John McKinlay (26 August 1819 – 31 December 1872), was a grazier and explorer of Australia and leader of one of the search parties for the Burke and Wills expedition. The town of McKinlay in north western Queensland was named for him.
John McKinlay was born at Sandbank on the River Clyde, Scotland, third son of Dugald McKinlay, a merchant, and his wife Catherine, née McKellar. John was educated at Dalinlongart School and migrated to New South Wales with his brother Alexander in 1836. The brothers worked with a squatter uncle until 1840, and afterwards John travelled to the border of South Australia, where he took up land between there and the Darling River. John McKinlay was interested in the Aboriginal people which inhabited the area, and his knowledge of their ways was of great use later when he became an explorer.
Search for Burke and Wills (South Australian Burke Relief Expedition)
McKinlay was chosen by the South Australian House of Assembly in August 1861 to lead an expedition to search for the Burke and Wills expedition party, whose fate was unknown. McKinlay left Adelaide on 16 August 1861 with nine other men, 70 sheep, two packhorses and four camels. On 20 October 1861 the grave of a European, supposed to be Charles Gray, was found near Cooper Creek. McKinlay reported this to the government, and soon afterwards learned that the remains of Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills had also been found. McKinlay decided to explore in the direction of Central Mount Stuart, but was driven back by heavy rains and floods. McKinlay then decided to make for the Gulf of Carpentaria, hoping to find HMVS Victoria which had been sent to meet Burke's party. By 20 May 1862 the shore of the Gulf was thought to be only around five miles (8 km) away, but the intervening country was very difficult, and it was decided to turn east and make for Port Denison on the north Queensland coast. A station on the Bowen River near Port Denison was reached on 2 August 1862, and after resting a few days the expedition reached Port Denison. The party then returned by sea to Adelaide. McKinlay received a grant of £1000 from the government and a gold watch from the Royal Geographical Society of England.
On 17 January 1863 McKinlay married Miss Jane Pile, the daughter of an old friend, but was soon off exploring again. In September 1865 he was chosen to lead an expedition to explore the Northern Territory and to report on the best sites for settlement. It was an exceptionally rainy season and while on the East Alligator River the expedition was surrounded by flood waters. With great resource McKinlay, having killed his horses, constructed a raft with their hides and saplings and made a perilous journey to the coast. McKinlay reported favourably on the country around Port Darwin and Anson Bay as being suitable for settlement.
After his return McKinlay took up pastoral pursuits near the town of Gawler, South Australia, and died there on 31 December 1872. A monument to his memory was erected at Gawler in 1875.
- Lockwood, Kim, Big John: The Extraordinary Adventures of John McKinlay, 1819–1872, State Library of Victoria, 1995.
- Harris, Charles Alexander (1893). "McKinlay, John". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 35. London: Smith, Elder & Co.