Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

John McDouall Stuart: Fifth expedition

Explore the resources in the collections of the State Library of South Australia about South Australia's most famous explorer, who successfully crossed the continent from south to north, through the centre, and returned alive.

Fifth expedition

Stuart returned from his fourth expedition to acclaim for his accomplishment in passing the centre of Australia. The government provided finance for another expedition. This included 10 men, the largest yet, and included William Kekwick and Frank Thring, both of whom would also serve on the sixth and final expedition. Stuart himself left Adelaide on 2 November 1860 and the whole expedition assembled at Chambers Creek on 12 December. They did not leave however until 1 January 1861. There were 49 horses many of which were supplied by James Chambers from his Cobdogla Station. These bush bred horses were Stuart's preference for their toughness. The expedition was provisioned for 30 weeks.

Progress was swift as they moved forward along the line of Stuart's prior expeditions. The country was so dry that their tracks were still visible. At Brinkley Bluff it rained and the resulting soft ground made the going difficult, but they were still grateful for it. The Centre was passed and then Bonney Creek. Now the real work of the expedition began. On 13 April the party turned to the north-west - to unexplored country. But the creek they were following petered out into the desert and Stuart was forced back to the north-east and the creeks in the McDouall and Murchison Ranges. They were approaching the area where they had turned back on the last expedition, but somewhat more to the west. An area that Stuart named Sturt's Plains after his former leader, Charles Sturt, was crossed - a mixture of partly wooded, partly grassed-covered plains - but the ground beneath was full of holes in which the horses stumbled.  

Stuart and his party proceeded to the north-west but were turned back by an impassable waterless barrier that prevented them reaching the Victoria River, Stuart's aim.  During May, June and early July, Stuart made 11 attempts to break through the waterless plain and the dense scrub that barred his path to the north-west and the north-east. The discovery of Glandfield Lagoon in late May saw hopes rise. This extensive chain of ponds was later named Newcastle Waters, after the Secretary of State for the Colonies. This was another example of Stuart's naming of a feature being over-ridden by the authorities back in Adelaide. Eventually Stuart had to admit defeat - provisions were low, their clothes and shoes were in shreds.

Stuart and his party had been out 26 weeks with original supplies intended for 30 weeks - the effect of reduced rations was telling on the men, and there was little feed for the horses. They began the return trek on 12 July 1861. By 30 August they were south of the MacDonnell Ranges and saw the first white man other than each other for many months and on 7 September reached Chambers Creek where they rested for a few days. Stuart was back in Adelaide on 22 September. He offered to lead another expedition north.

Books about Stuart


Weller, Edward Map of Stuart's discoveries in the continent of Australia from 1858-1862 [cartographic material] : also fixing the centre London : Saunders, Otley, 1865

Stuart, John McDouall Plan of discovery by John McDouall Stuart showing his route across and fixing the centre of the continent of Australia [cartographic material] : with alterations and additions to July 7th 1861 [Adelaide : Government Printer, 1861] Three maps showing the route of Stuart's fourth and fifth expeditions from Emerald Springs, South Australia to Newcastle Waters, Northern Territory, and Gregory's route from Roper River to Blunder Bay, Northern Territory - to July 1861. Includes Gregory's and Stuart's camps, Stuart's 1860 and 1861 routes, streams, waterholes, relief by hachures and notes on vegetation.


Journal articles

South Australian Advertiser Tuesday 24 September 1861 pp. 2-3: Mr Stuart's return.

Journal of the Royal Geographical Society volume 32 1862 pp 340-371 Diary of J.M. Stuart explorations to the north of the Murchison Range in 20 [degrees] Latitude, 1860-61.

This diary was read at the Society's meeting of 25 November 1861

South Australian Parliamentary Papers 169: 1861 Diary of J. M. Stuart's explorations, 1860-61: Northern Exploring Expedition under the command of John McDouall Stuart esq.