First non-indigenous crossing of the Simpson Desert.


Edmund Albert ‘Ted’ Colson

Seven B&W photographs taken by Ted Colson during his 1936 Crossing of the Simpson Desert, together with five photographs taken around his Blood Creek Homestead in Mt Etingamba in the south east corner of the Northern Territory. All with holograph notes on the verso to his niece and nephew, Jean and Val Moyle.



Assorted collection of 13 photographs (12 x black and white, 1 x colour. 8 are 15 x 16 cm and 5 are smaller in various formats). Of the large format photographs, seven are of Colson’s 1936 Simpson Desert crossing and one is of his homestead at Blood Creek at Mt Etingamba in the S.E. corner of Northern Territory. Four smaller photographs were taken around his Blood Creek home. All but one image have hand-written notes on the verso to Val and Jean, Ted Colson’s nephew and niece. Valentine Moyle and his half-sister Jean received these in 1936 when Val was 10 years old. His mother Emily (nee Horne) was sister to Ted’s wife Alice. One later snapshot of Val as a grown man, at Colson’s memorial opposite the Birdsville Pub. Very Good to Fine.

2016 marked eighty years since Edmund Albert ‘Ted’ Colson’s 1936 crossing of the Simpson Desert, his only companion young Eringa Peter of the Antakurinya tribe (pictured in the distance on a camel). The Simpson Desert, the largest sand desert in the world, had previously defeated Charles Sturt and David Lindsay, but Colson was able to take advantage of an exceptionally good wet season to make the crossing. Colson set out from Blood Creek on 26 May 1936 and he and Peter walked into the Birdsville pub, Queensland, on the 11th of June. Three days later they headed back. Colson did not formally publish and so for some time it the kudos for first crossing went to Rhodes scholar and Australian explorer Cecil Madigan, who led an expedition across the Simpson desert in 1939.

Only two institutions worldwide hold photographs of Colson’s crossing of the Simpson: The State Library of South Australia holds Colson’s journal, field notes and a collection of 26 expedition photographs,  and the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia holds 40 photographs, handwritten index sheets and an article on Ted Colson & Peter Haines from the Coober Pedy Times.  The expedition images on offer here are  larger than those held by the State Library of South Australia, most of which are 5 x 6cm or 5 x 5cm and those held by the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia are 14 x 14cm. However what is most interesting about the photos are the notes he wrote on the versos to his nephew and niece and the fact that he sent them the same year as the crossing.

“This is my No.1 Lake partly in S.A. partly in Nor” Territory. The Hill I took the snap from is the only hill apart from sand hill I saw for nearly 200 miles, it is a twin hill not very high of tertiary formation (look that up) I found another group of hills on Western side of Desert they are to be called “Alice Hills”

The larger format provided Ted Colson with ample room for the avuncular messages. As Colson explains on one photograph addressed to Val,  “This is enlarged from my little prints”, he also provides co-ordinates on the back of one photo and exhorts his then 10-year-old nephew to “look it up” on his map. There does not appear to be any new information contained in the notes, but the general tone confirms the picture we already have of Colson as a well liked story-teller, and adds the dimension of his interest in, and affection for, his young relatives.

NOT HELD: The four smaller images taken around the Blood Creek homestead are not held, and one appears to be in a different hand, possibly that of Ted’s wife “Aunty Alice”.

PROVENANCE: The photos come from a Ted Colson’s great niece, Valentine Moyle’s daughter, and are being offered for sale for the first time.

Images and transcriptions of notes available on request.