H.S. King

The attribution of ‘explorer/surveyor’ well describes the early career of Henry Sandford King. He went on to become the consummate bureaucrat. King was active in Western Australia at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

King was born in Victoria in 1862, educated at Geelong Grammar School and Wesley College, Melbourne and arrived in Western Australia in 1884, after obtaining his Licensed Surveyor’s Certificate in 1883.

Surveyor General John Forrest recruited him into the Lands Department soon after his arrival in Western Australia. After some years of Triangulation and Topographical Surveys of pastoral country in the North West he moved to the Yilgarn District where gold had been discovered.

He married into WA aristocracy – Dorothea Lefroy – daughter of Gerald de Courcy and Elizabeth (nee Brockman) in 1886. They had six children.

He was later appointed as the first Mining Surveyor on the Eastern Goldfields. He resigned from the Lands Department in 1891 and joined a private company engaged on the survey of the Midland Land Concession between New Norcia and Walkaway.

He became a Justice of the Peace in 1894 and in the same year rejoined the Lands Department as an Inspecting Surveyor on the Eastern Goldfields, responsible for all mining and land surveys.

He progressed to be the Under Secretary for the Department of Mines from July 1899 and held this position until he moved to the dual position of Under Secretary for Mines and Surveyor General in 1918. Two years later the positions were separated and King retained the office of Surveyor General until he retired in 1922.

In 1926, with Alf Canning he went to the small mining town of Lawlers to survey pastoral leases in the area. They later surveyed around Wiluna, Meekatharra and the Gascoyne. They surveyed sandalwood reserves near the transcontinental railway.

He was considered a good administrator and he was well connected. His appointment to the position of Under Secretary for Mines occurred during the boom period on the Eastern Goldfields. King did much to efficiently re-organise the Mines Department and was responsible for framing the Mining Act of 1904. His services in connection with this development of the Mining Act were responsible for his appointment by the Commonwealth Government to perform a similar service in New Guinea

He died in Wau hospital New Guinea on 21 February 1930 from pleurisy that progressed to pneumonia while on official duties for the Commonwealth Government to inquire into the mining industry in the territory, for the purpose of framing suitable mining laws.

Sandford Rocks north of Westonia are named for him.

King suggested the name for the town of ‘Kundana’, gazetted in 1897. It is aboriginal word of unknown origin. King was involved in the survey of the York-Goldfields Road in 1889 though it subsequently fell into disuse with the advent of the railway in 1896. 

While A.W. Canning was responsible for surveying the famous Stock Route that now bears his name it was H.S. King who gave it the impetus needed to proceed.

Although Western Australia’s first gold rush at Halls Creek in 1885 was short-lived, it opened up the East Kimberley to the cattle industry. Gold was discovered in Wiluna in 1896 and at its peak, the Wiluna mine became the largest in Western Australia, supporting 9000 miners. There was a huge demand in the mines for fresh meat. Most of Western Australia’s beef came from the Kimberley. At the time, however, East Kimberley cattle were quarantined due to an infestation of tropical ticks. This gave the West Kimberley pastoralists a monopoly on the beef trade — which caused prices to soar.

In 1905 independent MP James Isdell came up with a bold solution to the tick problem – develop a stock route through Western Australia’s harsh desert country, and drove the cattle to market. Isdell believed the ticks would fall off and die in the hot dry conditions. He was right. Many in government considered the idea of a desert stock route to be impossible, however, King, who was the Under Secretary of Mines at the time, came up with a suggestion the government couldn’t refuse – marry the stock route survey to a search for gold. The respected bushman and surveyor Alfred Canning, who had just finished work on the Rabbit Proof Fence, was commissioned to survey a potential route and identify gold-bearing country.

It was at King’s suggestion that botanist Charles A. Gardner joined W.R. Easton’s party in 1921 that was tasked to explore the Kimberley for a suitable site for a port between Broome and Wyndham. Gardner’s report on the plants and vegetation of the region contributed to a major advance in the understanding of Kimberley flora.

King was a member of the first Board of Appraisers for Pastoral Leases Western Australia 1919-1923.

When there was dispute over the spelling of the name of north-eastern wheatbelt town of Mukinbudin in 1922, King, in his role as Surveyor General and from his experience of trig surveys in the district in 1889, intervened and decreed that it should be spelled as it is today.

King was in private practice with A.W. Canning from 1922.

Mindebooka Hill – 22 November 1889 (Fieldbook 12 page 21).

Elachbutting Rock -1889 (Fieldbook 9, page 28; T.G. Plan 299).

Beringbooding Rock – 1889 (Fieldbook 9, page 29,  TG Plan 299).

Totadgin Rock – H.S. King (17th Nov 1889) Fieldbook 12 page 16 – 1-k 192 Totagin Rock


The West Australia, 24 February 1931


© Kim Epton 2016-2019
904 words.

Feel free to use any part of this document but please do the right thing and give attribution. It will enhance the SEO of your website/blog and this website.

See Terms of Use.