[Editor: This article, critical of Robert O’Hara Burke’s leadership during the Burke and Wills expedition, was published in The Rigby Star (Rigby, Idaho, USA), 19 June 1913.]
Perished in desert
Story of Burke and Wills’ fatal exploring expedition recalled.
Disaster caused by bad luck due to incompetence — seven members of party who attempted to cross Australia succumb.
Sydney, N. S. W. — One of the saddest stories in connection with the exploration of Australia is that of Burke and Wills, whose monument forms one of the principal sights in Melbourne, a lofty pillar of stones in the Royal park, showing the precise spot whence the ill fated explorers, accompanied by a party of thirteen others, including two German scientists, together with two years’ supplies carried by camels, started in 1860 to cross Australia from south to north. Stuart had made an unsuccessful attempt fifteen years previously at a cost of £4,000 ($20,000) to perform a similar feat, and Stuart had made two failures, although by a singular coincidence he ultimately succeeded in the attempt. The overland telegraph posts still in use mark the course which he took and he was borne through the streets of Adelaide in triumph, though a physical wreck, on the very day that the bodies of Burke and Wills arrived on their way to their last resting place in Melbourne.
The story, which is graphically told in Life, is one of remarkable enterprise, equipped regardless of expense, utterly ruined by incompetence and bad luck, the one, indeed, being the cause of the other. Burke, who had been a captain in the Australian army and subsequently inspector of police at Melbourne, knew nothing of the Australian bush, was “haphazard in his methods, kept no journal of his own on the expedition,” and according to one who knew him well, “used to alter his mind so often that it was not possible at times to understand what he really did mean.”
Landells, who was originally second in command, left the expedition it an early stage, and predicted certain disaster at Cooper’s creek. At Menindie, on the Darling, Burke and Wills, the surveyor, with six others pushed forward to Cooper’s creek, leaving Wright to follow with the bulk of the supplies “at the earliest moment.”
From Cooper’s creek Burke again pushed forward with Wills, King and Gray, half a dozen camels and an altogether inadequate equipment of stores, and made a dash for the sea, leaving Brahe with three men and ample supplies, verbally instructing him to follow on Burke’s tracks when Wright arrived.
Burke managed to reach the Flinders, which had a tidal motion, showing that the sea was not far off, but, as the little party had nearly exhausted their provisions, they determined to return to the camp at Cooper’s creek. On the way they lost one of the men from starvation, the single day’s delay caused by burying their comrade being responsible for the death of both.
Various expeditions were organized from Melbourne to find the missing men, one of which discovered King, a wasted figure, “covered with some scarecrow rags and part of a hat,” who showed them the place where Burke and Wills had died. It is a curious fact that, whereas Burke’s last orders to King were that he should shoot the blacks down at once if they gave any trouble, they were almost the only ones who shed tears over his grave, and it was through their unfailing kindness that King’s life was saved.
Altogether seven members of the expedition perished, while the sum actually spent on it amounted to £57,000 ($285,000), by far the largest sum, we are told, that was ever spent in Australian history on a single exploring expedition. And yet, by a strange irony, though the weather conditions were perfect, food abundant, stores ample, and there was every reason to expect that the expedition would be attended by greater results, it was a failure from beginning to end, from sheer lack of those qualities which, though all else may be provided, are in the long run indispensable to success.
The Rigby Star (Rigby, Idaho, USA), 19 June 1913, p. 4
Darling = the Darling River (in New South Wales)
determined = decided, resolved (can also mean: of firm decision, of unwavering mind, resolute, unwavering; to have decided to do something, especially in the face of difficulties)
Flinders = the Flinders River (in Queensland); it was named after the explorer Matthew Flinders (1774-1814)
See: “Flinders River”, Wikipedia
Life = an American magazine, which was published from 1883 to 2000 (the publication was based in New York City)
See: “Life (magazine)”, Wikipedia
N. S. W. = an abbreviation of New South Wales (a colony in Australia from 1788, then a state in 1901)
Stuart = John McDouall Stuart (1815-1866), an Australian explorer; he was born in Scotland in 1815, migrated to Australia in 1839, went on several expeditions of exploration, subsequently became poor in health and virtually blind, and (after going to Britain to visit family in 1864) died in London (England) in 1866
See: 1) Deirdre Morris, “Stuart, John McDouall (1815–1866)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “John McDouall Stuart”, Wikipedia
[Editor: Changed “Burke’s last orders to Burke” to “Burke’s last orders to King”.]
Leave a Reply