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By March 1861 there had been no news of Burke's progress for six months. In Melbourne, letters to the press called for action and the Exploration Committee came under pressure to act.

The Exploration Committee met on the 13 June and decided to send a contingent party of four to Cooper Creek to get news of Burke and offer succour if necessary. On 17 June the Exploration Committee met and decided to offer the leadership of this party to Howitt. He was instructed to travel to Menindee, buying sixteen horses along the way. Taking the camels remaining at Royal Park appears not to have been considered.

On 26 June 1861 Howitt's party left Melbourne, taking the train to Sunbury and then the Cobb & Co coach. Tickets were booked through Robertson, Britton & Co, proprietors of the Bendigo Stage Co. Four first class fares were £22, with 8 cwt of luggage costing an additional £30.

1 Alfred William Howitt Leader
2 Edwin James Welch (1837-1916) Surveyor - had been working with Neumayer reducing Wills' observations
3 Alexander Aitkin - had been exploring in Gippsland with Howitt
4 William Vining  

Victorian Contingent Party, 1861.

Melbourne to Menindee
At the Durham Ox Inn, a coaching stop on the Loddon River, Howitt met William Brahe who was returning to Melbourne with news that Burke had not been seen since leaving the Depot Camp last December. Howitt realised a bigger relief expedition was needed and he left Welch, Aitken and Vining at the Loddon and returned to Melbourne with Brahe.

Howitt sent a telegram to Macadam from Bendigo on Saturday, 29 June. At 6.00 am on Sunday, 30 June Macadam met Howitt and Brahe when the morning train Sunbury arrived at Spencer-street Station and took them to Government House in Toorak for Brahe to read his despatches to Governor Barkly. A meeting of the Exploration Committee was called for the Sunday afternoon, when they appointed a sub-committee and drafted new instructions. It was decided that the larger party should consist of twelve men so that Howitt could reach the Cooper, form a depot and then take six men on following Burke's tracks. Howitt was also instructed to buy more horses and to use the camels that Wright and Brahe had left in Menindee.

• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 3).
Telegram, Howitt, Sandhurst, 29 June 1861.

Dr Gilbee of the Exploration Committee selected Dr Wheeler as the party's surgeon.

Historical note:
• William F Wheeler (Argus, 5 July 1861: 5) claimed he had been with John McDouall Stuart on some of his expeditions, but:
• William Massey Wheeler (Brisbane Courier, 9 August 1872: 2) wrote a letter claiming to have been Howitt's surgeon.

Brahe was appointed second-officer and Sampson, Calcutt and Weston Phillips were employed. Phillips had been with Howitt in Gippsland. Howitt and Brahe departed Melbourne by train and then Cobb & Co coach on the 4 July 1861. The party that left Melbourne the second time was:

1 Alfred William Howitt Leader
2 William Brahe Second in command
3 Dr William Wheeler Medical Officer
4 Weston Phillips (had been exploring in Gippsland with Howitt)
5 N H Calcutt  
6 H M Sampson  

The Bendigo Advertiser, of Saturday 6 July 1861: Mr Howitt and five others arrived in Sandhurst yesterday morning by the night coach from Melbourne, and left at eight o'clock by Bobb's conveyance to Swan Hill.

The Ballarat Star of Monday, 8 July 1861: We are informed that Messrs Robertson, Britton & Co., carriers, convey the stores and baggage of Mr Howitt and party to Swan Hill free of charge.

Howitt arrived in Swan Hill on 13 July rejoined Welch, Aitken and Vining. Howitt bought ten horses (from Murray Downs Station).

• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 4).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Swan Hill, 7 July 1861.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 5).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Swan Hill, 8 July 1861.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 6).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Swan Hill, 11 July 1861.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 7).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Swan Hill, 12 July 1861.

The party that left Swan Hill was:

1 Alfred William Howitt Leader
2 William Brahe Second in command
3 Dr William Wheeler Medical Officer
4 Edwin James Welch Surveyor
5 Alexander Aitkin in charge of camels
6 William Vining  
7 Weston Phillips - had been exploring in Gippsland with Howitt
8 N H Calcutt  
9 H M Sampson  

• SLV MS13071.
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Balranald, 17 July 1861.

The party arrived at Tarcoola on the Darling on 24 July and then reached Menindee on 30 July. At Menindee McDonough, who had originally been with Burke, joined the party. James Knowles, John Smith and Dost Mahomet remained in Menindee to look after the equipment that Wright brought back to the Pamamaroo Depot, (Smith had a dislocated patella and Mahomet was still suffering from scurvy). Howitt engaged William Williams (Wright's cook) to take Smith's place. Belooch was sent to Mount Murchison to look for a stray camel and McDonough returned to Melbourne.

The party in Menindee:

1 Alfred William Howitt Leader
2 William Brahe Second in command
3 Dr William Wheeler Medical Officer
4 Edwin James Welch Surveyor
5 Alexander Aitkin in charge of camels
6 William Vining  
7 Weston Phillips  
8 N H Calcutt  
9 H M Sampson  
10 William Williams Wright's cook, employed to replace the injured Smith
11 James Knowles in charge of Pamamaroo Depot Party
12 John Smith Pamamaroo Depot Party
13 Dost Mahomet Pamamaroo Depot Party
14 Belooch Khan went up the Darling River to search for camels
15 Thomas McDonough returned to Melbourne

• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 8).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Tarcoola Station, 25 July 1861. 2p.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 9).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Pamamaro Creek, 3rd August 1861. 1p.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 10 & 11).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Pamamaro Creek, 13 August 1861. Also includes reports from James Knowles about camels' health and report from Dr Wheeler on sepoys' health. Both dated 3 August 1861. 5p.

The party left to look after the Depot at Pamamaroo comprised:

1 James Knowles in charge of Pamamaroo Depot Party
2 John Smith - had dislocated a patella
3 Dost Mahomet - suffering from scurvy
4 Belooch Khan went up the Darling River to search for camels

Menindee to the Cooper
Howitt made a list of the stores that Burke had left in Menindee and then on the 14 August he left for the Cooper with seven camels, thirty-seven horses and six months supply of stores. He traveled slowly at first as he had problems controlling the horses when they were near the camels.

The Victorian Contingent Party comprised:

1 Alfred Howitt (1830-1908) Leader horse = Creamy
2 William Brahe (1835-1912) Second officer horse = Moulder Gray
3 Dr William F [Massey] Wheeler (c.1829-?) Medical Officer horse = Parson
4 Weston Phillips     horse = Premier
5 N H Calcutt     horse = Kerang
6 H M Sampson     horse = Lupin
7 William Williams  
8 George Tenniel      
9 Sandy   Aborigine  
10 Frank   Aborigine  
11 Edwin James Welch (1839-24 Sep 1916) Surveyor horse = Piggy
12 Alexander Aitkin (c.1831-21 July 1921) in charge of camels horse = Donald
13 William Vining     horse = Duncan

• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 12).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Bilpa, 17 August 1861. 1p. (See also James Knowles dispatch, Menindie 20 August 1861).

The party arrived at the Cooper on 3 September, reached the Dig Tree on 11 September 1861 and continued downstream. John King was found living with a group of Yandruwandha Aborigines by Edwin Welch on 15 September 1861.

Howitt then spent the next nine days on the Cooper at Kuyapidra Waterhole waiting for King to regain his strength. During that time he went to Breerily Waterhole and reburied Wills (18 September 1861) who had been dismembered by dingoes and was minus his skull. He found the body of Burke at Yidnaminkie Waterhole on the 21 September and buried it in a Union Jack, blazing a nearby tree. They found Sturts roan mare but during its capture it was injured and died.

Howitt went down to Tilcha Waterhole and distributed gifts to the Yandruwandha; looking glasses, necklaces, knives, tomahawks and sugar and flour (white fella nardoo) wrapped in Union Jack handkerchiefs. On 24 September 1861 Howitt left the Cooper and was at Poria Creek by the 10 October. They arrived back in Menindee on the 29 October.

Howitt sent Brahe and Weston Phillips ahead to Victoria with Burke's notebook and Wills' field-books to break the news. These two reached Bendigo by coach late in the afternoon of Saturday 2nd November and telegraphed the news of Burke's death to Melbourne.

On the 6 November, King, Welch and Weston Phillips and four horses (Piggy, Astronomer, Moulder Gray and Fanny) left Menindee for Melbourne, arriving in Euston on 16 November and Melbourne on the 25 November 1861.

James Knowles resigned on 6 November as well and Howitt placed Dr Wheeler in charge of the Depot at Pamamaroo. At the end of November, Howitt departed Menindee and arrived in Melbourne seven days later, on Thursday 6 December, to await further instructions from the Exploration Committee.

• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 13).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Poria Creek, 2 September 1861, including covering letter, Menindie 15 October 1861 from Conn, Giles and Curlewis. 4p.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 14).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Poria Creek, 10 October 1861. 2p.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 15).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Pamamaro Creek, 29 October 1861. 1p.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 16).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Pamamaro Creek, 11 November 1861. Also includes Howitt's  instructions to Edwin Welch, Pamamaro Creek, 5 November 1861 and a letter from James Knowles to Howitt , Pamamaro Creek, 11 November 1861.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 17).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Swan Hill, 14 December 1861.
• SLV MS13071, Box 2085/5a (Item 16).
Dispatch from Howitt to the Exploration Committee, Balranald, 22 December 1861.

Horses:
Howitt bought horses in Gippsland:

  • Bugler
  • Crusher
  • Pig (Piggy - Welch's horse)
  • Wizard
  • Osmond
  • Delladonna
  • [One other]

Howitt bought ten horses for the VCE 1861 in Swan Hill:

  • Fidgett
  • Miss Jurret
  • Milo
  • Browney
  • Buck
  • Curlew
  • Towny
  • Blazes
  • [Two others]

Howitt bought horses at Murray Downs:

  • Goulburn
  • Kitty Cleaver
  • Duncan
  • Balley

The other horses were:

  • The Bay Cob
  • Fanny
  • Parson
  • Premier
  • Jack
  • Creamy
  • Tinderbox
  • Moulder Gray
  • Fagan
  • Lupin
  • Donald
  • Blazes
  • Kerang
  • Guilderoy
  • Black Bes
  • The Rambling Mare

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