Burke and Wills

Robert O'Hara Burke
Robert O’Hara Burke   Born May 6, 1820

                                     Died June 28, 1861

William John Wills       Born January 5, 1934

                                     Died June 28, 1961

Australia was being overrun with immigrants due mainly to a gold rush pulling in people from across the world. An exploration committee was thus formed by the Philosophical Institute to explore the Australian wilderness to find habitable land. Though none of them had experience, Burke, Wells, and George Landalls were put in charge of the expedition. They came up with many unique ideas such as using dried meat instead of taking livestock and using camels instead of horses, all of which would lead to their downfall. Furthermore, because Burke was so stubborn, he refused any help from Captain Francis Cadell, who offered to drop supplies off by ship in key locations for Burke to be picked up later along his trip.

Due to their heavy load, which on top of the dried meat included a gong, a solid oak table, and several other useless items, they travelled extremely slowly, barely making it out of Melbourne in the first day, and losing a cart in the process of leaving the city. After traveling at an extremely slow pace, Burke finally decided to dump extra cargo, including 60 gallons of rum Landalls had brought because he believed it prevented scurvy. This caused tensions to escalate, resulting in Landalls dropping out of the excursion. After only covering a week’s worth of travel in two months, 3 officers had left the party.

Concerned with being beat to the Northern coast, Burke decided to leave most of the party at a camp and to take the fastest horses and camels to make a dash for Copper Creek. Upon reaching Cooper Creek, Burke decided to split the party again to make a dash for the Gulf of Carpentaria instead of waiting for autumn to arrive. Burke left instructions to leave within three months if they had not returned by them, but Wills secretly told them to extend it to four.

On the way to the gulf, most of the supplies were used up, forcing them to forage for food. Many members of the party were lost for a variety of reasons, and upon reaching the camp, they found that the party had left only a few hours earlier, leaving them with a few supplies. Burke decided that, rather than go the longer, but much more temperate route, to make a mad dash through the desert for the nearest outpost. This led to their eventual deaths. 

William John Wills