Tuesday, 21 August 1860.
The Exploring Expedition.
Tom Campbell, in a tender moment, sang a sweet hymn to a "name unknown' and many an ardent youth in and since his time, has borrowed inspiration from the dulcet numbers of the familiar bard, and allowed his imagination to run riot in "castle-building" upon this simple theme. Had we the poet's gift our enthusiasm might, doubtless, prompt us to extol in more lofty strain the praises of the "great unknown" - the donor of the handsome instalment of one thousand pounds towards the organisation of an expedition to explore the "terra incognita" of interior Australia. But in the absence of the favour of the muses, dull prose must serve the purpose we have in view. If the "unknown" were present yesterday in the Royal Park his heart must have leaped for very joy, as did with one accord the hearts of the ten thousand or more of our good citizens who there assembled to witness the departure of the Exploring Expedition.
Never have we seen such a manifestation of heart-felt interest in any public undertaking of the kind as on this occasion. The oldest dwellers in Australia have experienced nothing to equal it. We deem then that no excuse is necessary for failing to do justice to the occasion - at any rate, to those who were present; for they will well understand the difficulty in calming down from a state of thrilling excitement - consequent upon attending to this farewell of the band of brave pioneers who go to surmount the dangers of the wilderness, and to clear a way through the trackless desert to the matter of fact business of reporting the day's proceedings. Every feeling of patriotism evoked from that vast concourse of people was as the wide spreading flame communicated from the torch like glow of public spirit first held out by the "unknown". From the day that he made his splendid offer to the present moment, but one feeling pervaded the most worthy portion of the public; that was one of determination to carry out the great project initiated thereby. Subscriptions to double the amount offered were promptly raised, and a (in this instance) liberal Parliament voted a handsome subsidy in addition. "The sinews of war" were amply provided, and already we have witnessed the first stage of a promised successful development.
At an early hour crowds of eager holiday folks, pedestrian and equestrian were to be seen [heading] along the dusty ways to the pleasant glades and umbrageous shade, (a warm breeze, the first of the season was blowing from the north-east) of Royal Park. A busy scene was there presented. Men and horses, and camels and drays and goods were scattered here and there amongst the tents, in the sheds and on the [green sward] in picturesque confusion; - everything promised a departure - the caravansary was to be deserted. Hour after hour passed in the preparations for starting. By and by however the drays were loaded - though not before a burden of three-hundredweight for each camel at starting was objected to, and extra vehicles has to be procured - the horses and the camels were securely packed and their loads properly adjusted. Artists, reporters and favoured visitors were all the time hurrying and scurrying hither and thither to sketch this, to take a note of that and to ask a question concerning t'other. It is needless to say that sometimes the most ludicrous replies were given to the most serious questions and in the bustle of hurried arrangements, some very amusing contretemps occurred. One of the most laughable was the breaking loose of a cantankerous camel and the startling and upsetting in the scatter of a popular limb of the law. The gentleman referred to is of large mould, and until we saw his tumbling feat yesterday, we had no idea that he was such a sprightly gymnast. His down-going and up-rising were greeted with shouts of laughter, in which he good-naturedly joined. The erring camel went helter-skelter through the crowd and was not secured until he showed to admiration how speedily can go "this ship of the desert".
It was exactly a quarter to four o'clock when the expedition got into marching order. A lane was opened through the crowd and in this the line was formed; Mr Burke on his pretty little grey at the head. The Exploration Committee of the Royal Society, together with a distinguished circle of visitors, amongst whom were several of our most respectable colonists and their families, took up position in front.
The Mayor of Melbourne then mounted one of the drays and said: Mr Burke, I am fully aware that the grand assemblage, this day, while it has impeded your movements in starting, is at the same time a source of much gratification to you. It assures you of the most sincere sympathy of the citizens. (Hear hear), I will not detain you; but for this great crowd, and on behalf of the colony at large, I say – God speed you ! (Cheers).” His worship the Mayor then called for "Three cheers for Mr Burke', "three cheers for Mr Landells" and "three cheers for the party itself", which it is needless to say were responded to with all the energy and enthusiasm that are characteristic of popular assemblages. He then concluded with again saying, “God speed and bless you”.
Mr Burke (uncovered) said, in a clear and earnest voice that was heard all over the crowd; "Mr Mayor - on behalf of myself and the expedition, I beg to return to you my most sincere thanks. No expedition has ever started under such favourable circumstances as this. The people, the Government, the Committee – all have done heartily what they could do. It is now our turn, and we shall never do well until we entirely justify what you have done in showing what we can do (Cheers)”.
The party at once got into motion. Following the leader were several pack-horses, led by some of the assistants on foot. Then came Mr Landells on a camel, next Dr Becker, similarly mounted and these were succeeded by two European assistants riding on camels - one leading the ambulance camel, and the other leading two animals loaded with provisions. Sepoys on foot led the remainder of the camels, four and five in hand, variously loaded, and the caravan was closed by one mounted sepoy. Altogether twenty-seven camels go with the expedition. Two new wagons, heavily loaded, followed at a good distance. These were built expressly for the expedition and one of them is so constructed, that at a very short notice it can be taken off the wheels and put to all the uses of a river punt, carrying an immense load high and dry on the water. If it be necessary to swim the camels, air bags are provided to be lashed under their jowls, so as to keep their heads clear when crossing deep streams. Two or three hired wagons and one of the new ones were detained in the park till nearly dusk, in charge of the astronomer and the foreman, who had to look carefully at the packing of instruments, specimen cases etc. The hired wagons will proceed as far as Swan Hill only. Issuing from the south gate of the park, the party went down behind the manure depot, and thence on to the Sydney road and the whole camped last night near the village of Essendon.
Though we failed to get from the Colonial Storekeeper - who notwithstanding he was "up to his eyes in business", did the best he could to assist the representatives of the Press - all the particulars of the outfit of the expedition, we may state that nearly everything was made under inspection by the prisoners at the Pentridge stockade. A good deal of harness, boots, hats, red serge shirts, trousers (flannel and moleskin), ponchos, heavy canvas, oiled), and all such necessaries, were thus secured of the very best description. We are not sure whether the water bags and buckets were made in the stockade, but they appeared to be all that was desired. It is just possible that we may be tempted to give further particulars of the outfit of the expedition hereafter, so for the present this notice must be drawn to a conclusion.