ARE you a descendant of the Fifer who was the first man to cross mainland Australia from the south to the north?
Dysart man John McDouall Stuart, born in 1815, is a hero Down Under after leading the first ever successful expedition to carry out the feat and map the internal lands of the country whilst doing so in 1862.
Closer to home Fife Historic Buildings Trust is currently searching for relatives of the explorer, who isn’t particularly well known here despite being a local man.
The trust has been working on transforming his birthplace - a house on the corner of Fitzroy Place and Rectory Lane, Dysart - into a modern holiday home and would love for his relatives to attend its opening.
The soon to be finished house was until three years ago, used as a small museum celebrating McDouall Stuart’s achievements - but a lack of visitors led to the trust deciding to alter it.
Alan Lodge, manager at Fife Historic Buildings Trust said: “We’re really keen to find anyone connected with John McDouall Stuart so that they can join us when we celebrate the opening of the apartment this spring and help us learn more about this amazing character.
“We know that Stuart was the youngest of nine children, so he may well have some living descendants in Fife, and further afield.”
The apartment occupies the upper two floors of a three-storey B-listed building.
Access by an external staircase leads to a living/dining area, and kitchen, with a double bedroom and bathroom on the upper level.
A bronze plaque in the shape of Australia with an inscription commemorating his achievements will be placed opposite the Dysart flat in a landscaped garden area with benches looking out over the Forth.
Anyone who thinks they have links to the famous explorer can contact Fife Historic Buildings Trust on 01592 890060 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘A MAN IN THE MOULD OF A HERO ...’
DESPITE few people in Fife having heard of John McDouall Stuart he is very highly respected in Australia and it is hoped many Australians will be attracted to stay in the home - particularly with the Commonwealth Games being held in the country next year.
He is often described as Australia’s greatest inland explorer.
The noted latter day explorer and historian, Ernest Favenc, wrote of him: “Stuart’s victory was all his own; he had followed in no other persons footsteps: he had crossed the true centre, and he had made the coast at a point much further north than his rivals.”
William Hardman, editor of ‘The Journals of John McDouall Stuart,’ first published in 1864 by Saunders, Otley & Co., London, wrote: “The explorations of Mr. John McDouall Stuart may truly be said, without disparaging his brother explorers, to be amongst the most important in the history of Australian discovery.”
T.G.H. Strehlow, reader in Australian Linguistics, University of Adelaide, 1967, said: “In Stuart, Australia possessed a man cast in the mould of a hero – a man whose amazing persistence, indomitable courage, and unfailing common sense enabled him to succeed in a mighty task in which most others would have failed.”
Such is the respect for Stuart a statue of him stands in Victoria Square in Adelaide city centre, while in Darwin, both a statue and a monument celebrate his achievements.
Places named after him include Stuart Street, an arterial road in Canberra; the Stuart Highway; Stuart Park, in Darwin; Central Mount Stuart; the Electoral division of Stuart in the Northern Territory and an electoral division in South Australia; and the town of Stuart, which was changed to Alice Springs in 1933.
SOCIETY FORMED TO PRESERVE NAME
The John McDouall Stuart Society Incorporated was formed in Adelaide in 1964, to preserve the name and achievements of the surveyor/explorer and his companions.
The patron is Australia’s most recent explorer and only astronaut Dr Andrew Thomas, who circumnavigated Earth in 1996 on board the spacecraft Endeavour. He carried artefacts from Stuart’s 1861-62 crossing of the continent with him.
The society, meets quarterly, is run by a voluntary committee and has members in Australia, Scotland, England, USA and Hong Kong.
Besides newsletters, published articles and speeches, activities include field trips to significant historical sites associated with Stuart’s explorations, and other special events.
Preservation, conservation and interpretation of these sites is another significant function it performs.
It also conducts weekly tours of its very own Stuart Collection, which is housed in the Adelaide Masonic Centre in South Australia with the society conducting weekly tours of it.
Its website is www.johnmcdouallstuart.org.au.
LIFE & TIMES
JOHN McDouall Stuart’s biography was published in 1958 by Mona Stuart Webster, his great grand niece.
Born to William and Mary (née McDouall) Stuart on September 7, 1815 he was the youngest son of nine children (three of whom died in infancy).
His parents both died in his early teens and he and his brothers and sisters were cared for by relatives and friends.
He attended the Scottish Naval and Military Academy and graduated as a Civil Engineer.
He emigrated to Australia in 1938, age 23, and records describe him as a slight, delicately built young man, standing about 5’ 6” tall and weighing less than nine-stone.
He found work as a surveyor and earned a reputation for extraordinary accuracy.
During his life he made six expeditions into the then wild interior of the country from 1858 to 1862.
He succeeded in crossing it from south to north on his final attempt but sacrificing his fragile health in the process.
He died, after returning to the UK, in London in 1866, aged just 50.