William Mills (surveyor)


William Whitfield Mills (19 November 1844 – 18 August 1916), usually referred to as "W. Whitfield Mills" or "W. W. Mills", was an English
surveyor Surveying or land surveying is the technique, profession, art, and science of determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional positions of points and the distances and angles between them. A land surveying professional is called a land survey ...

of the
Australian Overland Telegraph Line The Australian Overland Telegraph Line was a telegraphy, telegraph line that connected Darwin, Northern Territory, Darwin with Port Augusta, South Australia, Port Augusta in South Australia. Completed in 1872, the Overland Telegraph Line allowe ...
who is best known for naming a waterhole in Central Australia Alice Spring, from which the town of
Alice Springs Alice Springs ( aer, Mparntwe) is the third-largest town in the Northern Territory The Northern Territory (NT; formally the Northern Territory of Australia) is an states and territories of Australia, Australian territory in the central a ...

Alice Springs
now takes its name. He also named
Heavitree Gap The Heavitree Gap, or ''Ntaripe'' in the Arrernte language, is a water gap in the Northern Territory of Australia in the MacDonnell Ranges. It is the southern entrance to the city of Alice Springs and in addition to the Todd River it carries the ...
as a tribute to his old school in Devon, England.

Early life

Mills was born on 19 November 1844 at
Plymouth Plymouth () is a port city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: ...

in England. He went to school at Heavitree School in
Devon Devon (, archaically known as Devonshire) is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Ch ...

. Mills immigrated to Australia on board the ''Atlanta'' from England, arriving in South Australia on 8 April 1866 at the age of 21.

Goyder's Expedition

Mills was a surveyor on
George Goyder George Woodroffe Goyder (24 June 1826 – 2 November 1898) was a Surveyor (surveying), surveyor in the Colony of South Australia during the latter half of the nineteenth century. He rose rapidly in the civil service, becoming Assistant Survey ...
's mission to survey a northern capital Palmerston, later renamed
Darwin Darwin most often refers to: * Charles Darwin (1809–1882), English naturalist and writer, best known as the originator of the theory of biological evolution by natural selection * Darwin, Northern Territory, a capital city in Australia * Darwin ( ...
. He arrived on the ''Moonta'' on 5 February 1869 leaving just short of a year later, the team having surveyed more than 2700 square kilometres of land.

Surveying the Overland Telegraph Line

On 5 September 1870, he joined Charles Todd's party to build the central section of the Overland Telegraph Line. On 7 March 1871, Mills and his companion Gilbert McMinn, having found a gap in the McDonnell Ranges through which to feed the telegraph line, and which he named Heavitree Gap, then came across a string of waterholes along what is now called the Todd River, which were already frequented by local Arrernte people, Arrernte people. Mills named one Alice Spring, after the wife of Charles Todd, from which the town of Alice Springs now takes its name.

Later life

Mills married Mary Jane Mullen on 24 March 1879. They had two daughters Alice Thornton and Ethel May. After completion of the telegraph line, Mills returned to the Northern Territory to work in mining and undertake further surveying. In the early 1880s, he managed a camel transport company carrying freight from Farina, South Australia, Farina to Peake, South Australia, Peake and Charlotte Waters. He delivered 30 camels from Beltana Station to Northampton, Western Australia, Northampton in Western Australia for Thomas Elder, Sir Thomas Elder. He went across the centre of Australia on the Canning Stock Route before heading to Northampton. They went for long periods without water but after 25 weeks, completed the journey. Mary Jane died on 1 October 1888 at just 30 years of age. The Mills children were then brought up by extended family, while Mills spent time in Broken Hill before eventually moving to Western Australia. Mills died on 18 August 1916 at the age of 72. He is buried in the Widgiemooltha Cemetery in Western Australia. Mills Street in East Side in Alice Springs is named after Mills.


{{DEFAULTSORT:Mills, William 1916 deaths 1844 births People from Plymouth Australian surveyors English emigrants to colonial Australia