EYRE, Edward JoHN (1815-1901)


EYRE, Edward JoHN (1815-1901)
explorer
came of an old English family: an ancestor Sir Gervas Eyre was killed while fighting for Charles I. Eyre's father, the Rev. Anthony William Eyre, was a clergyman in Yorkshire who married Sarah Mapleton, the daughter of a physician at Bath. Eyre was born on 5 August 1815, and was educated at the grammar school at Louth and at Sedbergh. He did well at school and his masters suggested when he left at 16 that he should go on to a university. His own inclinations were for the army but, his chest showing signs of delicacy, it was decided that he should go to Australia. In 1832 he proceeded to Sydney with a good outfit and £400 in his pocket. He for a time boarded with a settler to obtain colonial experience and then bought a farm. After South Australia had been founded, he brought 1000 sheep and 600 head of cattle from Monaro in New South Wales to Adelaide, and disposed of them at a large profit. This was not his first experience of overland travel and between 1836 and 1840 he conducted expeditions from Liverpool Plains in New South Wales to the county of Murray, from Sydney to Port Phillip, from Port Phillip to Adelaide, and from King George's Sound to Swan River in Western Australia. He had also made explorations towards the interior from Port Lincoln and from Adelaide. On 18 June 1840 Eyre took charge of an expedition for the purpose of opening up communications between South and Western Australia. The country on the route directly to the west of Adelaide he had satisfied himself was of too sterile a nature, and he determined to begin by going north from the head of Spencer's Gulf. His party consisted of E. B. Scott first assistant, four other white men, two aborigines, 13 horses and 40 sheep. His first effort reached Mount Sane, when Eyre became convinced that Lake Torrens formed a horseshoe preventing access to the north, and retraced his steps towards Mount Arden and then to the head of Spencer's Gulf. He next tried to make his way westward along the coast and reached nearly to the head of the Great Bight but was seldom able to find good water. Some of his horses died, and he was obliged to send two of his men back to Adelaide and to remain in camp to rest his horses for some weeks. On 30 December 1840 he left the camp in charge of Scott and one of the aborigines, and proceeded westward with the remainder of the party. On 6 January 1841 his horses became so exhausted that the dray was sent back, and Eyre, accompanied by one European and an aborigine, pushed north-west. The European, however, lost courage and had to be sent back. Eyre, helped by friendly aborigines, penetrated some 50 miles farther, but eventually was obliged to retrace his steps to where Scott had been left. The South Australian government sent a vessel with fresh supplies to Fowler's Bay, and, after a rest of some days, Eyre, Barter, one of the Europeans of the original party, and three aborigines with 11 horses, started on their long journey to King George's Sound. At one stage 135 miles of desert country was passed through without coming across water and the whole party nearly perished. Over and over again they went through similar experiences until, the two white men being temporarily separated, two of the natives shot Baxter and decamped with some of the stores. Eyre persevered on with the third native and when almost exhausted came upon a French whaler anchored off the coast. After remaining on board for a fortnight to recuperate, on 15 June 1841 Eyre, and Wylie the aborigine, continued their Journey, having been supplied with stores by the captain of the ship. They now met with much rain and often had to go through swamps. On 7 July 1841 they reached Albany, and about a week later Eyre sailed for Adelaide where he arrived on 26 July 1841. After his return Eyre took up land in South Australia near the Murray, and was appointed a magistrate and protector of aborigines, at Moorundie. Before Eyre's arrival there had been serious conflicts with the aborigines with loss of life on both sides but during the three years he was there he established the most friendly relations with the aborigines and there was not one case of serious aggression by them. In 1845 Eyre, having obtained leave of absence, went to England and published his Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia and Overland from Adelaide to King George's Sound in two volumes.
Eyre stayed quietly in England for some time recruiting his health. Towards the end of 1846 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of New Zealand, and during the next six years carried out his work with zeal and ability, though he unfortunately came into conflict with the governor, Sir George Grey (q.v.). He returned to England in 1853 and a year later was appointed lieutenant-governor of St Vincent in the West Indies. This was followed by an appointment as lieutenant-governor of Antigua. He returned to England in 1860 and early in 1862 was commissioned to administer the government as chief of Jamaica during the absence of governor Darling on leave. In 1864 he was appointed governor-in-chief. Jamaica, which had once been so prosperous, was passing through a period of depression, and there was much dissatisfaction among the large negro population. Trouble had been brewing for some time and on 11 October 1865 a riot occurred at Morant Bay in the south-east of the island, several white men were killed and wounded, and the insurgents spread over a large tract of country burning and plundering the houses of the planters. Eyre acted promptly, proclaimed martial law, the forces in the island were gathered together, and in a few days the revolt was quelled. Unfortunately martial law was continued for a longer period than was necessary, and over 400 negroes were either shot down or executed. In some cases the officers who sat on court-martials were young and inexperienced, and in one case George William Gordon, a coloured representative in the house of assembly, was tried and hanged on insufficient evidence. Where Eyre's responsibility came in was that Gordon had given himself up at Kingston which was not under martial law, and the governor had handed him over to the army for trial and afterwards concurred in his execution. When the news reached England a tremendous outcry took place. A "Jamaica Committee" was formed with John Stuart Mill as chairman and Eyre was denounced in unmeasured terms. In December 1865 a royal commission was appointed to inquire into the matter and after sitting many days issued its report in April. In five out of the seven clauses Eyre was vindicated, and in the other two clauses, though the responsibility was not thrown on the governor, it was stated that martial law had been continued for too long a period and that the punishments inflicted were excessive. The Jamaica Committee was not satisfied and several attempts were made to carry the matter further. The officers responsible for the court martial were put on trial on the charge of having murdered Gordon but were discharged, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to bring Eyre for trial as an accessory before the fact. Eyre was helped by an "Eyre Defence Committee" in which Carlyle, Ruskin and Kingsley took part. In June 1868 Eyre was charged with a long list of misdemeanours in connexion with the rising, but the jury found him not guilty. He was, however, harassed by a series of civil suits, the last of which was dismissed in 1869. Eyre had been superseded at the end of 1865. In 1872 parliament voted £4133 to defray the costs incurred by him in the various criminal prosecutions, and he was afterwards given a pension as a retired colonial governor. He lived in privacy in the country until his death on 30 November 1901. He married while in New Zealand, Adelaide, daughter of Captain Ormond, R.N. She survived him with four sons and one daughter.
Eyre was a man of fine character and great determination. He was an excellent explorer, brave, humane and just, who always treated the aborigines well, and was thoroughly in sympathy with them (see vol. 2 Journals of Expeditions of Discovery). His journey from Adelaide to Albany was one of the most remarkable ever carried through by an explorer. Time and again the party seemed likely to die of thirst and the position seemed hopeless, yet he somehow succeeded in keeping going until water was found. The Jamaica controversy rent England in two and there is a large bibliography relating to it. Even so late as 1933 Lord Olivier, at one time governor of Jamaica, published his The Myth of Governor Eyre in which he states that "Eyre was, in fact . . . a morose introvert, self-centred, headstrong, unteachable". This is, however, quite opposed to Eyre's record in Australia. Lord Olivier can find few good words to say for him, but his book suggests that he was more intent on making a case against Eyre than in giving a balanced and impartial account of what happened. It may be true that Eyre was unable to completely free himself from the excitement and hysteria of the time, and came to the conclusion that it was necessary that the negroes should be taught a stern lesson, that Gordon was the hidden leader of the rebellion, and that it would be all for the good of the state that he should be executed. Possibly he was mistaken, but he would have been denounced as a criminal weakling if he had not taken a firm grasp of the situation.
Hamilton Hume, The Life of Edward John Eyre; The Times, 3 and 5 December 1901; Men and Women of the Time, 1899; E. J. Eyre, Journals of Expeditions of Discovery; Mrs N. G. Sturt, Life of Charles Sturt; The Cornhill Magazine, February 1902; M. Uren and R. Stephens, Waterless Horizons; Lord Olivier, The Myth of Governor Eyre; William L. Mathieson, The Sugar Colonies and Governor Eyre; The Dictionary of National Biography gives a bibliography of the Jamaica Controversy.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Eyre, Edward John — ▪ British explorer and official born Aug. 5, 1815, Hornsea, Yorkshire, Eng. died Nov. 30, 1901, near Tavistock, Devon  English explorer in Australia for whom Lake Eyre (Eyre, Lake) and the Eyre Peninsula (both in South Australia) are named. He… …   Universalium

  • Edward John Eyre — (* 5. August 1815 in Whipsnade, Bedfordshire, oder Hornsea, Yorkshire; † 30. November 1901 in Walreddon Manor in Devon) war ein englischer Forschungsreisender in Australien und Politiker. Bekannt wurde er durch seine Expedition …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Edward John Eyre — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Eyre. Edward John Eyre Edward John Eyre né le 5 août 1815 dans le Bedfordshire et mort le 30 novemb …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Edward John Eyre — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Edward Jonh Eire. Edward John Eyre (1815 1901), junto con su amigo originario Wylie, fue el primer blanco en cruzar el sur de Australia de este a oeste, viajando a través de la Nullarbor Plain de Adelaide a Albany.… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Eyre — I. /ɛə/ (say air) noun 1. Edward John, 1815–1901, Australian explorer, born in England; explored south western and central Australia. 2. John, c. 1771–?, English artist transported to Australia in 1801; paintings and engravings. Edward John Eyre… …   Australian English dictionary

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  • Eyre — ist ein: Vorname im englischsprachigen Raum (z. B. Eyre Crowe) Eyre (Vorname) Eyre heißen folgende Personen mit dem Familiennamen: britischer Forschungsreisender (1815 1901) – Edward John Eyre britischer Theater und Filmregisseur (*1943)… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Eyre —   [ eə], Edward John, britischer Australienforscher, * Hornsea (bei Hull) 5. 8. 1815, ✝ Tavistock 30. 11. 1901; Eyre war der Pionier in der Erkundung des südaustralischen Salzseengebiets und der Eyrehalbinsel; er entdeckte 1839 die Flinders Range …   Universal-Lexikon


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