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Edward John Eyre was born in England in 1815, the son of an English parson. He was not a very healthy child and was advised that the climate in Australia would be better for his health. For this reason he set sail for Australia at the age of seventeen.
He could not find work in Sydney and so he started farming on the Hunter River and later droving. On one of his droving trips, he travelled to South Australia where he made his home. By the age of 21, he was an experienced bushman and his money from droving enabled him to finance his explorations.
Eyre explored inland South Australia in search of new grazing lands. On another expedition, he started from South Australia crossing Eyre peninsula into Western Australia.
His main expedition was in 1840 when he left Adelaide with a party on horseback and a flock of sheep to use for food. Eyre travelled north and named Mount Deception and Mount Hopeless. He also discovered the large and usually dry inland lake now called Lake Eyre. Eyre decided that to go further north was hopeless and sent one of his party back to Adelaide for food. He then travelled towards the west, trying three times to reach the head of the Great Australian Bight.
Eyre decided to send most of the party back and to continue on with just Baxter, Wylie (his aboriginal friend) and two other aboriginals. He thought that with fewer people, the supplies would last longer. The government and all his friends begged him not to go off on this expedition as they thought it was a suicide mission.
For two months the party travelled round the Great Australian Bight. Water was very scarce and the heat was fierce. At times they were forced to collect the dew from blades of grass early in the mornings, to get a little water to drink. After travelling 200 kilometres, Eyre was unable to find any surface water, but was able to find some by digging. The sheep and horses were dying and the supplies had to be left behind. The few horses left were so weak they could hardly stagger.
Unfortunately, one night, Eyre heard a cry and ran back to camp to discover that his friend Baxter had been murdered by two of the aboriginals who had stolen the supplies and rifles and run away. Eyre was in fear of his life and thought they may return and kill him too. He no longer knew whether he could trust Wylie. He was alone, 1 000 kilometres from civilisation. Because the ground was so hard, he was unable to bury Baxter and wrapped his body in a blanket. Luckily, the aboriginals had missed some of the flour and water and Eyre found it when it was daylight.
Eyre and Wylie struggled west in spite of the lack of water. It was now winter and the nights were bitterly cold. Unfortunately, they had thrown away most of their clothes when the horses were so weak, to make things easier on the horses. They were forced to eat a diseased horse and were sick for days. However, Eyre knew that they would die unless they dragged themselves on. They carried on, living on spoonfuls of flour. When they were on their last spoonful, they saw a French whaling ship at anchor. After a fortnight's rest and care the two set off again.
In July 1841, they reached King George Sound in Western Australia. They had survived a very difficult and dangerous journey.
Eyre returned to England in 1845, where he wrote a book on his travels. In honour of his expedition, he was awarded a medal. Eyre had travelled 1 400 kilometres without finding any surface water. His courage and perseverance make him one of our bravest explorers
Unlike some of the explorers, Eyre was very sympathetic towards the aboriginal people and treated them with respect. He wrote a book called Manners and Customs of the Aborigines of Australia. After becoming the Governor of Jamaica in 1865, he retired to England and died in Devon in 1901.
Eyre served as a governor of the British colonies around the world and died in 1901 at the age of 86.