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Stuart's tree

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Catalogue record

Creator: Gunn, Aeneas J. (Aeneas James), 1862-1903

Object Source: J. MacDouall Stuart's tree

Date of creation : ca. 1894

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Format : Photograph

[On back of photograph] 'J. McDouall Stuart's Exploring Expedition, 1861-62. Tree marked by J. McDouall Stuart on his arrival at the Indian Ocean, 24 July 1862.' [General description] A tree emblazoned with a large S is in the centre of a view of light scrub. When the Northern Territory was settled, the tree could not be found and there was some doubt that Stuart had reached the north coast at all. His reputation was restored when in 1883 G.R. McMinn, acting Government Resident, located this blazed tree. Inspector Foelsche who was with McMinn took a photograph of it. It was destroyed by fire about 1903.

The tree was actually destroyed by fire in 1902, as reported by The Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch).

Stuart reached the north coast of Australia 24 July 1862. It was his sixth expedition, or third depending on how his expeditions are counted. The coast was bordered by thick scrub and mangrove swamp and Stuart was unable to proceed with his party along the coast to the mouth of the Adelaide River as he wanted to, because of the thick mud. Instead on the following day, some two miles from the original arrival point, a mangrove tree was stripped of its branches and the flag was raised. This tree collapsed some years later. The note contained in a tin and buried at its base has never been found. Another tree, some distance inland from the point at which the expedition reached the coast, was blazed with Stuart's initials. It was a large tree some three feet in girth: this is the tree referred as Stuart's tree.

The first settlers and surveyors in the Northern Territory were unable to find the tree until 1883. Doubt had arisen in the meantime as to whether Stuart had indeed reached the coast. The problem lay in the manner in which he had described the terrain.

GR McMinn, acting Government Resident and Chief Surveyor, was an admirer of Stuart's work and the accuracy of his mapping of his route across Australia. He made determined efforts to locate the tree. Eventually McMinn found an Aboriginal man who was able to tell him where it was. The blazed tree was found in December 1883, and the news sent down the telegraph wire to Adelaide. Stuart was vindicated.

Over the next few years efforts were made to keep the scrub back from the tree to give it some protection as an historic tree. Sadly it was destroyed by fire sometime in 1902. A branch was salvaged and returned to Adelaide. Some pieces of this are held by the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia.


Related names

Stuart, John McDouall, 1815-1866

McMinn, G.R

Further reading

Stokes, Edward, Across the Centre: John McDouall Stuart's expeditions, 1860-62 St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 1996

John McDouall Stuart's explorations, 1858-1862: South Australian parliamentary papers 1858-1863 Adelaide : Friends of the State Library of South Australia, 2001

Webster, M. S. John McDouall Stuart [Carlton]: Melbourne University Press, 1958

Stuart, John McDouall, Explorations in Australia: the journals of John McDouall Stuart during the years 1858, 1859, 1860, 1861, & 1862 ... Carlisle, W.A.: Hesperian Press, 1984

Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch vol. 6, 1902-03 pp. 31-36: Destruction of Stuart's tree


John McDouall Stuart Society

Wikipedia John McDouall Stuart Stuart, John McDouall

Australian dictionary of biography: Stuart, John McDouall (1815-1866)

SA Memory: Taking it to the edge: Land: John McDouall Stuart

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