IN MEMORY OF |
ROBERT O' HARA BURKE
WILLIAM JOHN WILLS
THE FIRST TO CROSS |
THE CONTINENT OF AUSTRALIA
BURKE, WILLS, GRAY, KING SURVIVOR
AND SECOND IN COMMAND
VICTORIA EXPLORING EXPEDITION
DIED AT COOPER'S CREEK
COMRADES IN A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT |
COMPANIONS IN DEATH
ASSOCIATES IN RENOWN
News of the death of Burke & Wills reaches Melbourne
The news of the deaths of Burke & Wills reached Melbourne through Brahe and Weston Phillips who arrived at the telegraph station in View Street, Bendigo on the afternoon of Saturday 2nd November 1861 and sent a telegraph to Melbourne.
Burke crossed continent
The news caused uproar in Melbourne and overshadowed the first Melbourne Cup.
Three days later, on the 5th November, in the Legislative Assembly, John O' Shannassy proposed a public funeral for Burke and Wills and a burial with a memorial in the Melbourne General Cemetery. This proposal received unanimous support in the Government and the Exploration Committee resolved that Howitt be engaged to return the remains of Burke and Wills to Melbourne for the funeral.
Controversy and debate raged as to which of the seven dead should be returned for a public funeral. It was a further three weeks before King arrived in Melbourne to scenes of chaos and the excitement continued unabated.
Howitt returns to the Cooper for the bodies of the explorers
Howitt returned to the Cooper in 1862, established a depot at Cullyamurra Waterhole. The bodies of Burke & Wills were exhumed and taken to Adelaide. Howitt then boarded the steamer for Melbourne, arriving at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) on the 27th December 1862.
The State Funeral
The funeral procession arrived at the cemetery at four o'clock on the 21st January 1863 and the coffins were taken to the vault.
Burke had Chief Justice of Victoria, Sir William Stawell at the head of his coffin and sole survivor John King along with Ambrose Kyte; Chief Secretary John O'Shannesy; Attorney-General Richard Davies Ireland MLA; Chief of Police, Frederick Standish and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Sir Francis Murphy as pall bearers.
Wills had his brother, Thomas Wills at the head of his coffin and explorer Alfred Howitt, Government Botanist Ferdinand von Mueller, Mayor of Melbourne Edward Cohen MLA, Captain of the HCMS Victoria, Commander William Henry Norman, former Chief Secretary Richard Heales and Sir George Frederic Verdon as pall bearers. Neumeyer took no part in the funeral as staff of the Observatory were not permitted to march.
|• Cohen (1822-1877)||http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A030408b.htm|
|• Verdon, (1834-1896)||http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A060352b.htm|
The Dean of Melbourne, the Reverend Hussey Burgh Macartney read the burial service and the coffins were lowered into the vault. Nurse Dougherty entered the vault and was only removed with "some difficulty" (Bonyhady 1991). The police fired three shots into the air and the vault was closed.
Burke & Wills' grave
In November 1861, the Exploration Committee called for designs for the grave of Burke and Wills. It offered a £10 prize to the best design, which it awarded to the firm of Huxley and Parker who had submitted two designs.
In April 1863, three months after the funeral and the closing of the vault containing the remains of Burke & Wills, Huxley and Parker submitted a third plan, a granite block, twelve feet high and six feet square weighing 36 tons and costing £1,500. The granite block was quarried at Harcourt quarry in mid-1864 and was the largest block ever quarried in Victoria. It took several weeks to get it from the quarry to the nearest railway station and then it took 250 men and 40 horses, two days to drag from Spencer Street railway station up the hill to the cemetery.
However, the expenditure had not been authorized and the Government, under Chief Justice McCulloch refused to pay. The Committee ordered the work be stopped and the granite block remained in the corner of the cemetery.
Thomas Embling raised the matter in parliament in May 1866 and it was decided the government would cover the cost. Huxley and Parker dressed the stone and erected it over the vault, but the government didn't pay them until late in 1869.
The grave still had no inscription or railing and it wasn't until December 1870 that the Committee agreed on a 56-word inscription drafted by Stawell. In November 1872 this was changed to a 19-word inscription and then in February 1873 the Committee was divided over two further suggested inscriptions. In March 1873 the Committee agreed on the 51-word inscription that the monument bears today - ten years to agree on a 51 word inscription.
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