Burke and Wills


Robert O'Hara Burke
1821-1861. Policeman
Born and educated in Galway, Ireland, he served as a a captain in the Austrian Army until 1848 when he joined the Irish Police Force.
He came to Tasmania in 1853. and later worked in Beechworth and Castlemaine in Victoria as a policeman and Superintendent. until the 1860 expedition.
The Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860
In 1860, 16 men led by Robert O'Hara Burke, set out from Menindee near Broken Hill to traverse the continent from south to North
Of the lead party which succeeded in reaching the Gulf of Carpentaria, only one survived.






William John Wills
1834-1861

Doctor and Surveyor.
Born on the 5th. Jan. 1834 in Devon, England he and his brother Thomas left for Australia in 1852, arriving in Melbourne on the 3rd. January 1853.
He began work as a surveyor with the Surveyor of Crown Lands. He accompanied Burke as the official surveyor for the ill-fated expedition which cost his life aged 27.

The Expedition
On the 20th. of August, 1860, Robert O'Hara Burke led an expedition of 16 men out of Melbourne with the ambition of being the first persons to cross the continent from south to north.
The idea was to open up a route by which the new-fangled invention of the telegraph line could be connected via Java to Europe, to explore whether there existed a large inland sea, and to discover a possible route for a railway.
An added incentive was a 2,000 pounds reward for the first people to survey a route north, and already, Sturt and Stuart were planning similar journeys from Adelaide.
Burke was to lead the expedition with Wills as surveyor and they took a 2 year supply of food, as well as 80 pairs of shoes, beds, hats and buckets.
At the Darling River, Wright and Gray joined the crew and led them to Coopers Creek where, on Nov. 11th., they set up base camp.
It was at this point things began to go wrong.
After a long wait at the base camp for the others to reach them with additional supplies, an impatient Burke decided to leave with Wills, King and Gray anyway and worry about the additional supplies when they returned.
Arduous conditions, intense summer heat, and problems with dysentry and health delayed their return from the Gulf which they reached in Feb. 1861, and the party waiting at the base camp had left the previous day, leaving buried supplies under a tree beside the creek after carving "DIG" into it and presuming the party would find it easily....They didn't !
The tree at Coopers Creek with its inscription is now a national monument.
Gray died of dysentery on the return journey from the gulf and Burke, Wills and King did not find the food and water supplies when they returned. Burke and Wills survived for two months at the site, while King wandered around delerious and was helped by aboriginals. He was found by a search party and returned to Melbourne where he died in Jan. 1872 aged 31. His grave is in the Melbourne Cemetery.
There is a monument to Burke at Castlemaine in the goldfields area of Victoria where he was a superintendent of police up until the time he led the expedition.
There is also a large monument to the explorers in Melbourne.

Copyright Peter W. Wilkins 2006