David Lindsay (explorer)


David Lindsay (20 June 1856 – 17 December 1922) was an Australian explorer and surveyor and a fellow of the
Royal Geographical Society The Royal Geographical Society (RGS) is a learned society A learned society (; also known as a learned academy, scholarly society, or academic association) is an organization that exists to promote an discipline (academia), academic disci ...
, London.Suzanne Edgar,
Lindsay, David (1856–1922)
, ''
Australian Dictionary of Biography The ''Australian Dictionary of Biography'' (ADB or AuDB) is a national co-operative enterprise founded and maintained by the Australian National University The Australian National University (ANU) is a national research university locat ...
'', Volume 10, Melbourne University Press, 1986, pp 105–106. Retrieved 14 September 2009

Early life

Lindsay was born in
Goolwa, South Australia Goolwa is a historic river port on the Murray River The Murray River (in South Australia: River Murray) (Ngarrindjeri language, Ngarrindjeri: ''Millewa'', Yorta Yorta language, Yorta Yorta: ''Tongala'') is a river in south-eastern Au ...
, a son of Captain John Scott Lindsay (ca.1819 – 29 June 1878), master mariner formerly of
Dundee Dundee (; sco, Dundee; gd, Dùn Dè or ''Dùn Dèagh'' ) is Scotland's List of towns and cities in Scotland by population, fourth-largest city and the List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, 51st-most-populous built-up area in the United ...

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, and his wife Catherine, ''née'' Reid (ca.1822 – 28 May 1884). John Lindsay commanded the brig ''Europa'' and Sir James Fergusson's yacht ''Edith'' before a career on Murray River steamers which included a pioneering trip to
Brewarrina Brewarrina (pronounced 'bree-warren-ah'; locally known as "Bre") is a town in north-west New South Wales, Australia on the banks of the Barwon River (New South Wales), Barwon River in Brewarrina Shire. The name Brewarrina is derived from 'burru w ...
with W. R. Randell in 1859. Young Lindsay was educated in Goolwa and under Rev. John Hotham at Port Elliot, South Australia, Port Elliot. At age 15 Lindsay went to work in a chemist shop and then with an Adelaide mining agent.


Lindsay became an apprentice in the state government survey department in 1873. In 1878 he was appointed ("gazetted" in Public Service parlance) as a senior surveyor in March 1875. In 1878 he was appointed junior surveyor and clerk in the land office of the Department of the Northern Territory at Palmerston (now Darwin, Northern Territory, Darwin) in the Northern Territory. In 1882 he resigned from the government service to take up private practice, but about a year later was placed in charge of a South Australian government expedition to Arnhem Land (in the Northern Territory). The party, consisting of four white men and two Indigenous Australians, met with a hostile response from local Aboriginal people, and drove them off with firearms. Some of the horses had been stampeded during the conflict and the explorers only reached civilisation after suffering many privations. Lindsay subsequently explored territory between the Australian Overland Telegraph Line, Overland Telegraph Line and the Queensland border and discovered Australia's first payable mica field. In 1886 Lindsay was exploring in the region of the MacDonnell Ranges and discovered so-called ruby, rubies.* The 1885–86 expedition traced the Finke River to its mouth. Early in 1891 Lindsay was placed in charge of the Elder Scientific Exploring Expedition entirely equipped by Thomas Elder, Sir Thomas Elder, and which included Dr. Elliott, a Queensland medical man with photographic and botanical expertise; Helms of the Sydney Museum and Streich, a German geologist and mineralogist. Starting from Warrina, South Australia, with 42 camels on 2 May 1891 with the intention of covering as much unexplored territory as possible between there and the western coast of Australia, the expedition was unfortunate in striking an extremely dry season, the results were disappointing, and the expedition was abandoned without completing much that had been intended. However, in the 11 months to 4 April 1892 over 4000 miles (6,400 km) were traversed, and about 80,000 square miles (206,000 km²). were mapped. Charges were made by the second officer and three other members of the party concerning Lindsay's management of the expedition, but after an inquiry had been held he was exonerated. The abandonment of the expedition was 'a terrible disappointment' to Lindsay. In 1893, Lindsay overlanded camels to Coolgardie after news of gold discoveries there, and sold them at a profit. Lindsay made a number of observations on indigenous tribes' cultures and languages during all his explorations and survey expeditions, in particular The Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition of 1891 and the Explorations in the Northern Territory of South Australia (including the Arnheim (sic) Land exploration). The scope of the Elder Scientific Expedition, funded by Sir Thomas Elder, included recording fauna, flora, geological structures and climate, mapping the territory, potential for pastoral development, recording original indigenous place names, languages and pronunciation, avoiding conflict with indigenous tribes and to investigate the disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt. The expedition occurred during a period of extensive drought. Aided by indigenous people, water was not only sourced but evidence of water harvesting and management of evaporation through shoring up water sources with rocks and branches was observed. Indigenous people were somewhat alarmed at how much camels drank – 44 camels needed 800 gallons of water every few days. Lindsay also noted the extent of burning of the land and the constant presence of smoke observed on the horizon. The mallee scrub had been 'burnt in vast patches' possible a year or two previously' and burnt ground had better feed for the camels than unburnt land. Lindsay’s Brief Notes on the Aborigines met with by the Elder Expedition of 1891-2, describes differences in physique among different tribes, the reluctance of women and children to interact with the white men although indigenous men interacted variously in friendly or hostile ways. Harvesting water was observed by indigenous tribes excavating conglomerate rocks and after rainfall enlarging the hole until a well was formed with capacity of 300–500 gallons of water. Lindsay also observed indigenous living conditions in particular on the Northern Territory expedition. Lindsay records a 'solitary mia-mia (temporary shelter) formed of bamboo thickly thatched with grass , 6 ft high 10 ft in diameter ..with one entrance…so small I had the greatest difficulty in squeezing through it…the natives told me that when occupied , the entrance was stopped up with grass to keep out mosquitoes. It was used at the beginning of the wet season (to gather) wild fowls eggs and a stopping place from one route to another during the wet season' Lindsay also observes 'manufacture of rope and string out of fibre plants. Baskets are woven so closely as to be water tight'  . Communication was also swift with one communication of the 'murder of a white man…conveyed over 200 miles in less than twenty-four hours'. Lindsay believed that the Northern Territory could support extensive pastoral ground and in Arnheim (sic) Land gold, silver, copper and tin had already been discovered. In Mr Lindsay’s Explorations through Arnheim’s Land 1884, Lindsay notes the use of fishing: 'saw a native fishtrap made of “ supple jack" woven like a basket, 18 ft long and gradually tapering from 3 ft wide at its mouth, leaving at one side a hole to which the mouth of the reap is fixed. As the ride goes in or out  the fish coming with it find a barrier, then with a rush, they go through what they suppose to be an opening, but which is in reality a trap, with a blackfellow at the other end ready to pop them into his basket as they come through the hole'. In general, however, the expedition in Arnhem Land was fraught with hostility between indigenous people and white people. It appears that Lindsay was reluctant at first to engage in hostilities which he encountered especially around Castlereagh Bay, the Roper River and in the locality of the Wornunyan Woorie. 'Were I to go there again I would shoot the first blackfellow I saw'.

Later life

In 1895 Lindsay was in business as a stockbroker, formed various companies connected with Western Australian goldmines, and shortly before World War I broke out in 1914 was in London raising capital for development work in the Northern Territory. This and other projects had to be abandoned on account of the war. After the war, Lindsay was in the Northern Territory for three and a half years carrying out topographical surveys for the Australian Federal government. Some good pastoral land was discovered, and Lindsay proved that the Queensland artesian water system extended some 150 miles further west than its supposed limits. He was working in the north again in 1922 but was attacked by illness and died in the Darwin hospital of valvular disease of the heart on 17 December 1922. Lindsay married Annie Theresa Stuart Lindsay on 10 March 1881. She was a daughter of (unrelated) Arthur Lindsay, longtime Superintendent of Adelaide Destitute Asylum. She survived him with four sons and a daughter. Lindsay was tall and broad-shouldered of a genial disposition, a typical and capable bushman.


* {{DEFAULTSORT:Lindsay, David 1856 births 1922 deaths Australian explorers Australian surveyors Explorers of Australia Explorers of South Australia People from Goolwa, South Australia