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National Museum of Australia acquires a piece of exploration history

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Father of the Overland John McDouall Stuart pocket watch

The National Museum of Australia has acquired a pocket watch belonging to the father of the Overland Telegraph and one of Australia’s greatest inland explorers, John McDouall Stuart.

While Mr Stuart led six expeditions from Adelaide - notably without a single fatality – he is most famous for his final October 1861 – July 1862 journey, when he became the first person to successfully cross the continent from south to north.

His successful return passage between Adelaide and Chambers Bay (east of what is now Darwin) ultimately mapped the route for the Overland Telegraph – one of the great engineering feats of the 19th Century.

“John McDouall Stuart is one of Australia’s great explorers and the acquisition of this pocket watch reflects his importance to Australia’s exploration history,” said National Museum curator, Anthea Gunn.

Mr Stuart’s earlier expeditions identified new pastoral lands, including 40,000 square miles of potential sheep country in south-west South Australia.

The National Museum has acquired the pocket-watch presented to Mr Stuart by the Royal Geographical Society, London, on 9 May 1859, in recognition of his feats.

Born in Scotland, Mr Stuart immigrated to South Australia in 1839 and worked as a surveyor. Mr Stuart's health was almost destroyed by the 1861 cross-continental expedition. Unable to walk, he spent some 900km of the return journey lying in a litter, strung between two horses. 

After the expedition, he sailed for Scotland in April 1864 to visit his sister and he died in London in 1866.

The pocket watch and accompanying papers acquired this week by the National Museum have been with Mr Stuart’s family until they were put up for auction with Bonham’s.

The watch was purchased for $70,000, plus buyer’s premium.


For more information please contact Tracy Sutherland, (02) 6208 5338 / 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au