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Taking it to the edge: Land: John McDouall Stuart

'Few other explorers who traversed Australia during the nineteenth century could measure up to him in unflinching endurance and in that lion-hearted courage which carries on to the final goal despite a long series of losing battles. To travel across the Centre once in the eighteen-sixties was a highly courageous achievement: to do so six times was the mark of a hero of more than normal stature…'
TGH Strehlow Comments on the Journals of John McDouall Stuart 1967 p. 13

First expedition

Stuart was in the field at the same time as BH Babbage on the first of his six expeditions that would eventually take him to the north coast of Australia and safely back to Adelaide.

Stuart was born 7 September 1815 in Dysart, Scotland.  He was educated at the Scottish Naval and Military Academy in Edinburgh where he trained as a civil engineer. He immigrated to South Australia in 1838 on the Indus and on the voyage made friends with James Sinclair later of Green Patch Station near Port Lincoln.  In Adelaide Stuart worked in the Government Survey Department and in 1844 he joined Charles Sturt's Central Australian expedition where he served as a draughtsman.  Following this expedition he worked as a surveyor on Eyre Peninsula where he met William Finke.  With Finke he moved to the northern Flinders Ranges and here he met the Chambers Brothers.  These three men would be instrumental in determining Stuart's future directions.

Stuart set out from the Chambers' station at Oratunga on 14 May 1858 to search for good pastoral country.  He was accompanied by just two men, one of whom was an Aboriginal, and with five horses and six weeks provisions.  They rounded the southern end of Lake Torrens travelling up its western side and at its northern tip turned north-west.  Some time later Stuart discovered a large tree lined creek which he named Chambers Creek.  Stuart would use this as an advance depot for all of his expeditions, later writing that he was 'sorry I did not name it a river…' 

From here he returned to a north-westerly direction and travelled as far as today's Coober Pedy.  The country was terrible - reminding Stuart of Sturt's Stony Desert, and extremely hard for the horses.  Stuart had no spare horseshoes, something he would always ensure he had adequate supplies of in future.  He could see no change to the west and so turned back.  Provisions were low, his horse was struggling, and sometime later he would abandon her at a permanent water supply.  They struggled into Denial Bay on 17 August, and then along the coast to Gibson's Station at Streaky Bay.  After resting here for sometime Stuart returned to Mount Arden, and then to Adelaide.  The Royal Geographical Society in London rewarded his efforts with a gold watch, and Stuart applied for a pastoral lease from the South Australian government.

Second expedition

'We have now come to our last set of shoes for the horses, and, having experienced the misery of being without them in my previous journey, I am, though with great reluctance, forced to turn back.'
Stuart, John McDouall Explorations in Australia: the journals... 1865 p. 79

Stuart set out on his second expedition 2 April 1859.  With financial assistance from the Chambers Brothers and William Finke he was able to hire more men to accompany him and obtain more instruments to establish his bearings.  One of the men was David Hergott a naturalist, who had served on the Babbage expedition.  Setting out again from Oratunga they moved to Glen's Station at Leigh Creek and moved through country previously discovered by Samuel Parry.  Hergott discovered a group of springs that became Hergott Springs, later Marree. 

They then headed west  following Warburton's track to Finniss Springs and  arrived at Chambers Creek.  On the next stage of his expedition Stuart discovered a succession of good springs - Elizabeth Springs, Beresford Springs, Hawker Springs.  These are all mound springs, so called because a hillock builds up where the water seeps or bubbles out and are fed by the Great Artesian Basin.

Stuart travelled as far north as 27° latitude, discovering the Neales River flowing into Lake Eyre North and he considered the country as good as that adjacent to Chambers Creek.  Some days later he saw some distance to the north-east a 'large dark-coloured hill' which he named after Dr JH Browne, from Sturt's expedition of 1844.  At this point he decided to return as he was down to the last set of shoes for his horses.  The well-being of the horses was paramount and so 'with great reluctance [he was] forced to turn back'.  Following a slightly different route, yet more springs were found - Loudon Springs.  He reached Glen's Station on 3 July. 

The line of mound springs, along the south-western edge of the Artesian Basin, was Stuart's most valuable discovery to date, and of considerable importance for the developing pastoral industry.  Governor MacDonnell reported to London that he thought that this country would service as 'the most practicable route for the Electric wire [telegraph] intended to unite the continent with India and Europe'.  The government offered a reward of 2000 pounds to 'the person who shall succeed in crossing through the country lately discovered by Mr Stuart either to the north or north-western shores of the Australian continent.'

Central Mt Stuart
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Confrontation with Aboriginal men: diary 26 May 1861
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MacDonnell Ranges to Kekwick's Ponds
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Memorandum on Central Mount Sturt
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Planting the flag on the shore of the Indian Ocean
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Stuart continues to search for a path forward
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Stuart's Glandfield Lagoon: diary 25 May 1861
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Stuart's path is blocked by a marsh
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Stuart's route to the Hugh
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Stuart's route to the north
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The flag is raised at Chambers Bay
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The north coast of Australia is reached
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