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11 December 1862 Burke and Wills


11 December 1862     Burke and Wills

On 11 December 1862 a large number of people gathered in the streets of Adelaide to see the procession bearing the remains of Burke and Wills. The expedition to cross the continent to the north was farewelled from Melbourne on 20 August 1860 with Robert O’Hara Burke, a Police Superintendant from Castlemaine, as the leader. On 16 December Burke, with only William Wills, the surveyor, John King and Charles Gray, left Depot LXV on Coopers Creek with six camels and twelve horses for the dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria. On 11 February 1861 they reached their most northerly point without actually viewing the open ocean. The return journey was a misery of sickness and hunger for men and animals. On 17 April Gray died and the three remaining managed to reach Coopers Creek on 21 April just hours after the Depot party had left. Burke decided to head downstream towards Mount Hopeless in South Australia but near what is now Innaminka Burke died and a few days later Wills. It was not until mid-September that the lone survivor, King, was found by a search party; he was with a group of Aborigines. In 1862 it was decided to bring the remains of Burke and Wills to Melbourne to be buried with appropriate recognition. From Kapunda the bodies were brought by train to North Adelaide and were then conveyed in a hearse drawn by four black horses along Port Road to the city where a band played the ‘Dead March from Saul’. The ill-fated pair was then transported to Melbourne by rail.

Max Colwell, The Journey of Burke and Wills, Paul Hamlyn, 1971.

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