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John Ainsworth HORROCKS
(1818-1846)


John Ainsworth Horrocks is one of those whose accidental death at the very outset of his career plunged his name into oblivion. Had he lived to climb to the summit of his ambition as an explorer, it would have been written large in Australian history. That he had some premonition of the conditions necessary to successful exploration to the west is shown by his having been the first to employ the camel as an aid to exploration. He took one with him on his last and fatal trip, and it is an example of fate's cruel irony that the presence of this animal was inadvertently the cause of his death.

Horrocks was born at Penwortham Hall, Lancashire, on March 22nd, 1818. He was very much taken with the South Australian scheme of colonisation, and left London for Adelaide, where he arrived in 1839. He at once took up land, and with his brother started sheep-farming. He was a born explorer, however, and made several excursions into the surrounding untraversed land, finding several geographical features, which still preserve the names he gave them. In 1846 he organised an expedition along more extended lines, intending to proceed far into the north-west and west. After having over-looked the ground, he would then prepare another party on a large scale to attempt the passage to the Swan River. He started in July, but in September occurred the disaster which cut him off in the flower of his promise. In his dying letter he describes how he saw a beautiful bird, which he was anxious to obtain:--

"My gun being loaded with slugs in one barrel and ball in the other, I stopped the camel to get at the shot belt, which I could not get without his lying down.

"Whilst Mr. Gill was unfastening it, I was screwing the ramrod into the wad over the slugs, standing close alongside of the camel. At this moment the camel gave a lurch to one side, and caught his pack in the cock of my gun, which discharged the barrel I was unloading, the contents of which first took off the middle fingers of my right hand between the second and third joints, and entered my left cheek by my lower jaw, knocking out a row of teeth from my upper jaw."

His sufferings were agonising, but he was easy between the fearful convulsions, and at the end of the third day after he had reached home, whither his companions had succeeded in conveying him, he died without a struggle.

From 'The Explorers of Australia and their Life-work' by Ernest Favenc


Updated 4 August 04