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Allan Arthur Davidson (1873–1930)

from News

Allan Davidson, n.d.

Allan Davidson, n.d.

The death occurred in London on Tuesday night from heart failure of Mr. Allan Arthur Davidson, a graduate of the Adelaide School of Mines, who was widely known as a mining engineer and explorer.

Mr. Davidson, who was 57 years of age, was a son of the late Mr. J. J. Davidson, of Thackaringa Station, New South Wales. On graduating from the School of Mines as a mining engineer and metallurgist, he went to New Guinea, and was one of the first white men ever seen on the Fly River. He returned to Australia and was appointed manager of the Richmond Mine at Kalgoorlie. It was here that Mr Davidson identified himself with a discovery which was to have an important bearing on the profits of mining companies. A metal known as telluride was being thrown on to the dump as useless. From its specific gravity he concluded that it contained gold, and after a month's work in the laboratory he detected its nature and gold content. Thousands of tons of what was considered waste were thus brought into production.

But it is as leader of a party which searched Central Australia for two years for a gold-bearing reef that the work of Mr Davidson appeals most to the imagination. It takes a man strong in willpower and body, thorough in organisation, and of determination to go out into the unknown, facing the privations of heat and thirst and lack of transport.

Mr. Davidson was 26 years of age when in 1898 at the request of the Central Australian Exploration Syndicate Limited he led his party out from Barrow Creek and set his face toward the West.

On that memorable expedition Mr Davidson did not discover any gold-bearing country likely to repay the great expenditure which, in the absence of transport facilities and water supplies, would be involved in working it. He came across many shows which would give a profitable yield if they were in more settled areas. One of his discoveries was the Tanami field.

It was his report and his maps which have proved of most value. All the way from Barrow Creek to the Western Australian border, then back to Tennant's Creek and then to Batch's Creek, he recorded his observations on maps with the minutest detail. So authoritative were they regarded that the South Australian Government bought his report and bushmen to this day describe the maps as their bible. Mr Michael Terry, in a recent publication after a tour of exploration said that Mr Davidson was to Central Australia what Livingstone had been to Africa.

A big man of commanding personality – he was 6 ft. 1 in. in height – Mr Davidson was of the stuff that pioneers are made of. His exploits recall the trials and tribulations of the gallant Eyre in his task of finding a route from Adelaide to Albany. For two years he was away in inhospitable Central Australia nobody heard from him. There was no wireless in those days with which to communicate with civilisation and it was the camel that they had to rely for the transport of themselves and their equipment.

"Our living." Mr. Davidson stated in his comprehensive report, "was mostly hard; it was only at odd intervals that water could be spared for cooking more than damper. The water we had to spare went in panning samples. We finished up on tinned beef and damper with tea neat – no sugar, this together with jams, and sundries, being out some time. As a general rule we had only two meals a day, breakfast at 6 o'clock, dinner at 4 or 5 when travelling, no drinks between times. Boot leather was another item getting scarce toward the finish. Estimate I walked 2,000 miles and rode 200 nearly. Walked through the soles of three pairs of heavy boots, several sets of hide soles, and finished up on the uppers of the last pair. The others were in much the same plight."

It was estimated by Mr Davidson that he explored more than 30,000 miles of country. How many shafts he sunk is not recorded, but in that wide expanse the number must have been enormous.

Gruelling experiences of such an excursion into the wilds of the outback do not sap the roving spirit of the true adventurer and so it was that Mr Davidson was soon on the track again in search of the elusive metal. This time the field of his labors was the unhealthy Gold Coast of Africa.

He had as many as 250 natives working with him. Chile was next the scene of his operations. A great obstacle before the companies working there was the inaccessibility of the fields. To get to them one had to cross the Andes. That was a task sufficient to deter many men. The job entrusted to Mr Davidson was not only to get there but to take machinery for smelting purposes. He designed smelters which could be carried by goats.

Mr. Davidson's next venture was the successful amalgamation of a number of small tin shows in Nigeria. That concern is now one of the largest producers of tin in the Empire. It was while returning to Nigeria from London during the great war that Mr Davidson had another thrilling experience – this time on sea. The Fullabar, on which he was a passenger, was sunk by a German submarine. For three hours he swam about, and at the same time kept the head of the captain above water. Unfortunately the skipper was dead when he was lifted into a rescue boat. Mr Davidson was one of only a few survivors. He arrived back in London in an overcoat and one sock.

After selling his interests in Nigeria he practised as a consulting mining engineer in London.

He is survived by a widow, one son, and a daughter. A brother is  Mr J. E. Davidson (managing director of News Limited).

"A man of charming personality; an experienced and capable prospector, and a great bushman" was the tribute of Mr. L. A. Wells (chairman of the Land Board.). Mr Wells was a personal friend of the late Mr Davidson. and has taken a keen interest in his work as a prospector.

Engaged by a syndicate to prospect for gold Mr Davidson made an extensive survey of the country in the Powell's Creek district, said Mr Wells, but did not discover an area rich enough to warrant development. He then worked his way to the north-west, eventually discovering gold at Tanami.

Mr Davidson was the first to locate the precious metal in this district. However, the gold did not appear in the quantities which were indicated by the syndicate as being necessary before it could undertake development, and Mr Davidson left the district.

Mr. Wells had not heard of him since he left the Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie districts.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Allan Arthur Davidson

Citation details

'Davidson, Allan Arthur (1873–1930)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Allan Davidson, n.d.

Allan Davidson, n.d.

Life Summary [details]


26 January, 1873
Harrow, Victoria, Australia


7 January, 1930 (aged 56)
London, Middlesex, England

Cause of Death

heart disease

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