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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

John Anderson Gilruth (1871–1937)

John Gilruth was born in Scotland in 1871. In 1892 he became a qualified veterinarian and was later appointed as a government veterinary surgeon in New Zealand.

In 1911 he was invited to join a scientific mission to investigate the potential of the Northern Territory (see Chapter 2), and in February 1912 he was appointed the first Commonwealth Administrator of the Northern Territory. One of his initial tasks was to complete a tour of the Territory in one of the few cars in the Northern Territory at the time. In a report to the Minister, in November 1912, Gilruth wrote that he travelled 1,200 miles south to Katherine and across the eastern Barkly Tableland.1

His term as Administrator was marked by economic decline and the aftermath of World War I. A period of civil unrest culminated in an incident known as the 'Darwin Rebellion' when on 17 December 1918 public discontent peaked in a confrontation between Gilruth and townspeople. An angry mob converged on Government House demanding that Gilruth leave Darwin, which he did in February 1919.

Gilruth did not return to Darwin, and later served with distinction with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Gilruth died on 4 March 1937.

Selected records relating to John Gilruth
National Archives, Canberra
John Gilruth – appointment as Administrator, Northern Territory, 1916–30 A1, 1930/6111
John Gilruth – criticism of Northern Territory, 1934 A1, 1934/7068
Adolph Basser Library, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra
Personal papers, 1890–1954 MS007


Chapter notes | All notes

1 Report of his First Overland Tour in a Motor Car, Bulletin of the Northern Territory, number 5 (Melbourne, January 1913).


Chapter 16
Territory Personalities