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Carson, David (1843–1931)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

David Carson (1843-1931), businessman and mining speculator, was born on 25 July 1843 in Melbourne, son of John Carson and Elizabeth, née Duncan, who had arrived from Scotland in 1842. The family lived in Collins Street where John Carson imported footwear. In 1852 they moved to East Clifton (Studley Park) and David later attended James Bonwick's school in Cotham Road, Kew. He visited Britain with his parents and on his return in 1857 was enrolled at Scotch College where he completed his education and played in the first cricket match against Melbourne Grammar School.

In 1858, inspired by Ludwig Leichhardt's diary, John Carson and others applied for land on Suttor Creek, inland from Mackay. They stocked the run in 1860 and in 1862 Carson bought out his partners except for James Sutherland and William Kirk. In April 1863 David sailed to Brisbane, bought stock which Kirk took north, continued to Rockhampton and thence to Suttor Creek. The partners intended to drive the sheep towards the Gulf of Carpentaria and on to the Victoria River country if necessary. In November Kirk arrived with Goomburra ewes and Glengallan rams and the party moved off. The wet season broke before they reached the Suttor River, bringing with it fever, delay and growing fear of Aboriginal attack. A poisonous shrub killed half the sheep and the party was hemmed in by floods at Tower Hill Creek. Carson made the hundred-mile (161 km) journey alone to the lagging bullock drays for medicine and tobacco, 'skirting the flooding country … the Blacks' signal fires keeping me company'. In March 1864 they reached Walker Creek where Carson and Sutherland took up Mount Walker station, later adding Marathon, Keira and Clutha to their holdings in the Flinders River district. With John Ranken they took up Lawn Hill on the Barkly Tableland.

In April 1865 Carson returned to Melbourne with geological specimens found at the Flinders River which provided the first definite identification of the Cretaceous chalk formation, and with fossils which proved to be the Ichthyosaurus australis. In 1866 he returned to Marathon but in 1870 was back in Melbourne, a disheartened pastoralist but firm in his belief in the colony, his account of which reads 'like a paragraph from the Arabian Nights, gold, silver, copper, precious stones', valueless through 'want of inhabitants and roads'. He entered his father's business and assumed full control in 1876. He became an auditor (he was auditor of the Bank of Victoria in 1892) and during his father's long absence overseas assumed his responsibilities in the steamship line owned by John McIlwraith, who thought David's spirit of 'go aheadism' would take him far.

Carson was a director of the Victorian Squatting Co. which leased land near the Carson River in the Kimberley district but, from the early 1880s when he became a legal manager and mining agent, his great interest was mining. He travelled over much of Australia and conducted mining operations for copper north of Lake Eyre, had control of many mines in the Lauriston district and helped to open up the Meredith district between Geelong and Ballarat. In 1905 he returned to north Queensland to explore the Helenvale area near Cooktown and found tin deposits which he worked in 1907.

In Melbourne Carson lived at Irwell, Gladstone Parade, Elsternwick. He was for many years vice-president of the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria and he remained interested in the National Museum's collections, promising in 1905 information on the Hinchinbrook islanders. He was a founder of the Legal Managers' Association, vice-president of the City of Melbourne Building Society, and an early member of the East Melbourne Cricket Club. During his last years Carson lived in retirement and died on 30 November 1931, predeceased by his wife Annie, née Baker, whom he had married in 1876, and survived by three daughters and three sons, one of whom was Sir Norman Carson.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Illustrated Australian News, 12 Sept 1868
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 Oct 1886, 2 Dec 1931
  • North Queensland Register, 3 July 1905
  • John McIlwraith & Co. records (Australian National University Archives)
  • Carson papers (privately held).

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Carson, David (1843–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/carson-david-3172/text4749, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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