Burke and Wills Report. Enduring Symbols of the Expedition. Burke and Wills grave Melbourne General Cemetery

In the previous edition of he Burke and Wills Report, the Burke and Wills Statue was described. This edition describes the efforts of the Royal Society Victoria to arrange a monument at the grave to Burke and Wills at Melbourne General Cemetery, a process that exemplifies the chaotic indecisiveness and extravagance so typical of their management of the expedition itself.
In November 1861, the Exploration Committee called for designs for the grave of Burke and Wills. It offered a £10 prize to the best design, and specified that the design should be simple and durable and cost less than £200 – very practical considering the lavish way in which they provisioned the expedition 18 months earlier! The committee awarded the contract to the firm of Huxley and Parker who had submitted two designs – a granite obelisk costing £400, and a tomb costing £215.
However, the committee were not completely satisfied and asked them to do more work. In April 1863, three months after the funeral and the closing of the vault containing the remains of Burke & Wills, the committee accepted a design for a granite obelisk costing £1,500, only seven times the amount they set in the budget.
The design comprised a granite block, twelve feet high and six feet square weighing 36 tons. The granite block was quarried at Harcourt quarry in mid-1864 and was the largest block ever quarried in Victoria. It took several weeks and 40 bullocks to get it from the quarry to the nearest railway station and then it took 250 men and 40 horses, two days to drag from Spencer Street railway station up the hill to the cemetery.

Granite base B&W statue Eliz St

However, such extravagant expenditure had not been authorized and the Government refused to pay. The Committee ordered the work be stopped and the granite block remained in the corner of the cemetery for two years until Thomas Embling raised the matter in parliament in May 1866. It was decided the government would cover the cost, and while Huxley and Parker dressed the stone and erected it over the vault, the government didn’t pay them until late in 1869.
And still the grave had no inscription or railing and it wasn’t until December 1870, nearly seven years after the funeral that the Committee agreed on a 56-word inscription drafted by Stawell. But wait – throughout 1871 the Exploration Committee failed to meet once to progress this issue. In fact, nothing was done until November 1872 when this was changed to a 19-word inscription and then in February 1873 the Committee was divided over two further suggested inscriptions. Finally, in March 1873 the Committee agreed on a51-word inscription that the monument bears today. – ten years after the funeral to agree on a 51 word inscription! The words were inscribed on the four side panels on the base on which the granite obelisk stood as follow:

“In memory of Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills.”
“The first to cross the continent of Australia – Burke, Wills, Gray, King (survivor).”
“The first in a great achievement, companions in death, and associates in renown.”
“Leader and second in command of the Victorian Exploration Expedition died at Coopers Creek, June, 1861.”

What an ordeal!

Burke and Wills grave Melbourne Cemetry front right quarter view

In the next edition of the Burke and Wills Report, we will start to explore the various monuments in rural Victoria.


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Burke & Wills Report – Enduring symbols of the Expedition. Burke & Wills Statue, Melbourne

Enduring symbols of the Burke and Wills Expedition
Many monuments and memorials have been erected to Burke and Wills, and these are well catalogued on the Burke and Wills Web site at www.burkeandwills.net.au/Memorials/index.htm.  But of course the two most elaborate and expensive monuments were built in Melbourne, these being the Statue by Charles Summers and the Memorial at the graves at Melbourne Cemetry.

Each of the key monuments will be described in detail over the next few months in an occasional series of special editions of the Burke and Wills Report. But given the 150th anniversary of the unveiling of the statue that now stands proudly watching over the passing commuters in the City Square is to occur on 21 April 2015, the first edition will be devoted entirely to the Statue.

Burke and Wills Statue, Melbourne

The bronze statue of Burke and Wills that currently stands at the City Square in Swanston St Melbourne is perhaps the best known of the monuments to the expedition. Initiated by intense public interest in the months immediately following the receipt in Melbourne in November 1861 of the news of the tragic end of Burke and Wills, the Victorian Government placed the sum of £4,000 on the Estimates towards the erection of a suitable monument to the memory of Burke and Wills. This sum was conditionally granted on the additional sum of £2,000 being raised by public subscription for the same object.

A Board of Design (known as the Taste Committee) chaired by University of Melbourne mathematics professor William Wilson was appointed to supervise a competition to design the statue. By December 1862, the Taste Committee had selected the design by Charles Summers. Summers had made a number of models, all of which had Burke standing surveying the distance with Wills seated by his side, much to the ire of Dr Wills who believed they should be of equal standing. Some versions had space for King and Gray and aborigines (at the same level, which attracted substantial social comment at the time!). However, the winning model had only a standing Burke with a hand resting on the shoulder of a seated Wills, removing any reference to King, Gray, or the other 4 deaths on the expedition (Becker, Patten, Stone and Purcell). The winning design continued to have 4 bas reliefs on the pedestal depicting the departure from Melbourne, the return of the Gulf Party to Coopers Creek, the death of Burke, and the discovery of King by Howitt.

Originally, Parliament has excised a triangular piece of land south at the southern end of Parliament Reserve in 1863 as the site for the statue. This was known as Carpentaria Place for many years (is this a mere coincidence?), before eventually being renamed Gordon Place in the 1960’s due to the presence of statues to Gordon of Khartoum and Adam Lindsay Gordon. In January 1864, a trial was conducted at this site by placing a plaster model of the statue on a pedestal. However, it was found that… “from no point of view could the really fine monument be seen to advantage”. Other sites were trialled, including what became the statues initial site in the intersection of Collins St and Russell St, where it was noted that… “as the ground is high at this point, the slope of the street rising sharply from the intersection of Swanston St, the effect is very fine from all four points of view.” The Taste Committee eventually selected this site despite concerns that it would obstruct traffic, only to have the statue moved in 1886 when construction of a cable tram along Collins St meant it actually did obstruct traffic!

The figure of Burke was cast in Summers’ studio in Collins St.  It was first cast in two pieces, but Summers was not satisfied with the result and decided to recast it in one, which he did successfully in the presence of a crowd of 130 people on 1 February 1865.

Casting_Burke_Wills_Statue  ex White Hat

The statue was unveiled by the Governor Sir Charles Darling on 21 April 1865, the fourth anniversary of the return of Burke and the Gulf Party to Coopers Creek. King attended the unveiling, and like many contemporary reports regarding his disposition he was reported to be “deeply affected throughout the proceedings” and did not speak.  The figures were placed on a base of Harcourt granite.  The bas-reliefs and the bronze coping containing depictions of nardoo plants which surround the base were completed eighteen months later in September 1866, the original bronze coping having to be recast after an accident with the original which was to have been in place at the unveiling.


burke and wills monument Melbourne nla

Like everything to do with the expedition, the monument had its critics, with the original settler of Melbourne John Pascoe Fawkner refusing to donate unless all the expedition members were named, and Germans being encouraged by a German leader in Victorian society not to donate because of the poor treatment of the Germans on the party (Becker, Beckler and Brahe). Even at its unveiling, people were critical of both the design and the location the statue was placed in, with a correspondent to the Argus on 22 April 1865 summing up some contemporary thoughts as follows:

The design as carried out is, we perceive, to perch Mr Summers’ brazen images in the very heart of the city, and in the centre of its principle street, to compel us to look upon them, whether we desire to do it or not, and to condemn all the dwellers at the top of Collins St to a perpetual vision of the back portion of the late Mr Burke, heroically exaggerated, for the remainder of their lives”.

Because it obstructed the cable tram being constructed in Collins St, the statue was moved to Gillott Reserve, a small triangle land at the junction on Spring St and Nicholson St in 1886, and ironically faced the Princess Theatre where Burke’s heartthrob Julia Matthews had played when Burke was leaving on the expedition.

The statue moved a third time in 1973 to the SE corner to Carlton Gardens when construction started at the Spring St site to create Parliament station for the Melbourne Underground.

In 1979, it was moved again to its first location in the City Square, where the integrity of the sculpture was compromised by positioning it over chlorinated running water which destroyed its patina and unconsciously mocked the tragedy of death by starvation and thirst. The arrangement of the relief panels was changed, the bronze coping was removed and later found vandalised in a council yard in West Melbourne. In 1988, the Melbourne City Council was pressured to restore the monument to its original design and to conserve this most important example of colonial sculpture in Australia. The work was restored by Meridian Studios in Fitzroy, and moved to its present, though not ideal, site at the south-east corner of Swanston and Collins Streets in 1993.

There were some preliminary musings about possibly moving the statue to the front of the Royal Society site in Victoria St for the 150th as a more suitable location given the significance of the site to the expedition, but these have come to naught. And so Burke and Wills continue to stand majestically over the babble of trams and cars, with most of the pedestrians walking blissfully by unaware of their presence.

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Two Cultures, Two Continents, Common Thread


This week I had the pleasure to meet two gentlemen from different cultures and different worlds.  And yet they had something in common – Burke and Wills.

The first gentleman is Lord Alderdice, a psychoanalytic psychiatrist, and was born in Northern Ireland.  He was Leader of the cross-community Alliance Party for eleven years and one of the negotiators of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.   He was the first Speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly from 1998 to 2004 and then for seven years one of the Independent Monitoring Commissioners appointed by the British and Irish Governments to oversee security normalisation in Ireland. In 1996 he was appointed one of the youngest ever life peers in the House of Lords. He is the recipient of many honorary degrees and awards for his work.  Lord John was in Melbourne to speak at a Reconciliation Forum organised by CASSE – Creating A Safe Supportive Environment.

And what is Lord Alderdice’s link to Burke and Wills?  John King is the Great Great Uncle of Lord Alderdice, and he was keen to explore this connection while in Australia.  So keen in fact, that he arranged a charter flight to visit the Dig Tree on Coopers Creek.

I had the pleasure of showing Lord John and his wife Joan around some of the key “Burke and Wills” sites in Melbourne, with visits to the Royal Society Victoria and the State Library Victoria to explore and view key exhibits, as well as John King’s grave and the Wesley Church where he married in the last year of his life.

Lord Alderdice postulated that the general  humbleness of the King family, combined with John King’s previous experience interacting with other cultures in India, might well have been key factors in assisting him to develop a meaningful and respectful relationship with the Yandruwandha people of Coopers Creek that led to his ultimate survival.

And the second gentleman is Aaron Paterson, who lives in Rockhampton.   Lord Alderdice arranged for Aaron Paterson to come to Melbourne from Rockhampton to meet him and participate in the Reconciliation Forum.

And what is Aaron Paterson’s link to Burke and Wills? Aaron believes he is a descendant of Alice King who was the result of a liaison between John King and a Yandruwandha woman from his great great great grandfathers family group, possibly the daughter of the woman that John King provided medical treatment to while he was living with the Yandruwandha on Coopers Creek.  Aaron tells of the handing down of the story of his family connection to John King through the generations as being very much a matter of fact, but something they did not  tell others as they did not think others would be particularly interested in it.

And so in the middle of Gertrude Street Fitzroy on a windy and cold spring afternoon, there was a meeting between a British Lord and a Yandruwandha man, people from two entirely different cultures from distant continents, but connected by one common thread – John King.

Lord Alderdice and Aaron Paterson Fitzroy 6 September 2013


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Burke and Wills Report. The next 10 years – consumed by the Royal Society arguing about the cost of the grave and its inscription, and defending their reputation

Burke and Wills Report – a monthly update on the progress of the Victorian Exploring Expedition 150 years ago

The next 10 years – consumed by the Royal Society arguing about the cost of the grave and its inscription, and defending their reputation


The credibility of the RSV was considerably diminished after the Burke and Wills Expedition failure, due to the criticisms of their choice of Burke as a leader, huge cost blowouts (eventually to total £57,000) and the lack of any tangible scientific outcomes.  The final debate about the cemetery monument that dragged on for 10 years did nothing to help their standing in the community.  When Burke and Wills set out in 1860, the Society had 300 members; four years later it had 30!  The Society spent many years trying to rebuild their reputation, but even their attempt to write a comprehensive book on the expedition failed (only just rectified by the publishing of ”Burke and Wills – The Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition”  150 years later).

Amazingly, the Exploration Committee had another attempt at organising an expedition, once again in search of Leichhardt (which was one of the aims of the Burke and Wills expedition) after McIntyre had found some trees blazed with and L and two horses near the Flinders River.  The Committee raised some donations from the public and attracted grants from the Victorian, South Australia and Queensland governments  to look for Leichhardt, who might still be alive some 20 years after his was last seen , suffering “a long  and dreadful exile in a distant wilderness”.  McIntyre started his new expedition in mid 1865, but disaster struck at Coopers Creek in November when most of his party panicked and quit, Coopers Creek being unusually dry at the time.  McIntyre died of Gulf Fever seven months later, and his successor, W F Solomon died of sunstroke and heart disease  the following November.  As public criticism grew that this was another waste of money, the expedition was disbanded quietly in July 1867 without discovering anything of consequence.

In an effort to recover some credibility, the Exploration Committee presented a “Supplementary Report in 1872, some 9 years after their “Seventh and Final Report in 1863”.  The Supplementary Report defended the Committees arrangements s for the funeral, saying it was their understanding that they had been given authority to organise it as they saw fit.

The Supplementary Report also somewhat understatedly said…

“Some delay has taken place in deciding on a suitable inscription for the monument.”

The report went to some lengths to explain that the delays in the finalization of the monument at the cemetery were due to a lack of funding that had been promised (if somewhat informally) by the government, and by the difficult financial position the Committee was placed in.  It argued that these difficulties were compounded by incorrect estimates of outstanding liabilities incurred by the relief expeditions and of the value of stores and stock that could be disposed of.

And as a way of apologising for the failure to produce any scientific outcomes from the expedition, the report said:

“The Committee regret that it has not been in their power to publish a complete history of the several expeditions which were organized under the care and more especially as many interesting sketches both of Dr Beckler and the late Dr Becker now in the Royal Society’s Hall, will thus for the present be lost to the world, but they rejoice to contemplate the magnificent results which have flowed from these expeditions, in the colonisation of vast tracts of country previously unknown, and in the erection of new and flourishing settlements in the northern shores of this great continent.”

In essence, though they probably still had the capability to produce a scientific report they took the easy way out…

“The last act of the Committee has been to hand over to the Public Library and the Royal Society all their papers and documents carefully secured in a suitable box.”

And they sought to promote their version of events …

“As about two hundred copies of the seven previous Reports of the Committee are available at the Royal Society’s Hall, it has been resolved to publish this final Supplementary Report, bound up in one volume with the previous Reports, and to distribute them to public institutions in the colony and elsewhere.”

As a footnote, the Royal Society still exists today, and is a proud and vibrant society in professional and academic circles.  After its initial unsuccessful foray into land expedition, it was far more successful in sponsoring significant exploration of Antarctica which it commenced in 1874.  It still meets in the Royal Society Building in Victoria Street over 150 years later, and the leather bound journals and reports in the bookshelves exuded history.  For further information, visit www.sciencevictoria.org.au.

Next month:  Enduring symbols of the Burke and Wills Expedition

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Burke and Wills Report – 1863 in review, and the Royal Society’s (almost) final take on the expedition

Burke and Wills Report – a monthly update on the progress  of the Victorian Exploring Expedition 150 years ago

February 1863

1863 in review, and the Royal Society’s (almost) final take on the expedition

With the excitement of the State Funeral now passed, it is time for the Burke and Wills Report to reflect on actions that occurred over the next few years.  In the February report we will look at 1863, while in the March report we will look at activities over the following decade.  We will wrap up the Burke and Wills Report in April with a description of the lasting symbols of the expedition, the monuments, memorials and location that are named after the expedition members.

In March 1863, John Drakeford, who had sailed with Landells, King and the camels from India and had been engaged as cook on the expedition prior to his resignation along with Landells and Beckler in Menindie on 14 October 1860, was in the County Court seeking payment of unpaid wages from the Exploration Committee.  It was dismissed on a technicality

In August 1863, the person appointed to look after the remaining stores at Menindee asked what the Royal Society wanted to do with them!

Also in August 1863, Macadam indicated his was proposing a motion for £1,000 of government money be allocated to the preparation of a full illustrated narrative of the history of the expedition.  Not surprisingly, nothing eventuated from this proposal.

But perhaps the most important thing that occurred in 1863 except for the funeral was the publishing of the Seventh and Final Report of the Exploration Committee in August 1863.  Essentially it contained a summary of the efforts of the relief parties under Howitt, Landsborough, Walker, and McKinlay and the endeavours of Captain Norman in HMCSS Victoria, followed by a spirited defence of the Committee’s  part in the expedition.

“Fully persuaded that the unavoidably protracted maintenance of three distinct parties in the field, has involved the Government of Victoria in a far greater expenditure than was originally contemplated, and deeply deploring the sacrifice of so many lives by which the achievements of our explorers were effected, the Committee feel that the gloomy reflections, arising from the contemplation of the mournful losses which the Expedition sustained, will be mitigated by the conviction that to the Victorian Expedition is due the honor of having opened the first overland route from the Southern and Eastern Colonies to the Gulf of Carpentaria; that the superiority of camels as animals of burden for traversing the more arid parts of the interior has been clearly demonstrated; that, by the peaceful conquests of our explorers, immense additions have been made to the map of the Australian continent and that the conjectured existence of a great Central Desert of Australia has been partially, if not altogether, disproved.

The Committee have not thought it necessary to enter upon any further vindication of their conduct from the aspirations which have been cast upon it, believing that it would be premature to do so. When time shall have effaced those personal prejudices against which all public men have to contend, and shall have rectified the hasty opinions of the imperfectly informed and the rash judgments of the inconsiderate, justice will be done, both to the motives and the actions of the Committee. A calm review of the circumstances under which it was appointed, the novel duties it was called upon to perform and the grave exigencies with which it had to deal, will serve to show that if an absolute immunity from error was impossible, the censure which was imputed to the Committee was, in most due to persons removed from their control. The disasters which befell the Burke and Wills Expedition created a strong and painful feeling in the public mind. That feeling, sought to relieve itself by expression. Grief was ineffectual, and indignation demanded an object. None presented itself at the moment but the Exploration Committee, which was condemned without the opportunity of a trial, and denounced without the opportunity of defence.

That posterity will reverse a decision which was as precipitate as it was unjust, the Exploration Committee confidently expect.  All the materials for arriving at a just, deliberate and impartial decision are to be found in the records of their proceedings and in the various reports to which the present is a sequel; and they relinquish labors ;- which have been arduous and protracted in themselves and glorious in their results, with the calm consciousness that those labors have been conducted in a zealous and disinterested spirit, have been persevered in, in the face of obloquy misrepresentation and detraction, and will be fund to have conduced most materially to the honor of Victoria and the advantage of the British race.”

Ah, the power of positive thinking!

And they were still hopeful that their expedition would lead to land in the Gulf discovered by the Expedition being granted to Victoria, despite Queensland being formally granted this land almost 18 months earlier.

“It is scarcely within the province of this Committee to pronounce an opinion upon the political appropriation of the territory thus discovered, but they conceive that they will not be exceeding their duty in dwelling with some emphasis upon the sacrifices of life and treasure which tile colony of Victoria has incurred in promoting the exploration of the interior; and that they are justified in expressing a hope that those circumstances will be brought under the notice of the imperial Government, so that the colony which has “borne the heat and burden of the day” may not be overlooked when the apportionment of Burke’s Land comes under the consideration of Her Majesty’s advisers in England.”

Interestingly, the report gave a breakdown of the key costs incurred by the Exploration Committee as known at that time:

“Summary of the expenditure incurred by the Exploration Committee on account of the various Victorian Exploring Expeditions, to the 30th June 1863;

Burke and Wills Expedition
Outfit (see Appendix No 2)


4, 510 –

02 –


-do- General expenditure


5, 535 –

11 –




10, 045 –

14 –


Howitt’s Expedition


4, 975 –

14 –


Landsborough’s -do-


3, 746 –

03 –


Walker’s -do-


3, 242 –

07 –




1, 180 –

16 –


Funeral of Burke & Wills


-,749 –

03 –


Unpaid claims and accounts


2, 200 –

00 –




26, 139 –

19 –



This does not include the £5000 expended in the purchase of camels, nor the outlay incurred by the Victorian Government in sending HM Steam Ship Victoria and transports to the Gulf of Carpentaria.”

 This is probably well over $2 million in today’s terms, quite an expensive exercise!

Next Month:

The next 10 years – consumed by the Royal Society arguing about the cost of the grave and its inscription, and defending their reputation


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Burke and Wills Report – January 1863 The Funeral of Burke and Wills

Burke and Wills Report – a monthly update on the progress of the Victorian Exploring Expedition 150 years ago

January 1863

The Funeral of Burke and Wills


The remains of Burke and Wills lay in state in the hall of the Royal Society building for 21 days.  The decoration of the hall and the funeral car were modeled on those for the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 in London.  Over 100,000 people were reported to have filed past in the next 3 weeks, although the general public could not see the actual remains through the glass slide in the coffin lid as the coffin was placed on a dais six to seven feet high and surrounded by a low fence.

The committee finalised arrangement for the funeral after receiving complaints from some people about where they were placed in the procession, and approved an application from Burke’s nurse Eileen Dogherty to be in one of the mourning carriages.

The funeral took place on 21 January 1863, ironically the same day that South Australia feted Stuart with a procession and a banquet on his successful return after crossing Australia from south to north and return.  The town of Castlemaine,  Burke’s last home town, was given special prominence in the procession with 115 of the town’s military personnel and band leading the procession (perhaps symbolizing his military past) followed by disgruntled police officers, who felt they should have been given greater prominence then the military as he was most recently one of them.  While military personnel from Ballarat were invited to attend to acknowledge Wills ties to the town, they had refused to attend as they had only been offered a one way railway ticket compared to the Castlemaine military which were provided with return rail travel.  Neumeyer was also insulted when Wills’ fellow observatory staff were not offered a place in the procession, and he refused to attend.

Following on from the military and police was the funeral car, and then the pall bearers, including King, Howitt, Tom Wills, Captain Norman, and members of parliament and the establishment.  Following these were members of the Exploration Committee, followed by members of Howitt’s relief expedition, and then six mourning carriages, with one containing Burke’s nurse Eileen Dogherty and another with the Victorian Governor Sir Henry Barkly.  Then followed a cavalcade of consular representatives, parliamentarians, and other distinguished gentlemen.

The Argus on the day of the funeral spared no punches in its vitriolic attack on the efforts of the Exploration Committee…

”Today the scene closes on the last chapter of the famous Victorian Exploration.  The sequel has been arranged with the strictest attention to the dramatic proprieties.  The pantomime ends with the “sensation” scene of the most exciting character.  The solemn pageantry of woe will be waiting for none of the accessories suitable to the occasion.  The sorrow will be laid on in utter contempt of expense – the grief will be of the blackest dye which the trade can furnish.  The committee has outdone itself in the undertaker line of business.  Resolved to prove that, if it cannot manage an exploration, it can bury an explorer, its sorrow bears the most tremendous emphasis.  The whole administrative genius of the Secretary had been brought to bear upon the funeral and its attendant ceremonies.”

However, despite the internal wrangling and ongoing public debate about the “excessiveness” and inappropriateness of the funeral arrangements, it is reported that somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 people lined the streets – not bad considering the population of Melbourne was around 120,000 at the time.

The procession departed the Royal Society hall in Victoria St at 1pm and proceeded south along Nicholson St and Spring St to Parliament House before turning west along Bourke St, then right into Elizabeth St and then Sydney Road before arriving at Melbourne General Cemetery, where it arrived at 4pm.  Only invited guests were allowed into the cemetery grounds where the bones were laid to rest in a vault side by side.

That evening there were many tributes paid to Burke and Wills, including one at St George’s Hall (owned by Ambrose Kyte, the anonymous donor of the original funds to start the expedition).  Speeches by the Governor and Royal Society President Sir Henry Barkly and Chief Justice and Chair of the Exploration Committee Sir William Stawell attempted to defend the actions of the Exploration Committee in both the organization of the expedition and the funeral, but there were many interruptions and interjections.  Ligar, who replaced King who was “overcome by the events of the day”, then spoke in honour of Howitt , but a speech by Justice Chapman to honour Captain Norman was aborted due to the interjections (although Norman’s response was greeted warmly).

The address to Howitt had already been published in newspapers days prior to the funeral and said in part…

” The Exploration Committee cannot surfer you to terminate the arduous and responsible duties in which you have engaged for so long a period, without testifying in a permanent form their unqualified admiration of the exemplary manner in which you have executed the delicate and difficult trust reposed in you.”

Exploration Committee Secretary John Macadam then succeeded in delivering his address, a “Historical Sketch of the Victorian Exploring Expedition from the authentic records”, but only after strenuous requests for the crowd for quiet by Barkly.  Even then Macadam was heckled by the original second in command of the expedition George Landells, who interjected to demand that Macadam not criticize him with “assassin like remarks” as he had on previous occasions – there was bickering and dissent to the very end!

Next Month:  1863 in review, and the Royal Society’s (almost) final take on the expedition

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Burke and Wills Report – December 1862 The remains of Burke and Wills arrive in Melbourne

Burke and Wills Report – a monthly update on the progress of the Victorian Exploring Expedition 150 years ago

December 1862

The remains of Burke and Wills arrive in Melbourne

Howitt arrived at Clare (136 km north of Adelaide) at 3.30 pm on Monday, 8 December. The party remained there while Howitt went on ahead to Adelaide with Dr Murray.  Howitt and Murray were invited to the banquet dinner held that evening to honour the return of John McKinlay, who somewhat ironically Howitt had eagerly searched for over many months in the Cooper Creek region without success.  When they arrived (albeit well into the night’s proceedings) they were met with a standing ovation from the 300 guest, and were toasted and thanked for their efforts.

Howitt sent the following telegram to the Secretary of the Exploration Committee in Melbourne…

Arrived in Adelaide last night.

The remains will be brought in on December 11 and are to be met by the Mayor and others on their way through Adelaide.

They will remain at the Mounted Police Barracks until removed for Melbourne.

We shall not be able to leave until after the 17th.

A W Howitt,
Leader, Victorian Exploring party.

The rest of the party arrived in Adelaide by train from Kapunda on 12 December 1862 with the remains of Burke and Wills, where thousands of people lined the streets to watch the hearse pass.

Alexander Aitken and Charles Phillips parted from the expedition at Clare or Kapunda and took the eight camels to the Wilson property at Longerenong in the Victorian Wimmera.  Wilson was a member of the Victorian Acclimatisation Society, and he had previously offered to care for the camels that had remained at Royal Park when Burke and Wills had left Melbourne as they were not coping with the wet and cold conditions in Melbourne.  Others that had been left at Menindee by Howitt had already been relocated to Longerenong.

Howitt and Dr Murray left Adelaide at 4.30 pm on Friday, 26 December on the Havilah.  With her flag at half mast, the Havillah berthed at Sandridge Pier Port Melbourne at 5am on Sunday 28 December 1862, where Howitt was met by members of the Exploration Committee who had been waiting patiently all night as the ship was late.  Also waiting was Eileen Dogherty, Burke’s nurse.  After they travelled to the Royal Society building, Howitt handed over the keys to the black shrouded case to Macadam, with the bones in two sewn packages in two compartments.

 On 29 December, the Exploration Committee held a meeting to welcome Howitt.  The committee thanked Howitt for his endeavours and questioned Howitt and Dr Murray on various aspects of their trip.  The committee decided that the expedition members would continue to be employed until after the funeral, but that if any member wished to leave earlier they could do so if Howitt so approved.

On New Year’s Eve 1862, over 30 people were invited to observe the remains being placed in the coffins, including parliamentarians, Exploration Committee members, and councilors.  However, the committee somehow “forgot” to invite Wills brother Tom.  The transfer was delayed because Macadam, who had the keys to the box the bones had travelled in from Coopers Creek, was late, allegedly as he was “overcome by his feelings” (or perhaps as one report put it “slightly in liquor”?).  Eventually, the remains were removed by Dr Wheeler and placed in two coffins in their natural order as much as possible, although a number of bones were never found by Howitt at the graves.

And while the remains of Burke and Wills had been returned to Melbourne, there was still agitation in many quarters to bring back Gray’s remains, and the people of Ballarat and Bendigo were active in raising funds to recover Becker’s remains.

The Argus reported in early December 1862 that the Committee of Taste (design committee) established by the government to design  the Burke and Wills Monument had considered five model designs and unanimously selected a design by Charles Summers.  The Argus stated that the government had asked Summers to start work, expecting it to take two years to complete.  The paper also reported that …

“The site chosen is the triangular plot of ground at the southern corner of the Parliament Reserve”

This site which became detached from the Parliament Reserve in 1863 and is now known as Gordon Reserve, was known for many years as Carpentaria Place, perhaps in honour of Burke’s destination at the Gulf?  However, as we will see in a future Burke and Wills Report, the statue never made it to Carpentaria Place.


Next Month:  The Funeral of Burke and Wills

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