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Cooper's Creek, 27 June 1861.

A Successful Exploration of Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
From the Journals and Letters of William John Wills, Edited by his father, William Wills.

London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street.
Published in ordinary to Her Majesty, 1863.

 

Cooper's Creek,
27 June 1861

My Dear Father,

These are probably the last lines you will ever get from me. We are on the point of starvation not so much from absolute want of food, but from the want of nutriment in what we can get.

Our position, although more provoking, is probably not near so disagreeable as that of poor Harry and his companions [Footnote: Harry, his cousin, Lieutenant Le Vescompte, who perished with Sir John Franklin].

We have had very good luck, and made a most successful trip to Carpentaria, and back to where we had every right to consider ourselves safe, having left a Depot here consisting of four men, twelve horses, and six camels.

They had provisions enough to have lasted them twelve months with proper economy, and we had also every right to expect that we should have been immediately followed up from Menindie by another party with additional provisions and every necessary for forming a permanent Depot at Cooper's Creek. The party we left here had special instructions not to leave until our return - unless from absolute necessity. We left the creek with nominally three months' supply, but they were reckoned at little over the rate of half rations. We calculated on having to eat some of the camels. By the greatest good luck, at every turn, we crossed to the gulf through a good deal of fine country, almost in a straight line from here.

On the other side the camels suffered considerably from wet; we had to kill and jerk one soon after starting back. We had now been out a little more than two months and found it necessary to reduce the rations considerably; and this began to tell on all hands, but I felt it by far less than any of the others. The great scarcity and shyness of game and our forced marches, prevented our supplying the deficiency from external sources to any great extent; but we never could have held out but for the crows and hawks, and the portulac. The latter is an excellent vegetable, and I believe secured our return to this place. We got back here in four months and four days, and found the party had left the Creek the same day, and we were not in a fit state to follow them.

I find I must close this, that it may be planted but I will write some more, although it has not so good a chance of reaching you as this. You have great claims on the committee for their neglect. I leave you in sole charge of what is coming to me. The whole of my money I desire to leave to my sisters; other matters I pass over for the present.

Adieu, my dear Father. Love to Tom.
W. J. Wills

PS. I think to live about four or five days.

(My religious views are not the least changed and I have [not] the least fear of their being so. [Line omitted from published versions]).

My spirits are excellent.

 
     

Provenance: A note from Burke & Wills Web.
Wills wrote this letter at the gunyah on the sandbank at the northern end of Breerily Waterhole on Cooper Creek, most likely on the 29 June 1861. He read the letter to Burke and John King so they could see it contained nothing detrimental and then Wills asked that if one of them were to survive, they would hand it to his father, along with his gold watch, a James Murray No. 5243.

After Burke's death, King looked after the watch and letter and handed them to Dr William Wills in the presence of the Governor, Sir Henry Barkly, in the evening of Monday, 25 November 1861, when he arrived in Melbourne.

When Dr Wills published the letter he supressed the second last line about Wills' lack of religious beliefs in case it would jeopardise his son's reputation.

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© 2017, Dave Phoenix