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The Horn Expedition
The Horn Expedition, 1894

The Horn Expedition was a joint project of the three existing Australian Universities to investigate in detail the MacDonnell Ranges and surrounding area of Central Australia.

The Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney supplied scientific personnel to cover a broad spectrum of academic interests. Named after the organiser, WA Horn of Adelaide, the expedition was led by Professor Ralph Tate, the senior member, in conjunction with Dr JA Watt, botanist and geologist for the party. Professor EC Stirling was the ethnologist in charge of anthropological work and W Baldwin Spencer, Professor of Zoology at Melbourne University, was the expedition's zoologist and photographer. The expedition was guided by C Winnecke, a well-known explorer of Central Australia, whose task it was to lead the party along a route chosen by the scientific members.

In May of 1894 the expedition set out from Oodnadatta, at that time the end of the railway line , on the backs of twenty -five camels. It now consisted of the original party, two Afghan camel drivers, two Aboriginal trackers, two general assistants and a cook.

'Our daily programme when on the march was much the same, day after day. We were usually up some time before sunrise. A little after sunrise we had breakfast and the camels were brought in. Each of us loaded his own and then off we started in single file. After perhaps ten or twelve miles came the midday halt, when we were glad of any shelter afforded by the thin scrub. Mounting again we travelled on until dusk brought us to our camping place for the night. The camels were unloaded, hobbled and set free to feed. The camp fires were lighted, notes were written up, specimens labelled and packed away, and then, after a final pipe, we lay down on the ground and slept in the open. Often it was so cold the we awoke to find our water bags frozen solid; but the air was so dry that we felt the cold but little.'

The Horn Expedition lasted only three months, but its findings in all fields of study were widely acclaimed and greatly increased knowledge about Central Australia. For Spencer it was the beginning of a life-long interest in, and study of, the Aboriginal people of Central and North Australia. Over the next four years he made many trips to the desert and began formulating the idea of an ambitious year long trek across the Continent, studying the Aboriginal tribes encountered on the journey.
Keywords: aborigines, Alice Springs, anthropology, Baldwin Spencer, Walter, Northern Territory, religion, 1894

Photograph: Members of the Horn Expedition assembled at Alice Springs. Baldwin Spencer is standing fourth from the right. 1894. Photograph Baldwin Spencer. Reproduced courtesy Museum Victoria.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor
© Museum Victoria