Mount Bures Community Web Site





William Cant ( 1830 - 1921) took part in the
1854 Austin Expedition in Western Australia

The Austin expedition of 1854 was an exploring expedition undertaken in Western Australia by Robert Austin in 1854. Other members of the party included Kenneth Brown.

The expedition explored the large lakes inland from Geraldton known as Cow-Cow-ing, before heading north through the interior, where Mount Magnet was discovered and named. They intended to reach the coast at Shark Bay, but were driven back by heat, fatigue, lack of water, and the loss of a number of their horses at Poison Rock.
They were eventually forced to return to the coast along the Murchison River.

The expedition reported large areas of land that were potentially gold-bearing,
but nothing suitable for pastoral settlement.

photograph of william cant

William Cant was born in Mount Bures in 1830, son of Abraham Cant agricultural labourer.
At the age of 20 he emigrated to Australia to seek his fortune on the sailing vessel "Sophia"

The ship departed Plymouth during April 1850 arriving in Freemantle on July 27th taking some 13 weeks at sea.
Just remember this youth was only 20 when he undertook this hazardous voyage, never having been outside the confines of Mount Bures.

After 4 years in Australia he achieved notoriety by taking part in the disastrous Royal Geographical Society`s Austin Expedition to survey Western Australia in 1854. There he was called "Chainer" Cant presumably because he was involved with the expeditions survey equipment.

In 1854, Robert Austin led a government-subsidised party of ten men with twenty-seven horses and provisions for four months in search of pastoral land inland from an area near Perth (Northam) and northward.

Three years earlier, gold rushes had begun in eastern Australia, and it was said that Austin’s expedition was also to keep an eye on gold prospects.
The party was provisioned for 120 days

Austin’s party left the Northam area on 7 July 1854 and proceeded into the interior of SW Australia. The subsidiary group left the main party east of Lake Moore, and returned to Perth.

map of WA
Blue indicates route of expedition
It is only intended as a very rough guide

After Lake Moore, the area became increasingly arid, and soon tragedy struck: the horses ate a poisonous weed that was unfamiliar to the group, and only three of the original 27 survived the journey. The men spent a great deal of time and energy treating the horses but they continued to die one by one, or in small groups. Soon after this event, a popular youthful member of the group, Charles Farmer, accidentally shot himself in the arm and died slowly and in agony of tetanus, watched helplessly by his companions.

The party, now with only twelve weakened and dying horses, buried some equipment and specimens near the grave. They pressed on with low water rations, but had a brief respite in finding water and pasture at a site they named Mount Welcome. They then headed west- northwest until they began suffering advanced stages of dehydration and exhaustion. . They had buried themselves in holes that they had scratched in sand under bushes, and covered themselves with horse rugs and blankets to shelter from the heat.
Austin recorded temperatures on one day as follows:-
8am:-89deg, 10am:-104deg, Noon;-109deg, 2pm:- 110deg, 6pm:- 103deg. The direct heat was intense, most probably in excess of 120deg at Noon.

Eventually, on 29 October, when approximately one hundred miles (160 km) from the mouth of the Gascoyne River, they came to a standstill. The horses had not drunk for two days.

Austin went ahead to find all waterholes dry and returned to the men only to find (from his diary)

................the whole of the party stripped and buried in the sand under the shade of their blankets thrown over a bush, and our horses standing up with their heads under their masters' blankets, too thirsty to feed . . . the men were drinking their own and the horses' urine, and a native I captured and kept to find water, as he knew the country, did the same, saying we should all die if I persisted in pushing on.

With a lack of horses and water, Austin had no option but to retreat some thirty-seven miles (59 km) to the last waterhole and then to return to Port Gregory, arriving on 25 November

Austin’s journey was technically a failure: he had not reached his destination, had not found well-pastured country, had no factual evidence of valuable minerals, and had lost one of his men and almost 90% of the horses.

William Cant survived this ordeal and on his return he married Margaret O`Malley in Glengarry, Western Australia in 1863.
He had 8 children and died at the age of 91 in November 1921


A Geraldton correspondent writes:-"I forward a photograph of Mr. William Cant, who is perhaps the only surviving member ( see above photo)


An AUSTRALIAN Pioneer of the Austin Expedition which left Northam on July 7, 1854, to explore the country to the northward.

Mr. Cant was born in Colchester, Essex, England, over 90 years ago, and has been a resident of this district well over 50 years. The old gentleman is in good health, and is widely respected by all who know him."

Taken from the:-
Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954) Friday 31 October 1913 p 28


Western Australian Pioneer

The death occurred at Geraldton on Wednesday night of Mr. William Cant, who had reached the age of 102 years. The deceased, who came from England, had spent the greater portion of his life in Western Australia. In 1854 he formed one of an expedition led by Mr. R. Austin which, leaving Northam in June, spent six months in exploring the Murchison country, Lake Austin being named after the leader of the expedition. The deceased was one of the most courageous members of the expedition, which endured many hardships. In his report to the Surveyor-General, Mr. Austin said that Cant behaved very well and kept the horses' feet and shoes in excellent order. The deceased retained his faculties right up to the end, and up to five years ago supported himself by cultivating a small garden just outside Geraldton. He passed away peacefully in his sleep.

Ref: National Library of Australia

Taken from the The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954), page 6

Friday 18 November 1921.


Note : it seems a lot of documents indicate William was 102 on his death, typically this obituary.

This cannot be correct as he was born in 1830 - 1921
, this would have made him 91 at his death

Abraham (Williams father) together with his children (inc William) was recorded in the 1840 Census as working at Smythies or Smiths Farm
as an agr Labourer
This has long since been demolished.

It was situated along a road between Roberts Farm and Josselyns


Ida McMaster, the Mount Bures historian confirmed that the Cant family once lived in a property known as "Long Gardens".
Her book quotes: " it was once part of the large family estate owned by Abraham Newman, Lord of the Manor in 1790. It is not known when the cottage was built"

However the 1901 Census states:
James Cant (b 1843 son of Abraham and Lucy) living at Meadow Cottage ,Lower Road with
wife Ann (b 1845 nee Theobald age 58)
Alice age 18
Frederick age12
Ethel age 9
Amy age 9

By 1911
James Cant living at Meadow Cottage with
wife Ann age68
Lucy age 31

We know that the property known as Long Gardens may not have been its original name, so it may well have been called Meadow Cottage
"Lower Road" is a section of the modern day B1508 in that particular area.


Ida Mcmasters book records:
When Abraham Newman acquired Nortons Farm in 1778 it soon included a messuage** and 20 acres called Smythies: the house has now been demolished but its fields "Backhouse Croft, Crouches, ThomasCroft and Parlour End" are still known

1614 recorded Andrew Smythe paying the Lord of the manor 2d rent per year for "Smythes"

1863 Harris Hill purchased Nortons Farm and Smiths now joined with Wythers Farm.........

By the time of the Harris Hill purchase, Abraham had died some four years earlier.
Did Abrahams death result in the family
moving out ?

These facts confirm that Smythies Farm was in existence from at least 1614 until at least 1863, nearly 250 years.


**:- "messuage" is a dwelling house with outbuildings and land assigned to its use.

Link to William Cant family tree

Acknowledgment to Lynne Langford descendant of Wiiliam Cant in WA.
Updated 1/6/07

Acknowledgment to Liane Satie descendant of Wiiliam Cant in Australia
Updated 29/01/2013