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David Wynford Carnegie (1871–1900)

by Patricia Morison

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David Wynford Carnegie (1871-1900), by unknown photographer

David Wynford Carnegie (1871-1900), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 23001

David Wynford Carnegie (1871-1900), explorer, was born on 23 March 1871 at Carlton House Terrace, London, fourth son of James, sixth earl of Southesk, and his second wife Susan Catherine Mary, daughter of the earl of Dunsmore. Educated at Charterhouse School and the Royal Indian Engineering College, Staines, he spent a short unhappy term in Ceylon on a tea plantation and, in September 1892 with his friend Lord Percy Douglas, joined the rush to Coolgardie, Western Australia. For eighteen months Carnegie cheerfully worked as a partner and employee in various mines. Between March 1894 and March 1895 he made two commissioned prospecting expeditions for the Hampton Plains Pastoral Co. He found little gold but learned much bushcraft, principally from Gus Luck, an Alsatian who shared the first trip and laughed at his conservative and royalist fervour.

Carnegie now had both the experience and the funds to seek fame by an inland crossing of Western Australia from south to north. Planning to establish the nature of the country between the 1874 route of (Sir) John Forrest and the 1872-73 route of Warburton, he was concerned particularly with gold and the possibility of a direct stockroute between the Kimberley district and Coolgardie. His four companions were Joseph Breaden of Central Australia and his Aboriginal servant Warri, Godfrey Massie of Sydney and Charles Stansmore of Perth. Eight pack-camels carried five months provisions and the necessary equipment; there was only one riding camel.

They started from Coolgardie on 9 July 1896 and intersected Forrest's route at Mount Worsnop 280 miles (451 km) away. At one point, after nearly a fortnight without finding water, Carnegie began to capture Aboriginals, and deprive them of water if necessary or even feed them salt beef as an inducement to reveal secret water supplies; he was subsequently criticized severely, even though he had merely been honest enough to admit what was common practice among explorers and pioneer pastoralists at the time. He had treated the captured Aboriginal people humanely once water was obtained. From Mount Worsnop, Carnegie struck north into the Gibson Desert; they crossed 370 miles (595 km) of this country and on 16 September entered the Great Sandy Desert. For nearly a month the course led across a succession of regular spinifex-clad sand ridges fifty to sixty feet (15-18 m) high. Sandstone tablelands on 16 November led to better country but three camels died of poison plant and on 30 November Stansmore accidentally shot himself dead. The expedition reached Halls Creek on 4 December.

The return trip began on 22 March 1897 and took them east of the outward course; they reached Coolgardie early in August after travelling 3000 miles (4828 km) in thirteen months. Though his results were disappointing, Carnegie was a thoroughly professional explorer. An experienced bushman said of him that 'no explorer since 1862 has covered so much difficult and unknown territory in the time, or accomplished his task with so little loss or with such efficiency'.

Returning to England late in 1897, Carnegie was awarded the Gill medal of the Royal Geographical Society and published his Spinifex and Sand in 1898. In December 1899 he went to Northern Nigeria as an assistant resident under Sir Frederick Lugard. He served at Illorin and while based at Lokoja was killed by a poisoned arrow in a minor skirmish at Kerifi on 21 November 1900. He was buried at Lokoja; a memorial was erected in Brechin Cathedral, Scotland, and a replica placed in St George's Cathedral, Perth, in 1925. His sister privately published his Letters from Nigeria in 1902. The 5,714 square kilometre Lake Carnegie, and the adjoining Carnegie pastoral and weather station, are located near the path of his 1896-97 journeys. Carnegie station is at the western terminus of the Gunbarrel Highway.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Buchanan, Packhorse and Waterhole (Syd, 1933)
  • D. O'Callaghan, Reminiscences and Adventures Throughout the World (Perth, 1941)
  • Victorian Geographical Journal, 21 (1903)
  • JRWAHS (Early Days), Dec 1948
  • British Australasian, 16 Dec 1897, 29 Sept 1898, 13 Dec 1900, Australasian (Melbourne), 25 Sept, 30 Oct 1897, 15 Dec 1900
  • Western Argus (Kalgoorlie), 15 Jan 1901.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Patricia Morison, 'Carnegie, David Wynford (1871–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

David Wynford Carnegie (1871-1900), by unknown photographer

David Wynford Carnegie (1871-1900), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 23001

Life Summary [details]


23 March, 1871
London, Middlesex, England


21 November, 1900 (aged 29)
Lokoja, Nigeria

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