Burke & Wills sesquicentenary

by Craig Robertson
Publish date
21 April 2011
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Craig is a Melbourne writer with an interest in natural history. He has been a museum volunteer in Birds and Mammals for several years.

150 years ago today, Burke and Wills returned from their trek to the Gulf of Carpentaria to Cooper Creek in south-west Queensland. Tragically, the party that had waited for them for 18 weeks had left just hours earlier on the same day, leaving a small cache of food buried under the a coolibah tree carved with the message 'DIG 3FT NW APR 21 1861'.

The Burke and Wills Dig Tree The Burke and Wills Dig Tree at Bullah Bullah Waterhole, on Coopers Creek, Queensland, Australia.
Image: Peterdownunder
Source: Used under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 from Peterdownunder

By the end of June both Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills were dead, leaving John King the only survivor. He was rescued by Alfred Howitt the following September during a search expedition, which also located the bodies of Burke and Wills.

Museum Victoria holds a number of important items associated with the story of Burke and Wills, particularly from Howitt’s two expeditions to Cooper Creek. Watch this space for more information in the coming months.

Medal - Burke & Wills Medal - Burke & Wills, Victoria, Australia, 1864. (NU 20096)
Source: Museum Victoria

The famous, ill-fated Victorian Exploring Expedition was an enterprise of the Royal Society of Victoria, which is still located just across Carlton Gardens from Melbourne Museum. The expedition remained a dominant story in the Colony (and later State) of Victoria at least until World War I and the advent of the ANZACs. Pictured is a medallion from the Numismatics Collection, minted by Thomas Stokes about 1864 to commemorate Burke and Wills.


Royal Society of Victoria: Burke & Wills Commemoration program

Dig - The Burke & Wills Research Gateway at the State Library of Victoria

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