John McDouall Stuart

From ArticleWorld

John McDouall Stuart was born in Scotland in 1825. His parents died when he was in his teens and, after graduating as a civil engineer, he emigrated to Australia at the age of 23. He soon found work as a surveyor in the South Australian frontier colony.

The South Australian Surveyor-General at the time was Captain Charles Sturt, a famous explorer who had discovered the Darling River and solved the question of the inland-flowing rivers of New South Wales. In 1844, Sturt began another expedition and enlisted Stuart as a draughtsman. On this trip, instead of the inland sea they had hoped for, they found two of Asutralia’s most arid regions – Sturt’s stony desert and the Simpson Desert. Suffering dreadfully from scurvy, the two men made it back to Adelaide but Sturt’s health fully recovered and he soon returned to England. Stuart returned to his work as a surveyor after a year spent recuperating but the condition was to affect him for the rest of his life.

The six expeditions

Stuart was to undertake six expeditions into the heartland of Australia. The first was with the aim of finding mineral or land capable of being farmed in the north-west of South Australia. After four months and 240 kilometres, he returned to the admiration of the Royal Geographic Society, who awarded him a gold watch. The purpose of his second expedition was to survey the land he was entitled to claim as the discoverer, and on completion of this task, he went further north to what is now the border between South Australia and the Northern Territory. On both trips, he found water supplies that he marked so as to aid his future travels into unknown territory. His third trip was to re-survey the land.

His fourth venture in 1860 was undertaken at a time when the telegraph had connected different parts of the world and it was planned that it should also reach the bigger population centres in Australia. The problem was that to reach from one end to the other, the line had to go through what was, until then, a huge blank space on the map.

The purpose of this expedition, then, was to find the centre of Australia. Despite difficulties such as unexpected rain ruining most of their supplies, the party of three reached what they figured to be the centre after about six weeks. They continued to push north under great difficulties, eventually traveling 2400 kilometres before being forced to turn back, reaching Adelaide again eight months after setting out. Again, he was awarded by the Royal Geographic Society, only the second person to be awarded by them twice.

Success at last

Only a few months later, Stuart set out again, but was forced to turn back after six months. On his sixth attempt, however, backed by a reluctant South Australian government and the support of the public, he successfully traversed the continent, reaching a point east of Darwin on July 24, 1862.