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David Lindsay (1856–1922)

A romantic career was closed on Sunday evening by the death of Mr. David Lindsay, F.R.G.S., at Darwin, as the result of heart strain. With characteristic energy Mr. Lindsay left Sydney on November 1 to examine and select lands in the Northern Territory for the planting of cotton for a syndicate - the Northern Territory Cotton Growing Association - which he had formed. He had practically completed his work, and was to have returned to Sydney by the next boat. Only yesterday a letter was received by his relatives here, stating that he had ridden 90 miles on horseback, and was fit and well.

David Lindsay was one of Australia's noted explorers. It is due to men like Mr. Lindsay and the late Lord Forrest, and his brother, Mr. Alec Forrest, that immense tracts have been opened up.

Born at Goolwa, South Australia, 66 years ago, the son of John Scott Lindsay, master mariner, of Dundee, Mr. Lindsay was educated at private schools, and entered the Survey Department of the South Australian Government in 1872. Six years later he became a junior surveyor of the Northern Territory, and thus began a connection with that area which only ended with his death.

In 1882 he took charge of the public works in the Territory, and a year later he made his first venture in exploration, when he led an expedition through Arnhem Land, lying between Darwin and the Gulf of Carpentaria. All previous expeditions had turned back after suffering loss of life when attacked by the wild natives, a cross between aborigines and Malays, who inhabited that region. It was Lindsay's general understanding of the ways of the natives and their superstitions which enabled him to get through. He frightened them at times by the use of Chinese sky rockets. His camp, however, was attacked once owing to the action of a treacherous guide, and some of his horses were killed and others were mutilated. It was while on this expedition that he discovered the Gwendoline Falls, which are higher than Niagara.

He was engaged in exploring and surveying the Carpentaria region until 1886, when he rode across Australia from north to south, with only a black boy as a companion. ln 1888 he was occupied in exploring, surveying, and prospecting in the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia. Here it was that he later on discovered Australian rubies.

In 1891 the late Sir Thomas Elder, who had done much in the cause of exploration, projected the Elder Scientific Exploring Expedition with a view of covering that part of the continent already untraversed. Mr. Lindsay led the expedition, which left Warrina, and pushed on to Cootanoorinna station, which the party left on May 12 to explore the unknown regions in South and Western Australia, and a large tract of country west of the Transcontinental telegraph line and the Victoria River. The expedition proceeded via Ford Mueller to Mount Squires, and then onwards to Queen Victoria's Spring, where, being disappointed at not finding water, Mr. Lindsay had to push on to Fraser's Range, from which he proceeded to Hampton Plains in order to complete as far as possible the examination of the first block of territory he was instructed to traverse. But, owing to the continued drought, the explorer took the expedition via the Yilgarn goldfields to the Murchison, where there was both feed and water for the camels, and provisions for the party. The expedition covered 650 miles in 35 days, with 42 camels, each carrying only 7½ gallons of water for the whole journey. It was during this expedition that Mr. Lindsay discovered the great auriferous area which made Western Australia. Acting on his reports, Bailey and Dunn discovered the great Wealth of Nations' mine.

The development of Western Australia made camels necessary there, and between 1891-3 Mr. Lindsay took a large mob of those animals overland from Port Augusta to Coolgardie. He had a great knowledge of camels, and during the Elder Expedition he had his own mount Miserae (an Afghan name) trained to chase aborigines like a sheep dog, when the natives became threatening.

After assisting in the exploitation of the great wealth he had discovered Mr. Lindsay in 1895 visited London, where he floated the Kalgurli mine. In 1913 he was appointed a member of the Commonwealth Royal Commission to advise as to railways and new ports to develop the Northern Territory. He was largely instrumental in getting the Commonwealth Government to take over the Territory from South Australia. He spent months "lobbying" in Melbourne, and he appeared at the Bar of the House of Representatives and addressed the members of both chambers at a joint sitting. He spent 35 years working for the advancement of the Territory. It was his life's work, and a labour of love. A strong advocate of White Australia, Mr. Lindsay, by his own experiences, proved that a strenuous career was possible in the tropics. He was a hard rider and never seemed to tire.

Three times he visited England to push propositions for the benefit of Australia. He was last there in 1914, when he successfully floated a large pastoral and meat export company with a capital of 1½ million. On the outbreak of war the British Treasury refused to allow that money to leave the country. Mr Lindsay offered his services when hostilities broke out, but owing to his age the Government did not avail of them. Mr Lindsay was one of the official visitors to the Australian hospitals in England for the whole period of the war; and Mr. Lindsay spent much of his time taking British soldiers out on tours of London, and in giving lectures to induce them to settle in Australia. He returned home in 1916, since when he has been mainly occupied in exploring and developing the Northern Territory.

In 1918 he discovered a great extension of the artesian basin extending 700 miles across the Territory. He was one of the founders of the North Australia White Settlement League, for which he worked in conjunction with Major-General Eames, Dr. Watson, and others. He was In Darwin when Ross Smith's flight was in progress, and he advised on the selection of a landing place for the airmen.

Mr Lindsay was a voluminous contributor to scientific journals. His publications include Journals of Exploration and Territoria.

He was very proud of the fact that in all his explorations he never shot a native.

Mr. Lindsay leaves a widow, who resides at Cremorne, four sons, Lieutenant Arthur J. S Lindsay, grazier, of Vaucluse and Hunter Valley; Lieutenant David G S. Lindsay, 1st Light Horse, of the Bank of New South Wales, Sydney; Captain Donald E. Lindsay, Croix de Guerre, Assistant Constructional Engineer, Transcontinental Railway, Port Augusta; Leonard R. Lindsay, Australian War Contingent Office, London; and one daughter, Miss Nora G. Lindsay, nursing sister of the Royal Air Force Nursing Service.

Original publication

Citation details

'Lindsay, David (1856–1922)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

David Lindsay, c1880

David Lindsay, c1880

State Library of South Australia, B 982

Life Summary [details]


20 June, 1856
Goolwa, South Australia, Australia


17 December, 1922 (aged 66)
Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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