Burke and Wills Expedition

Burke and Wills Expedition

Burke and Wills ExpeditionThe Burke and Wills Expedition was originally called the Victorian Exploring Expedition and its aim was to cross the continent of Australia from Melbourne on the south coast to the north coast.

The expedition was organised by the Royal Society of Victoria and it became the first to cross the continent. Three men traveled 5,000 kilometres from Melbourne to the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria and then back to the Depot Camp at Cooper Creek.

Seven men died in the attempt, including the leader, Robert O'Hara Burke and the third in command William John Wills. Only one of the four men who reached the north coast, John King, survived to return to Melbourne.


In the 1850s the Gold Rush in the newly-formed colony of Victoria turned Melbourne into one of the richest cities in the world. It was the height of the Victorian Era, a time full of confidence and of an explosion of interest in science and discovery.

In this decade Melbourne acquired a host of public buildings, a University, a Public Library, a Museum, a Herbarium, gas lighting in the streets and its first telegraph and railway lines. In 1854 the Philosophical Institute was founded, later to become the Royal Society of Victoria.

Settlement had extended throughout Victoria, and the new colony was hungry for new land and a place in the race to explore the outback.

In 1857 the Philosophical Institute appointed an Exploration Committee. In August 1858 Ambrose Kyte's anonymous offer of 1000 toward exploration was announced in the Melbourne Argus, an Exploration Fund Raising Committee was established and a decision made to import camels into Australia. By the end of 1859, the Philosophical Institute had received a Royal Charter and become the Royal Society of Victoria, and had moved into its newly built premises in La Trobe Street. 1859 was also the year of publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species.

In January 1860 the Exploration Committee produced its fourth quarterly progress report and a special report. Over 3000 had been raised and the time had come for action: the Committee was determined that the Victorian Exploring Expedition would be the first to cross the continent from South to North. Fund-raising and organisation of the Expedition began in earnest and events unfolded.


Everyone knows about Burke and Wills. Some people remember the names of Gray, who died on the return journey from the Gulf, and King, who survived and returned to Melbourne. But what of the others?

Melbourne Robert O'Hara Burke
Melbourne William John Wills
Melbourne George Landells
Melbourne Dr Hermann Beckler
Melbourne Dr Ludwig Becker
Melbourne William Brahe
Melbourne Charley Gray
Melbourne John King
Melbourne William Wright
Melbourne William Patten
Melbourne Thomas McDonough
Melbourne Charles Ferguson
Melbourne John Drakeford
Melbourne Owen Cowen
Melbourne Henry Creber
Melbourne Patrick Langan
Melbourne Dost Mahomet
Melbourne Robert Fletcher


150th anniversary

In 2010, the Royal Society of Victoria instigated and coordinated a range of projects to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Victorian Exploring Expedition, now better known as the Burke and Wills Expedition. These commemoration activities continued into 2011 and beyond, and some are still in progress.

A website was set up to advertise and promote the commemoration activities. Over time, it has become a record of all the events that have taken place.

Burke and Wills Memorial (Pictured Above)
by Charles Summers, 1865
Currently (2017-2022) in storage*.

The Burke and Wills memorial (1865) is the oldest and most historically significant piece of public art in Melbourne

* Location

The Burke and Wills memorial has been relocated four times. It's been moved due to tram works, CityLink construction and then was disastrously shifted underneath a waterfall in City Square, where the chlorinated water reportedly cause the bronze statue to corrode.

It had been in City Square, on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets since 1994.

Controversy has surrounded the location and position of the memorial with the Burke and Wills Historical Society saying the westfacing location is '"ridiculous". The historical society wants the statue moved to the grounds of the Royal Society of Victoria opposite Carlton Gardens, which is where Burke and Wills' expedition first met in August 1860 and also where the explorers' remains lay before their state funeral in 1863.

The National Trust also supports this relocation plan, noting that 86,000 Melburnians were reported to have filed past the explorers' bodies in the mourning hall of the Royal Society of Victoria.

But the City of Melbourne has decided it would be better to use the Metro construction works as an opportunity to restore the statue. If the plan is approved by the council it will be transferred to a secure storage facility and undergo restorative works costing $30,000. It will be returned to its current location about 2022.

There is also this memorial (pictured >) located in the Melbourne General Cemetary.

❊ Notice ❊

Many locations have gone into lockdown as the state takes action to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19).

Disclaimer: Check with the venue before making plans...

❊ Web Links ❊

Burke and Wills Expedition 





❊ Also See... ❊

The Royal Society of Victoria

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