Hester Albinia Burke, 26 June 1861.
Robert O'Hara Burke wrote a letter to his sister, 'Hessie', in a notebook on the day before he died. The letter was dated 26 June, but it is likely that Burke had his dates incorrect and the letter was most probably written several days after the 26th.
Burke gave the notebook to John King, who looked after it until 5 December 1861 when he handed it to Sir William Stawell, President of the Royal Society, Chairman of the Exploration Committee and Chief Justice of Victoria. Stawell read parts of the letter at a meeting of the Exploration Committee held on 5 December 1861.
Friday, 6 December 1861
Stawell, as chairman, said he had in his hands the private pocket-book of Mr Burke which had been brought down by Mr King.
A portion of the contents were obviously for the Committee, and the remainder for Mr Burke's sister. The first entry was, “I hope we shall be done justice to [sic]. We fulfilled our task but were (here the word abandoned is written but erased by a line drawn through it), not followed up as I expected to be. The depot party abandoned their post. R O'Hara Burke. For the Committee, Cooper's Creek, 20 June. The next entry began with “My dear sister” and he (the Chairman) would not read it to the Committee.
The whereabouts of the notebook are unknown. A notarised transcription of the letter was made on 18 June 1862 by Josias Dunn Meade of Meade and Colles Solicitors, 8 Kildare Street, Dublin. (See State Library of Victoria, MS 13867, Item 20).
Good Bye, my dearest Hessie
When leaving Melbourne I foolishly made over what I left behind to a young lady with whom I have only a slight acquaintance. I hope you will not take ill of me. I was wrong and I only meant and mean the bequest to apply to the few money accruing to me in Melbourne and not to anything derived from home.
Good Bye my dear Hessie, my thoughts are now fixed upon you say good bye to John for me tell him I wish I could have shaken hands with him. Remember me to Uncle John, Lady Cloncurry, Fanny, Elizabeth and Ellen. I hereby cancel the bequest or will I left in Melbourne, and I leave all I posess to my sister Hessie Burke, but I wish her to make over any money derived from my Salary or the sale of my things in Melbourne to Miss Julia Matthews.
R O'Hara Burke for Miss Burke.
To be remembered to Annie Elizabeth and Mrs Taylor.
King has behaved nobly and I hope if he lives that he will be properly rewarded.
Dearest Hessie King stayed with me til the last. He has left me at my request unburied and with my pistol in my hand
Good-bye again dearest Hessie, my heart is with you.