Alfred Giles (explorer)

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Alfred Giles (18 February 1846 – 20 March 1931), born in Datchet, England, was a South Australian bushman, drover and explorer who crossed Australia from south to north seven times, most in connection with the building of the Overland Telegraph Line 1870–1872.


Giles was a son of Christopher Giles (ca.1798 – 26 April 1884)[1] a member of the Corn Exchange, London, and his wife Hannah Giles (ca.1814 – 17 February 1900).

He came to Australia with his parents, three brothers and two sisters, leaving London on 21 January 1849 on the Calcutta, arriving in South Australia on 22 June 1849. They were accompanied by a large quantity of merchandise and other property,[2] including a portable cottage, which they erected at his 400-acre property on the River Wakefield.[3]

In 1853 his father took up a lease of land at Ketchowla Station which is located between Terowie and Morgan. Giles and his family were later joined by Hillary Boucaut in 1861. In 1864, after a series of poor seasons and considerable losses, he sold his interest and retired to the city.[2]

Alfred Giles was educated at J. L. Young's Adelaide Educational Institution, and after leaving school joined the party which John Ross had organised to traverse the country in 1870, planning the route for Charles Todd's Overland Telegraph Line, Giles being placed second in command. The party was the second to cross the unexplored interior of Central Australia, 300 miles to the east of John McDouall Stuart's 1862 route.[4] Others involved with him in this project were George Chalmers of Daly Waters, and Jack Cleland of Port Adelaide,[3] a hero of the SS Gothenburg tragedy in 1875. In 1871 Giles was the first to cross Leichhardt's Bar on the Roper River, after the famous explorer crossed it in 1845. In 1873, 5,000 sheep were overlanded from Adelaide by Alfred Giles for distribution to Telegraph Stations along the Line, such as Barrow Creek.

With his brother Arthur John Giles, he helped develop properties for pastoralist Dr. W. J. Browne. Among these were Newcastle Waters Station, Springvale and Delamere. Cattle, horses and sheep were brought into the Territory at different times for the purpose of stocking these properties.[5]

Giles married Mary Sprigg at Naracoorte[6] in 1880. They managed Dr. Browne's Spring Vale Station at the Katherine River, 7 miles from Katherine in the early 1890s, and they afterwards owned the Bonrook Station on the Stuck-Up Waterhole, South of Pine Creek.[7]

About eight miles from Spring Vale he discovered a series of large caves, which he named the Kintore Caves, containing beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. He told how he once took Thomas Playford, a Premier of South Australia, through the caves. The politician, who was remarkable for his huge bulk, got stuck tight between two stalactites, and one pillar had to be cut down before he was released.[3]

Early in 1882 he established Delamere Station on the Flora River, and grew cotton.

Giles lived in the Territory for nearly half a century, and died at his home at Marlborough Street, College Park or St. Peters.


Alfred's brother, Christopher Giles jun., (ca.1841 – 27 November 1917) was, with A. T. Woods, surveyors in Goyder's 1868 expedition, and with Charles Todd in 1870. He served at the Charlotte Waters repeater station until 1876 and remained with the Postmaster General's Department in charge of the accountancy section, until 1905 when he retired. He was a recognised authority on Middle-Eastern languages.[8]

Brothers included Arthur John Giles (ca.1842 – 6 September 1902) who died at Palmerston, Northern Territory and Edgar Giles (ca.1846 – 13 July 1915), who married Maude Am(e)y Gliddon (5 April 1857 – 7 June 1910) on 1 June 1876, daughter of prominent banker Arthur William Gliddon, lived at Glenelg, South Australia.

Alfred Giles married Mary Augusta Sprigg[9] (ca.1849 – ca.5 April 1940) on 26 February 1880.[10] Their children were:

  • Major Felix Gordon Giles, D.S.O. (23 November 1885 – 22 June 1950), Commanding Officer of the 10th Battalion, AIF, during World War I. He married Elsie Kilpack Marshall on 24 July 1909.
  • Leslie Henry Alfred Giles (ca.1888 – 11 July 1949) was chief clerk and accountant in the Northern Territory Administration, Darwin
  • Harold Stanage Giles (7 March 1890 – 1960) married Lilian Doris Dunlop on 25 March 1924, He was manager of Elsey Station (home of Mrs Aeneas Gunn) and Hodgson Station. He enlisted with the 30/5 Light Horse, AIF on 7 November 1917 but was discharged on 4 March 1918 as medically unfit due to a preexisting condition. He was Protector of Aborigines for North Australia from 13 April 1927 to 15 April 1930 and Justice of the Peace from 7 July 1932.
  • Maude Lorenzo Frances Giles (1893 – 12 February 1926) married (1)William Herbert Perry on 1 June 1912 (2)Sir Alex Thomas Cockburn-Campbell on 9 April 1918

Alfred Giles was no relation to the famous explorer Ernest Giles, though they knew each other professionally.[3]


  • Giles, Alfred Exploring in the Seventies and the Construction of the Overland Telegraph Line Adelaide Register, 1926
Written when he was nearly eighty years old, He describes six frustrating months searching for a route and reliable water supplies. Included a map of the Overland Telegraph Line from Giles's account, showing the course and repeater stations, many developed into towns.


  1. ^ "Family Notices.". South Australian Register (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 28 April 1884. p. 4. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "The Week". South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 3 May 1884. p. 11. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Alfred Giles – Enjoying Life at 80.". The Mail (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 22 September 1928. p. 3. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "Death of Mr. Alfred Giles". The Northern Standard (Darwin, NT: National Library of Australia). 24 March 1931. p. 5. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Notes of the Week.". Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT: National Library of Australia). 14 December 1894. p. 3. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  6. ^ "Wedded 50 Years". The Northern Territory Times (Darwin, NT: National Library of Australia). 25 March 1930. p. 4. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  7. ^ "Obituary.". The Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA: National Library of Australia). 9 April 1940. p. 3. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  8. ^ "Late Mr. Christopher Giles.". The Register (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 3 December 1917. p. 8. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  9. ^ Mary was a sister of Claude Augustus Sprigg, father of the great geologist Reg Sprigg
  10. ^ "Family Notices.". The Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA: National Library of Australia). 3 March 1880. p. 2. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 

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