52 Ancestors #45 – Bearded

When the prompt for this weeks 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks came through, I was immediately drawn to my bearded ancestors Edmund Alexander Delisser and his brother Alfred Delisser. Their older brother is my great-great-grandfather, Adam Lymburner. 

I’ve written about the Delisser’s and the Lymburner’s throughout the year (See below links to these stories or select the Surname in the list on the right of this story), however, as I have photos of both Edmund and Alfred, they fit perfectly for the prompt “bearded”. There are no photos that I am aware of, of Adam Lymburner (Delisser) but from these images, we can be assured he too no doubt would have had a similar looking beard. Delisser Edmund Alexander 1829-1900 photo (506x640)Edmund Alexander Delisser was born the fourth son of Alexander Delisser (surgeon) and Deborah Crawford, June 28, 1829, in London, Middlesex. He was baptised along with his sister Adelaide Anna, whom we read about in week 44, “Frightening“, in the parish church of Saint Pancras on April 6, 1831. At the time the family were living in Judd Street, Bloomsbury, London.

Adelaide and Edmund Delisser Baptism

Delisser Alfred 1833-1904Alfred Delisser is the sixth child born 25 January 1833 and baptised nine months later at Saint Pancras church in Middlesex. The address given on this entry is Woburn Place.

Delisser, Alfred BaptismTheir oldest brother is my great-great-grandfather, Adam Lymburner Lymburner. We read in my newsletter during week 9 “Where There’s a Will” how he was requested to change his name from Delisser to Lymburner as per a request in the will of his grand-uncle Adam Lymburner late of Scotland, Canada and London.

Adam Lymburner Delisser

From my research, I have found that Edmund and Alfred, both attended Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire, Edmund was there from 1845 to 1847 and Alfred in 1847. The college was founded in 1841 to educate the sons of gentlemen.

Alfred arrived in Adelaide per Albermarle on the 27th November 1854 some six years after Adam, who had arrived in South Australia per Royal George with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Agnes. Their first child born in Australia was named Adelaide Emma in 1849.  At the time of writing, I have not been able to determine when Edmund arrived in Australia. This article appeared in the South Australian Register IN 1851.

“Attempt to Murder a British Officer at Aden.— We lately extracted into our columns an account of the fatal attack on two British officers by the Arabs at Aden, and from a private letter addressed to Mr. Lymburner, of this province, it appears that a desperate attempt was made at the same place on the life of his brother, who is an officer in the 78th Highlanders. This gentleman was riding within the camp at Aden, when on Arab artfully engaged him in conversation, and having attracted his attention to the girths of his saddle, took the opportunity of cutting the reins of the bridle and endeavouring to stab him with a kris, which he had hitherto carefully concealed. The officer closed with his treacherous assailant, and succeeded in wresting the weapon from the Arab and slaying him with it on the spot, but not until he had received seven wounds in various parts of the body. The corpse of the wretched Arab was hung in chains at the gate of the camp in Aden, and as this is in the eyes of his nation a most ignominious death, the example had produced a striking change in the demeanour of the Arabs towards the English. Both in this case and in the previous the aggressors had been discovered to be Seids, or descendants of the Prophet, induced by sheer fanaticism to seek the lives of the infidels. The Arabs had endeavoured to recover the body of their countryman but were defeated by the vigilance of the guard. A few days, however, after the occurrence we have named, a slow-match, skilfully made, was discovered lighted under the gate of the magazine, which, if not detected in time, would have blown up the garrison. Reinforcements from Bombay were expected, to enable the troops to march into the interior and punish the natives for refusing to deliver up the murderers of Captain Milne.”

Source: South Australian Register, Monday 15 September 1851, page 3

I learnt that Edmund had joined the 78th Highland Regiment of Foot as an ensign in 1848 and in February of 1851 he was promoted to Lieutenant. During this time he travelled with the regiment to many parts of Europe and the Middle East. It was while he was in Aden, Saudi Arabia, that an attempt was made on his life.

The history of Aden can be found here.


This must have been a pretty traumatic time for Edmund, with seven wounds that needed to be healed and the affair caused a considerable stir in England, so he eventually sold out of the army. The Cornwall Chronicle, a Tasmanian newspaper, dated May 26, 1852, has this to say –  “78th foot.- Lieut. E. A. Delisser has leave of absence from India to South Australia for two years from the date of embarkation.”

Then according to the listings from the War Office in The London Gazette, he retired from the regiment –  “78th Foot, Ensign Alfred Wickham Pym Weekes to be Lieutenant, by purchase, vice Delisser, who retires. Dated 14th September 1852.”


Adam was already in Australia by the time Edmund had joined the 78th regiment. Sometime during 1852, he sailed, more than likely to South Australia, although there has been no shipping list with his name. It is a possibility that he could have arrived as a Pensioner Guard, retired servicemen who came out on the convict ships to guard the prisoners but not to South Australia.

From newspaper reports, we learn that from 1859 to 1864, Edmund was engaged in the survey for the Adelaide waterworks; and was Captain and Adjutant of the first Volunteer Force in South Australia. In 1864 he qualified as a surveyor in Victoria. The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, June 1865 wrote – Captain E.A. Delisser, a squatter, made excursions from Fowlers Bay, in South Australia, into the south-east corner of this colony. He went in a north-west direction from the head of the Bight, and after suffering somewhat from want of water reached a district covered with grass and saltbush, which he described as excellent for grazing purposes. His opinion of this district has since been confirmed by Mr. A. Mason and other travellers.”

Edmund’s claim to fame came about when he was surveying the area as described above. On one of his excursions, in the company of his brother Alfred, Edmund Alexander Delisser named the Nullarbor Plain – meaning No Trees. Many online sites and books have incorrectly stated that Alfred, his brother, named the plain. However, on my trip across the Nullarbor in March of 2014, I found this sign at the Nullabor Roadhouse confirming the details.

The Nullarbor Plain

Also, an article in the South Australian Register dated July 18, 1900, appeared shortley after Edmund died: 

A correspondent has supplied the following:— An item of South Australian exploration which has hardly received the attention which it deserves from writers upon Australian history is the work done by Mr. E.A. Delisser at the head of the Great Australian Bight. So far as can be ascertained from Mr. Delisser’s own report (Parliamentary Paper 137 of 1867), and correspondence with gentlemen connected with the enterprise, the facts appear to be as follows:— During 1861-62 Mr. Delisser was engaged to fix the boundaries of various runs in the locality of Streaky Bay, in addition to which he made several excursions inland accompanied at different times by Messrs. Hardwicke and Mackie, north and westward of Denial Bay, and was the first to enter upon ‘The Great Nullarbor.” Mr. Eyre, while on his celebrated journey to King George’s Sound, had during February 1841, penetrated the country north of Point Fowler, and, though he speaks of open plains fringed with mallee scrub devoid of large timber, it is quite clear from his diary that he did not see what is now known as the Nullarbor Plain, nor does the name appear on his map. Messrs. Miller and Dutton in 1857 are reported to have gone still further north of Fowler’s Bay, but they made no mention of the great plain. It is also quite clear that Major Warburton’s route of 1858 did not extend as far west as the country visited by the last-named gentlemen. In 1864 a Syndicate, consisting of eight members— viz., Messrs. J. Carr, E. A. Delisser, G. Mackie, A. Brodie, B. Laurie. J. and W. Stow, and another — was formed to occupy for pastoral purposes 1,600 square miles of land, secured on pre-emptive right by Captain Delisser and Mr. Mackie, being part of country discovered by Mr. Delisser: £3,000 was subscribed, and an expedition under the command of Mr. E. A. Delisser was organized to further examine the country and fix on suitable sites for wells. The following announcement appeared in the shipping news of “The Register” under date January 9, 1865: — ‘Melbourne Shipping. — Sailed: January 4 — Australia, brig, for Adelaide via Fowler’s Bay. Cargo — 12 horses, 70 sheep, 38 bales hay, 1 wagon, 15 bags flour, 6 cases preserved meat, 10 bags sugar, 2 chests tea, 30 bags oats, 20 packages saddlery, 2 do. ironmongery.’ From Eyre’s Depot (Point Fowler) Messrs. Delisser and Mackie proceeded in a north-westerly, direction for about 250 miles until just within the Western Australia border, 100 miles north of Eucla. The party sank wells, two of which had water fit for stock, and returned with a favourable report, having traversed one of the largest plains in the world, only lacking a sufficient supply, of water to render it suitable for pastoral purposes. The Syndicate took up the 1,600 square miles known as the ‘Ileumba Claims,’ and other applications were soon made for several thousand miles more by Messrs. De Graves, Davis, Candler, Lymburner, and others, besides the blocks on the coast already held by Messrs. Rounsevell near Eucla and by Mr. K. Barr Smith near the head of the Bight. A good deal of money was spent in well-sinking, but without much success, and consequently most of the inland country was gradually abandoned. During 1866 Mr. Delisser was employed by the Government under contract to traverse part of the coast, and to survey various lines from Yaribrinda, west of Lake Gairdner, to Eucla, for the purpose of accurately delineating the country and fixing starting points for runs. The tract of country thus made known comprises more than 10,000 square miles, which represents no inconsiderable addition to our geographical knowledge of the province. The earliest map on which the name Nullarbor appears is that of Delisser’s own work; but whether the name is native or not has often been questioned. Mr. Alfred Delisser, who was engaged in the above-mentioned survey, in a letter from Rockhampton dated June 28, 1900, says: — “My brother discovered the Nullarbor Plain and so named it, as there were no trees in that country.” From this, it appears that the name is derived from the Latin words ‘nulla arbor’ (not a tree).

Below is a map showing where Delisser tracked into WA in 1865.

Delisser 1865 Survey Map

One of my bucket list experiences was to drive across the Nullarbor which we accomplished in 2014, towing our 20ft Coromal caravan and what an experience it was. Many people were willing to tell us how boring it would be, watch out for the locals who stand in the middle of the road and then surround your vehicle. There’s nothing to see, it’s hot, it’s windy. Well, none of it was true and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The sites of the Bunda Cliffs, the flat plain, the people you meet, mostly we free camped, although we did stay at the Eucla Caravan Park so we could drive around the area to the historic telegraph station and the Delisser Sandhills.

There is more to the story of Edmund and Alfred Delisser, my bearded ancestors and I hope I can tell you more in the next few weeks of prompts for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

Here are my newsletters about the Delisser and Lymburner ancestors that I have written for the challenge.

Week 44 – “Frightening
Week 38 – “Unusual Source
Week 37 – “Closest to your Birthday”
Week 20 – “Another Language
Week 18 – “Closeup
Week 17 – “Cemeteries ”
Week 13 – “Casualty of War
Week 9 – “Where There’s A Will
Week 3 – “Longevity

 

About Jenny MacKay

Just a person who is looking forward to retirement and enjoying the golden years!
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9 Responses to 52 Ancestors #45 – Bearded

  1. Peter Blaskett says:

    Great history of Edmund Delisser. A real unsung treasure. During Covid, I have been looking at Edmund’s surveying from Fowlers Bay to Eucla that he made in 1866/7 for the South Aust. Govt. and have unearthed the plan showing it’s lines. Seeing your map clipping is very interesting; I wonder can you give me details of where that complete map can be seen or downloaded. It will help plot the reconnaisance he did in 1865 with Mr Mackie. Many thanks for your detailed information.

    • Jenny MacKay says:

      Hi Peter, sorry for the delay in responding. We’ve been dealing with the fall out of Cyclone Seroja over here in the Midwest of WA. Loss of power, total devastation of my brother’s farm and the list goes on.
      Anyway, I usually keep all my sources but unfortunately this is one that I have missed. I would say it would have to have come from the SA Archives or the SA State Library. I’ve had a bit of a look and can’t find that actual map. If I find where I got it from, I’ll post here and let you know.
      Good luck with plotting Edmund’s surveying exploits. There is another blog post I did on him titled random fact #46.
      Jenny

  2. A little of South Australia to ponder – your Delisser’s arrived around the same time as my Storrie/Tassie/King and Butcher families – and no doubt knew of each other in some way. My King family were in politics.
    Fascinating stuff.

  3. Jamie Gates says:

    Fantastic beard, and fantastic research!

  4. Jenny MacKay says:

    Comment copied from old blog
    Peter Bridge
    pbridge@iinet.net.au
    203.59.165.200
    Hello, I would appreciate the contact details of the current ‘head’ of the Delisser family so as to obtain permission to get a copy of EADs journal in the National Library for possible use in a volume on West Australian exploration. thank you Peter J Bridge

  5. Peter Cripps says:

    We have a lot of military history in the family, achievers, pioneers, surveyors, and an all round down to earth get the job done type of people.
    As yet there doesn’t seem to be any of us involved in politics but we have people of strong commitments and firm opinions who no doubt support a political persuasion.
    A proud history for our future generations to look back on.

    • Jenny MacKay says:

      No one in politics as yet that I’m aware of, but if you hop over to the caddyscrapbook.wordpress.com site, you will see mention of the name Hollingworth. Rev. Peter Hollingworth was the Governor General of Australia for a bit and he’s definitley on our tree.

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