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This Day in History

Australian Explorers

Sunday, July 18, 1897. :   The final victims of Australia's exploration era, Charles Wells and George Jones, are laid to rest in Adelaide.

     Very little of Australia was left unexplored by the late 1800s, but the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia remained an unconquered frontier. In 1896, Albert Calvert, a London-based gold-mining engineer with interests in Western Australia, sponsored an expedition to fill in the unexplored blanks on the map and hopefully find some likely gold-bearing country into the bargain. The Royal Geographical Society of South Australia was asked to organise the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition, financed by Calvert. The expedition's leader was surveyor Lawrence Wells, and accompanying him was surveyor Charles Wells, his cousin, an Adelaide mineralogist by the name of George Jones, a cook and a camel driver.

In October 1896, the party camped at a small permanent waterhole south-east of Lake George, Western Australia, which they named Separation Well. Here, on 11 October 1896, Lawrence Wells made the fateful decision to split the party into two groups. Charles Wells and Jones set off on a bearing of 290 degrees to survey lands for 144 kilometres north-west, before turning north-north-east to rejoin the main party at Joanna Spring, located and mapped by explorer Warburton in 1873. When Lawrence Wells's party reached Joanna Spring on 29 October, there was no sign of the other party. Unable to even locate the spring, the leader made for the Fitzroy River, where he raised the alarm regarding the missing explorers via the Fitzroy Crossing Telegraph Station.

Four search parties were dispatched, covering over five thousand kilometres, with no success. Aborigines had found the missing explorers and plundered the bodies of all clothing and other items: when some of these items were located in the Aborigines' possession, the Aborigines led the searchers to where the bodies lay. On 27 May 1897 the bodies of Wells and Jones were recovered by the white search party, perfectly preserved by the intense heat, just 22km from Joanna Spring. The mummified bodies were sewn in sheets and taken to Derby, where they were shipped to Adelaide and given a State funeral on 18 July 1897.

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