xxxxxAs we have seen, the Scottish-
JOHN McDOUALL STUART REACHES THE CENTRE OF AUSTRALIA 1860 (Va)
Map (Central Australia): source unknown. Stuart: date and artist unknown – John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, South Brisbane. Mount Stuart: contained in Stuart’s Journals 1858-
xxxxxAs we have seen, the Scottish-
xxxxStuart was born in Dysart, Fifeshire, Scotland and was trained as a civil engineer at the Scottish Naval and Military Academy. Ill-
xxxxxStuart was now convinced, however, that it was possible to reach the centre point of the continent and then journey to the north coast. He returned to his trade as a private surveyor but, starting in 1858, he led a series of his own expeditions into the interior. OOO He first explored the area immediately north of Adelaide with the help of an Aboriginal tracker. He reached as far as Streaky Bay, a journey of some 750 miles through unexplored bush -
xxxxxThe following year he planned an even more remarkable journey. O Starting out in January with a party of eleven men and 49 horses he aimed to be the first man to cross Australia from south to north, a feat which carried with it a government reward of £2000. Having crossed the vast inland region he reached Newcastle Waters, but was then confronted with dense bushland and was forced to return. Undeterred, he led another expedition, starting out in December 1861. O This time he met with success. Seven months later, on the 24th July 1862, having hacked their way through the jungle of the Northern Territory, the party reached the north coast at Van Diemen Gulf, close to Darwin. But this expedition, and particularly the return journey, took its toll on his health. He received another great welcome in Adelaide, but he came back an exhausted, broken man. For the last part of the journey he had to be carried on a stretcher, and he never recovered from the hardships he had suffered.
xxxxxFor his achievements he was awarded £3,000 and granted 1000 square miles of grazing country, rent free for seven years, in the interior he had done so much to discover. He returned to Scotland and lectured on his exploits, but this soon became too much for him and he went to live with his sister in London. He died there in June 1866, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. His birthplace is now a museum recording his life and works.
xxxxxStuart was the most competent and successful of Australia’s interior explorers, and his achievements were the more remarkable because of his slight, small build and the illness that plagued him from his youth, probably tuberculosis. No explorer has surpassed his courage and determination, and none has accomplished more. His expeditions opened up a vast new swathe of territory, some of it useful pasture land, and the overland telegraph, completed in 1872, followed the route he took -
xxxxxStuart’s crossing of the continent was a victory for his courage and determination, but he was not the first to achieve this feat. This honour went to his two rivals, Robert Burke and William Wills. They reached the Gulf of Carpentaria in February 1861 but, unlike Stuart, they failed to return.
Robert O’Hara Burke
and William John Wills
xxxxxBut the Scottish-
xxxxxBut despite his endeavours, Stuart was not the first explorer to journey across Australia from south to north. That honour went to his rivals, Robrt O’Hara Burke (1820-
xxxxxIt was in August 1860 that the Irish explorer Robert Burke left Melbourne with a party of 18, among whom was his second-
xxxxxMuch of the blame for the deaths of these three men, plus others of the party, has been attributed to Burke’s lack of experience and his unwillingness to take advice from others or seek the assistance of the Aboriginals, particularly on the return journey. The expedition itself, made up of 18 officers and men, 26 camels and sufficient food supplies for two years, was more than adequately equipped, but Burke’s decision to complete half the journey with just three other men, advancing well ahead of the support party, proved a recipe for disaster.
xxxxxBurke was born in County Galway, Ireland, but was educated in Belgium. He served in the Austrian army and then the Royal Irish Constabulary before emigrating to Australia in 1853. He found employment as a police inspector at Castlemain, Victoria before embarking on the fateful expedition, an account of which was obtained from the journal written by Wills.
xxxxxExplorers in the 19th century, like Flinders, Sturt, Eyre, Leichhardt, Stuart, Burke and Wills, played a major part in opening up the remote interior regions of Australia, but many more expeditions were needed. Indeed, the territory was not fully explored and mapped until the turn of the century with the coming of the automobile and the aeroplane.
xxxxxIncidentally, the Aboriginals -
xxxxxIllustrated here are three examples of Aboriginal rock art: