The Surveyors

Surveyors were very important in the early colony.

The colonial government ‘owned’ all the land, which had to be surveyed before settlers could lease or sell it (Link to box on Crown Land).


  • Searched for good farming land, mineral resources and water (Frome, Babbage, Goyder, Freeling).
  • Surveyed roads, pastoral runs and mining leases (Sinnett, McDouall Stuart, Goyder, Painter.

Surveyor-General Edward Charles Frome

  • Colonel E.C. Frome led an expedition up the east side of the Flinders in 1843, sketching as he went. The Art Gallery of South Australia has watercolours he painted of Black Rock Hills near Orroroo, camp sites, Mt Serle and a salt lake he called Lake Torrens, but which we know as Lake Frome.
  • Frome’s entry in the Australian National Dictionary of Biography says:
    • He was the first to visit the lake later named after him, and his report accurately described the poor nature of the surrounding country. He evidently liked exploring…He had useful talent as an artist, but the chief value of his pictures is their historical content.


  • B. C. Newland, ‘Edward Charles Frome’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 63, Dec 1962, pp 51-71.
  • Hylton, J and Curtin, P. (eds) 2002. Arid Arcadia: Art of the Flinders Ranges. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
  • Art Gallery of SA


Frederick Sinnett

  • Sinnett was engaged by the Browne brothers to survey their claims for Wilpena, Arkaba and Aroona – a ‘continuous stretch of the best-watered country in the central Flinders Ranges’ (Mincham 1980:20).
  • His map of Wilpena Pound was the first made, and shows that the name “pound’ was used from the beginning of pastoral settlement.
  • Sinnett also mapped the Elder and Chace Ranges.

John McDouall Stuart.

  • John McDouall Stuart, who later became famous as an explorer, was privately engaged from 1855 to survey pastoral runs for the Chambers brothers and other.
  • Later, he surveyed mineral leases in the Flinders as well.
  • Stuart was apparently a serious drinker when he had the opportunity. There was at least one occasion when he was surveying for Chambers when he had to be tied on his horse because he was so drunk he would have fallen off.


  • Morris, Deirdre, ‘Stuart, John McDouall (1815–1866)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 September 2012.
  • Mincham, Hans 1983. The Story of the Flinders Ranges. (3rd ed). Adelaide, Rigby.

Babbage, B. H

  • The Government of South Australia, inspired by the goldfields discoveries in Victoria, sent Babbage north to search for gold in the Flinders Ranges in 1856.
  • Babbage was unsuccessful in his quest for gold, ‘and surprisingly he made no more than passing mention of copper, traces of which had attracted the attention of the early settlers to the extent that several mineral leases had been taken out by the time of the Babbage expedition (Corbett 1969:7).
  • Babbage had several different Aboriginal guides at different stages of his journeys. One of them told him of a northern route through the salt-lake ‘horseshoe’ that Eyre thought existed.
  • Babbage and Warburton found their way through the land bridge between Lake Torrens and the large lake they named Lake Eyre in 1858.

Another expedition led by Gregory, came down from Cooper Creek between Lakes Blanche and Callabonna to the Flinders also in 1858  – probably along the route that Babbage had heard about two years earlier.


  • Corbett, D.W.P. (1969). The Geology of the Flinders Ranges. In the Natural History of the Flinders Ranges pp. 1-55. Ed. by D.W.P. Corbett. Adelaide. Libraries Board of South Australia.
  • Symes, G. W., ‘Babbage, Benjamin Herschel (1815–1878)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2012.
  • Symes, G. W., ‘Babbage, Benjamin Herschel (1815–1878)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 September 2012.

George Goyder

  • Dep. Surveyor-General George W. Goyder  made his first trip to the Flinders in 1857 when he hadn’t been in the colony for long.
  • His first job was to survey a road through the Pichi Richi pass, which runs between Port Augusta and Quorn.
  • While he was there, he recorded the Aboriginal names for the three most prominent features: Wetiaro for Mt Brown, Ngowinyie for the Devil’s Peak and Yoorka Kadnia for the Dutchman’s Stern. (Mincham 1983: 29)

Northern Flinders

  • Goyder’s next job was to start J.M. Painter, a private surveyor engaged by the government, on a survey of remoter parts of the Flinders where settlers were establishing runs. The settlers needed fixed survey points so they could set and keep boundaries for their runs.
  • Painter’s survey began at Mt Serle, near the top of the Ranges. Samuel Parry took over in 1858-59 and worked his way south to Wilpena Pound and the Chace and Druid Ranges. Parry built stone cairns on top of prominent peaks, and named the peaks after prominent Englishmen.
  • In 1977 every stone of the substantial cairn built on St Mary’s Peak by Parry’s workers in 1858 was pushed over the edge.

Goyder’s ‘Lake’

  • Goyder moved on further north. He was deceived this time by the look of the country he saw – it had rained heavily three months before.
  • There was plenty of feed and flood waters had covered part of the country he saw. Back in Adelaide, his mistaken report that there was ‘an inland lake’ and enough water to feed stock by sinking wells sparked a huge demand for pastoral runs.
  • The government couldn’t meet the demand for land and the government (led by Torrens) fell.
  • Goyder’s positive predictions also gave false expectations to many pastoralists about the numbers of stock they could run.
  • Captain A. H. Freeling, the Surveyor-General, then led a new expedition without Goyder.  Expecting to find a lake, Freeling’s team took a boat with them.
  • The Captain tried to make his trip more comfortable by taking a portable table and an air mattress. But when he hung his mattress on a thorn bush, it was punctured all over with tiny holes and was useless from then on.
  • Freeling’s team included George Hawker and Samuel Parry. They hauled the boat over rocky passes and stony creeks. When they reached Goyder’s lake, they sank knee deep in mud, as the ‘lake’ dried out after the floods. During this trip, Freeling noted the effects of mirage, which gave the false impression that there was indeed a lake with cliffs and islands. Not surprisingly, they did not carry the boat back with them.
  • Freeling’s report observed that the luxuriant growth and water that Goyder had observed were due to the heavy recent rains and the lowland flooding that followed them. He accurately wrote that rain ‘falls but seldom in this region and only at uncertain times’ (Mincham 1983: 34).


  • Mincham, Hans 1983. The Story of the Flinders Ranges. (3rd ed). Adelaide, Rigby.