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Taking it to the edge: Land: John McDouall Stuart - Sixth expedition. The return

Sixth expedition: the return

Stuart and his party set about the long return journey, often camping in the same places as on their outward route.  The horses by now were in a bad way, and so too was Stuart and his men.  The lack of fresh food in their diets was now leading to severe vitamin deficiencies - scurvy with bleeding gums and aching joints, and night blindness were among the symptoms.  From the middle of October Stuart was in such pain, and unable to ride his horse, that a litter was constructed and slung between two horses.  He was carried in this.  Water was their main problem.  Waterholes that had been full of water on the way north were now drying up.  Their baggage was reduced, and horses that failed were killed for fresh meat.

South of the MacDonnell Ranges the country improved and some bush foods were found that alleviated Stuart's condition a little, but water was still scarce, or lacking altogether.  By 23 November they had reached the first of the artesian springs and several days later encountered a stockman, and at Mount Margaret Station were welcomed with 'every kindness and attention that was in their power.'  Stuart telegraphed the news of his triumph from Kooringa (Burra) and reached Adelaide on 17 December 1862.  The rest of the party followed more slowly for the sake of the horses.  Stuart's long time friend and supporter James Chambers was dead, but his brother, John Chambers welcomed him, and Adelaide arranged a celebratory procession for 21 January.

 Public adulation for Stuart was fleeting, and his rewards poor.  His health was precarious, ruinously impaired by four years of constant journeying under severe conditions.  The South Australian government gave him the 2000 pounds reward it had offered for the first to make the successful crossing through the centre, most of which was invested on his behalf.  In 1864 Stuart returned to England to oversee the publication of his journals.  These were edited by William Hardman and published in 1864 with illustrations by George French Angas.  Stuart died 4 June 1866 and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery in London.

The Aftermath

The Overland Telegraph Line, built between 1870-2 and finally fully operational by August 1872 largely followed Stuart's route, as did the railway. The Stuart Highway also follows his route to a large extent.

When settlement began in the Top End, people searched for Stuart's tree but could not find it.  Doubts proliferated as to whether he had reached the coast or not. David Lindsay later identified the river Stuart had thought was the Adelaide - it was in fact the Mary, some 20 miles to the east.  In 1883 GR McMinn, acting Government Resident located the blazed tree.  The bush had encroached upon it but when cleared away the tree was revealed with the blaze still plainly visible.  Inspector Foelsche who was with McMinn took a photograph of the tree.  Stuart's reputation was restored.

 

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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