History of West Australia/Charles Chewings

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SOMETIMES, in a moment of deep reflection on the strangeness and inexplicabilities of the various functions and forms of animal life, we are driven, as Huxley was, to regard man as an automaton—a high-class mechanism—with a running scale of degrees of power, efficiency, and work. Yet mind so reduced to the unthinkable state of unconsciousness does not satisfy our fuller psychological enquiries when "we get behind ourselves to view ourselves." That consciousness, which is the Ego, may exist in the prison of the body with appreciable differences in the quantity held by its many leaseholders; and so, too, mind, which begets that consciousness has varying degrees of strength, force, and productivity.

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Disputable, perhaps, as these points are to philosophic combatants, they yet have their measure of truth, and that truth will serve to form a correct basis for our estimate of the worth of Dr. Charles Chewings. Within the narrow period of five times five of workable years he has completed works of considerable labour and magnitude. His career is unusually interesting, not only as the reflex of his capabilities, but also from the romantic and spirited nature of the acts themselves. Dr. Charles Chewings was born at Woorkongoree, a sheepstation in South Australia, in 1859. He was educated at Prince Alfred College, in Adelaide. His father being a squatter, it was but natural that the young Charles should have, voluntarily or involuntarily, taken an interest in pastoral pursuits. Perhaps his solitary wanderings on the paternal estate may have created in him that love of travel which has made his name known in Australian history. In 1881, in his desire for exploration, he provided himself with two camels, and set out alone on a perilous and dreary journey to the Macdonnell Ranges. A description of this notable trip was published in the South Australian Register under the title—"A Trip to the Macdonnell Ranges." The sunny parts were graphically depicted, but little attention was paid to the adventure's trials and difficulties. So hard pushed was he at times that energy alone served to keep him alive. During his journey he discovered a river, which he christened the Walker River. Some time in 1882 he arrived in Adelaide—his former starting point—and soon after took a lengthy trip round the world. He visited various parts of Europe and America, and finished the circle in Adelaide. Every opportunity ashore in foreign lands was eagerly embraced to enrich his knowledge. Copious notes, mental and literal, were taken by his keen observant mind, and written down as the nucleus of a subsequent magnum opus. He stayed but a few months in South Australia, yet he proves by the results of that limited period how a maximum of work can be effected in a minimum of time. He almost immediately set out on a visit to the Warburton Ranges, and reported most fully and scientifically on the geological conditions and chemical resources of the regions traversed. An account of his explorations was subsequently published in the Register, entitled "From Murat Bay to the Warburton Ranges." This narrative is well worthy of perusal, not only for the valuable scientific data contained in its periods, but for the clear and graphic style in which be couches what would otherwise be concrete, and therefore unpopular material. He was impressed with the importance of having efficient transit facilities into the interior, and resolved to purchase a number of camels to effect and accommodate that purpose. To obtain them he sailed for India in 1885, where he made many peregrinations into the interior, and proceeded as far as the Afghan border. He bought 300 camels, and imported them into South Australia. He lost no time in establishing a carrying station, with Hergott Springs as a centre. For prospectors, explorers, the casual traveller, and the squatter, these imported camels were invaluable, and were warmly recognised as a boon to the northern parts of the colony.

He could now with more ease and experience hazard a more difficult expedition than anything previously attempted. He set out with hopeful expectations of exploring and mapping out the western end of the Macdonnell and James Ranges, and to trace the far-off branches of the Finke River and its source. Laborious as the task was, he satisfactorily fulfilled the exhaustive objects of his errand in 1886. On reporting to the Government of the colony he received expressions of their gratitude for his desirable discoveries. The Government published a map illustrating his work, and he himself wrote a lengthy and vivid account of his expedition for the Register, with the title of "The Sources of the Finke River." This article, novel and racy, was commented favourably upon by the press, and received the enviable attention of the Royal Geographical Society, who elected him a Fellow.

For some time after the eventful termination of his expedition, he quietly engaged in pastoral and camel-carrying pursuits. These were not without their interest to the public. Article after article flew from his pen to the press advocating interior development and a better system of communication from the exterior. His letters had a partial effect in arousing a comparatively inactive Government, whose sole concern was the amelioration of its immediate surroundings. In 1887, feeling that his health had suffered somewhat from the privations of his expeditions, he proceeded to England. While there he published an article in the "Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London," entitled "Central Australia." On his return to the scene of his former achievements, he once more, with the "quondam" enthusiasm and alacrity of his débût, made a journey to the Macdonnell Ranges. This expedition was more a scientific one than its predecessors, for he published a comprehensive geological sketch, entitled "Geological Notes on the Upper Finke River Basin," in the "Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia." This treatise treats of the subtle geological points that the country depicted exhibits, and is a fund of scientific and erudite information. In 1891, in consideration of his merits as a geologist, he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. In the same year he left for London to study geology more closely and thoroughly. He attended the lectures of Professor Bonney, D.Sc., F.R S. and C. of the University College, London.—an eminent geologist and man of considerable locus standi in the scientific world. For two sessions he laboured hard in his earnest desire to acquire an exhaustive knowledge of his favourite subjects. To round off the edges of his studies he went to Heidelberg, and studied under Professor A. Andreae, palæntologist, now director at the Roemer Museum, Hildersheim, Germany; Professor Victor Meyer, the celebrated professor of chemistry; and Professor H. Rosenbusch, one of the greatest authorities on mineralogy and petrology. The provinces of these three chairs are not definitely demarcated. Ever and anon does the one professor wander into the secret grounds and enclosures of the other. Still their entrenching is in illustration of different points at issue. For two years Dr. Chewings was a continual student in the laboratory of Professor Rosenbusch. He gave special attention to geology, as illustrated by the microscopical study of the eruptive and other rocks, and the association of valuable minerals with them. It was during his university career in Germany that he wrote that interesting thesis, entitled "'Beitrage zur Kenutuiss der Geologie Sud'—und Central—Australiens nebst einer Ubersicht Des Lake Eyre Beckens und Seiner Randgebirge." He also took the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the same University.

In 1894 he came to Western Australia to study the geological features and the origin and conditions under which reefs and gold generally occur on the gold fields. He was appointed to execute commissions for capitalists, and to report on the different gold-bearing areas or on mining properties. He attaches himself to no special company or firm. He has travelled much among the fields, and his conclusions can be relied on as weighted with authority. He made a careful examination of the geological structure of the auriferous rock of the Western Australian fields, and prepared a report of his investigations, which he read before the Royal Colonial Institute, entitled "Geological Notes on the Coolgardie Goldfields." The paper, impartial in its evidence, and thoroughly scientific in exposition, favourably impressed the leading periodicals of England and Australia, and was instrumental in arousing the confidence of investors and speculators at home as to the security and richness of the Coolgardie and other Western Australian goldfields.

To attempt an enumeration of all the mines the celebrated Doctor has reported on would be entirely abortive and uncalled for; but one characteristic that steals through his varied reports is equity,—severe and strict representation of facts as they exist. His opinion is courted for its authority, for the confidence which it elicits because of its truth and the scientific knowledge of premises which warrant the conclusion. His scientific status on the fields is that of the highest. No one there can produce a more brilliant record of scientific, literary, and scholarly results.

Over deserts, countries, and continents he has travelled in his enthusiasm for discoveries and for all kinds of information, general and particular. With his abilities and breadth of knowledge he is quite qualified and capable of furnishing true data concerning the goldfields. His ardour for knowledge has been such that he could step from the weary desolate life of the explorer into the science rooms of a university. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of Berlin and a member of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. His temporary residence is in Coolgardie.