John McDouall Stuart

Back in January 2008, I introduced you to explorers Charles Sturt and James McDouall Stuart, including both in the entry to make it clear that Sturt and Stuart are two different people, not a typo. Of the two, James McDouall Stuart would become the more important—and would, in fact, open up a route to the north that would make it possible for Australia to connect to the world.

Technically, John McDouall Stuart was not the first person to cross Australia south to north. That honor belongs to the Burke and Wills expedition. But two things established Stuart as the greater explorer: he actually blazed a useful trail across the continent, and he survived his trip.

It took Stuart several years of exploring the remote regions of South Australia to find a viable route north, but by October 1861, he was ready to make the crossing. Eight months later, on July 24, 1862, he reached the Indian Ocean near present-day Darwin.

The reports and maps with which Stuart returned opened up the Northern Territory. The British Government was so impressed, it added the entire region to South Australia shortly after Stuart’s return. By 1872, the Overland Telegraph had been strung across the continent, closely following Stuart’s route. This wire stretched across the outback, from Adelaide to the Indian Ocean, linked Australia to England and the world.

The names of South Australians—from supporters of Stuart’s expeditions (Finke, Chambers) to politicians (Ayers, Todd) still dot the Northern Territory. However, South Australians felt the region was far too large to handle effectively, and the Northern Territory eventually got its own local government.

If you’d like a bit more detail on Stuart’s life and explorations, there is a good article at the Flinders Range Research web site: http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/stuart.htm

Though Stuart returned to his native Scotland for his remaining years, his name is still strongly linked to both South Australia and the Northern Territory. The statue of Stuart shown below is in Adelaide’s Victoria Square.

John McDouall Stuart

John McDouall Stuart

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