Ross, born on 17 May 1817 in Scotland, came to South Australia in April 1839 from New South Wales as an overlander with Bonney and Hawdon. After his marriage to Rebecca McKinlay Affleck of Walkervile, their first child, Sarah was born on 23 January 1853. A year later Rebecca was born on 14 March 1854 and Henrietta on 19 July 1855. Their first son, Alexander was born on 1 April 1858 followed by John on 17 October 1859.
In 1868 John Ross was appointed manager at Umberatana. Before his appointment he had been managing such properties as Willowie, Koolunga for J. Hope, Bundaleer for J.B. Hughes, Bimbowrie for J. Taylor and Moolooloo for John Chambers. He brought his wife, Rebecca, and five children who had been living at Walkerville, with him. Her stay at Umberatana was very short, she died on 3 April 1869. Ross remarried on 6 October 1869 to Georgina Strongitharm.
On 4 July 1870, John Ross, who had just returned from Lake Hope where he nearly drowned when surrounded by rising flood waters, was appointed leader of an exploring party by Charles Todd for the Overland Telegraph Line. He was now 53 years old with a vast amount of experience in the outback and expected to find a way through the MacDonnell Ranges for the overland telegraph wire, and suitable wood for poles. However most of all there was the need to find water for the construction parties.
During the afternoon of 4 July he hired A. Giles, Thomas Crispe, William Hearn and William Harvey to accompany him. They left Adelaide by train for Kapunda and from there travelled to Wilpena by coach and on horseback to Blinman, Umberatana and Mount Margaret.
By mid October they had reached the Finke River. On New Year's Day, after several unsuccessful attempts they found John McDouall Stuart's tracks of nearly ten years ago, but no way through as yet. Once again they returned to the Finke. On 9 February G.R. McMinn and W.Whitfield Mills gave it a try and on 11 March 1871 Mills found a way through the ranges.
It was Mills who discovered a dry riverbed and, following it down, found pool after pool of clear water. That night he wrote in his diary, 'numerous waterholes and springs, the principal of which is the Alice Spring which I had the honour of naming after Mrs Todd'. W.W. Mills named the pass Heavitree Gap after his school in Devon, England.
While away in the centre of Australia his wife gave birth to a son on 23 November 1870 at Blinman. Ross, who was paid £450 a year remained with the Overland Telegraph Line until it was completed.
In 1877 Ross, who by now was 60 years old, was looking for a different job and wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Crown Lands offering himself for any vacancy in his department. He was more than willing to accept a job like Crown Land Ranger, Scab Inspector of sheep or anything similar. He died on 5 February 1903 at the Adelaide Hospital aged nearly 86.