Across The Centre, John McDouall Stuart’s Expeditions 1860 – 62

Photographer and Author: Edward Stokes
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Sydney), 1996
Format: Hardback, 280mm x 250mm, 168pp.
Photos: Colour
ISBN: 1-86448-038-6


Across The Centre is Edward Stokes’ book on the explorer John McDouall Stuart. Created from McDouall Stuart journal quotes, and Stokes’ photographs of the terrain Stuart crossed, the book recalls an historic saga. Stuart’s final success in reaching the northern coast, near the future Darwin, profoundly affected Australia’s future development. Stuart’s precarious – but still always safely watered – route allowed the rapid building of the Overland Telegraph, which was completed in 1872. Thus, the southern Australian cities were linked by telegraph to Singapore – and so to the London markets.

Described in his times as ‘the king of Australian explorers’, John McDouall Stuart was a dour Scot. He had travelled with Charles Sturt – see To The Inland Sea – in 1844 – 45. By the 1850s Stuart had become a superlative, uncannily perceptive bushman. In a series of lighting horse journeys during the 1850s he mapped much of the country north of Adelaide.

Then, from 1860 – 62, Stuart committed himself to finding a practicable – if arid – route ‘across the centre’. His three expeditions during those years were marvels of horse-back traverse, with lightly equipped horse parties that could travel rapidly between scarce watering places. During Stuart’s three expeditions, and three grim retreats, he rode over 14,000 kilometres. Amidst forbidding terrain, and across vast distances, Stuart did not lose a single man.

The persistence of this man, his tenacity of purpose, his journey after journey into the interior, his hardships and privations, ending in his crowning success of 1862, marked the greatest achievement of Australian exploration.

The launch of Across The Centre, in Adelaide, South Australia – from where John McDouall Stuart departed on his expeditions. Dame Roma Mitchell, then Governor of South Australia (seen at centre), launched the book. Descendants of Stuart’s men attended the event.

Stuart’s final victory in reaching the north coast came at a bitter cost. His health had been shattered by cumulative privations. He died soon afterwards, virtually unknown and little recognized. In this gripping and visual account, Edward Stokes shows that although Burke, Eyre and Sturt are today better known, John McDouall Stuart was by far the greater explorer.

‘Stuart’s victory was all his own. He had followed in no other explorer’s footsteps; he had crossed the true centre; and he reached the northern coast much further north than other explorers.’
Ernest Favenc, The History of Australian Exploration 1788 – 1888

Across The Centre was the second book in Edward Stokes’ Australian exploration trilogy. It was completed by him in 1986. However, given colour production budget problems with interested publishers, the book’s publication was greatly delayed. The book was finally released in 1996, after Stokes had gained funding support for its production.