John Forrest, 1st Baron Forrest of Bunbury (1847-1918), was an Australian explorer, administrator, and political leader. He gained a reputation as a capable and resolute expedition leader, but his greatest achievement was the economic development of Western Australia.
John Forrest was born in Bunbury, a small town south of Perth, Western Australia, on Aug. 22, 1847. He was educated at Bishop’s School, Perth, and joined the colonial Survey Department in 1865. Four years later, as leader of an expedition in search of a long-missing exploring party, he penetrated well beyond settled areas.
In 1870, with his brother Alexander, Forrest led an expedition from Perth to Adelaide (over 1,500 miles) along the Great Australian Bight, generally traversing desolate tracts that had been crossed only once, 30 years before. A second grueling expedition—again undertaken with his brother—was the crossing in 1874 from Champion Bay, on the west coast, to the Musgrave Ranges in central Australia, during which the economic value of this vast area was reviewed.
These expeditions gained for Forrest a variety of honors and established his reputation as a man of intrepidity and initiative in practical matters. He received a grant of 5,000 acres of land, the Royal Geographical Society awarded him its Gold Medal, and European institutions honored him with awards
In 1876 Forrest was appointed deputy surveyor general of Western Australia. He was commissioner of crown lands and surveyor general from 1883 and led an expedition to the Kimberley district in the far northwest of the colony in preparation for its occupation by cattlemen. As a respected member of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council, Forrest was the natural choice as premier and treasurer when responsible government was introduced in Western Australia in 1890. He was knighted the following year.
With the unearthing of large quantities of gold in the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie areas, Western Australia’s economy boomed in the mid-1890s. From 50,000 inhabitants in 1891, the colony’s population increased to 150,000 in less than 7 years, and Forrest provided stable government and a steady hand. Railways were extended, farming methods were improved, and a water pipeline was built to the distant desert gold fields. Education was extended and fees abolished in public schools. Sir John Forrest was a great supporter of the school of mines