Society for the History of Discoveries


Davis, Richard C., ed. The Central Australia Expedition 1844-1846. The Journals of Charles Sturt.  Hakluyt Society Series III, vol. 10 (London: The Hakluyt Society, 2002) lxxi, 366pp. 1 map and 5 ills. (partly colored). ISBN 0904180808, ISSN 0729396

     The publication by the Hakluyt Society of the set of original journals written by Charles Sturt during his third and last major Australian expedition in 1844-1846 makes these journals generally accessible for the first time. The journals have been transcribed from the privately owned manuscript originals, hitherto available only as black-and-white microfilm made by the Australian Joint Copying Project. They have been edited historically by Richard C. Davis, a Professor of English at Calgary University. Professor Davis has an established record of research into explorersí accounts of the remote fringes of Britainís colonial empire, both Canadian and Australian. His scholarly interest in the layers of narrative created by explorers writing and rewriting their experiences for various private and public reading audiences has found ample scope in Sturtís journals. Sturt wrote them on foolscap sheets of paper folded in half and sewn together to form nine ďfoldersĒ. Folders 2-9 cover the entire expedition from start to finish, while folder 1 is a later rewriting of the material in folder 2. The folders were based on rough field notes that survive only in fragments. The letters that Sturt also wrote during the expedition to his wife, his later manuscript versions of portions of the journals, and his published Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia, Performed under the Authority of Her Majestyís Government, During the Years 1844, 5, and 6 (London: T. and W. Boone, 1849) differ in subtle but significant ways from the original journals published here.

     The footnotes added by Professor Davis augment the text of the journals, identifying plants and animals mentioned, making brief comparisons to Sturtís other accounts of the expedition, etc. Given the differences among Sturtís various accounts, any reader interested in the details of the expedition will want to read this edition of the Journals in conjunction with the other accounts. The letters that Sturt wrote to his wife have been edited by Jill Waterhouse and published as Journal of the Central Australian Expedition 1844-1845 (London: Caliban Books, 1984). The Narrative published in 1849 by Sturt and republished as no. 5 in the series Australiana Facsimile Editions (Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1965) is excellent, because it includes a large-format ďMap of Captn. Sturtís route from Adelaide into the centre of Australia, constructed from his original protractions, and other official documentsĒ produced in London by John Arrowsmith in 1849. The small modern route map in Professor Davisís edition of the Journals is too general and lacking in detail to allow Sturtís route to be followed closely. The small map in the Journal edited by Waterhouse has similar drawbacks, so the large Arrowsmith map is essential for the reader who wants to tie these accounts to the geographical landscape through which the expedition passed.

     The most substantive addition that Professor Davis has made to this edition of the Journals is the 63-page introductory essay. Here he situates the Central Australia Expedition in broader historical perspective, as well as in the context of Charles Sturtís personal ambitions. Charles Sturt, a captain in the British Army, had arrived in Sydney, Australia with a contingent of the 39th Regiment in 1827. Poor but ambitious, Sturt saw the role of explorer as a route to recognition and advancement and eagerly volunteered. During two earlier expeditions sent out by Governor Darling in 1828-1830, Sturt and his companions had explored the river systems of New South Wales, opening the way for the eventual inland expansion of colonial settlement. Suffering from blindness brought on by the hardships of exploration, Sturt returned in 1833 to England and recuperated, first retiring on a disability pension, but soon thereafter exchanging the pension for a land grant in Australia and returning there with his bride in 1834. Neither his land speculations, first in New South Wales and from 1839 in South Australia, nor his efforts to secure himself in a government position in South Australia proved entirely successful. Desperate for glory and reward, Sturt wrote to the Colonial Office in England with a grandiose plan to explore Australia from North to South and East to West in two years. The British government and the Royal Geographical Society instead offered to support a sensibly scaled-down expedition from Adelaide northward into the interior. Setting off in 1844, Sturt and his companions reached a point about 11 degrees north of Adelaide but failed to discover the expected inland sea, the continental divide or land suitable for agriculture. Returning in 17 months (rather than the planned 12 months), they were feted for making the journey and for surviving despite the great hardships. For Sturt the battle was just beginning. The Narrative of the expedition that Sturt published in 1849 was written as part of his personal campaign, waged with some success, to secure fame and fortune in reward for his arduous explorations. As interpreted by Professor Davis, Sturtís various accounts of the Central Australia Expedition, important though they are as an early record of the Australian interior, also reveal just as much about the writer and his cultural biases.

Karen Severud Cook

The University of Kansas


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