1825 -1905







Robert Austin
Robert Austin



Robert Austin was the son of James Gardner Austin, an architect and was born at Wanstead House, Epping Forest, Essex in England on December 31st 1825.

He was 15 years old when he arrived in Australia aboard the Island Queen in 1840 with his family. In 1847 Robert joined Surveyor-General's department and during the next 15 years conducted a great deal of survey work around the Toodyay and Northam districts.

He was very nearly killed when he fell from a ship off Champion Bay in the dark on December 30th 1850. He was very lucky that the ship was able to turn quickly and he was rescued within 10 minutes.

During his exploration of the Murchison region in 1854 one of the pack horses bolted and survey instruments were damaged. This led to bearings being out several miles to the east from that time on.


The expedition was unable to reach the Gascoyne (their intended goal) as they had started out too late in the year and feed for the horses and water was too scarce. Horses died from eating poison plants and one of the men (Charles Farmer) accidentally shot himself on September 19th and died eight days later.

The expedition finally ran out of luck and water and Austin wrote after returning from a fruitless search for water:

"The whole of the party stripped and buried in the sand under the shade of their blankets thrown over a bush, and our horses standing up with their heads under their masters' blankets, too thirsty to feed . . . the men were drinking their own and the horses' urine, and a native I captured and kept to find water, as he knew the country, did the same, saying we should all die if I persisted in pushing on."

The party was forced to abandon the expedition and arrived at Port Gregory on November 25th.

Austin was the first British explorer to enter the inland Murchison and his reports of the expedition stated that the area was likely to contain gold deposits. At the time there was a shortage of labour in the colony and the fact that Austin's reports of gold in the Murchison were effectively 'buried' leads to the conclusion that the authorities deliberately conspired to hide the truth as they feared the consequences of a gold rush that would leave Perth and Albany without labourers and servants.

In 1858-9, Austin led a survey party (consisting of Higgins, Duckham, Cook, Cook, Nichol and Donovan) through the Preston and Balingup areas.

Austin tried in vain for the remainder of his life to get recognition for the discovery of the Murchison goldfields but the closest he got was in a letter from John Forrest that stated:

' your opinion as to the existence of a goldfield in that locality being fully vindicated after a lapse of 40 years, must afford you much gratification.'

Robert Austin has almost been forgotten by history with his name being remembered only by a street in Cue and by Lake Austin, which by a quirk of fate was the site of a very successful gold mine.

He went on to Queensland where he continued to work as a surveyor. In May 1862 he was appointed engineer of roads for the southern district.

In October 1862 he married Sophia Catherine Douglas with whom he had 10 children. In June 1891 he was appointed sergeant-at-arms to the Legislative Assembly.

Robert Austin died on February 24th 1905.




1825 - Born December 31st.

1840 - Arrived in Western Australia.

1847 - Joined Surveyor-General's department.

1850 - Fell from a ship off Champion Bay and was rescued.

1854 - Exploration of the Murchison region.

1858 - Exploration of the Preston and Balingup areas.

1860 - Resigned from the survey department tin W.A. in April.

1860 - Appointed surveyor, second class, in the Surveyor-General's Department in Queensland.

1861 - Promoted to surveyor first class in January.

1861 - Appointed commissioner of crown lands.

1862 - In May he was appointed engineer of roads for the southern district.

1862 - Married Sophia Catherine Douglas on October 22nd.

1891 - Appointed sergeant-at-arms to the Legislative Assembly in June.

1893 - Dismissed from his position due to an economic down-turn.

1905 - Died February 24th.


Links to more information:


Austin, Robert (1825-1905)

Robert Austin (explorer)




Become a supporter of this website for just $5 a month



Go to the Home Page Go to the Help Page Go to the Help Page

Western Australia Now and Then website - Copyright (c) 2019 - Marc Glasby. All rights reserved.