SA Government LogoState Library of South Australia logoTaking it to the edge heading
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future




Taking it to the edge: Land: Calvert expedition - the search

The search begins

By 7 November the camels were allowed to drink at will; the feed was good.  Wells hoped they would recover, but two were in very poor condition.  On 9 November they reached the track from Derby to the Fitzroy Crossing and a chance meeting with the mail contractor enabled Wells to send a telegraph to the Royal Geographical Society in Adelaide.  He also sent a message to the Fitzroy Telegraph Station to ask if there was any news of his cousin and George Jones.  The party reached Quanbun Station on 13 November.  From here Wells wrote a full report for the expedition's agent, AT Magarey, at the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch).  Another camel died; news was received from the Telegraph Station that nothing had been heard of Charles Wells and George Jones.  On instructions from Adelaide Wells took some casks of water back along the track.  The camels were still in poor condition and they travelled only a few miles into the desert.  The water was stowed under some boughs in the almost futile hope they would be found.  Several days later Wells went out again, this time with a police trooper, an Aboriginal tracker and horses.  No traces were found  of the missing men.

On 4 December Wells joined with Nat Buchanan for another search expedition.  Bejah and an Aboriginal tracker made up the party that was equipped with eight camels.  They travelled 90 miles from the River and lost two camels which died from eating poison bush.  They were forced to return due to lack of water, having found no trace of the missing men.  Another search expedition was organised, this time with 10 camels leaving on 14 March 1897; they reached Joanna Spring on 9 April - Wells established that it was 15 miles east of the position plotted by Warburton.  There was no evidence that Charles Wells and George Jones had ever reached Joanna Spring, but they did find an Aboriginal man who was wearing a part of Charles' tweed clothes, and a report of two men 'killed by the sun.'  Wells proceeded east and found some items of equipment, but the Aboriginal people were unwilling to provide any information.

Found

Larry Wells was forced back to the Fitzroy River.  Meanwhile William Rudall, sent out by the Western Australian government, had led a search party from the Oakover River - this too was unsuccessful, although Rudall successfully mapped an area of 23,000 square miles of previously unexplored country, during the six months of his search.  On his return he learnt that Wells  had finally located the bodies of the missing men. He had set out again from Fitzroy Crossing with Sub-Inspector Ord, a police trooper and several Aboriginal troopers, on 14 May 1897.  The missing men were found on 27 May, only a quarter of a mile off the track of the fourth search expedition.

''May 27 [1897] I could then see my cousin's iron-grey beard, and we were at last at the scene of their terrible death, with its horrible surroundings: …''
Wells, LA Journal of the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition, 1896-97 Perth, Government Printer, 1902

The bodies mummified in the heat, were sewn up in sheets and returned to Adelaide for burial.  A state funeral was held on 18 July 1897.  George Jones' diary and his last letter for his parents were recovered and told the grim story - of extreme heat and lack of water.  In desperation they had retraced their route and returned to Separation Well, and then struggled along in the tracks of the main party.  They reached within 16 miles of Joanna Spring, when their remaining two camels were lost.  They died around 21 November.

For Larry Wells it was not quite the end of the story.  It was two years before a Parliamentary Select Committee cleared him of blame and praised his leadership.  In the mean time he had been harshly criticised by the public and in newspapers.  Albert Calvert, the expedition's sponsor was unable to meet the full expenses of the expedition and the subsequent searches - the latter were paid for jointly by the South Australian and Western Australian governments.  Wells was out of pocket as he was responsible for the men's wages, and having paid them, had nothing himself, as he was not paid from the Expedition's funds.  The South Australian government finally paid him a small sum 'as a recognition of the intrepid and courageous conduct of a Public Servant, as well as on humanitarian grounds.'

The Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch) endeavoured to obtain for Larry Wells and William Rudall the Albert Medal in recognition of their brave endeavours on the search expeditions.  This was refused on the grounds that their deeds did not qualify under regulations of the Award but their bravery was much admired.

A few drops of rain fell
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Bejah searched for water
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Decision to abandon outfit and collections
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Insufficient firewood to boil the billy : diary 27 May
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Poor camel feed
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Saw crows and footprints
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Separation Well and cache of meat: diary 26 May 1897
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Shallow watercourse seen
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Six camels reported ill
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Some camel feed found
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Still some four days from Joanna Springs
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
The expedition nears Joanna Spring
View item details
Add To My SA Memory

Items 1 - 12 of 14

Next 2


Navigation

Home

About SA Memory

Explore SA Memory

SA Memory Themes

Search

My SA Memory

Learning

What's on

Contributors