History of West Australia/David Lindsay

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DAVID LINDSAY, F.R.G.S., M.S.A.I.S.

David Lindsay HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.
DAVID LINDSAY.

THERE is a strong strain of romance and praiseworthy courage in the stories of the "path-finders" of Australia. Beginning with those of Flinders and Bass, the records of expeditions which have assailed the unknown supply a connected and vividly interesting narrative of Australian exploration. Before pastoralists, agriculturists, artisans, and miners established themselves, the "path-finder" pushed his way through forests, over hills, and across deserts, and told the world of what he saw. The list of heroes of this class is not confined to one colony, but is fairly evenly divided among them all. Nor are they merely local heroes, for with sometimes poor equipments, and under extremely adverse circumstances, they have performed labours so meritorious as to sound their fame from Dan to Beersheba. They fought no united race of aborigines, no wild beasts, but they had enemies more deadly and decidedly more dispiriting. The endless desert waste, and the limitless expanses of desolate country—the poignant horrors of thirst and hunger—are far less attractive forms of obstacles than the opportunities for courage and strength which strong beasts and untamed men supply. Many have perished in the laudable attempt to traverse the darkness of the Interior, and some have succeeded, and received only the cold thanks of their country. Their graves—where known—implore the passing tribute of a sigh. But the glory of these men must shine more luminously in after centuries, when large populations shall be scattered over the regions they discovered.

Even to-day Australia is not completely mapped out, and there are large stretches of country to be "discovered" by the explorer. The past twenty years have thrown more light on hitherto unvisited and vast areas, and in that period the name of David Lindsay is the most noted for his hardihood and dauntless courage in exploration. Mr. Lindsay possesses a strong constitution, an inflexible will where natural obstacles have to be overcome, an adventurous love, and a curiosity for penetrating the least known parts of his native island continent. His experience extends over tens of thousands of square miles of country, never before seen by white men, and he has made journeys which demanded an intimate knowledge of bushcraft and stern powers of endurance and courage. No more prominent and successful path-finder has gone into the unknown for many years.

Goolwa, South Australia, was the birthplace of David Lindsay. Captain Lindsay, his father, was a widely-known trader between Dundee and Melbourne, and later became associated with the intercolonial trade between Adelaide and Western Australia. He had much to do with the early development of the colony's maritime trade, and enjoys the distinction of having taken the first steam launch over the bar of the Swan River at Fremantle. Towards the termination of his career he commanded the steamer Governor Musgrove, which, the property of the South Australian Government, conducted valuable surveys and general official maritime work for the sister colony. Perhaps the spirit of adventure—a survival of the Norwegian pirate kings—which dominated his father, was inherited by him, and was the inherent force which influenced the turns of his life. Born in 1856, he first attended school at Goolwa, and was afterwards placed under the Rev. J. Hotham, at Port Elliot. There the beginnings of his surveying and enterprising proclivities were fostered by actual knowledge of the means by which they might be carried into effect. When he was fifteen years old he left school, and entered as an assistant in a chemist's shop at Goolwa. The somewhat unromantic and sedentary nature of this occupation did not satisfy him, and his restless mind forced him to look for something fresh and exciting. He became associated with the office of a mining agent in Adelaide—a home of share dealing and speculation in Australasia. Even this did not prove sufficiently attractive, and twelve months later he joined the Survey Department of the South Australian Government. His first entrance to sparsely-settled country was made in Yorke Peninsula, where he was attached to an agricultural survey party, commanded by Mr. J. W. Jones. Next he was a member of a party in charge of Mr. C. H. Harris, which surveyed a road from Kingston to Border Town, a sequestered portion of south-eastern South Australia. Further experience in survey work was obtained in the Wirrabarra district as a cadet, under Mr. C. Wells. While a cadet he was given charge of a survey party in the northern areas, in the neighbourhood of Mount Remarkable. Two years of this work, in a way, completed his apprenticeship. In 1878 he was sent to the Northern Territory of South Australia, under Mr. G. R. McMinn, and during that gentleman!s extended absence he supervised the northern Land and Survey Department, and also the Public Works Department. A considerable portion of the Northern Territory, although one of the earliest parts of the Australian coast to be sighted by old world navigators, was, at this time, practically unknown, and even to-day much survey and exploration work requires to be conducted. While in charge of the Survey Department there Mr. Lindsay entered some of the pathless expanses, and, according to his bent, was ambitious to penetrate and explore them more fully.

In June, 1882, he severed his connection with the Government, and conducted private mining surveys in the Territory for twelve months. He then undertook an exploration trip for the South Australian Government into the ancient Arnhem Land. This coastal country was touched upon by navigators in the seventeenth century, and their reports of the country and the inhabitants were not at all encouraging. They described the country as barren and unfertile, and the natives as treacherous and vicious. The great Tasman was not pleased with what he saw of this portion of the Great South Land, and except for visits by Flinders, King, and a few other notable mariners, it has remained remote from the curious eyes of white men. The land in from the coast was thought to probably contain good pastoral country, but was still known to be peopled by dangerous and ferocious blacks.

To conduct an exploration party into such a country just suited Mr. Lindsay, and in 1883 he set out, accompanied by three white men, two black boys, and thirty-two horses. He was able to greatly add to the knowledge of the Government concerning Arnhem Land, and to inform them as to the utility of the country for white settlement. But the natives did their utmost to prevent his advance into their territory, and he had, on two occasions, to fight his way. The first was a somewhat exceptional instance of native courage. Throughout Australia the aborigines fear the darkness, believing that under its cloak grim spirits lurk, which are eager to do no end of harm. They therefore burn bright fires all night long, and remain within the range of light. If, by any chance, they stray beyond the illuminated boundaries they carry burning sticks in their hands, and fearsomely peer into the surrounding darkness for wandering spirits. Hence, for natives to attack an enemy at night is a most unusual occurrence. Evidently determined to dare the spirit-world, in order to fight an invader in the flesh, a large number of them attacked Lindsay and his men in camp. The isolated intruders, by constant firing of guns, succeeded in keeping the aborigines from getting within spear range. The only harm done was the loss of four horses.

While the explorers were near Castlereagh Bay, on the north coast, the blacks drove off all their horses. They left them about seven miles away, but it was a full week before the party were able to recover them. About 300 natives attacked them, and were driven off without loss or injury to the party. It is not a difficult matter to defeat these poorly equipped and ignorant enemies. And, after all, it is a natural, and in no way reprehensible, desire on the part of the latter to prevent the advance of these strange skinned men into the land of their birth. This was the first and only occasion that Mr. Lindsay was compelled to deliberately shoot the blacks, and he endeavoured, as far as possible, to secure his party's safety with a minimum loss of black life.

After five months spent in the Arnhem Land wilds, Mr. Lindsay returned to the central settlement at Port Darwin, whence he took steaner to Adelaide. He now, after a short holiday, went over to the west coast of South Australia to find a road from the coast to the Warburton Ranges. Succeeding in this, he again severed his connection with the Government, and journeyed to the north-east country—a span of weary miles. In 1884 he was on the Barrier Ranges just after the first discoveries of silver were made at Silverton, and he was in that place when the first silver was found on the famous Broken Hill fields. He already possessed some knowledge of minerals and geology, and during this period was able to greatly extend it. Still eager for the hard work of the explorer, in 1885 he organized an expedition, at his own expense, to explore the country between the overland telegraph line and the Queensland border. Starting from Hergott Springs, with seven men and twelve camels, he conducted a large amount of exploratory work, and reached the Barkly Table Land, where he made extensive surveys of run boundaries, and followed the McArthur River from south to north. During this expedition he discovered stones on the McDonnell Ranges, which were reported to be rubies. This discovery caused great excitement in the sister colony, some experts reporting the stones to be true rubies, others condemning them. Nothing is now heard of the McDonnell Ranges' rubies, although experienced men are convinced that the country thereabouts is eminently worth exploiting, and will yet prove of great value to South Australia. A few months after his return Mr. Lindsay revisited Port Darwin to report for an English syndicate on the extensive gold-bearing areas in the Northern Territory. He carefully inspected several mines, and then proved his stamina and bravery by a notable ride. In company with a black boy, he set forth on horses from Port Darwin, and rode over the whole stretch of country between the north and south coasts of Australia. The season was a dry one, and those who have gone into the uninhabited interior will know what that means to the traveller. The total distance is 1,400 miles, over deserts and long waterless tracts. In one stage he travelled seventy-five miles without water, and in another, sixty miles. This, over loose sand and beneath a burning sun, is a hard trial for the horse, and demands excellent judgment from the rider. The journey from Port Darwin to Alice Springs was done in five weeks.

The whole of the year 1888 was spent in an expedition to the McDonnell Ranges in search of precious stones and minerals. In those massive and highly mineralised ranges which bisect North and South Australia he discovered the first deposit of payable mica in the continent, and also acquired much other valuable information, which has given rise to considerable speculation as to the great wealth of those regions. A shipment of 16 cwt. of mica was sent to London, but although the product was high class, and of large size, it brought on sale the paltry sum of 1s. 6d. per cwt. This was due to the operations of a "corner" of mica brokers; an industry was then and there strangled. Since that time a further attempt has been made, and similar mica now brings from 7s. to 10s. a lb.

Upon his return to the capital the Broken Hill silver boom was rising to its highest inflation. The principal stocks were held in Adelaide, and nearly the whole population dreamt dreams of illimitable silver wealth. Few escaped the abnormal fever, and the "corner" and stock exchanges daily rang with the turmoil of eager, elbowing crowds. It was very natural that Mr. Lindsay's adventurous temperament should lead him into this turgid throng. He went on the Exchange and became a sharebroker. During the period from 1889 to 1891 he made some heavy deals, and his total turnover of capital amounted to an immense sum. However, the finality of the reaction found him little better off than when he began.

The late Sir Thomas Elder, whose contributions of funds towards the exploration of Australia have been immense, and who, out of his princely wealth, laudably strove in every way to benefit the country wherein he amassed his fortune, now proposed to the South Australian branch of the Australasian Geographical Society to equip a party to complete the exploration of Australia, and to add to the scientific knowledge of her flora and fauna. The plan of the proposed expedition was to penetrate the unknown areas so that the whole continent might be topographically marked out. Gentlemen of scientific attainments were chosen to accompany the party, and David Lindsay was justly appointed the leader. This was the great opportunity of his career, and he was the most anxious of all to get to his task. That the expedition, the results of which were decidedly important, was not more significantly successful was not the fault of Lindsay. The party, which consisted of fourteen men and forty-four camels, was, perhaps, the best equipped which ever strove to explore Australia, but among the scientific officers were some whose characters unsuited them to a position in an Australian exploring expedition. Consequently friction arose, culminating in the dismissal of two officers and the subsequent resignation of two others.

At the beginning of the winter of 1891 Lindsay and his party left Adelaide and proceeded to the terminus of the transcontinental railway line at Warrina. There they mustered all their forces, their provisions and accoutrements. Then the leader despatched farewell telegrams to Adelaide and started on the lonely journey. He took a westerly course, his aim being to explore all that great unknown tract which lies between the explorations of Giles and Forrest, a total distance of 900 miles. He early recognised that the season was a most unpropitious one, and, unless rain quickly fell, that the plans of the expedition would have to be curtailed. Not having the pleasure of a sight of his journal we cannot here go into that detail of his travel which is so interesting, nor have we the space. At any rate, much new country was seen, and an account of it was given to the world. A striking feature of the journey was the wonderful powers of endurance shown by the camels, and the world's record, so far as is known, was made in the distance and time that they went without water. At Mount Squires, discovered by Ernest Giles in 1874, they obtained ample water in a huge rock-hole, and then the more inhospitable and deserted regions were entered. Mr. Linday sent casks of water twenty-five miles from Mount Squires, where, on the second day out, he gave the camels two and a half gallons of water each, and on the ninth day two and a half gallons more out of a small rock-hole. Thenceforth, for eighteen days, traversing sand hills in hot weather, and while heavily loaded, not a drop of water did the dromedaries have. This is a remarkable feat, and shows to what use the ships of the desert may be put. There was little more pasturage than water, which served to accentuate the trial. Mr. Lindsay proceeded to the Victoria Springs (which saved Giles in his trip in 1875), where he hoped to obtain the precious liquid, but they were dry. By sinking fifteen feet he was only able to obtain sixty gallons in twenty-four hours, and, helped by forty gallons from the casks, two and a half gallons each was all that could be given to the parched animals. They had now to hurry as rapidly as possible to the nearest certain water, which was at Fraser's Range. It took them eight days to accomplish this stage, and the camels at last obtained sufficient water and fair feed. They had thus travelled 550 miles in thirty-five days on seven and a half gallons of water each, and so carefully was their strength conserved by Mr. Lindsay that only one animal died from the effects of the severe strain.

Desiring to give the camels a thorough rest, Mr. Lindsay left them and the members of his party at Fraser's Range, and with a black boy pushed on to Esperance Bay to report progress and obtain instructions. This route was 160 miles long, and he arrived at the Port in October, 1891, after having passed over much new country in his travel from one colony to another. At Esperance he telegraphed to the Geographical Society at Adelaide, advising them that there had been a three years' drought in the interior, and that it was impossible for him to go back into the desert country. He expressed the opinion that there was auriferous country to be explored between Dundas and the Murchison, and if they were able to discover water after leaving Hampton Plains, said they could map out this belt. He obtained the sanction of the Society to thus alter his route, returned to the party at Fraser's Range, and made for Hampton plains, but no water was to be found, and he had to again change his course and go west. Passing through saltbush country and deserts his difficulties increased. The camels stopped feeding and the outlook was decidedly discouraging. He did not allow these hardships to affect his work, and, with the other officials, was able to supply useful data of the country visited. From the north side of Lake Lefroy he turned west towards Southern Cross, and passed through what are now the world known Coolgardie Goldfields. At Hunt's Dam, at present known as Karalee, a little water was found in the rocks, a shower of rain having fallen a short time before, and the camels were given a drink—the first for twelve days. For five previous days the most of them had not eaten. He succeeded in reaching Southern Cross, and near Golden Valley gave the tired animals two weeks' rest. Mr. Lindsay sank wells along the present route from Lake Lefroy to Southern Cross, generally without obtaining water. He marked on the map an auriferous belt for the whole of this region, and its existence has since been well proved. Mr. Lindsay therefore drew public attention to the fact that auriferous country existed in the centre of Western Australia, and months before Bayley discovered the gold at Coolgardie he had advised John Dunn and other prospectors to go into that exact locality. It was also because of his advice and report that Elder, Smith, and Co., of Adelaide, sent F. and T. Mahomet to Western Australia with camels to undertake the carrying trade to the new goldfield

From Southern Cross the party went to the Murchison, and it was there that the dissension among the officers came to a head. For insubordination Mr. Lindsay dismissed the naturalist and the medical officer. Because of this two other officers resigned, and the unfortunate result was the disbandment of the whole party. If this consummation could have been averted the results of the expedition would have been much greater than they were, for it was Mr. Lindsay's intention to leave the settled districts of Western Australia to mark out new paths and collect scientific information. The dissatisfied officers formulated charges against Mr. Lindsay, and he was recalled to Adelaide to explain them. He there presented his case, but the decision was not given until the other officers were asked to report themselves in the sister colony. This request as not immediately obeyed, and Sir Thomas Elder forthwith ordered the total disbandment of the party. When the two dismissed members and the others reached Adelaide and personally preferred their charges, with reasons, the Geographical Society completely exonerated Mr. Lindsay from all blame.

The enterprising explorer now went out on a private expedition, and with fifty camels journeyed through the interior from Port Augusta to Coolgardie. He was twelve weeks completing the trip. Gold had already been found in Coolgardie, and camels were proving their great worth in assisting development. Their total value on the goldfields cannot be estimated, for over the barren, waterless deserts no horse could accomplish the journeys they did in the early history of the goldfields. For transport, especially, they were invaluable. Mr. Lindsay applied his camels to this work, and burdened with the necessaries of life they went from place to place and proved highly remunerative to their owners. While supervising his transport business Mr. Lindsay once more entered the theatre of mining investment and speculation, and from then till the present he has been an active force on the goldfields. He purchased interests in several claims, and became a member of the Coolgardie Stock Exchange. The adventurous explorer settled down to a more private life, and instead of seeking to enrich others in the opening up of new country, very wisely sought to provide for himself.

But his career on the goldfields has been by no means a quiet one. He has travelled thousands of miles inspecting mineral areas. In February, 1895, he went to England and successfully placed for an Adelaide syndicate two mines on the London market. These were the Kalgurli and the North Kalgurli gold mines, which were taken over by companies, each with a capital of £100,000. While he was in the old country the Scottish Westralia Company was formed, and he was appointed its principal operator in Australia. In October, 1895, he returned to the colony and inspected many mining properties on behalf of the company, and three months later went back to England to report progress. His company purchased the Hope's Hill Mine, the Seabrook Freehold Estate at Northam, and the Stanley and Zealandia claims at the Thirty-Three Mile. The Scottish Westralia Company is now (1896) arranging to form a company to supply all the fields with electric motive power. The scheme is an enormous one, and if successful will prove a great boon to the fields by facilitating their development.

In September, 1896, Mr. Lindsay again returned to Western Australia. He is personally interested in several well-known local gold mines. For his splendid services to geographical science he was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London in 1888, and he is honorary member of both the South Australian and Victorian branches of the Australasian Geographical Society. He is also a member of the South Australian Institute of Licensed Surveyors.

If the detailed accounts of Mr. Lindsay's travels were published and popularised, the narrative would be decidedly romantic and exciting. A man of his restless spirit could not be satisfied with the narrow provincial life, or the quiet ways of the agriculturist. The long march and the dangers and excitement of exploration must be his lot. When the causes which dominate men's actions come to be scientifically laid down, and social science is firmly established, it will probably be found that certain characters demand and obtain certain careers in a higher or lower sphere. The predilection of which Emerson so well writes draws them into definite arenas. This was undoubtedly so in the case of Mr. Lindsay, and had circumstances not led him to an exploring career he would still have been adventurous and enterprising and courageous even as a poor herd lad. That his name is known throughout Australia need not be told, and it must be a pleasing conviction to him to feel that he has conferred favours on his native land, and placed posterity under a debt which, with those of other Australian explorers, will be recognised in its own good time.