John McDouall Stuart - Sixth Expedition


From his former camp at Newcastle Waters, John McDouall Stuart discovered a string of waterholes to the north, allowing the party to achieve their goal of the Indian Ocean, a little to the east of present day Darwin.

Stuart's health rapidly deteriorated after reaching the northern coast and he was carried nearly a thousand kilometres of the 3400km return trip, on a stretcher between two horses.

Mr. Stuart made his public entry into Adelaide on Monday, 23rd September, and reported himself to the authorities.

Almost at the same time the Victorian Government obtained their first traces of the survivors of the ill-fated expedition under Burke and Wills.* (* The news of their death reached Melbourne on November 2nd.)

The South Australian Government had such confidence in Mr. Stuart that, on his expressing his readiness to make another attempt to cross the continent, they at once closed with his offer, and in less than a month (on October 21st) the new expedition started from Adelaide to proceed to Chambers Creek, and get everything in order there for a final start.

Mr. Stuart accompanied them for a few miles to see that everything went on well, when, one of the horses becoming restive, he advanced with the intention of cutting the rope which was choking the animal; the horse reared and struck him on the temple with its fore foot, knocking him down and rendering him insensible. The brute then sprang forward and placed one of his hind feet on Mr. Stuart's right hand, and, rearing again, dislocated two joints of his first finger, tearing the flesh and nail from it, and injuring the bone to such an extent that amputation of the finger was at first thought unavoidable.

By careful treatment, however, it was unnecessary to resort to such a course, and in five weeks the leader was able to start to overtake his party, some of whom were to remain at Moolooloo until he joined them.

In no way discouraged either by his own unlucky accident and previous want of success, or by the melancholy end of his brother explorers, Burke and Wills, Mr. Stuart arrived at Moolooloo on Friday, December 20th, and at Finniss Springs on the 29th.

The names of the party were as follows:

  • John McDouall Stuart, Leader of the Expedition.
  • William Kekwick, Second Officer.
  • F.W. Thring, Third Officer.
  • W.P. Auld, Assistant.
  • Stephen King.
  • John Billiatt.
  • James Frew.
  • Heath Nash.
  • John McGorrerey, Shoeing Smith.
  • J.W. Waterhouse, Naturalist to the Expedition.

Besides these, there were at starting, Woodforde and Jeffries; but at Finniss Springs, the latter struck one of his companions, and, on being called to account by his leader, refused to go any further.

As to the former, when quitting Mr. Levi's station on January 21st, it was arranged, in order to lighten the weak horses, that the great-coats of the party should be left, but Woodforde objected to this, and said he would not go unless he had his great-coat with him.

Mr. Stuart had very properly decided not to take any man who refused to obey orders, and he therefore started without him.

The next day Woodforde rejoined the party near Milne Springs, but did not accompany them many days longer; for on February 3rd, shortly after starting, he asked McGorrerey to hold his gun while he returned to get something he had left behind at the previous night's camp.

About an hour afterwards, McGorrerey discovered a piece of folded-up paper on the nipple of the gun, and on examination this proved to be an insolent note, addressed to his leader, stating that he had gone back, taking with him a horse, saddle, bridle, tether-rope, and sundry other things not belonging to him.

Mr. Stuart had been much dissatisfied with his conduct for some days, and had made up his mind to send him back, believing that he was doing everything in his power to discourage the party, and bring his leader's authority into contempt.

At Marchant Springs, where they arrived on February 15th, they began to experience annoyance from the natives.

On the 17th, as Auld was approaching the water-hole, a native who was there called to some others who were posted in trees, and shortly afterwards a great cloud of smoke was seen to windward, coming towards the camp.

It was evidently their intention to attack the exploring party under cover of the smoke, "but Thring, while looking for the horses, came suddenly on three of them concealed behind a bush, armed with spears and boomerangs; he did not perceive them until within twelve yards of them. They immediately jumped up, and one of them threw a boomerang at him, which fortunately missed both him and his horse. He was obliged to use his revolver in self defence," but with what result Mr. Stuart does not state.

The excessive heat of the weather now proved a great hindrance to the expedition. They had already lost so many horses that a large part of their provisions, etc. had to be abandoned on various occasions.

On February 23rd, Mr. Stuart writes:

"Before reaching this place (the Hugh) five other horses gave in, and were unable to proceed further. I cannot understand the cause of the horses knocking up so much; every one of them has fallen off the last week. Whether it is the excessive heat or the brackish water of the Finke, I am unable to say.

Last night I tried some citric acid in the water of the Finke, and it caused it to effervesce, showing that the water contained soda."

It was afterwards ascertained that the horses were suffering from worms, which may partially account for their failing strength.