Investigator Tree

Production date
See full details

Object detail

Celtis paniculata (native hackberry or silky celtis) carved tree trunk recovered from Sweers Island, Gulf of Carpentaria. The trunk of the tree bears engravings made by European explorers who visited the island during the 19th century.
CH classification EXPLORATION Terrestrial tree section
Production date
Production place
L3000 mm
Media/Materials description
Indeterminate Hardwood (Woods)
DEVINE \ INVESTIGA... 1802 \ INVESTIGATOR \ BEAGLE 1841 \ < indecipherable carving>
History and use
The Investigator Tree originally stood on Sweers Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, an important port on a major thoroughfare for 19th century Australian explorers. Members of several important expeditions in Australia’s history made their marks by carving names into this tree.
The carvings began with Mathew Flinders’ crew, who carved the name of their ship HMAS Investigator in 1802. Flinders is one of Australia’s most important explorers, mapping the Australian coastline in Investigator during his famous voyage of discovery during 1801-1803.
In 1841, Lieutenant John Stokes, in command of HMS Beagle, carved the words “Beagle 1841” into the tree. The Beagle was later made famous through its association with Charles Darwin whose time spent on the ship’s 1831-1836 voyage led to the formulation of his theory of evolution.
The importance of the tree was recognised early by members of A. C. Gregory’s North Australian Expedition in 1856, who on seeing Flinders’ inscription becoming faint, reinscribed the word ‘INVESTIGATOR’ below the original inscription. This is the one you can see on the tree today. The crew also inscribed their names across various branches of the tree, including Captain Robert Devine, the word ‘DEVINE’ still visible.
In 1861, members of William Landsborough’s expedition searching for lost explorers Burke and Wills in 1861 also carved their names on the tree. The first European settlers on Sweers Island also added their names up until the tree was damaged by a storm in 1888.
This section of the tree was removed and donated to the Queensland Museum in 1889. Some 120 years later, a second section of the Investigator Tree, originally in the possession of Captain William Campbell Thomson, was donated to the Museum.

Uploaded to the Web 27 May 2011.
Registration number


My shortlist



Explore other objects by colour