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John Ainsworth Horrocks (1818–1846)

by Jon Chittleborough

This article was published:

John Ainsworth Horrocks (1818-1846), by Colonel Temple, c1840

John Ainsworth Horrocks (1818-1846), by Colonel Temple, c1840

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 2333

John Ainsworth Horrocks (1818-1846), pastoralist and explorer, was born on 22 March 1818 at Penwortham Lodge, near Preston, Lancashire, England, eldest son and one of eight children of Peter Horrocks, gentleman, and his wife Clara, née Jupp. John was educated at Chester and in London, then by a tutor when the family moved to Boulogne, France, in 1831. Sent to a school in Paris two years later, he ran away to Vienna, where the family had settled. He arrived in South Australia in 1839—on his twenty-first birthday—with his 16-year-old brother Eustace, who later returned to Britain. John was 6 ft 2 ins (189 cm) tall, dark haired with blue eyes and possessed a rugged constitution. He brought with him a family servant, a blacksmith, a shepherd, four merino rams, sheepdogs, tools, sufficient clothing for five years, and a church bell.

Unlike many, Horrocks would not wait in Adelaide for the completion of land surveys. On the advice of Edward John Eyre, he explored land near the Hutt River, north of Adelaide and established Penwortham village. Other pastoralists followed him into the area. In 1841 the long awaited special survey gained a frustrated Horrocks title to only some of the fertile land he had been occupying. Nevertheless, he built up a flock of 9000 sheep and is believed to have established the first vineyard in the Clare district. In 1842, following the death of his father, he went back to Britain, but returned to South Australia early in 1844 when his affairs faced financial difficulties.

After Horrocks resolved these problems, bored with farming he rented out most of his properties. 'I want a more stirring life', he wrote, and proposed an expedition to search for new agricultural lands near Lake Torrens. An appeal for government assistance was unsuccessful but over £140 was raised by private subscription. Horrocks's own contribution included the first camel in Australia.

Leaving Penwortham on 29 July 1846 for a planned four-month absence, the party of six—including the artist S. T. Gill and Jimmy Moorhouse, an Aboriginal goatherd—travelled with the camel, two carts, six horses and twelve goats. On 16-19 August the expedition crossed the Flinders Ranges via Horrocks Pass. Horrocks found that the camel was temperamental, biting both humans and goats, but it would carry up to 350 pounds (158.7 kg), vital for anticipated treks through waterless country. The horses had been without water for two days when on 21 August the party reached Depot Creek, an old campsite of Eyre's.

From here several exploratory trips were made. On 1 September Horrocks was preparing to shoot a bird on the shores of Lake Dutton. The kneeling camel moved while Horrocks was reloading his gun, catching the cock. The resultant discharge removed the middle fingers of his right hand and a row of teeth. He was taken back to Penwortham, arriving on 19 September. Having ordered the camel to be shot, Horrocks died of his wounds on 23 September and was buried in land at Penwortham that he had given to the Church of England for a church. He had not married.

While often remembered as the man who was shot by his own camel, Horrocks had pioneered use of the animals in Australian exploration, and had earlier opened up the Clare valley for settlement. He was portrayed in some of Gill's numerous water-colours and sketches held in the Art Gallery of South Australia and other institutions. The State Library of South Australia has copies of a sketch and a painting of Horrocks produced by his brother-in-law Colonel Temple from a contemporary photograph.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Morphett, John Ainsworth Horrocks (Adel, 1946)
  • G. A. Pearce, John Ainsworth Horrocks of Penwortham (Watervale, SA, 1986)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, 1899, p 83, 1904-5, pp 36-48
  • South Australian Register, 1 July 1846, p 2, 4 July 1846, p 2, 15 July 1846, p 3, 18 July 1846, 12 Sept 1846, 30 Sept 1846, 3 Oct 1846, 10 Oct 1846
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 29 May 1888, p 6
  • Horrocks family papers, PRG 966 (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

Jon Chittleborough, 'Horrocks, John Ainsworth (1818–1846)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Ainsworth Horrocks (1818-1846), by Colonel Temple, c1840

John Ainsworth Horrocks (1818-1846), by Colonel Temple, c1840

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 2333

Life Summary [details]


22 March, 1818
Penwortham Lodge, Lancashire, England


23 September, 1846 (aged 28)
Penwortham, South Australia, Australia

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