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
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 Austins
expedition was also to keep an eye on gold prospects.
The party was provisioned for 120 days
Austins 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.
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
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
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
Austins 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
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)
MR. WILLIAM CANT, OF GERALDTON.
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."
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
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
Ethel age 9
Amy age 9
James Cant living at Meadow
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
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
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.
Acknowledgment to Liane Satie descendant of Wiiliam Cant