John McDouall Stuart bigraphy, stories - British explorer

John McDouall Stuart : biography

7 September 1815 - 5 June 1866

Dysart, Scotland]]

John McDouall Stuart (7 September 18155 June 1866) was a Scottish explorer and one of the most accomplished and famous of all Australia's inland explorers.

Stuart led the first successful expedition to traverse the Australian mainland from south to north and return, and the first to do so from a starting point in South Australia, achieving this despite poor backing from the Government of South Australia. His experience and the care he showed for his team ensured he never lost a man, despite the harshness of the country he encountered.

The explorations of Stuart eventually resulted in the Australian Overland Telegraph Line being built and the main route from Port Augusta to Darwin being established, which is now known as the Stuart Highway in his honour.

The fourth expedition

On 2 March 1860 the three men left Chambers Creek, aiming to find the centre of Australia. As always, Stuart travelled light, taking only as much as could be carried on a few pack horses. The secret to successful exploration, in Stuart's view, was to travel fast and avoid the delays and complications that always attend a large supply train.

[[Central Mount Stuart after rain.]]

By the time they reached Neale's Creek (near present-day Oodnadatta) unexpected rain had ruined most of their stores and they continued on half-rations — something that Head, who had started the trip as a big man and weighed twice as much as Stuart, found difficult to adjust to. Water became more and more difficult to find and scurvy began to set in. Stuart's right eye was failing. Nevertheless, they found a major watercourse in early April which Stuart named the Finke River, and followed it north-west over the South Australian border to the MacDonnell Ranges, which he named after Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, Governor of South Australia, on 12 April 1860.

On 22 April 1860, according to Stuart's calculations, the party reached the centre of the continent. Stuart wrote: There is a high mount about two miles to the NNE which I hoped would be in the centre but on it tomorrow I will raise a cone of stones and plant the Flag there and will name it Mount Sturt after my excellent and esteemed commander of the expedition in 1844 and 45, Captain Sturt, as a mark of gratitude for the great kindness I received from him during that journey. (In fact the mountain became known as Central Mount Stuart after Stuart himself, not his mentor Sturt, and geographers no longer regard it as the true centre of Australia. Nevertheless, it retains its symbolic value.)

The explorers were unable to progress much further north. Lack of water forced them back again and again. Stuart's scurvy was growing worse, Head was now half his original weight, and only Kekwick remained capable of heavy work. Then, on 22 May, it rained. With water now available nearly every day, they made good mileage and by mid June were able to reach a riverbed which Stuart named Tennant's Creek (now the site of the township Tennant Creek). The worst of the country was now behind them and they were only about 800 km from the coast.

From here, however, progress seemed impossible. A four day excursion to the north-west found no water at all and they had to retreat. After giving the horses a week to recover, they tried heading due north. They found another creek (later named Attack Creek) but were blocked by heavy scrub. Unlike those further south, the Warramunga Aboriginal people were hostile. On 26 June they raided the explorers' camp. One stole the shoeing rasp (which Stuart was able to recover); others threw boomerangs at the horses and set fire to the grass around the camp. Like Sturt (and unlike some of the other Australian explorers) Stuart generally got on well with the Aboriginal people he encountered but he was unable to negotiate with this group and considered it unsafe to continue. That night, with even the indefatigable Kekwick complaining of weakness, the explorers abandoned their attempt to reach the north coast and reluctantly turned south.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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