Lt John Coles – Biography


Lt John Coles

Lt John Coles returned to Adelaide when Eyre trimmed his party in December 1840. He admitted to having been bored on the expedition because he remained mainly at campsites while Eyre went out on sorties. His military training was not needed as Eyre avoided conflict with Aborigines, nor were his leadership skills because Eyre was not incapacitated at any time and remained in control throughout. On his return, Coles married within months, eventually fathering three sons and five daughters.

While organising a “running fire of guns” to mark a public celebration in 1842, he rammed home the charge too vigorously or the barrel was faulty. Whatever the cause, the gun exploded prematurely, taking away his right hand excepting the thumb, and also some fingers from his left hand. He refused anaesthetics and superintended the surgery that followed, keen to ensure as much of his hands as possible would be saved. The Colonial Surgeon, Dr Nash, did a good job and Grey organised and gave him an elegant whalebone prosthesis for the damaged hand. Dedicated exercising allowed Coles to recover some dexterity and to return to work in an era where social support was minimal. He served as a Ranger of Crown Lands until retirement and lived to 72 years of age.