Ernest Giles

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William Ernest Powell Giles (7 July 1835 – 13 November 1897), best known as Ernest Giles, was an Australian explorer who led three major expeditions in central Australia.[1][2]


Early life

Ernest Giles was born in Bristol, England son of William Giles, a merchant, and Jane Elizabeth, née Powell. Giles was educated at Christ's Hospital school, London. At the age of 15, he emigrated to Australia, joining his parents and took up residence in Adelaide, South Australia. In 1852 Giles went to the Victorian goldfields, then obtained a position in the General Post Office, Melbourne, and afterwards one in the county court. Soon tiring of town life Giles went to the back country and obtained valuable experience as a bushman; he was exploring on the Darling River in 1861, looking for pastoral country. He was searching for land capable of cultivating hemp, as it was valuable for rope at the time.


Giles didn't attempt a regular exploring expedition until 1872, when with two other men he left Chambers pillar, South Australia (now in the Northern Territory), around the middle of August and traversed much previously untrodden country to the north-west and west. Finding their way barred by Lake Amadeus and that their horses were getting very weak, a return was made to the Finke River and thence to Charlotte Waters and Adelaide, where Giles arrived in January 1873. Giles looked upon his expedition as a failure, but he had done well considering the size and equipment of his party.

Second expedition

Giles' friend Baron von Mueller raised a subscription so that a new expedition could be made. The services of William Henry Tietkins as first assistant was obtained, and with two other men a start was made on 4 August 1873. The journey began considerably south from the previous expedition and from the Alberga River a generally western course was traversed. A month later in the Musgrave Ranges a fine running river was found and named the Ferdinand and by 3 October 1873 the party was approaching longitude 128 East. The country was extremely dry and though tested in various directions it was a constant struggle to get enough water to keep the horses going. Early in November, having passed longitude 126, a partial return was made and on 20 December 1873 the neighbourhood of Mount Scott was reached. A turn to the north and then west was made and the farthest westerly point was reached on 23 April 1874. Giles and one of the men, Alfred Gibson, had been scouting ahead when the latter's horse died. Giles gave him his own horse with instructions to follow their tracks back and obtain assistance. Giles made his way back to their depot on foot in eight days, almost completely exhausted, to find that Gibson had not reached the camp. A search was made for him for several days without success. The stores were almost finished, nothing further could be done, and on 21 May 1874 the return journey began. Giles named the desert Gibson Desert after his companion. On 24 June 1874 they were on a good track to the Finke River and on 13 July 1874 Charlotte Waters was reached. Giles had again failed to cross the continent, but in the circumstances all had been done that was possible.

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