Lawrance Allen Wells, Explorer and Surveyor, South Australia.

Lawrence Allen Wells (NT)

Lawrence Allen Wells, born at Yallum Park, near Penola, on 30 April 1860 was the second son of Thomas A. Wells. Lawrence started his career as a bookkeeper in Mount Gambier. However his adventurous nature made him applying for a job with the South Australian Survey Department. He was successful and started on 1 January 1879 at four shillings a day. He made quick progress through the ranks and by 1883 had become an assistant surveyor.

In 1883 George W. Goyder instructed him to assist Augustus Poeppel with the survey of the Queensland-South Australian boundary. This had been started by Poeppel on 30 June 1880, but found to be incorrect due to the fact that the chain used was about 2.5 cm too long. By mid December they left Farina for the border. When the job was finished they surveyed the Northern Territory-Queensland border. During their time in the north Wells did not see a white woman for two years.

In January 1887 Wells was appointed Surveyor at a salary of two hundred pounds a year. He was soon back up north surveying pastoral leases working from Charlotte Waters, Birdsville and Innamincka.

A year later, in 1888, he was occupied with the survey of several pastoral leases on Eyre Peninsula and in 1890 he was on the other side of South Australia. This time he was surveying the Mutooro run in the northeast just south of the Broken Hill railway line.

When the Elder Scientific Exploring Expedition was planned, Wells was appointed second in command to David Lindsay. This expedition was financed by Sir Thomas Elder and would hopefully fill in some of the gaps in the maps left by Ernest Giles, W.C. Gosse, John Forrest and W.W. Mills. It was the largest exploring party ever, consisting of 15 men and 44 camels. It left the Warrina railhead on 2 May 1891.

As was usual the case, the party encountered great heat, hardship and thirst. They often went days without finding water. On one stretch the camels had not had a drink for 24 days. Within six weeks it recorded the death of W. Bowden. On 3 October they reached the Frazer Range Station and had travelled a distance of nearly 4,000 kilometres. David Lindsay travelled a further 250 kilometres to Esperance Bay where he sent a telegram to the Royal Geographical Society in Adelaide.

Because of some personal problems David Lindsay had to return to Adelaide in January 1892 and Wells became leader of the expedition. Although they travelled thousands of kilometres they found little that could be of use. However Wells did discover evidence of gold near present day Wiluna in Western Australia. The party was disbanded in March 1892. After his return to Adelaide Wells married Alice Marion Woods on 22 September 1892. They later had two daughters.

Four years later Wells was in charge of the Calvert Exploring Expedition. This one was financed by Albert F. Calvert from London. Its objective was to resume exploring where Wells had been made to turn back in 1892. The second in command on this expedition was his cousin Charles Frederick Wells and Bejah Dervish from Marree was in charge of the camels. When Calvert later refused to pay the full amount of the expedition's cost, money was sought from the South Australian government to cover the difference. During, and after, negotiations and paliamentary hearings and inquiries the Calvert Exploring Expedition became the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition.

The expedition was to travel from the north of the Fitzroy River to the Powell Creek telegraph station on the Overland Telegraph line and from there to Coolgardie in Western Australia. The party left Port Adelaide on 24 May 1896 for Geralton where they arrived on 3 June. On 19 August they crossed Ernest Giles' tracks of 1876 near Mount Madley.

On 11 October the party split, with Charles Wells and George Jones to travel further westward, and rejoin the rest at Joanna Springs, discovered by Warburton in 1873. Struggling to find enough water or feed, and suffering from heat, Wells abandoned most of their equipment at "Adverse Well".

Then unable to locate Joanna Spring, it was decided on 31 October to make a dash for the Fitzroy River, arriving there on 6 November. With the help of various locals at various times, including Nat Buchannan, Troopers Pilmer and Nicholson, and Sub-Inspector Craven Ord, four searches were made for Charles Wells and George Jones, before their bodies were found on 27 May 1897. They were brought to Adelaide and buried in the North Road Cemetery.

After his return to Adelaide Wells commenced working for the Pastoral Board as a Valuator and Inspector. In 1903 the Mines Department asked him to lead a prospecting expedition to the northwest of Oodnadatta and into the Musgrave Ranges. Two years later he was back in the Northern Territory doing a Trigonometrical survey of the Victoria River District. This took the best part of three years. He was also to map the area between Pine Creek and the West Australian border. Camels for this work came from Mount Serle in South Australia.

With his vast experience in the value of land he was approached in 1909 by the Taxation Department for the job of Land Tax Assessor. A year later he was appointed Federal Deputy Commissioner of Land Tax for South Australia. Even after his official retirement he was involved with the Quest Expedition in 1930 and another prospecting party which travelled between ooldea and Laverton in Western Australia. In 1932 when he was 72 he headed an expedition into Central Australia to explore areas, previously missed, for minerals. His second in command was Roland Borlace Poyntz who was 73. They bought camels in Marree, which had been surveyed by Poyntz in 1883, and in April passed Daisy Bates at her camp near Ooldea.

There was one more expedition in 1933 to Tarcoola. After that one was finished Wells really retired. In 1937 he was honoured when appointed OBE. Sadly he did not live long enough to rest on his laurels as on 11 May 1938 he was struck by a railcar at Blackwood which resulted in his death. He was buried at the Micham Anglican Cemetery. More detailed information is available from the book by William and Christopher Steele

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