Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lindsay, David (1856–1922)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

David Lindsay (1856-1922), by unknown photographer, c1890

David Lindsay (1856-1922), by unknown photographer, c1890

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 495

David Lindsay (1856-1922), explorer, was born on 20 June 1856 at Goolwa, South Australia, son of John Scott Lindsay, master mariner of Dundee, and his wife Catherine, née Reid. He was educated locally and under Rev. John Hotham at Port Elliot before at 15 going to work in a chemist's shop, next with an Adelaide mining agent. In 1873 he was apprenticed as a surveyor with the government. Five years later he was appointed junior surveyor and clerk in the land office of the Department of the Northern Territory at Palmerston (Darwin). On 10 March 1881 at North Adelaide he married Annie Theresa Stuart Lindsay; the families were not related.

Next year Lindsay resigned and began business in Palmerston as a surveyor, draftsman, and land, stock and station agent. In 1883 the South Australian government commissioned him to explore the central and eastern part of Arnheim's (Arnhem) Land; his party survived fierce attacks by Aborigines, one group numbering 300. In 1885-86 he took seven men and twelve camels from Hergott Springs to the Gulf of Carpentaria, tracing the Finke River to its mouth and seeking information about Ludwig Leichhardt. Lindsay surveyed the country between the overland telegraph line and the Queensland border, explored the MacDonnell Ranges, made a brief foray into the Simpson Desert, and spent six months in the country between Lake Nash and Powell's Creek.

He reported on the gold-bearing potential of mines near Port Darwin in 1886-87 for an English syndicate; he then made a notable five-week ride of 1400 miles (2253 km) across the continent to the southern coast, with only one Aboriginal companion. On his return Lindsay was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, London. He spent 1888 examining the MacDonnell Ranges for precious stones and minerals and found a deposit of payable mica. From 1889 Lindsay was a broker on the Adelaide Stock Exchange.

In 1891 the local branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia undertook to explore the last blank spaces on the map of south-western Australia. Lindsay was appointed to lead the venture, known as the Elder Scientific Exploring Expedition, after its backer Sir Thomas Elder. The expedition, begun in May and involving forty-two camels—Lindsay was an expert camel trainer and rider—set off from Warrina and was intended to take eighteen months. When crossing what was later the Coolgardie goldfield, Lindsay telegraphed back that the country was 'possibly auriferous'. Despite severe drought he was sure they could proceed towards the Kimberley, but in the Murchison district of Western Australia four of his party resigned. The society forbade Lindsay to replace the four and wired him to return home. In Adelaide the rebels' charges against him were heard. Lindsay was exonerated, and Elder expressed his continued confidence, announcing that he would compensate him for the loss of office; but the abandonment of the expedition was 'a terrible disappointment' to Lindsay.

News soon arrived of the discovery of gold at Coolgardie. In 1893 Lindsay overlanded camels there, sold them profitably, and resumed operating as a mining surveyor and broker: he made over £20,000 in share dealing. In 1895 in London his acclaim as an explorer helped him to publicize Western Australia's golden potential: he floated several mining companies and became colonial manager of Scottish Westralia Ltd. Next year he was again in London arranging finance for his firm, Electric Power Supply Co., to provide electricity to the goldfields. In 1897 Lindsay returned to Adelaide where he and his wife were socially prominent.

Later he moved to Sydney and by 1909 was extolling the Northern Territory's potential; but he feared that 'the yellow hordes of Asia' might enter and he believed that Aborigines should live apart from whites. In 1913 he was a member of a Federal royal commission on Northern Territory ports and railways that travelled extensively in the region. Next year Lindsay gained Federal government support to establish a meat-freezing works and cattle-station on the Macarthur River in the Northern Territory, but the war fatally delayed it.

He did some surveying for the Commonwealth and became interested in cotton-growing. While investigating that possibility he became ill and died in Darwin of valvular disease of the heart on 17 December 1922. His wife, a daughter and their four sons survived him.

When young, Lindsay had possessed the energy and heroic stature of an explorer: tall, bronzed and richly bearded, his chest and shoulders were broad. He was a competent but autocratic leader, who became bombastic with success.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly (compiler), History of Western Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1883-84 (239)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch), Nov 1889
  • Australia and New Zealand Weekly, 4 Apr, 9 May 1895, 27 Aug 1896
  • Technical Journal, 1 (Jan 1923), no 3
  • Scottish Australasian, 21 Apr 1923
  • South Australiana, 18, no 2, Sept 1979
  • Observer (Adelaide), 25 Apr 1891
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 24 Oct 1891, 10 Nov 1894
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 20 Jan 1896
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Apr, 2 May 1922
  • Northern Territory Times, 19 Dec 1922
  • David Lindsay papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CRS A3 item NT16/1657, NT14/2482 (National Archives of Australia)
  • gen cat A799, A69 (State Records of South Australia.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Lindsay, David (1856–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lindsay-david-602/text12455, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 July 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

David Lindsay (1856-1922), by unknown photographer, c1890

David Lindsay (1856-1922), by unknown photographer, c1890

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 495