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William Henry James Carr-Boyd (1852–1925)

by Mary Durack

This article was published:

William Henry James Carr-Boyd (1852-1925), explorer, prospector and raconteur, was born at sea, second son of William Carr-Boyd and his wife Charlotte, née Macoboy, when his parents were travelling from England to Hobart Town. At Campbell Town his father, an accomplished classical scholar, ran a successful school but, although William later gained repute in the outback as a man of letters and an authority on the classics, he appears to have had little formal education. At 9 he was already gaining experience in the Barcoo district of western Queensland where he worked until 21 as a jackeroo. He then joined the rush to the newly-discovered diggings on Palmer River, and in 1875 went as second-in-command to William Hodgkinson on an expedition to explore country between the Diamantina River and the Northern Territory border. From this time on he contributed lively items to Queensland papers as 'Potjostler', a pseudonym suggested by the grumbling remark to Hodgkinson of his Russian surveyor that 'What with your potjostling here and potjostling there, you've given me the scurvy'.

Between intervals of exploring and prospecting Carr-Boyd was engaged in stocking stations in remote parts of Queensland and in 1880 he went in search of the brothers, Cornelius (`Syd') and Albert Prout, who had disappeared when looking for new country. The bodies of the two men were found on the Barkly Tableland where they had died of thirst some two years earlier. In 1882 he disposed of his interests in Queensland, planning to settle in Victoria. However, in 1883 he went as second-in-command of an expedition led by W. J. O'Donnell on behalf of the Cambridge Downs Pastoral Association; their purpose was to explore the country around the Cambridge Gulf, hoping to establish a sheep station. The party of six men, including a cook and an Aboriginal boy, twenty-six horses and provisions for six months, left Katherine on 26 March. O'Donnell named the impressive Carr Boyd Range after his companion on 26 May. Carr-Boyd made several side excursions on the journey, and by 10 August he announced his intention of going on to Perth. O'Donnell reluctantly consented, and Carr-Boyd set off with his share of the rations, a horse and the Aborigine. Ten days later when he rejoined the party at the Fitzroy River, he was very weak, suffered from both dysentery and scurvy, and had feared his provisions would run out. Lack of news from the party had caused concern in both Melbourne and Perth, so the telegram telling of their safe return to Katherine was received with relief in Perth. Carr-Boyd hurried to Melbourne and on 28 May 1884 brought a libel suit against A. D. Cotton, secretary of the Cambridge Downs Pastoral Association; the case was heard in the Supreme Court, Melbourne, before Mr Justice (Sir) Edward Holroyd. Carr-Boyd claimed £5000 damages on account of a letter signed by the defendant in the Argus, stating that Carr-Boyd had misbehaved himself, was drunk at the outset of the expedition, obstructed O'Donnell's policy, used bad language and deserted his comrades. The case was decided in Cotton's favour.

Soon afterwards Carr-Boyd returned to the Halls Creek area, and appears to have been successful as a prospector. In 1885 he may have joined O'Donnell, who was commissioned by the Western Australian government to find a better track to the gold diggings. Next year at Jackson's Reef Carr-Boyd discovered an 11 cwt. nugget which was treated in Melbourne and yielded 43 ozs. of gold. He was then enjoying life; according to a contemporary, at Mary Creek in 1887 he persuaded an Aborigine to put a hole through his nose with a sharp bone and later spun many fanciful stories around the episode. From Halls Creek he followed the trail of gold throughout the colony and was among the early diggers at Coolgardie. On 27 May 1895 with two companions, three camels and provisions for three months he left Kalgoorlie and went north-east through the Warburton Ranges and on to Warrina, then the terminus of the transcontinental railway in South Australia. He later claimed to have followed (Sir) John Forrest's tracks for 'the last five years and found him never wrong'.

Although undoubtedly a good bushman and an able prospector, Carr-Boyd was better remembered as one of the great camp-fire entertainers of his generation. A man of engaging personality and unfailing optimism, he had a fine voice, a wide repertoire of songs and an amazing fund of anecdotes. In England when the publication of Louis de Rougemont's allegedly factual adventures in north Australia were causing some controversy in 1899, Carr-Boyd claimed to expose the fallacy of the Frenchman's tales, but produced others that were equally extravagant. E. H. Brewer, journalist of the Daily News, who in 1917 travelled with him in America, declared his mission a mystery. 'Money he had in plenty, and he distributed it with a prodigality that was remarkable even in America. Carr didn't waste much effort on clothes. He wore a white pith helmet, dyed khaki and a two piece suit. This suit contained twenty-four pockets, and it took the Customs officials in Victoria exactly half-an-hour to examine him … [He] ate little, drank hugely of rum, because he said the molasses in it kept him alive'. His last years were spent at Cranbourne, Victoria. He died at Dandenong on 11 May 1925, leaving a widow Emily Harriet, née Deakin, none of their four children and very little estate, but convinced to the end that fabulous fortune awaited his discovery.

Select Bibliography

  • W. J. O'Donnell, Diary of the Exploring Expedition (Melb, 1884)
  • W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • C. Cammilleri, ‘Memoirs of a Kimberly Prospector: F. W. P. Cammilleri’, Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), vol 6, part 3, 1964, pp 19-32
  • Golden West, 1906, 1917, 1923-27
  • Bulletin, 17 July 1880, 22 Apr 1882
  • Inquirer (Perth), 10 Jan, 11 Apr 1883
  • West Australian, 3 Nov 1883, 3 May, 10 Apr, 14 June 1884, 21 July, 27 Aug, 27 Sept, 2, 19 Nov 1886, 25 Aug 1896, 21 May 1925
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12, 15 Jan, 29-31 May 1884, 12 May 1925
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 19 Nov 1916
  • CSO letters, 1884 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • M. P. Durack diaries, 1886-87 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Mary Durack, 'Carr-Boyd, William Henry James (1852–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Potjostler

at sea


11 May, 1925 (aged ~ 73)
Dandenong, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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