John Ainsworth Horrocks died from a gun wound caused by his camel, and despite other notable deeds during his life, this is how he shall always be remembered.
The pastoralist and explorer hadn’t offended the camel in any particular way, apart from loading it with supplies on the long and arduous trek into the unforgiving landscape of northern South Australia in 1846. It was in fact the first camel to be introduced to Australia and is often cited a proof that Horrocks pioneered the use of animals for the exploration of the country.
Horrocks had long regarded the camel as temperamental and obstinate, as it was said to be constantly biting people and other animals, but he had never considered it murderous or vindictive.
The cantankerous camel joined six horses and twelve goats, as well as Horrocks’ travel companions, on a journey from the pastoralist’s property of Penwortham into the northern expanse of South Australia. The journey began on 29 July, 1846 and would take the party through the Flinders Ranges.
Six men set off on the trek which Horrocks initiated and funded because he simply felt the need for adventure. He had already amassed considerable wealth as a sheep farmer and is credited with establishing the first vineyard in the Clare district near Adelaide, which is now one of Australia’s most famous wine districts.
It was his sense of adventure and independence which led to his pastoral success. Horrocks did not wait in Adelaide for the completion of official land surveys, but followed the advice of explorer Edward John Eyre and, at just 21 years of age, explored land near Hutt River north of Adelaide. Finding it to his liking, he established a village in 1839 and named it Penwortham after the village of his birth in England.
Records indicate that when Horrocks arrived in Adelaide, on his 21st birthday, he bought with him a family servant, a blacksmith, a shepherd, four merino rams, sheepdogs, tools, sufficient clothing for five years…and a church bell.
The farming supplies and the personnel were put to good use, and even though he was only granted title to some of the fertile land that he was farming, he persisted and grew his flock to 9000 sheep.
The same restless spirit had prompted Horrocks to run away from school in Paris in 1833 and rejoin his family in Vienna. Thus, it was not entirely surprising that the young man announced his intention to take the camel and a groups of explorers into the outback, claiming,
‘I want a more stirring life’
The specific purpose of the journey was to search for new agricultural lands near Lake Torrens for the ambitious young Englishman, who was described as being 6 ft 2 ins (189 cm) tall, dark haired with blue eyes and possessed of a ‘rugged constitution’.
Despite Horrock’s rugged constitution and the camel’s inherent ability to survie in the harsh expanse of the Australian desert, the travelling party ran into trouble. The horses had been without water for two days when they reached Depot Creek, an old campsite of Eyre’s, on August 21.
The campsite provided an ideal base and the group remained there while making several exploratory trips into the surrounding region. One of the locations they visited was Lake Dutton, and this is where the camel became more than a nuisance and caused Horrocks’ demise.
On September 1, Horrocks loaded his rifle and took aim at a bird. The kneeling camel moved while Horrocks was attempting to reload his gun and the cock caught. This caused the gun to discharge and the round tore off the middle finger of his right hand and removed a row of teeth. Suffering from his injuries and stuck out in the middle of nowhere, Horrocks was rushed back to Penwortham as quickly as possible. He arrived on September 19 but doctors were unable to save him, and he died on September 23.
Horrocks remains buried at Penwortham and his former home is now an interpretive centre. John Horrocks Cottage is also is the oldest stone building north of Gawler, SA.
What happened to the camel?
While on his death bed, Horrocks ordered it to be shot.
Image: http://www.trove.nla.gov.au, Mads Severinsen