume 1 provides for the first time a complete transcript of Cunningham's personal journal, detailing his collecting activities on a day-by-day basis, and inserts into his commentary details of his surviving collections in London and Australian herbaria, providing an up-to-date series of names for the species he was collecting.
Cunningham later undertook three more expeditions with King before leading a number of inland expeditions himself, in New South Wales and southern Queensland, and visits to New Zealand and Norfolk Island. These journeys will be the subject of future volumes in this series.