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McKinlay, John


Was born at Sandbank on the Clyde, Scotland, in 1819, and emigrated to Sydney when 17 years of age. He began his colonial experience with an uncle who was a squatter, and afterwards made his way to near the border of South Australia, where he took up land between there and the Darling. He was interested in the aborigines of the district, and his knowledge of their ways was of great use to him when he became an explorer. In 1861 he was asked by the South Australian government to organize an expedition to search for the Burke (q.v.) and Wills (q.v.) party about whose fate there was then much anxiety. McKinlay left Adelaide on 16 August 1861 with nine other men, 70 sheep, two packhorses and four camels. On 20 October the grave of Gray was found near Cooper's Creek. McKinlay sent word of this to the government, and soon afterwards learned that the remains of Burke and Wills had also been found. He decided to explore in the direction of Mount Stuart, but was driven back by heavy rains and floods. McKinlay then decided to make for the Gulf of Carpentaria, hoping to find the vessel which had been sent to meet Burke's party. The shores of the Gulf were thought to be only four or five miles away, on 20 May 1862, but the intervening country was very difficult, and it was decided to turn in an easterly direction and make for Port Denison on the shores of northern Queensland. A station on the Bowen River near Port Denison was reached on 2 August, and, after a few days rest, Port Denison. The party then returned by sea to Adelaide. McKinlay received a grant of 1000 from the government and a gold watch from the Royal Geographical Society of England.

In 1863 McKinlay married Miss Pile, the daughter of an old friend, but was not allowed to settle down for long. In September 1865 he was sent to explore the Northern Territory and to report on the best sites for settlement. It was an exceptionally rainy season and while on the Alligator River the expedition was surrounded by flood waters. With great resource McKinlay, having killed his horses, constructed a raft with their hides and made a perilous journey to the coast. He reported favourably on the country near Anson Bay as being suitable for settlement. After his return he took up pastoral pursuits near the town of Gawler in South Australia, and died there on 31 December 1872. A monument to his memory was erected at Gawler in 1875.

McKinlay was a man of fine physique, 6 feet 3 inches high, modest and unassuming. He was an excellent bushman, making little of his privations, knowing when to push on and when to be cautious, and though he made only two expeditions, he ranks among the great explorers of Australia.


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