WILLIAM ERNEST GILES

1835 - 1897

 

 

 

 

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William Ernest Giles

 

Ernest Giles was born in Bristol, England on July 20th 1835 to William and Jane Elizabeth Giles.

At the age of 10, Giles won a scholarship to a boarding school in London and when his family emigrated to South Australia in 1848, Giles remained in London to complete his education.

In 1851 he re-joined his family but when his father died in 1853 they moved to Melbourne. After failing to find gold on the Victorian goldfields, Giles took up a position with the Post Office but the pay was very poor and he was soon on the move again.

From 1861-65 he worked in western New South Wales and then took up a droving job in Queensland and found that an outdoor life suited him

In 1872 he explored west of the Rawlinson Range to Charlotte Waters, Finke Valley and Missionaries' Plain south of the MacDonnell Ranges. Lack of water meant the the expedition had to turn back.

The following year Giles led another expedition (comprising of William Henry Tietkins, Alfred Gibson, and James Andrews), this time starting further south, he followed the Musgrave Ranges. He was trying to find a way through the hills to the west and while scouting ahead of the main party with another man (Gibson) got into serious difficulty.

 

The pair dropped some supplies at a spot they called 'the kegs' and continued west. They were unable to find water and were soon left with only one horse. Giles gave the horse to Gibson and instructed him to make for the kegs, to resupply and ride on to the main camp to get help and he (Giles) would follow on foot.

When Giles reached the kegs he found that Gibson had been there and left him a small quantity of supplies. He settled in to wait for the main party to rescue him. Eventually it became obvious that no-one was coming and he made the long walk back to the main camp with no food and almost no water.

When he arrived, Giles found that Gibson had never turned up so after a nights rest he was off again in search of the missing man. Although he did pick up Gibson's tracks they soon petered out and the search had to be abandoned. Glies named the area Gibson's Desert in honour of the lost man.

 

William Ernest Giles

 

Giles' 4th expedition was financed by Thomas Elder (the man responsible for bringing some of the first camels out to Australia). Giles set out in May 1875 and planned to roughly follow the 29 degree latitude line across the country. Soon after crossing the West Australian border Giles wrote in his diary:

"I have never visited any part of Australia so devoid of animal life."

The reason for this soon became clear as they men were unable to find water for 12 days straight and if they had not had camels with them, they might not have survived. Eventually they found a supply of water at a place they named Queen Victoria Spring. The area they were crossing they named the Great Victoria Desert. They rested at the spring for a week to regain strength and then headed west again. At Ularring soak they met some Aborigines who were friendly at first but after a few days must have become alarmed at the amount of water the camels were taking and attacked the explorers driving them away from the water.

Giles was the first European to view the Olgas (Kata Tjuta). He wanted to name the rock formation, Mt Mueller, in honour of his benefactor, Baron Ferdinand von Mueller. Mueller decided instead that he would prefer instead to honour King Amadeus of Spain and Queen Olga of Württemberg. Giles is said to have been the first European to discover Ayres Rock (Uluru) competing explorer, William Gosse, was the first to report the discovery and the credit went to him.

Finally the men reached the Milaby Plains where George Dollard Clarke (of the Moora district) was looking for lost horses. Giles met Clarke by accident but it was a happy accident as Clarke knew the area and was able to guide Giles to the old Tootra Well. The next day the party arrived at Indarrie Station and George was sent to the telegraph station at Walebing to send word to Perth of Giles' safe arrival.

Giles had travelled through the centre of Australia, some 4000 kilometres, and had not lost a member of the expedition on the way.

You would think that after such an arduous trek, Giles would want nothing more than a nice easy sea passage back east but no so! His second in command had had enough so with a new lieutenant, Giles set off north to the Ashburton River before turning east and traipsing all the way back across the continent again. He was the first man ever to cross the country twice on the same expedition.

Flies in the outback have always been a huge problem and Giles wrote: 'Flies infest the whole air. We can't help eating, drinking and breathing flies. They go down our throats in spite of our teeth and we wear them all over our bodies. They creep up one's clothing and die and others go in after them to see what they died of.'

Giles received some awards and honorary memberships as well as 500 pounds from the South Australian government but was unable to gain any official appointment. Governor Jervois is quoted as saying 'I am informed that he gambles and that his habits are not always strictly sober.'

Back in South Australia, Giles applied for work with the Surveyor General's Department but was told he lacked the qualifications - apparently successfully navigating twice across Australia wasn't good enough. In 1877 Giles worked as a land classifier in the west of Victoria.

He left for the Kimberleys to look for gold and must have been had some success as he was able to finance a trip to England. On his return he tried his luck around Coolgardie but apparently found nothing there. Out of money he took a job in the Mining Warden's office at a wage only half that he had got at the post office all those years ago.

Giles contracted pneumonia and died at Coolgardie aged 62. The local community financed a memorial that stands over his grave.

Shortly after his death the following was written about him: 'He has left behind a name that will be long remembered and held in honor as one who had devoted the best years of his life to one of the noblest causes that man can engage'

In 1976, Giles' portrait appeared on a postage stamp issued by Australia Post. Mt. Giles, Lake Giles and the Giles Weather Station were named in his honour.

 

 

Exploring party 1875 (Battye Library 00029d)

 

Chronology

 

1835 - Born July 20th in Bristol, England.

1848 - Family emigrated to South Australia but William remained in school in England.

1851 - William re-joined his family.(One source says 1850).

1852 - Went to the Victorian goldfields.

1853 - Moved to Melbourne and worked as a clerk at the Post Office after his father died.

1861-5 - Worked in western New South Wales and then took up a droving job in Queensland.

1865 - Explored north-west of the Darling River in the Yancannia Range.

1872 - Explored west of the Rawlinson Range to Charlotte Waters, Finke Valley and Missionaries' Plain .

1873 - Led another expedition starting further south and followed the Musgrave Ranges.

1875 - Expedition to roughly follow the 29 degree latitude line across the country.

1875 - Published Geographic Travels in Central Australia from 1872 to 1874.

1877-9 - Worked as a land classifier in the Western District of Victoria.

1880 - Published The Journal of a Forgotten Expedition.

1880 - Made a fellow and gold medalist of the Royal Geographical Society.

1882 - Revisited the Musgrave Ranges.

1889 - Published Australia Twice Traversed.

1897 - Died of pneumonia on November 13th.

 

Links to more information:

 

Giles, Ernest (1835-1897)

Ernest Giles

William Ernest Powell Giles

 

 

 

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