Camels had been used successfully in desert environments in other countries, but had never been tried in Australia. Several Victorian colonists argued that camels should be used in desert exploration. Thomas Embling, MLC for Collingwood, was one of the more vocal supporters and was influential in convincing the Victorian parliament to acquire camels.
George James Landells was commissioned to buy the camels. He arrived in Kolkata in December 1858 and in May 1859 received the commission to buy the camels. The budget was £302 and Landells travelled to Lahore and Peshawar in the unsettled northern areas to buy the best animals. Initially he was to buy an equal mix of Arabian dromedaries (Camelus dromedarius) and Mongolian/Turkestan bactrians (Camelus bactrianus) and then it was determined the mix should be eighteen dromedaries and six bactrians, but in the markets of the Punjab, Landells only bought dromedaries. He bought 24 camels in September 1859; seven large, male riding camels and seventeen pack animals, plus possibly his own 'pet' camel. (Camel breeds in the area at the time were Bikaneri, Jaisalmeri and Kachchhi. Other Indian breeds include Marwari, Mewari, Sindhi, Shekhawati, Mewati and Malvi).
Landells and nine sepoy camel handlers walked the camels from Lahore to Karachi, a distance of around 1,000 km. At Muridke near Lahore early in 1860, Landells met John King who had spent sixteen months recovering from a serious illness at Murree Hills, Rawalpindi. Landells employed King to help him supervise the sepoys.
At the port city of Karachi Landells hoped to charter a ship, but as a result of the recent Indian mutiny he found this a more difficult and expensive task than he expected. Eventually at the end of March 1860 the camels were loaded aboard the SS Chinsurah under Captain Robertson. Landells took eight sepoys with him to Australia as well as John Drakeford and John King to assist with the camels on the voyage.
The Chinsurah docked at Port Melbourne on Wednesday, 13 June 1860. The camels were off-loaded and paraded through the streets of Melbourne. They were accommodated in improvised stables at Parliament House in Spring Street before being moved to Royal Park.
Four of the Indian sepoys, joined the VEE and left Royal Park on the 20 August 1860. Samla returned shortly afterwards and joined the other four sepoys. These five(?) sailed for Kolkata on the 15 September 1860, the £20 passage being paid by the Exploration Committee.
The final cost of the purchase of the camels, transportation and stabling prior to the expedition came to £5,497.
Camel Sepoys who went on the Expedition