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William Christie Gosse (1842–1881)

by Fayette Gosse

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William Christie Gosse (1842-1881), by unknown photographer

William Christie Gosse (1842-1881), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5941

William Christie Gosse (1842-1881), explorer and surveyor, was born on 11 December 1842 in Hoddesdon, England, the second son of William Gosse and his wife Agnes, née Grant. His father, a medical practitioner, was a cousin of the naturalist, Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888). In 1850 Dr and Mrs Gosse with four sons and two daughters migrated to Adelaide hoping to cure the father's bronchitis. Dr Gosse became an active citizen of Adelaide, among other achievements originating the Home for Incurables, forming the second branch of the British Medical Association outside England and becoming the first warden of the Senate of the University of Adelaide. He sent his eldest and youngest sons to the Collegiate School of St Peter and the two middle ones to John Young's Educational Institution which produced the better results: William won distinction as an explorer and the third son, Charles, achieved it as a doctor of medicine specializing in eye diseases. When Charles was killed on 1 July 1885 by an accident with a bolting horse, a lectureship in ophthalmic surgery was founded at the University of Adelaide in his memory.

William, described by his sister Agnes as 'of an exceedingly gentle and thoughtful temperament', joined the surveyor-general's department in 1859 and was sent on a trigonometrical survey of the far north. By 1868 he was working in the south-eastern district when he married Gertrude Ritchie of Melbourne; she died the next year.

In 1872 the South Australian government invited William to lead a party to explore a way from central Australia to Perth. Major Egerton Warburton hoped to get this leadership but the government thought he was too old at 58. His champion, Thomas Elder, promptly fitted out another expedition with Warburton as leader. The rival parties, scrupulously avoiding each other, both set off from Alice Springs station in April 1873. Gosse, instructed 'to avoid mention of Mr Warburton's party', was harassed by trying to avoid the other's tracks and find a separate, manageable way of his own. Gosse's party consisted of Edwin Berry, second-in-command, William's youngest brother Henry as collector, two other white men, Winnall and Nilen, three Afghans and an Aboriginal boy. Elder lent them camels; they also had horses and provisions for eight months. The party proceeded westwards for four months, one of the camps being at Ayers Rock which on 19 July Gosse named and with astonishment described in his diary. On 17 September Gosse decided it was futile to proceed further west with so little water discoverable and that little drying out; the party turned back, returning by a different route and reaching, exhausted, Charlotte Waters telegraph station on 19 December. Although the expedition did not achieve its stated object it provided details of over 60,000 square miles (155,394 km²) of country and Gosse's maps prepared the way for John Forrest's successful crossing from east to west of that same territory in 1874.

In 1874 William married Agnes, daughter of Alexander Hay; they had three children, William, (Sir) James and Agnes. In 1875 he was made deputy surveyor general and, in July 1881, not being well, was granted a year's sick leave. William planned to revisit England but on 12 August had a heart attack and died within hours, aged 38, at his home in Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • Anglo-Australian (A. G. Hay), After-Glow Memories (Lond, 1905), report and diary of Mr W. C. Gosse's central and western exploring expedition, 1873, Votes and Proceedings (South Australia), 1874, 2 (48).

Citation details

Fayette Gosse, 'Gosse, William Christie (1842–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Christie Gosse (1842-1881), by unknown photographer

William Christie Gosse (1842-1881), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5941

Life Summary [details]


11 December, 1842
Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, England


12 August, 1881 (aged 38)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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