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FAMILY OF EXPLORERS: Then and Now No. 10

Stories of Australian colonial days, with modern links

THEN

Frederick George Waterhouse (1815-1898) was an English-born naturalist who worked at the British Museum as an eminent zoologist before migrating to Australia. An avid collector of Australian fauna, he accompanied Scottish-born explorer John McDouall Stuart on a hazardous expedition across the Australian continent in 1861, to collect and document its fauna.

In January 1862 the South Australian Museum was established, and Waterhouse was appointed its first curator. In later years, he collected many more insects, reptiles, birds, mammals and plants, and discovered 40 new species of fish off the South Australian coastline.

U.S. broadcaster John Lienhard, after a visit to Australia, described McDouall Stuart's journeys across the Australian continent in one of his regular Science shows on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) in these terms:

"John McDouall Stuart, had been part of an expedition that got halfway across Australia in 1845. In 1858 he organized the first of six attempts to get from Adelaide to the northern tip. After the first three attempts had failed, the government offered a £10,000 prize for the first person who crossed Australia south to north.

"Stuart set out again in 1860, only to be turned back by 'hostile Aborigines'. Meanwhile, others died trying to win the prize. Stuart organized a fifth failed attempt in 1861. That October his group made the attempt that finally reached the Indian Ocean in July, 1862. It'd taken four years of trying, but they'd done it."

In Australia, in an ABC-TV show, Dimensions in Time, presenter George Negus said: "As a result of Stuart's work, the Top End, the [Northern] Territory, was eventually opened up. The route he took became the one for the famous Overland Telegraph Line, one of our genuine historical milestones. It's hard to get your mind around this country not being linked with the rest of the world, but until we got that telegraph line in 1872, we weren't.

"We should never take those feats of endurance for granted. Of course, the south-north highway from Adelaide to Darwin -- or the north-south from Darwin to Adelaide, depending on your point of view -- of course still carries the McDouall Stuart name."

 

NOW

Frederick George Waterhouse's great-great-grandson is the Adelaide-born Australian astronaut Dr Andrew Thomas, who has taken part in three space missions:

STS-77, a 10-day flight launched from the Kennedy Space Center on May 19, 1996 which completed 160 orbits 153 nautical miles above the Earth while travelling 4.1 million miles and logging 240 hours 39 minutes in space.

On January 22, 1998, he launched aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour as part of the STS-89 crew to dock with the Mir Space Station. He served aboard Mir as Flight Engineer 2 and returned to earth with the crew of STS-91 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on June 12, 1998, completing 141 days in space and 2,250 orbits of the earth.

STS-102 Discovery (March 8-21, 2001) was the eighth Shuttle mission to visit the International Space Station and Andyıs third flight. During the mission, he worked outside the space station for 6.5 hours installing components. The mission lasted for 307 hours 49 minutes.

Interviewed on Dimensions in Time on September 23, 2002, he told George Negus: "My family's had something of a history of exploration. My great-great-grandfather, for example, served on the John McDouall Stuart expedition that originally traversed Australia in the 1860s. He was actually the naturalist on that expedition.

"When you look at the historical records of what they did, you have to be impressed. These people came together, they planned their entire expedition, they funded it themselves -- they sought their own funding. Then when they began the expedition, they would start these prodigious treks across this very inhospitable country, totally alone, totally cut off from any support. And that's a fundamental difference between the kind of exploration they do and what we do.

"When we fly into space, certainly we're going a long way away. But we have huge support from teams on the ground to help prepare us. There's a lot of people there to help us. But when you think about explorers like McDouall Stuart, Waterhouse and James Cook and so on, when they went off on their voyages and their missions, they were completely alone. They were completely isolated. And you have to respect them for that. That was an arduous, demanding and challenging undertaking. And I think it took a huge amount of courage to do what they actually did."

And it takes a huge amount of courage to fly into space, Andy.

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Copyright İ 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted May 2003

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