Successful Exploration Through the Interior of Australia
by William John Wills
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Please to give my love, etc., etc.

Your affectionate brother,


. . .

The following reply to his mother alludes to the circumstance, which she had mentioned, of an aurora borealis, having appeared in England. This completes his letters for 1859.

Flagstaff Observatory, December 18th, 1859.


Your letter of the 17th of October arrived here by the Columbian only three or four days after time, which is a wonderful piece of punctuality for that miserable old tub. I am glad that you were so much pleased with the sketch of the Observatory that I sent you. I now forward a photograph made by a friend of mine, which will convey a better idea than the other of the appearance of our habitation, etc. You will find an explanation of the various parts of the picture written in pencil on the back of each respectively. You had better have it mounted on a piece of cardboard by some one who is accustomed to mounting photographs; when nicely done it looks twice as well. It was intended that we should all have been taken in this picture, but owing to some mismanagement, no notice was given, so no one was outside at the time. Your remarks about the aurora borealis of the 12th of October were very interesting and valuable. We knew that there was an aurora there, but of course could not tell where it was visible. You little thought that while you were looking at the vibrations of those beautiful streamers of red and white light, I was watching sympathetic oscillations of little steel magnets, which we suspended by silk threads, in the underground magnetic house that you see the top of in the foreground of the picture. The magnets were sometimes moving about so rapidly that I could scarcely read them; and although the aurora was with you nearly at an end probably about ten o'clock, yet the magnets did not resume their normal position for nearly twenty-four hours after. You will see from this the advantage to be derived from noting all particulars with regard to these phenomena, whenever one has an opportunity of seeing them; for we must always consider the possibility of their not being visible at places where there are observatories, on account of clouds and other causes. One great point that has yet to be satisfactorily determined is, whether the effect on a magnet at one end of the world is simultaneous with the auroral discharge at the other; or whether a certain time is required for the effect to be communicated through the earth. I had a letter from my father yesterday, enclosing the one you sent him. By-the-by, this day week is Christmas-day; and, if I am not mistaken, your birthday as well as Hannah's is near about this time. She must be thirteen or fourteen; but, upon my honour, I do not certainly know my own age. Was I born in January 1834 or 1835? I wish you all may have a merry Christmas and many returns of the same. Please to give my love as usual, and

Believe me, my dear mother,

Your affectionate son,



Postponement of the Exploring Expedition projected at the beginning of 1860. My Son's Letter to his Sister on going into Society. Mr. Birnie's Opinion of him, and Extract from his Lecture. Letter from William to his Mother on Religious Views and Definitions of Faith. His last Communications to his family at Home, before the Departure of the Expedition.

I OMIT my son's letters of January and February, 1860, as they contain nothing on scientific matters, or on the subject of Australia, although interesting in other respects. They mark the habitual tone of his feelings and principles, his constant habit of self-examination, his study of his fellow-men, and how strongly he was impressed with the truth of Pope's grand conclusion, that

"Virtue alone is happiness below."

"You will be glad to learn," he says, writing to his mother on the 17th of March, "that the Exploring Expedition is postponed for six months, for want of a suitable leader, as none of the candidates who offered their services were thought qualified in a scientific point of view. [Footnote: Oddly enough, Mr. Burke, who was afterwards chosen, with many requisites of a high order, was deficient in this, which, indeed, he never for a moment pretended to possess.] You need not work yourself up to such a state of excitement at the bare idea of my going, but should rather rejoice that the opportunity presents itself. The actual danger is nothing, and the positive advantages very great. Besides, my dear mother, what avails your faith if you terrify yourself about such trifles? Were we born, think you, to be locked up in comfortable rooms, and never to incur the hazard of a mishap? If things were at the worst, I trust I could meet death with as much resignation as others, even if it came to-night. I am often disgusted at hearing young people I know, declare that they are afraid of doing this or that, because they MIGHT be killed. Were I in some of their shoes I should be glad to hail the chance of departing this life fairly in the execution of an honourable duty."

The following selections from his numerous letters at this time are little more than extracts, and form but a small portion of the whole. All speak his admiration of a great and beneficent Creator, derived from the study of his works. He had a great distaste for sectarianism, and for a too slavish devotion to forms and conventionalities, whether in religious or social practice, fearing lest these extremes might savour of untruthfulness or hypocrisy.

Magnetic Observatory, Melbourne, April 18th, 1860.


The mail was to have closed to-morrow, but the Emeu has met with an accident which will delay it for another week, so that I hope to treat you to a long letter. I was much disappointed at receiving nothing from you this month. It would be a first-rate plan to do what a friend of mine was recommending to me only this evening, namely to commence an epistle at the beginning of each month, and add a little daily, adopting as your motto the Latin proverb, "Nulla dies sine linea," which means, No day without a line. You might at least favour me with a few monthly. It would be as much for your own benefit as for my pleasure. Pray don't send a poor excuse again about waiting for an answer to a former letter.

I must now return to the subject of my last. I hope you have carefully considered the remarks contained therein; and I wish to draw your attention to other matters not so immediately connected with religion, but which may seriously affect your prosperity and happiness in this world. I fear that mamma is too much inclined to discourage your going into society. If so, with all due deference to my dear mother's experience and judgment, she has adopted a mistaken view. You will perhaps say, you do not care for society. So much the worse; that proves the evil of seclusion. I had the same ideas once, and greatly to my disadvantage in a general sense, although in one point they may have been beneficial, by making me devote more time to my studies. But I am doubtful even about that. At any rate, girls are differently situated. Having no need of deep scientific knowledge, their education is confined more to the ordinary things of the world, the study of the fine arts, and of the manners and dispositions of people. It is often asserted that women are much sharper than men in estimating character. Whether that be the case or not, is more than I can say, but I think it ought to be, because women have better opportunities and more leisure than we have for noticing little peculiarities and the natural expression of the features. Now, my advice would be, to go as much as you can into quiet, good society, and moderately into gay; not to make it the business of life, as some do, who care for little beyond frivolous amusements, and that merely for the sake of killing time. But go to these places, even if you do not like them, as a duty you owe to yourself and others, even as you used to go to school, when you would rather have remained at home.

You should cultivate, as much as possible, the acquaintance of ladies from other parts of the country, especially of those who have travelled much. This is the best way of rubbing off provincialisms, etc. Perhaps you think you have none; nevertheless I shall be prepared for some whenever I have the felicity of seeing you. You cannot think how disagreeable the sound of the Devonshire drawl is to me now, and all people of the county that I meet have it more or less. You will, no doubt, wonder how I have become so changed, and what has induced me to adopt social views so different from those I formerly held. The fact is, that since I have been here, I have been thrown into every variety of companionship, from the highest to the lowest, from the educated gentleman and scholar to the uncultivated boor. The first effect was, a disposition to admire the freedom and bluntness of the uncivilized; but more personal experience showed me the dark as well as the bright side, and brought out in their due prominence the advantages of the conventionalities of good society. While in the bush, this conviction only impressed itself partially, but a return to town extended and confirmed it. When we are in daily contact and intercourse with an immense number of persons, some of whom we like, while we dislike or feel indifferent about many others, we find a difficulty in avoiding one man's acquaintance without offending him, or of keeping another at a distance without an insult. It is not easy to treat your superiors with respect void of sycophancy, or to be friendly with those you prefer, and at the same time to steer clear of undue familiarity, adapting yourself to circumstances and persons, and, in fact, doing always the right thing at the proper time and in the best possible manner. I used to be rather proud of saying that it was necessary for strangers to know me for some time before they liked me. I am almost ashamed now not to have had sense enough to see that this arose from sheer awkwardness and stupidity on my part; from the absence of address, and a careless disregard of the rules of society, which necessarily induce a want of self-confidence, a bashful reserve, annoying to sensible people and certainly not compensated for by the possession of substantial acquirements, hidden, but not developed, and unavailable when wanted. I find now that I can get into the good graces of any one with whom I associate better in half an hour than I could have done in a week two years ago. I know no one who puts these matters in a better light than Lord Chesterfield in his Letters to his Son, which you most probably have read.

Since I wrote to you last, I have received some light on the subject of FAITH, which I was not at that time aware of. In a discussion with a gentleman on religious matters, some remarks were made upon faith and charity, which led to an analysis of the original Greek word used to express the former by St. Paul, which has been translated "faith," and is generally accepted in the ordinary sense we attach to that word in English; namely, an implicit trust in what you are told, without question or doubt. But this friend of mine, who is a splendid Greek scholar, called my attention to the fact that the Greek word, for which we have no exact equivalent, means an openness to conviction, or a willingness to receive after proper proof; not a determination to believe without investigation. He also pointed out to me what I was less prepared to hear, that the charity spoken of does not mean, as I supposed it to express, conscientiousness, but love and good fellowship, in action and speech; in fact, more in accordance with the sense in which the word is commonly understood. This will show you the evil of coming to conclusions on insufficient data. Depend upon it, you must always hear both sides of a story before you can get at the truth.

I am going out to dinner this evening expressly to meet two of the finest girls in Melbourne. Some of my cautious friends say that I am running a great risk, and that I shall never recover from the effects. I cannot say that I feel much frightened. If anything serious should happen, and the consequences are not immediately fatal, I shall add a few lines to-morrow. Look sharp about photographs. I begin to suspect you are ashamed to show your faces in this remote region. Give my love to H., C., etc., and accept the same from

Your ever affectionate brother,


P.S. 19th.—The elements interposed to save me from the danger I wilfully determined not to avoid. It rained so heavily last evening that the syrens stayed at home.

. . .

In the month of May 1860, I went to Melbourne for a few days, and spent many pleasant hours with my son. I found him contented and happy. His appointment to the Exploring Expedition, so long the yearning desire of his heart, he appeared to consider as a fait accompli. He was in comfortable lodgings, and had established an intimacy with a gentleman of superior literary acquirements, personally acquainted with many London celebrities of our day. I remember the delight with which he came to my hotel and said: "You must dine with me to-day; I want to introduce you to a person you will much like. His greatest fault is one you possess yourself, a turn for satire, which sometimes makes him enemies." On the same morning he had announced to his friend with beaming eyes, "My father is here;" and when the next day that same friend wished to engage him to an evening party, he replied: "You forget that I have a wild young father to take care of." Alluding again to this, in a letter to his mother, on the 17th of May, he says: "You must excuse a brief epistle this time. The Doctor has been in town for a few days lately, and of course seduced me into all sorts of wild habits. He is looking well, in good condition, but not so fat as he was two years ago." At that time I had been living very frequently on little more than one hard egg per day. Milk and coffee in the morning, and half a pound of meat twice a week. In another letter to his mother, shortly after the above date, he says: "I have not heard from my father for the last fortnight. I am in very good lodgings, at a boarding-house, not working hard, and have time to cultivate some agreeable society. The landlady is all that can be desired and more than could be expected—the company far above the average. There is Mr. B., a barrister and Cambridge man, first rate; and a nice old lady, Mrs. F., very intelligent and good-natured. We three are great friends. Taking it altogether, the house is so comfortable, that I did not go to the theatre once last month." The mutual good opinion may be estimated by the following introduction from the gentleman alluded to above, to the Colonial Secretary at Perth, in the event of his explorations leading my son to Western Australia:

"I pray your hospitality for Mr. W. J. Wills, for whom I have a very high esteem and friendship. He makes me happy beyond flattery by permitting me to think that I add something to his life. You cannot fail to like him. He is a thorough Englishman, self-relying and self-contained; a well-bred gentleman without a jot of effeminacy. Plucky as a mastiff, high-blooded as a racer, enterprising but reflective, cool, keen, and as composed as daring. Few men talk less; few by manner and conduct suggest more. One fault you will pardon, a tendency to overrate the writer of this letter."

This gentleman, Mr. Birnie, is a son of the late Sir Richard Birnie, so long an eminent police magistrate in London. At the close of a lecture which he gave at Ballaarat on the 24th of May, 1862, subsequent to the disastrous intelligence of my son's death, he introduced the following remarks, as reported in a colonial paper:—

If amusement and gravity might be held compatible, they would bear with him in pronouncing the name of William John Wills. (Cheers.) The lecturer, when first in Melbourne, lived at a boarding-house, and there he met Wills. Their friendship soon grew and strengthened, in spite of the difference of their ages. Of the man as a public explorer, everybody knew as well as he did. Professor Neumayer said that Wills's passion for astronomy was astonishing, and that his nights were consumed in the study. Yet his days also were spent in enlarging his literary attainments. But with all this labour, Wills never disregarded the commoner duties and virtues of life. Even at the breakfast-table he was as neat and clean as a woman. At the ball, of which he was as fond as a child, he was scrupulously temperate, and in speech pure as a lady. Wills read Sharon Turner, Hazlitt, Pope, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and commented on all. Of Tennyson's In Memoriam he said it was wonderful for its frequent bordering on faults without ever reaching them. He was a student of literature as well as of astronomy and science. Much intercourse they had had, and when the lecturer heard of his death he felt glad that nothing existed for recrimination or self condemnation. Wills was a great admirer of Shakespeare, and his remarks on that author were original and striking. This tribute the lecturer would lay upon his friend's bust, and humble though the offering was he felt it would be accepted. The lecturer with much feeling concluded a peroration of eloquent eulogy upon his deceased friend, amid the loud and prolonged applause of the audience, who had cheered him at frequent intervals throughout the whole of his discourse.

Mr. McDowall moved a vote of thanks to the lecturer, seconded by Mr. Dimant, both gentlemen highly complimenting Mr. Birnie for his kindness in giving his services on the occasion.

The vote was carried by acclamation, and Mr. Birnie, in acknowledging it, implored the audience not to let the movement die away. The proposed monument could not be too good for the fame of the heroic explorers, and particularly as commemorating the patient, pious, unselfish manliness of Wills to the latest moment of his life. (Cheers.)

The proceedings then closed.

. . .

In his ordinary letters to me, and in his journals of the Expedition, which he knew were likely to become public documents, my son seldom or never touched upon the all-important subject of religion. This has given rise to an opinion broadly hinted in Australia by some, and of course believed by more, that he was either a sceptic or a downright infidel. Nothing could be further from the truth. His mother's love had instructed him early and zealously in the doctrines of Christianity, and prepared his mind for a conviction of their divine truth when he reached an age which would enable him to exercise his own judgment. As I have already mentioned, even in childhood he had an inquiring mind and a disposition to take nothing for granted without investigation. Hence the questions which sometimes surprised and puzzled his instructress. The tendency grew with his growth, and displayed itself in his mode of dealing with every branch of knowledge comprised in his education. If a new fact in science or an improvement in a mathematical or surgical instrument came under his observation, he closely examined their bearing and use before he adopted them or subscribed to their truth or utility. Those who question before they believe are not unfrequently pronounced unbelievers because they question; an inverted mode of reasoning equally uncharitable and illogical. My son had an undisguised dislike to any ostentatious display of religious sentiment and phraseology, particularly on the part of those who were not teachers by calling. He sometimes suspected more cant than sincerity in the practice, and thought these matters better suited for inward communication between man and his Maker than for public exhibition on common occasions. With my wife's permission I insert the following letter, now for the first time placed in my hands:—

Flagstaff Observatory, Melbourne, June 17th, 1860.


The mail arrived here only two or three days ago, being nearly a fortnight behind time. I have received your letter of the 13th of April, and one from Bessy. Your endeavours to show that my remarks on religion were wrong, have tended to convince me more clearly that I was right, and that you, partially at least, misunderstood what I said. I did not charge you with being openly uncharitable or of plainly condemning any one; nor do I blame you for believing you are right. We all think we are right, or we should not believe as we do. But I do blame those who pronounce everybody wrong but themselves; for as far as we can judge, one may be as near the truth as another. How often we hear VERY religious people, compassionately remarking upon a neighbour's death: "Ah, poor dear fellow, he was such a good sort of man! I hope and trust he died in the faith!" meaning, of course, their own peculiar tenets, and obliquely implying that, in spite of all his estimable qualities, they have great doubts of his salvation. For my part, I consider this as bad as the outspoken uncharitableness of bigots and persecutors in the olden days. The inference may be true, but it is not we who have a right to think, much less to utter it.

But I must now come to the more precise point on which we differ—the meaning of a single expression, which I think I have named in a former letter. I allude to the word FAITH, which, as I was always taught to interpret it, appeared to my apprehension analogous to CREDULITY, or a blind belief without question;—an explanation which went against my conscience and conviction whenever it occurred to me from time to time. As I grew older I felt it to be wrong, although I was not sufficiently informed to explain it differently. What perplexed me was that St. Paul should advocate such a servile submission of the intellectual faculties which God has bestowed upon man; such an apparent degradation of the human mind to the level of the lower creation as to call upon us to lay aside our peculiar attributes of reason, common sense, and reflection, and to receive without inquiry any doctrine that may be offered to us. On this principle, we should be as likely to believe in the impostor as in the true saint, and having yielded up our birthright of judgment, become incapable of distinguishing between them. I have thought much on the subject with the assistance of better authorities and scholars than myself, and will now endeavour to explain what I consider St. Paul meant by FAITH, or rather by the Greek word Piotis, which has been so translated. After you have read my explanation, and carefully examined your own mind, will it be too much to expect an admission that of the three great elements of Christianity, faith, hope, and charity, you have hitherto had more of hope than of the other two? The Greek word used by St. Paul signifies something more than faith, or implicit belief, as many render it. It means a self-reliant confidence arising from conviction after investigation and study—the faith that Paley advocates when he says, "He that never doubted never half believed." It implies, in the first place, an unprejudiced mind, an openness to conviction, and a readiness to receive instruction; and then a desire to judge for ourselves. This must be followed by a patient investigation of evidence pro and con, an impartial summing up, and a conclusion fairly and confidently deduced. If we are thus convinced, then we have acquired faith—a real, unshakeable faith, for we have carefully examined the title deeds and know that they are sound. You will surely see that faith in this sense, and credulity, a belief without inquiry, are the very reverse of each other, and how much superior is the former to the latter. Credulity is a mere feather, liable to be blown about with every veering wind of doctrine. Faith, as St. Paul means it, is as firm as a castle on a rock, where the foundations have been carefully examined and tested, before the building was proceeded with.

In collateral evidence of what I have just said, I may instance the often-repeated injunction to accept things as little children; which cannot mean with the ignorance and helpless submission of infancy, but with minds free from bigotry, bias, or prejudice, like those of little children, and with an inclination, like them, to receive instruction. At what period of life do any of us learn so rapidly and eagerly as in childhood? We acquire new ideas every time we open our eyes; we are ever attracted by something we have not observed before; every moment adds to our knowledge. If you give a child something to eat it has not been accustomed to, does it swallow it at once without examination? Does it not rather look at, smell, feel, and then taste it? And if disagreeable, will it eat merely because the new food was given to it for that purpose? On the contrary, it is more inclined to reject the gift until influenced by your eating some yourself, or by other modes of persuasion. Let us then, in like manner, examine all that is offered to our belief, and test it by the faculties with which the great God has endowed us. These rare senses and powers of reasoning were given to be used freely, but not audaciously, to discover, not to pervert the truth. Why were so many things presented as through a veil, unless to stimulate our efforts to clear away the veil, and penetrate to the light? I think it is plain that St. Paul, while he calls upon us to believe, never intended that we should be passively credulous. [Footnote: My son might have further enforced his view by a passage from St. Paul, 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5 verse 21, had it occurred to him: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." By this the apostle implies, according to Archbishop Secker's commentary, all things which may be right or wrong according to conscience. And by "proving them" he means, not that we should try them by experience, which would be an absurd and pernicious direction, but that we should examine them by our faculty of judgment, which is a wise and useful exhortation.] Credulity was one of the most prominent engines of the Romish Church, but there was a trace of sense in their application of it. They taught that the ignorant and uneducated should have faith in the doctrines introduced to them by their betters, and those who had found time to investigate the matter; but some, in the present day, support the monstrous delusion that enlightened and well-trained intellects, the most glorious of all the earthly gifts of God, should bow to canting and illiterate fanaticism. . .

Adieu for the present, my dear mother, and believe me ever your affectionate, and I hope unbigoted son,


. . .

This letter was the last but two he ever addressed to his mother, and I have not transcribed the whole. It is long and discursive, considering how much he had on his hands at that time, and how completely he was occupied with the pending expedition. In his next he refers to some apprehensions expressed by maternal solicitude that his religious convictions might be altered by a friend who entertained extremely different views. "I intended, my dear mother," he says, "to have replied at length to one of the remarks in your last, but I fear I must be very brief. Your idea that I am influenced by—'s notions of religion is amusingly erroneous. I never imagined that I could have written anything to warrant such an impression; but it shows how careful we should be to make clear statements so as to avoid being misunderstood. Mr.—'s religion is to my mind supremely ridiculous; I can only find two points in its favour, namely, its charity and moral principles. But these, although admirable in themselves, do not go far towards proving the truth of the theological notions entertained by its adherents. I can assure you that such ideas of religion are quite as far removed from mine as yours can be." His final letter announces the certainty of his being about to start on the enterprise so long projected. He had hitherto withheld the fact, from a wish not to distress his mother unnecessarily while there was a chance that any unforeseen obstacle might create further delay.

Flagstaff Observatory, Melbourne, July 25th, 1860.


I am glad to be able to inform you of a matter that you perhaps will not much like, although I do not know why you should object to it. It is that we expect to start on this exploration trip in a few weeks. You will find some particulars on the subject in the Argus that I have sent to Charles. I fancy we shall not be away so long as was at first intended; probably not more than twelve or eighteen months. I anticipate being able to send you a letter sometimes, as well as to receive yours to me, as they propose keeping up a communication with Cooper's Creek. Professor Neumayer will probably accompany us as far as the Darling River, taking an opportunity, at the same time, to prosecute the magnetic survey. This will make matters very pleasant, as well as being of great advantage to me in many respects. We shall be travelling through the country in the most favourable and pleasant season, when there is plenty of water, and everything fresh and green. It will take us about two months to get to Cooper's Creek. I do not give up my position in the Observatory, having obtained leave of absence for the time during which we may be engaged in the exploration. I am sorry I cannot give you more particulars respecting our projected tour, but you will hear enough about it by-and-by. I received a letter from my father a day or two since, in which he speaks of coming down before I start. I do not expect to have time to go to Ballaarat before we leave. I sent you by the last mail one or two small photographs of myself, and a locket for Bessy, which she asked me for some time ago. I hope they arrived safely. There was also a photograph of my father on paper. I have to thank some one, name unknown, for the Totnes papers that I received by the last mail. They appear to be well edited, and are decidedly a credit to the town. I had heard of the paper before, but did not expect to find it so good as it is. I suppose you have had a favourable view of the comet that has made its appearance lately. It was visible here for about a week: at first it was of a good size, but being so low down in the west, at sunset it could only be seen for a short time, and then it was comparatively dim, owing to the twilight. Since then it has rapidly disappeared, moving in an east-south-easterly direction. With you it was probably very fine. With kind love, etc., etc.,

Believe me, my dear mother,

Your affectionate son,




How the Expedition originated. Appointment of the Leader, Officers, and Party. Mr. Robert O'Hara Burke, Mr. G.J. Landells, Mr. W.J. Wills, Dr. Herman Beckler, Dr. Ludwig Becker, etc. The Expedition starts from Melbourne on the 20th of August, 1860. Progress to Swan Hill. Discharge of Mr. Ferguson, the Foreman. Advance to Menindie. Resignation of Mr. Landells and Dr. Herman Beckler. Mr. Wills promoted to second in Command, and Mr. Wright to third.

THE Exploring Expedition of 1860 originated thus. A gentleman, whose name is still concealed, offered one thousand pounds as an inducement to the Government and other parties to come forward and raise funds for an exploration of the island continent, now known as Australia, but formerly as New Holland; the vast interior of which had been supposed to be a desert, an inland sea, or anything that a poetical imagination might suggest. Attempts had been made, but always with insufficient means, and on too contracted a scale, to solve the problem. It was now for Victoria to take up the question in earnest. The 1000 pounds of the unknown contributor, increased to 2200 pounds by private subscriptions, with 6000 pounds voted by the colonial legislature, supplied in all a sum of above 9000 pounds for the prosecution of this great national enterprise. Let Victoria, then, receive the honour so justly her due, for an undertaking only on a par with her characteristic spirit of advancement. Any stranger who visits Melbourne, a place but of yesterday, must be struck by the magnificent scale and number of the public buildings. Let him look at the Churches, Library, House of Parliament, University and Museum, Railways and Parks, Banks, Hotels, Theatres, Botanical Gardens, [Footnote: Under the charge of that noble father of industry, Dr. Mueller.] etc., and then call to mind that all this is the growth of less than a quarter of a century, and that the existence of the colony dates from a period subsequent to the accession of our beloved Queen.

The arrangements for the expedition were in progress from 1858 to 1860, under Mr. O'Shannassy, a man far above the common order, who now fills the superior office of Chief Colonial Secretary. He entered into the object with his own peculiar zeal. On his personal responsibility, Mr. Landells, who figures in this narrative, as also in a preceding one, with little credit, was despatched to India to procure camels, those ships of the desert, whose aid in traversing the unknown interior was expected to prove invaluable. "The camels are come!" was the cry when these new and interesting immigrants made their first appearance in Melbourne. All the people were en the qui vive. "What was to be done next? Who was to be the leader? When would the party start?" Mr. Nicholson had by this time taken the place of Mr. O'Shannassy, and he hit on the unfortunate expedient of delegating to the Royal Society of Melbourne the direction of this important expedition. I say unfortunate, because, by this arrangement, the opinions to be consulted were too numerous to expect unanimity. It is true they elected a special committee, which included some who were well qualified for the duty, and others who were less so; but, good or bad, the old adage of "too many cooks" was verified in this instance. Had they all been excellent judges, the course was still objectionable, as divided responsibility falls on no one.

The first point to be settled was the choice of a leader. Meeting after meeting was held, and I must do them the justice to say that, on the whole, no thoroughly unexceptionable candidate offered himself. The necessary combination of physical and scientific requisites was not readily found. The question therefore fell into abeyance for a time on that account. But at length, and after a considerable delay, Robert O'Hara Burke, Esquire, police inspector at the Beechworth district, and afterwards at Castlemaine, was appointed to the post. He was in his fortieth year, experienced, active, and well-connected, of one of the old Galway families, and had held a commission as lieutenant in the Austrian army; on quitting which service, he procured an appointment in the Irish constabulary. There he was so beloved by his men, that several resigned when he left for Australia and accompanied him, in the hope of still serving under their favourite commander. He was a brave and true man, covetous of honour, but careless of profit; one who would have sought reputation "even in the cannon's mouth." With his name that of my poor son is indelibly conjoined. From all I have since collected from King, their only surviving companion, Mr. Burke loved my son as a brother; and William, writing of him, says: "The more I see of Mr. Burke the more I like him;" and he wrote with caution, adopted no hasty opinions, and seldom changed them when once formed.

Mr. Burke's appointment called forth discussions and strong comments in the Melbourne papers. Gentlemen who considered their own qualifications as superior to his, and their friends who thought with them, expressed their opinions with more ardour than justice or delicacy in their respective organs. The committee of management, selected originally from the "Royal Society of Melbourne," now became united to another body called "The Exploration Fund Committee." The board comprised the following members:—Chairman, the Honourable Sir William Stawell, one of the Justices of Victoria; Vice-Chairman, the Honourable John Hodgson, M.L.C.; Treasurer, the Honourable Dr. Wilkie; Secretary, the Honourable Dr. Macadam; Dr. Embling;—Ligar, Esquire, Surveyor General; James Smith, Esquire; Professor McCoy; Dr. McKenna; Professor Neumayer; Sizar Elliott, Esquire; Dr. Mueller; Dr. Iffla; Captain Cadell; Angus McMillan, Esquire; A. Selwyn, Esquire; John Watson, Esquire; Reverend Mr. Blensdale; Dr. Eades; Dr. Gilbee, Deputy-Surveyor; and—Hodgkinson, Esquire The commander being appointed, the next step was to name the second. This choice, by a sad mistake, fell on Mr. G.J. Landells, who owed his preferment to the circumstance of his having been employed to bring the camels from India. His services, therefore, were considered indispensable for their management in Australia. Having convinced the committee of this, he demanded a salary considerably exceeding that of the leader, or refused to go. When Mr. Burke found that this point was to be discussed at the next meeting, he, with his usual high and liberal spirit, requested that no obstacle might be raised on that account. We shall presently see how Mr. Landells repaid his leader, and proved himself worthy of this disinterestedness. My son tendered his services as astronomer and guide, not at the moment thinking of or desiring any distinct post of command, his object being exclusively scientific. He had been for some time assistant to Professor Neumayer at the Magnetic Observatory, was a seasoned bushman, with great powers of endurance, and felt that he could discharge the duties he wished to undertake. He was not aware, until I informed him on his going into the Society's room to sign the contract, that any command had been allotted to him, neither did he stipulate for salary; but in consequence of Dr. Ludwig Becker demanding an advance of pay, on the sum first fixed, my son's was raised from 250 to 300 pounds per annum. The next appointments were Dr. Ludwig Becker, as naturalist and artist, and Dr. Herman Beckler as botanist and medical adviser to the expedition. These were scarcely more fortunate than that of Mr. Landells. The first named of these gentlemen was physically deficient, advanced in years, and his mode of life in Melbourne had not been such as to make up for his want of youth. I do not mean to imply by this that he indulged in irregular or dissipated habits. He possessed a happy gift of delineating natural objects with the pencil, but died before passing the boundaries of civilization, from causes unconnected with want or fatigue. Dr. Herman Beckler, who has since returned to his native country, was neither a man of courage, energy, nor of medical experience. He resigned when Mr. Landells did, and, as will be seen, for a very poor reason. His place should have been immediately supplied; for had any one worth a straw been sent, by his position he must have been third in command instead of Wright, a more ignorant being than whom could not have been extracted from the bush. He was scarcely able to write his name.

The following is a copy of the memorandum of agreement, to which all the members of the Exploration party attached their signatures: —


Made the eighteenth day of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty, between the Honourable David Elliott Wilkie, as treasurer of the Exploration Committee of the Royal Society, Melbourne, of the one part, and the several other persons whose names are hereto subscribed, of the other part. The said persons forming an expedition about to explore the interior of Australia under Robert O'Hara Burke, hereby agree with the said David Elliott Wilkie faithfully to discharge the special duties described opposite to their respective names, and also generally to perform whatever in the opinion of the said Robert O'Hara Burke, as leader, or in the event of his death, in the opinion of the leader for the time being, may be necessary to promote the success of the expedition: and they hereby further agree to place themselves unreservedly under the orders of the leader, recognising George James Landells as second; and William John Wills as third; and their right of succession in the order thus stated. In consideration of the above services being efficiently discharged, the said David Elliott Wilkie, as treasurer, and on behalf of the said committee, hereby agrees to pay the said persons the salaries, at the respective rates set opposite their names; such salaries to be paid by monthly instalments, not exceeding one-half the amount then due, on a certificate from the leader that the services have been efficiently performed up to the date; and the remainder on and rateably up to the day of the return of the expedition to Melbourne, and no more. And each of the said persons hereby lastly agrees, on failure on his part fully to perform this agreement, that his salary shall be forfeited, and that he shall abide all consequences, the power of discharge vesting with the leader, and the power of dismissal and forfeiture of salary resting on the recommendation of the leader with the said David Elliott Wilkie, acting with the consent of the said committee. In witness whereof the said parties have hereunto set their hands the day and year above written.

George James Landells—in charge of camels, second in command.

William John Wills—as surveyor and astronomical observer, third in command.

Herman Beckler—medical officer and botanist.

Ludwig Becker—artist, naturalist, and geologist.

Charles J. Ferguson—foreman.

Thomas F. McDonagh—assistant.

William Paton—assistant.

Patrick Langan—assistant.

Owen Cowan—assistant.

William Brake—assistant.

Robert Fletcher—assistant.

John King—assistant.

Henry Creher—assistant.

John Dickford—assistant.

And three sepoys.

Signed by all the above in the presence of



Monday, the 20th of August, 1860, will be a memorable day in the annals of Melbourne, as recording the commencement of the expedition. It was not a false start but a bona-fide departure. Nearly the whole population suspended ordinary business and turned out to witness the imposing spectacle. The camels were a great attraction. The Melbourne Herald of the 21st gave the annexed description of the proceedings:—

Tom Campbell, in a tender moment, sang a sweet hymn to a "Name Unknown," and many an ardent youth in and since his time, has borrowed inspiration from the dulcet numbers of the familiar bard, and allowed his imagination to run riot in "castle-building" upon this simple theme. Had we the poet's gift, our enthusiasm might, doubtless, prompt us to extol in more lofty strain the praises of the "great unknown"—the donor of the handsome instalment of one thousand pounds towards the organization of an expedition to explore the terra incognita of interior Australia. But in the absence of the favour of the Muses, dull prose must serve the purpose we have in view. If the "unknown" were present yesterday in the Royal Park, his heart must have leaped for very joy, as did with one accord the hearts of the "ten thousand" or more of our good citizens, who there assembled to witness the departure of the Exploring Expedition. Never have we seen such a manifestation of heartfelt interest in any public undertaking of the kind as on this occasion. The oldest dwellers in Australia have experienced nothing to equal it.

At an early hour crowds of eager holiday folks, pedestrian and equestrian, were to be seen hieing along the dusty ways to the pleasant glades and umbrageous shade (a warm breeze; the first of the season, was blowing from the north-east) of the Royal Park. A busy scene was there presented. Men, horses, camels, drays, and goods, were scattered here and there amongst the tents, in the sheds, and on the greensward, in picturesque confusion;—everything premised a departure—the caravansery was to be deserted. Hour after hour passed in the preparations for starting. By-and-by, however, the drays were loaded—though not before a burden of three hundred-weight for each camel at starting was objected to, and extra vehicles had to be procured—the horses and the camels were securely packed, and their loads properly adjusted. Artists, reporters, and favoured visitors were all the time hurrying and scurrying hither and thither to sketch this, to take a note of that, and to ask a question concerning t'other. It is needless to say, that occasionally ludicrous replies were given to serious questions, and in the bustle of hurried arrangements, some very amusing contretemps occurred. One of the most laughable was the breaking loose of a cantankerous camel, and the startling and upsetting in the "scatter" of a popular limb of the law. The gentleman referred to is of large mould, and until we saw his tumbling feat yesterday, we had no idea that he was such a sprightly gymnast. His down-going and up-rising were greeted with shouts of laughter, in which he good-naturedly joined. The erring camel went helter-skelter through the crowd, and was not secured until he showed to admiration how speedily can go "the ship of the desert."

It was exactly a quarter to four o'clock when the expedition got into marching order. A lane was opened through the crowd, and in this the line was formed; Mr. Burke on his pretty little grey at the head. The Exploration Committee of the Royal Society, together with a distinguished circle of visitors, amongst whom were several of our most respectable colonists and their families, took up a position in front.

The MAYOR OF MELBOURNE then mounted one of the drays, and said: Mr. Burke—I am fully aware that the grand assemblage, this day, while it has impeded your movements in starting, is at the same time a source of much gratification to you. It assures you of the most sincere sympathy of the citizens. (Hear, hear.) I will not detain you; but for this great crowd, and on behalf of the colony at large, I say—God speed, you! (Cheers.) His Worship then called for "three cheers for Mr. Burke," "three cheers for Mr. Landells," and "three cheers for the party itself," which, it is needless to say, were responded to with all the energy and enthusiasm that are the characteristics of popular assemblages. He then concluded with again saying, "God speed and bless you!"

Mr. BURKE (uncovered) said, in a clear earnest voice that was heard all over the crowd:

Mr. Mayor,—On behalf of myself and the Expedition I beg to return you my most sincere thanks. No expedition has ever started under such favourable circumstances as this. The people, the Government, the committee—all have done heartily what they could do. It is now our turn; and we shall never do well till we justify what you have done in showing what we can do. (Cheers.)

The party at once got into motion. Following the leader were several pack horses, led by some of the assistants on foot. Then came Mr. Landells, on a camel, next Dr. Becker, similarly mounted, and these were succeeded by two European assistants, riding on camels—one leading the ambulance camel, and the other leading two animals loaded with provisions. Sepoys on foot led the remainder of the camels, four and five in hand, variously loaded, and the caravan was closed by one mounted sepoy. Altogether twenty-seven camels go with the expedition. Two new waggons, heavily loaded, followed at a good distance. These were built expressly for the expedition, and one of them is so constructed, that at a very short notice it can be taken off the wheels, and put to all the uses of a river punt, carrying an immense load high and dry on the water. If it be necessary to swim the camels, air bags are provided to be lashed under their jowls, so as to keep their heads clear when crossing deep streams. Two or three hired waggons and one of the new ones, were detained in the park till nearly dusk, in charge of the astronomer, Mr. W.J. Wills, and the foreman, who had to look to the careful packing of instruments, specimen cases, etc. The hired waggons will proceed as far as Swan Hill only. Issuing from the south gate of the park, the party went down behind the manure depot, and thence on to the Sydney road, and the whole camped last night near the village of Essendon.

. . .

The first day's march scarcely exceeded seven miles, the camping ground for the night being on an open space of greensward near the church at Essendon. Here I saw my son for the last time. It was with a feeling of great misgiving that I took leave of him. On shaking hands with Mr. Burke, I said frankly, "If it were in my power, I would even now prevent his going." I then added, "If he knew what I am about to say, he would not, I think, be well pleased; but if you ever happen to want my son's advice or opinion, you must ask it, for he will not offer it unasked. No matter what course you may adopt, he will follow without remonstrance or murmur." Mr. Burke shook me warmly by the hand in return, and replied: "There is nothing you can say will raise him higher in my estimation than he stands at present; I will do as you desire." There were some photographers present to take likenesses. My son refused to be taken. "Should it ever be worth while," he said, "my father has an excellent one, which you can copy from." Alas! it has been copied very often since.

The progress of the party was slow through the enclosed districts, until they reached Swan Hill on the Murray, which, properly speaking, is the northern boundary of the colony of Victoria. My son's first letter was dated August 26th.


We are now at the Mia-Mia, lying between McIvor and Castlemaine (a roadside public-house). We are all right enough, except as regards cleanliness, and everything has gone well, barring the necessary break-downs, and wet weather. We have to travel slowly, on account of the camels. I suppose Professor Neumayer will overtake us in a day or two. I have been agreeably disappointed in my idea of the camels. They are far from unpleasant to ride; in fact, it is much less fatiguing than riding on horseback, and even with the little practice I have yet had, I find it shakes me less. I shall write to you from Swan Hill, if not before.

Your affectionate son,


. . .

From Terrick Terrick, he writes, on the 31st of August, to his friend Mr. Byerly: "Riding on camels is a much more pleasant process than I anticipated, and for my work I find it much better than riding on horseback. The saddles, as you are aware, are double, so I sit on the back portion behind the hump, and pack my instruments in front, I can thus ride on, keeping my journal and making calculations; and need only stop the camel when I want to take any bearings carefully; but the barometers can be read and registered without halting. The animals are very quiet, and easily managed, much more so than horses."

His next letter to me is dated from Swan Hill, September 8th:—


We arrived here on Saturday last, early in the afternoon. I had not time to write by the last post, which closed on the same evening. We are all in good health and spirits. The road we are about to take is not that which I had anticipated, namely, down the side of the Lower Darling, as we hear there is literally nothing for the horses to eat; so that we are going right across the country to the Darling, passing the Murray at this place. We leave Swan Hill about the middle of next week, and shall then be out of the colony of Victoria. We are expecting Professor Neumayer up shortly,—a scrap of paper to-day by the postman says to-morrow. I am rather disappointed at not having yet an assistant surveyor, but I hope he will arrive shortly. Letters in future had better be directed to the care of Dr. Macadam, the secretary, as they will have to go by sea.

. . .

On the 17th of September he writes to his mother:—

Balranald, September 17th, 1860.


As I have an opportunity of sending a few lines by this mail, I have determined to take advantage of the chance, because I know how glad you will be to receive them; but I have not time sufficient to give you any account of our journey. We are now at the last township at which we shall touch on our way towards the interior of the continent. It is an out-of-the-way place, situated on the lower part of the Murrumbidgee River. Our journey so far has been very satisfactory: we are most fortunate as regards the season, for there has been more rain this winter than has been known for the last four or five years. In fact, it seems probable that we shall finish our work in a much shorter period than was anticipated; very likely in ten or twelve months. The country up here is beautiful; everything green and pleasant; and if you saw it now, you would not believe that in two months' time it could have such a parched and barren appearance as it will then assume. I hope to be able, either from the Darling or from Cooper's Creek, to send you some details of our proceedings. Please to remember me to all, and

Believe me, ever your affectionate son,


. . .

At Balranald, beyond the Murray, Mr. Burke found it impossible to get on further with his foreman, Ferguson, and discharged him in consequence. It required no deep penetration to discover that this would occur. Before they left the Royal Park, I made a remark to one of the committee on Ferguson's appearance and general demeanour: the gentleman I addressed replied, "I have just told Burke he will have to shoot him yet."

When Ferguson returned to Melbourne, he published his own account of the affair; and after the melancholy catastrophe of the expedition became known, he brought his action against the committee, and obtained a verdict for a considerable sum on the ground of unjust dismissal, proving his own statement in the absence of counter-evidence. Those who could or might have refuted it were dead.

Mr. Burke had no sooner rid himself of his troublesome foreman, than his second began to exhibit insubordination in an unmistakable manner. This reached a crisis by the time they had proceeded as far as Menindie, on the Darling. Whatever Mr. Landells' merits may have been as a manager of camels, his post of second in command had evidently affected the equilibrium of his intellects. He mistook his position, as also the character of his superior. His conduct was so manifestly unjustifiable that no one took his part, or defended him in the slightest degree. What his real motive was, whether to escape from danger when danger was likely to commence, or to obtain the leadership of the expedition himself, is difficult to determine. He had been sowing dissension in the camp from an early period. My son was so much engaged in his scientific avocations that he knew little of what was going on; but when Mr. Landells was ill-judged enough to talk plain sedition to him, he saw at once, and clearly, the state of affairs. Mr. Burke was of a generous and unsuspecting nature; he trusted every one until practical experience opened his eyes, and then he naturally became angry, almost to violence. The following correspondence, which was published at the time, explains the affair exactly as it happened. Mr. Selwyn laid before the committee the letter from Professor Neumayer, enclosing my son's to him. The professor had been lost in the bush, and had to cut his way through the scrub for a distance of six miles.

Youngera, November 8.


Bad news from the expedition since I left them at McPherson's. I really do not know what to think of it. I send you herewith a letter from Mr. Wills, descriptive of the whole affair, and give you authority to do with it according to your views. I am right in the bush, and have just met with Captain Cadell, who is so kind as to take this to you, in order that you might have a chance of hearing both sides of the question. Landells I spoke to last night; and, according to his statement, of course he is in the right.

I shall be in town in three or four weeks. Excuse my writing.

Sincerely yours,


Alfred Selwyn, Esquire, Government Geologist.

. . .

Menindie, October 16, 1860.


I suppose you are by this time safe in town again. Great things have occurred since you left; in fact, I have so much to tell you that I do not know where to begin.

That Mr. Landells has resigned, and gives over his things to-morrow, is news at which you will not be much surprised; but that Dr. Beckler has been foolish enough to follow his example, for no better reason than that he did not like the way in which Mr. Burke spoke to Mr. Landells, will I think rather astonish you. I shall now give you a full account of the whole matter, so that you may be in a position to make any statement that you may deem necessary in explanation of the proceedings.

It will be necessary for me to remind you that when you left Kornpany, Mr. Landells was there with the camels, for the purpose of bringing on some of the heavy goods to lighten the waggons. This he did, and reached the camp at Bilbarka on Tuesday, the 2nd instant, with about three tons, whilst Mr. Burke went round by the lower road with the waggons and horses; he was obliged to take the latter with him, greatly to their disadvantage, because Mr. Landells would not assume the responsibility of bringing them with the camels. In bringing the things from Kornpany, one of Coppin's camels fell, having at the time on his back a load of upwards of 4 hundred-weight. The result of this fall was, ACCORDING TO MR. LANDELLS' REPORT, a dislocation of the shoulder, for which he said nothing could be done, so that the camel has been left behind a perfect cripple. I have dashed the above words because I myself do not believe it to be a dislocation, but only a strain; but that's merely my idea; Mr. L. ought to know best. Certain it is that the poor brute hobbled nearly twenty miles after us on Thursday last, and I think that is rather a good pull for one with a dislocation of the shoulder joint.

On Thursday, the 4th instant, our own two waggons came up to McPherson's, and in the evening Mr. Landells and I went down to the station to post some letters. On the way, Mr. L. made many remarks about Mr. Burke and his arrangements that were quite uncalled for. He told me, amongst other things, that Mr. B. had no right to interfere about the camels; that he had agreements with the committee of which he believed Mr. B. was ignorant; that everything was mismanaged; and, in fact, that if Mr. Burke had his way everything would go to the devil.

On Friday the other waggons came up, and it was intended that some of the camels should fetch up what things we required, and that the remainder should be stored at McPherson's; but the camels were not to be found until late at night. On Saturday morning Mr. Landells and the Doctor went down with seventeen camels to the station, a distance of five miles, and, greatly to Mr. Burke's disgust, did not return until after dark. In the meantime the nine remaining camels had travelled off, and could not be found anywhere.

On Sunday morning, McPherson sent a note to Mr. Burke, requesting him to come down, as all the shearers were drunk on some of the camels' rum, which they had obtained from the waggons. Mr. Burke hereupon expressed his determination, which he had previously mentioned to me, that he would leave the rum behind. Mr. Landells objected to this, and insisted on the necessity of taking it on, and told Mr. Burke, who was firm in his resolve, that he would not be responsible for the camels. Mr. B. said he should do as he pleased, and left the camp; and as soon as he was gone, Mr. L. called me to take delivery of the Government things in charge, as he intended to leave for Melbourne at once. He said that Mr. B. was mad, and he was frightened to stay in the tent with him. He then went off, telling me that he should deliver over the camels as soon as he could find them. It appears that he went down to the station, and on meeting the waggon-drivers on the road, told them that he was about to leave, so that every one in the camp knew it in a very short time. I should mention that everything was being got ready for a start; and on my mentioning to Mr. Burke what had passed, he said that he should take no notice of it until it was brought officially before him. When Mr. Landells returned, he asked Mr. Burke in my presence to dismiss him, which Mr. B. refused to do, but said that he would forward his resignation if he wished it, with a recommendation that he should receive his pay up to that time. This did not exactly satisfy Mr. L., who wished to appear before the public as the injured individual. He, nevertheless, expressed to me several times his fixed determination to stay no longer. He took an opportunity in the evening, in his tent, to give expression to opinions of his, which would not tend, if listened to, to raise a leader in the estimation of his officers. He said that Mr. B. was a rash, mad man; that he did not know what he was doing; that he would make a mess of the whole thing, and ruin all of us; that he was frightened at him; that he did not consider himself safe in the tent with him, and many other things. Some of this was said in the presence of the Doctor and Mr. Becker; but the most severe remarks were to me alone after they were gone. On Monday, Mr. Landells asked Hodgkinson to write out for him his resignation, and then in a private conversation, told Hodgkinson several things, which the latter thought it best to make a note of at once. Hodgkinson's statement is this—that Mr. Landells having asked him whether he could keep a secret, told him, after extracting a sort of promise about holding his tongue, that Mr. Burke wanted an excuse for discharging him, and that he had sent him with the camels with an order to him (Mr. Landells) to find fault with him for that purpose. On hearing this, Hodgkinson wanted to go to Mr. Burke and speak to him about it at once; but Landells prevented this by reminding him of his promise. This all came out owing to some remarks that Hodgkinson had made to me, and which I considered myself in duty bound to tell Mr. Burke. On Monday evening Mr. Landells was speaking to me about the best and quickest way of getting to town, when I suggested to him that he might be placing himself in a disagreeable position by leaving in such a hurry without giving any notice. He replied that he did not care, but that he meant to propose certain terms to Mr. Burke, which he read to me from his pocket-book, and on these terms only he would go:—"That Mr. Burke should give him a written agreement that he, Mr. L., should have full and unqualified charge of the camels, and that from that time Mr. B. should not interfere with them in any way; that they should travel no further nor faster than Mr. L. chose, and that he should be allowed to carry provisions for them to the amount of four camels' burthen." Just after this, Mr. B. came up and called Mr. L. aside, and, as the former told me, read to him a letter that he had written to accompany the resignation. The contents of this letter had a considerable effect on Mr. L., who said that it was a pity they should have had any quarrel, and so acted on Mr. B.'s feelings, that he allowed him to withdraw his resignation. I believe that the information which had arrived about a steamer being on its way up the river had had a great influence in making Mr. Landells desirous to withdraw his resignation; but the chief reason was, no doubt, that he feared, from the concluding sentence of Mr. Burke's letter, that the committee would refuse him his pay.

After this, everything appeared to be healed for a day or two; but on Wednesday, from various matters that had occurred, I considered it my duty to mention to Mr. Burke about Hodgkinson and some things that Mr. Landells had said to me; whereupon it came out that Mr. L. had been playing a fine game, trying to set us all together by the ears. To Mr. Burke he has been abusing and finding fault with all of us; so much so, that Mr. B. tells me that Landells positively hates me. We have, apparently, been the best of friends. To me, he has been abusing Mr. Burke, and has always spoken as if he hated the Doctor and Mr. Becker; whereas with them he has been all milk and honey. There is scarcely a man in the party whom he has not urged Mr. Burke to dismiss.

Mr. Burke went ahead with the horses from Bilbarka, partly because he wanted to be here sooner than the rest, and partly in order to avoid a collision with Mr. Landells. He asked Dr. Beckler to accompany him, for we both expected that Mr. Landells would be tampering with him, as we found he had been with others; but the Doctor said that he preferred going with the camels, so that after the first day, when we found that Dr. Beckler would not go on with the horses, Mr. Burke took Mr. Becker and myself with him. We crossed the horses at a very good crossing at Kinchica, six miles below Menindie. Mr. Burke sent me up from there in the steamer, whilst he took the horses up. On our arrival, we found that Mr. Landells had ridden up also, having left the camels at Kinchica; he objected to making them swim the river, and wanted the steamer's barge to cross them over. This Mr. Burke refused, because the captain and every one else said that it would be a very dangerous experiment, from the difficulty of getting them on or off, which is no easy matter to do safely, even on a punt arranged for the purpose; and as for the barge, it can scarcely be brought within six feet of the bank; so Mr. Burke insisted on their swimming the river at Kinchica. After dinner we went down to assist in crossing them, but Mr. Landells said it was too late, and that he would cross them at ten o'clock next morning. On his remarking that there was no rope here, I mentioned that we had just brought one across with us, when he wanted to know what business I had to say anything. Altogether he made a great fool of himself before several of the men; and a Mr. Wright, the manager of the Kinchica station. For this Mr. Burke gave him an overhauling, and told him that if his officers misconducted themselves, he (Mr. B.) was the person to blow them up. Mr. Burke then told me, before Mr. Landells, that he wished me to be present at the crossing of the camels, at ten o'clock to-morrow.

Mr. Landells then jumped up in a rage, asking Mr. Burke whether he intended that I should superintend him, and what he meant by desiring me to be present. Mr. Burke answered him that if he knew his place he would not ask such a question; that he had no right to ask it, and that he (Mr. B.) should give what orders he thought proper to his officers without considering himself responsible to Mr. L.; that Mr. Landells' conduct was insolent and improper, and that he would have no more of it. This was on Monday.

On Tuesday morning Mr. L. sent in his resignation, and in the course of the day, Dr. Beckler followed his example, giving as his reason that he did not like the manner in which Mr. Burke spoke to Mr. Landells, and that he did not consider that the party was safe without Mr. Landells to manage the camels. Now there is no mistake, Dr. Beckler is an honest little fellow, and well-intentioned enough, but he is nothing of a bushman, although he has had so much travelling. Landells has taken advantage of his diffidence for his own purposes; and at the same time that he hates him, he has put on such a smooth exterior, that he has humbugged and hoodwinked him into the belief that no one can manage the camels but himself.

. . .

The upshot was that the committee accepted the resignations of Mr. Landells and Dr. Beckler, and expressed their entire approbation of the conduct of Mr. Burke.

The following extract from the Melbourne leading journal, the "Argus,"—and with the view therein expressed all the other newspapers coincided—shows pretty clearly the state of public opinion on the question:—

Whatever may be the interest attached to the communications respecting the Victorian Exploring Expedition, as read before the committee of the Royal Society, there can be little doubt but that the judgment pronounced on Mr. Landells remains unaltered. He deserted his leader on the eve of the fight; and such an act, so subversive of all discipline, and so far from the thoughts of the smallest drummer-boy, renders all explanations contemptible. In the present instance, Mr. Landells' explanations make his act the more inexcusable. He is still of opinion that the camels are indispensable to the safety of the party, and that he is indispensable to the safety of the camels. The inference is, therefore, that he knowingly left the party to perish. Indeed, we should not at all enter into an examination of Mr. Landells' letter, but that it may enable us to form some opinion as to the prospects of the expedition itself, and as to the suitability of Mr. Burke for its leadership.

The charges brought against Mr. Burke by his late lieutenant, comprise almost everything that a commander should not be guilty of. His acts of commission and omission comprehend everything that a bad general could possibly commit or omit, and Mr. Landells winds up his bad qualities by asserting that he "cultivates the spy system," and treats his men like a parcel of "convicts." Not only is he "ungentlemanly" to his officers and "interfering with the best interests of the party"—not only has he "displayed such a want of judgment, candour, and decision;" but he has also shown, in addition to these and many other shortcomings, "such an entire absence of any and every quality which should characterize him as its leader, as has led to the conviction in my own mind that under his leadership the expedition will be attended by the most disastrous results."

But in this matter we are not left to decide between Mr. Landells' account and Mr. Burke's account. Mr. Wills, the third officer, may be taken as an impartial observer, and his statement, a private communication to the head of the department to which he lately belonged, Professor Neumayer, is free from any suspicion of toadyism. From it we may find abundant reason for the conduct which Mr. Landells calls "strange." If Mr. Burke was restless at nights, hasty in the day, and apparently undecided what course to pursue, we have from this account of the matter only to wonder that he managed to bear with Mr. Landells so long as he did. Here the rage is all on Mr. Landells' side. "Mr. Landells then jumped up in a rage, asking Mr. Burke whether he intended that I should superintend him?" To talk, touch, or mention anything about his favourites, the camels, was sure to bring on "a scene." "On his remarking that there was no rope here, I mentioned that we had just brought one across with us, when he wanted to know what business I had to say anything. Altogether, he made a great fool of himself before several of the men, and a Mr. Wright, the manager of the Kinchica Station." These camels, under Mr. Landells' spoiling, appear to have become the plague of the expedition. They were to have rum—solely, as it now appears, because Mr. Landells "knew of an officer who took two camels through a two years' campaign in Cabul, the Punjab, and Scinde, by allowing them arrack." They were to carry more stores for themselves than they were worth. They were not to make long journeys, nor to travel in bad weather, nor to be subject to any one's direction, or opinion, or advice. In fine, the chief difficulty of exploring Australia seemed to consist in humouring the camels. We may imagine the feelings of a leader with such a drag as this encumbering him. Mr. Pickwick could never have viewed with such disgust the horse which he was obliged to lead about as Mr. Burke must have regarded his camels. When to this it is added that the leader observed various intrigues carried on, we cannot wonder that he determined to come to an open rupture before Mr. Landells and the camels had completely disorganized the expedition. "Whereupon it came out," writes Mr. Wills, "that Mr. Landells has been playing a fine game, trying to set us all together by the ears. There is scarcely a man in the party whom he has not urged Mr. Burke to dismiss." Under such a state of things, the leader of the expedition must have been painfully aware that his party was in no fit state of organization to enter on a most perilous undertaking, and that while such continued, both he and his men were going to inevitable destruction. If his conduct appeared to Mr. Landells restless and uncertain, we may wonder how, under the circumstances, it could be otherwise. We find it impossible to believe that the Exploring Committee of the Royal Society could have secretly informed Mr. Landells that he held independent command, for such a thing would be a burlesque on discipline. He claims the sole management of the camels; and perhaps the committee may have defined his duty as such. But so also has a private soldier the sole management of his musket, but it is under the directions of his officer. Profound as may be Mr. Landells' knowledge of camels, it would be worse than useless unless subject to the direction of his commanding officer.

. . .

Mr. Burke, on the resignation of Mr. Landells, immediately promoted my son to the post he had vacated, which appointment the committee confirmed. Here there was perfect union and reciprocal understanding. Neither had petty jealousies or reserved views. The success of the expedition was their object, and personal glory their aim. The leader had every confidence in his second, and the second was proud of his leader. But Mr. Burke committed an error in the selection of Mr. Wright for the third position in command, without any previous knowledge or experience of his capabilities. In this he acted from his impulsive nature, and the consequences bore heavily on his own and my son's fate. To the misconduct of Mr. Wright, in the words of the report of the Committee of Inquiry, "are mainly attributable the whole of the disasters of the expedition, with the exception of the death of Gray." In appearance and acquirements, there was nothing to recommend him. The gentleman suggested by Mr. Burke as a substitute for Dr. Beckler, most unjustly, according to general opinion, desired to supplant my son. This the majority of the committee refused to accede to, and Mr. Nicholson, the chief secretary, agreed with their decision. Others, including myself, offered to go; and a dispute, or rather a discussion arose on the matter, which produced delay, so that no one was sent at all. Another fatal mistake. It will be a source of sorrow and strong regret to me as long as I exist, that I did not, of my own will, push on to Menindie, where I might have been instrumental in saving one for whom I would willingly have risked my life. But no one then foresaw or expected the errors which caused the surviving travelers to perish on their return.

But the actual cause of what might appear to be neglect on the part of the committee, in procrastinating the medical appointment, or other matters that were delayed, arose from the want of funds. The sum subscribed had been expended, and when Mr. Hodgkinson arrived at Melbourne, with Wright's despatch (written, however, by Hodgkinson), asking for cash, and a confirmation of his appointment as third in command, the committee had no balance at their disposal. His Excellency, Sir Henry Barkly, to prevent any misfortune on that ground, came forward on his personal guarantee, and became responsible until Parliament should again meet. The funds asked for by Wright, and even more, were granted; but I believe it would puzzle the committee, to this day, to find what became of them. One of the avowed objects was to purchase sheep; this, at least, was neglected. Hodgkinson fulfilled his mission zealously, and returned to Wright within as short a time as possible. But Wright lingered inactively at Menindie, allowed the proper time for following out the track of Mr. Burke to glide away and disgracefully broke faith with one who had too generously trusted him.

One word more with respect to Mr. Landells. His assertion, believed by no rational person at the time, and emphatically denounced by Mr. Burke in his despatch as "false," that he had private instructions from the committee, rendering him in some respects independent of his leader, was utterly disproved by the evidence of Dr. Macadam, Honorary Secretary, related before the Royal Commission, who said in reply to Question 110: "We gave Mr. Landells no private instructions whatever; that has been answered over and over again."


From Menindie on the Darling to Torowoto. Mr. Burke's Despatch, and Mr. Wills's Report from Torowoto. Mr. Wright's unaccountable delay at Menindie. The Expedition proceeds onwards to Cooper's Creek. Exploring Trips in that Neighbourhood. Loss of Three Camels. Mr. Wills's Letter to his Sister, December 6th and 15th. Incorrectness of McDonough's Statements.

THE incapables being happily disposed of, Mr. Burke and his party left Menindie on the 19th of October. The committee having decided on Cooper's Creek as the basis of his operations, he pushed on in that direction, and reached Torowoto on the 29th of the same month. From the latter encampment he forwarded the following despatch, including my son's surveying report.

Torowoto, October 29, 1860.


I have the honour to report, that I left Menindie on the 19th instant with the following party:—

Messrs. Burke, Wills, Brahe, Patten, McDonough, King, Gray, Dost Mahomet, fifteen horses and sixteen camels, and Mr. Wright, who had kindly volunteered to show me a practical route towards Cooper's Creek, for a distance of a hundred miles from the Darling; and he has more than fulfilled his promise, for we have now travelled for upwards of 200 miles, generally through a fine sheep-grazing country; and we have not had any difficulty about water, as we found creeks, or waterholes, many of them having every appearance of permanent water, at distances never exceeding twenty miles. Mr. Wills's report, herewith forwarded, gives all the necessary details. Although travelling at the rate of twenty miles a day, the horses and camels have all improved in condition, and the country improves as we go on. Yesterday, from Wanominta to Paldrumata Creek, we travelled over a splendid grazing country, and to-day, we are encamped on a creek or swamp, the banks of which are very well grassed, and good feed all the way from our last camp (44), except for two miles, where the ground was barren and swampy. Of course it is impossible for me to say what effect an unusually dry summer would produce throughout this country, or whether we are now travelling in an unusually favourable season or not. I describe things as I find them.

Mr. Wright returns from here to Menindie. I informed him that I should consider him third officer of the expedition, subject to the approval of the committee, from the day of our departure from Menindie, and I hope that they will confirm the appointment. In the mean time I have instructed him to follow me up with the remainder of the camels to Cooper's Creek, to take steps to procure a supply of jerked meat, and I have written to the doctor to inform him that I have accepted his resignation, as, although I was anxious to await the decision of the committee, the circumstances will not admit of delay, and he has positively refused to leave the settled districts. I am willing to admit that he did his best until his fears for the safety of the party overcame him; but these fears, I think, clearly show how unfit he is for his post. If Mr. Wright is allowed to follow out the instructions I have given him, I am confident that the result will be satisfactory; and if the committee think proper to make inquiries with regard to him they will find that he is well qualified for the post, and that he bears the very highest character. I shall proceed on from here to Cooper's Creek. I may, or may not, be able to send back from there until we are followed up. Perhaps it would not be prudent to divide the party; the natives here have told Mr. Wright that we shall meet with opposition on our way there. Perhaps I might find it advisable to leave a depot at Cooper's Creek, and to go on with a small party to examine the country beyond it.

Under any circumstances it is desirable that we should soon be followed up. I consider myself very fortunate in having Mr. Wills as my second in command. He is a capital officer, zealous and untiring in the performance of his duties, and I trust that he will remain my second as long as I am in charge of the expedition.

The men all conduct themselves admirably, and they are all most anxious to go on; but the committee may rely upon it that I shall go on steadily and carefully, and that I shall endeavour not to lose a chance or to run any unnecessary risk.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient servant,

R. O'HARA BURKE, Leader.,

P.S.—The two blacks and four horses go back with Mr. Wright.

The following is a list of the camps from Menindie to this place:—

October 19. Totoynya, a waterhole on the plains. . .Camp 35.

October 20. Kokriega, well in the Scope Ranges. . .Camp 36.

October 21. Bilpa Creek, do. . .Camp 37.

October 22. Botoja Clay-pans. . .Camp 38.

October 23. Langawirra Gully; Mount Doubeny Range. . .Camp 39.

October 24. Bengora Creek, Mount Doubeny Range. . .Camp 40.

October 25. Naudtherungee Creek. . .Camp 41.

October 26. Teltawongee Creek. . .Camp 42.

October 27. Wonominta Creek. . .Camp 43.

October 28. A clay-pan on the plains. . .Camp 44.

October 29. Torowoto Swamp...Camp 45. Latitude, 30 degrees 1 minute 30 seconds south; longitude, 142 degrees 27 minutes east.

. . .

October 30, 1860. Forwarded.

R. O'HARA BURKE, Leader.

Dr. Macadam, Secretary, Exploring Expedition.

. . .



The country, Bilbarka and Tolarno, in the immediate vicinity of the eastern bank of the River Darling, presents the most barren and miserable appearance of any land that we have yet met with. It consists chiefly of mud flats, covered with polygonum bushes, box timber, and a few salsolaceous plants, of inferior quality. Above Tolarno there is a slight improvement, and between Kinchica and Menindie there is some fair grazing country. All agree in saying that there is fine grazing land back from the river; but the want of water will probably prevent its being occupied, except in a very partial manner, for many years; and I fear that the high sand ridges, twenty to forty feet, and in some cases more than sixty feet above the level of the river banks, will form almost insuperable barriers in the way of any one who may attempt to conduct water from the river by means of canals. It appears to me, from the information that I have been able to obtain, that the difficulties with which settlers have here to contend arise not so much from the absorbent nature of the soil as from the want of anything to absorb. This last season is said to have been the most rainy that they have had for several years; yet everything looked so parched up that I should have imagined it had been an exceedingly dry one.

Gales.—I noticed that the forests for about 30 miles below Menindie had been subjected to severe gales from west-north-west. This was so striking, that I at first thought it was the effect of a hurricane; but I could find no indications of a whirling force, all the trees and branches lying in the same direction; besides which, they seemed to have been torn down at various times, from the different stages of decay in which they were found; and Mr. Wright has subsequently informed me that almost every spring they have a gale from west-north-west, which lasts but a short time, but carries everything before it. It is this same strip of country which is said to be more favoured with rain than that lower down.

Sand Drifting.—One can perceive everywhere in the neighbourhood of Menindie, the effect of the winds in shifting the sand, by the numerous logs in various stages of inhumation.

The Darling Pea.—It appears to be a disputed question, even on the river, as to the effect of the Darling pea on horses, some asserting that they become cranky simply from eating that herb, and others that it is starvation that makes them mad. I could get no satisfactory information even as to the symptoms, which seem to vary considerably; but this I had from a reliable source, that horses will eat the pea in large quantities without being injuriously affected, provided they can obtain other food as well; but that when they are on portions of the river where they can get nothing else to eat, then they soon get an attack of madness.

Menindie to Scrope Ranges.—The country between Menindie and Kokriega, in the Scrope Ranges, a distance of thirty-six miles in a northerly direction, is a fine open tract of country, well grassed, but having no permanent water. At Kokriega there is a well which may be relied on for a small supply, but would be of no use in watering cattle in large numbers. The ranges are composed of ferruginous sandstone and quartz conglomerate, and as to vegetation are of a very uninviting aspect. The plain to the south is covered with quartz and sandstone pebbles. About five miles to the north-east of the Kokriega is a spot where the schist rock crops out from under the sandstone, and the rises here have somewhat of an auriferous character.

North of the Scrope Range.—To the north of the Scrope Range the country has much the same appearance, except that there are more trees, and no stones until one reaches the Mount Doubeny Ranges, a distance of nearly forty miles. At a spot half way, named Botoga, there are some flats well calculated for collecting and retaining rain water.

Mount Doubeny Range.—In this range there are, no doubt, many places where permanent water may be found in considerable quantities. Two places I may mention where the water is certainly permanent—Mutwongee, a gully midway between camps 39 and 40; and Bengora Creek, the latter camp.

Country North of Mount Doubeny.—From these ranges up to our present position we have passed over as good grazing country as one would wish to see; salt bushes of every kind, grass in abundance, and plenty of water. Amongst the ranges we found kangaroo grass as high as our shoulders, and on the plains the spear grass up to our knees.

Naudtherungee Creek.—At this creek, which takes its rise near Mount Lyell, and probably flows into the McFarlane's Creek of Sturt, we found a small shallow pond of water, in the sandy bed of the creek. This did not look very promising, but on digging I found that the whole bed of the creek was a mass of loose sand, through which the water freely permeated, and that the waterhole we found was only a spot where, the level of the surface of the sand being below that of the water, the latter oozed through. I am informed by Mr. Wright, who was here in January last, that the creek contained much more water then than now.

Country North of Naudtherungee Creek.—For a few miles to the north of this creek the ground is very sandy, and timbered with pines, acacias, and several descriptions of trees with which I am unacquainted. There are two very handsome trees that I have never seen in any other part of the country—the leopard tree (called so from its spotted bark), and a tree which in general appearance much resembles the poplar. On these sandhills the grass is very coarse, but in the flats there is good feed. Beyond the sand rises the country becomes more open again; and at about twelve or thirteen miles one comes to quartz rises, from which there is a fine view to the east, north, and west. Two creeks are distinctly visible by the lines of gum timber; they take their rise near some hills to the eastward, and passing around towards the north, join at a point about three miles north-west, from whence the resulting creek continues in a west-north-westerly direction, as far as the eye can reach. The hills are composed of an argillaceous schist. On several of the lower rises, quartz reefs crop out, and some of the quartz which I examined had every appearance of being auriferous, except the main one—the colour of the gold. There are some fine waterholes in the first creek (Teltawongee), but I cannot say for certain that the water is permanent. The whole of the country from here to our next camp, a distance of twenty six miles, is the finest I have seen for collecting and retaining water; and the only question as to a permanent supply of that essential liquid is, whether this part of the country is subject to long-continued droughts; for the waterholes that we have met with are not large enough to last for any great length of time, in the event of the country being stocked. At ten miles from Teltawongee, we came to the Wonominta—a creek having all the characteristics of water-courses that take their rise in hills of schistoze formation. At first, the numberless small waterholes, without the trace of a creek connecting them, then the deep-cut narrow channel, with every here and there a fine waterhole. The banks of the creek are clothed with high grass and marshmallows. The latter grow to an immense size on nearly all the creeks out here.

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