The Victorian Exploring Expedition was the first major expedition to import and use camels, although a few camels had been introduced into Australia before 1860.
James Ballantine offered to cross the continent from Port Hedland to Bathurst in 1827 using just two camels.
In 1836 the government of the colony of New South Wales enquired into the possibility of importing camels from the Upper Ganges Valley. Governor Gawler of the newly established colony of South Australia also investigated the importation of camels in the 1830s, although nothing came of any of these early enquiries.
The first camel in Australia.
The Phillips brothers, (Henry Weston Phillips (1818-1898); George Phillips (1820-1900); G M Phillips (?-?)) bought nine camels at Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Four or six of the beasts were loaded aboard the SS Apolline which had been chartered by Henry in London. The Apolline, under Captain William Deane, docked at Port Adelaide in South Australia on 12 October 1840 and the sole surviving beast, named Harry, became the first camel in Australia.
John Ainsworth Horrocks and Harry
In 1846 explorer John Ainsworth Horrocks (1818-1846) of Penwortham near Clare in South Australia, took Harry on an expedition around Lake Torrens and the head of the Spencer Gulf. The party of six men, two carts, six horses, twelve goats and Harry left Penwortham on 29 July. They proceeded north to Mount Remarkable and then on into the Flinders ranges where Horrick's discovered a pass which was named after him. Horrocks found Harry to be bad tempered, often biting the men and the goats (which were being looked after by an Aboriginal goat-herd, Jimmy Moorhouse). However, Harry was able to carry heavy loads of up to 160 kilograms and they were able to travel for two days without water. A camp was established at Eyre's Depot Creek at the foot of Mount Arden.
In late August Horrocks, Samuel Thomas Gill and Bernard Kilroy went out to explore the plains on foot with the camel carrying the baggage, leaving the remainder of the party (Theakson, Garlick and Jimmy) at the depot. By the beginning of September they had traveled sixty-five miles north-west to a salt pan which Horrocks named Lake Gill (now Lake Dutton, near Woocalla on the Stuart Highway, 100 kilometers north of Port Augusta).
In going round this lake - which I named Lake Gill - Kilroy who was walking ahead of the party stopped, saying he saw a beautiful bird, which he recommended me to shoot to add to tho collection. My gun being loaded with slugs in one barrel and ball in the other, I stopped the camel to get at the shot belt which I could not get without his laying down.
Whilst Mr Gill was unfastening it I was screwing the ramrod into the wad over the slugs, standing close alongside of the camel. At this moment the camel gave a lurch to one side and caught his pack on the lock of my gun, which discharged the barrel I was unloading; the contents of which first took off the middle finger of my right hand between the second and third joints, and entered my left cheek by my lower jaw, knocking out a row of teeth from my upper jaw.
JA Horrocks's last letter, 1846.
Gill nursed the badly wounded Horrocks, and Kilroy made a sixty-five mile dash on foot back to Depot Creek, accomplishing the distance in twenty-four hours. He returned with one of the others and two horses and they managed to get Horrocks to the Depot where they rested for five days.
They left the Depot on 10 September and headed back to Penwortham. The drays were traveling slowly so Kilroy took Horrocks on ahead. Upon reaching Penwortham, Dr Nott was summoned from Adelaide. However the doctor was unable to treat the infection and on 23 September 1846, twenty-three days after being shot by the ill-tempered Harry, Horrocks died without a struggle.
Horrocks asked that Harry be destroyed in order that nobody else be injured. The station hands shot Harry, but not before he had bitten an Aboriginal stockman on the head.
In December 1840, two camels, a male and a female, were imported from Tenerife to Hobart, Tasmania. It is not known what happened to these camels.
In 1841 three camels (one male and two females) were acquired from Sayyid Said bin Sultan, the Imam of Muscat. The male camel died on the voyage from Muscat to Sydney via India, and the two females landed in Sydney in May 1841. The camels were taken overland to Melbourne, but when they failed to find a buyer the camels returned to Sydney. Governor George Gipps bought the camels in 1845 and acquired another male camel. For a time they were kept at the Domain in Sydney and an 1845 painting by George Edwards Peacock (now held in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales) shows the camels grazing in the Domain.
George Edwards Peacock, (1806-?), 'View of old Government House - Sydney - N.S.W. as it appeared when vacated by Sir George Gipps in 1845,' a128029, ML 658, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.
W P Whyte imported six camels into Victoria in 1859 as a private speculation. The camels were purchased in Aden in Yemen and shipped to Australia on P&O's vessel the SS Malta. the Malta sailed from Aden on the 17th October and the camels were landed in Melbourne on the 20th November.
The theatrical impresario, George Selth Coppin (1819-1906) purchased the animals, referred to as 'Egyptians', although there specific breed was not recorded. Egyptian breeds are Sudani, Maghrabi, Fellahi and Mowalled (a cross between the Maghrabi and the Fellahi). Coppin showed the camels as exotic exhibits in his menagerie at Cremorne Gardens, Richmond.
The Exploration Committee of the Royal Society paid £50 each for the six camels for use on the VEE. Two of these camels were in foal, so they were left at Royal Park when the expedition departed and were later taken to Adelaide and used on John McKinlay's South Australian Burke Relief Expedition.
One of Coppin's camels became lame in October 1860 while crossing the mallee sandhills between Korpany and Tarcoola. Landells believed it had dislocated it shoulder and the beast was abandoned at Bilbarka, the first camel to leave the expedition.