City Square, corner of Collins & Swanston Streets, Melbourne, Victoria 3000.
Designed by Charles Summers and costing £14,000, it was unveiled on 21 April 1865, four years after the explorers returned to the Dig Tree.
Originally on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, the growth of traffic and the laying of tram tracks led to the removal of the monument in 1886. It was placed in a reserve in Spring Street, opposite Parliament House on the corners of Spring, Lonsdale and Nicholson Streets. It was moved to Carlton Gardens in 1973 when Parliament Station was constructed, and then moved again to the corner of Swanston and Collins in City Square in 1979 and a fountain was added. The statue was restored and moved to its present location at the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets in 1994.
The inscription around the base reads :
ROBERT O'HARA BURKE AND WILLIAM JOHN WILLS
LEADERS OF THE VICTORIAN EXPLORING EXPEDITION
THE FIRST TO CROSS THE CONTINENT FROM SOUTH TO NORTH
THEY PERISHED ON THE RETURN JOURNEY
AT COOPER'S CREEK, CENTRAL AUSTRALIA, JUNE 1861
A plaque at the foot of the monument reads :
BURKE & WILLS MONUMENT (1865)|
Charles Summers (1825-1878)
This monument commemorates the Victorian Exploratory Expedition's
disastrous attempt to cross Australia from South to north.
The Expedition, commanded by Robert O'Hara Burke,
left Melbourne in August 1860.
At Cooper's Creek , Burke took William Wills, Charles Gray and John King
on ‘a dash into the interior (to) Cross the continent'.
They reached the Gulf of Carpentaria in February 1861,
but only King survived the return journey by virtue of assistance from Aborigines.
This was Melbourne 's first public monument to Victoria 's heroes,
and the first major sculpture conceived and entirely executed in Australia .
It was cast at Summers' studio at 92 Collins Street
and originally erected at the intersection of Collins and Russell Streets.
The monument has four brass reliefs around the base showing :
The Departure From Melbourne
Return To The Dig Tree
The Death Of Burke
Howitt's Rescue Of King
At the unveiling ceremony, Sir Charles Darling, Governor of Victoria, delivered the following address;
Ladies and Gentlemen, Inhabitants of Victoria;
I need not tell you that the sounds which are still reverberating are the echoes of what may be well termed a national honour to the illustrious dead. To make that honour as complete and perfect as we can, you have assembled in the vast numbers which meet the eye in every direction, and I accepted the position which I now occupy in the appointed ceremonial. On the 2oth of August 186o a gallant company, now known to all posterity as the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition, set forth, amidst the enthusiastic cheers of assembled thousands of their fellow-colonists, to win their way from the southern to the northern shore of the Australian continent (Cheers).
A year had nearly passed away when the fact was entertained beyond a doubt that the victory had been nobly won, but that the leaders, in the exhausting struggle, had fallen almost in the hour of triumph. In the manner of their deaths, it seems to me that the. distinguishing characteristics of each were strikingly illustrated. The calm and philosophic Wills begins his last letter to his father in these words; " These are probably the last lines you will ever get from me; we are on the point of starvation, not so much from the absolute want of food, but from the want of nutriment in what I get" and he concludes it with the tranquilly pressed opinion and assurance, 'I think to live about four or five days ; my spirits are excellent". Two days later, but probably but a few hours before his death the the last words recorded in his journal are literally a scientific dissertation upon the nutritious nature of the food -the nardoo plant- by means of which they had for some time protracted their existence.
"Place," said the expiring Burke, instinctively recurring to his early military days, and, as I doubt not, with the picture of a fallen warrior upon the battle-field vivid in his imagination, "Place my weapon in my hand, and leave me unburied as I lie."
Such was the fate of the men whom this day we mourn and honour. Then came the universal sorrow, the public funeral, the national provision for the living, and, lastly, this monument in memory of the dead. It cannot be said with truth that the people of Victoria have raised this monument in any boasting or vain-glorious spirit. It had its origin in a far more noble source. It is designed as the imperishable record of a deed which, not only on account of its intrinsic importance, but also of the high qualities which it developed in those who have achieved it, is justly believed to be worthy of high honour in the present generation and of future generations. (Cheers).
When, hereafter, shall be narrated the history of the sorrowful, yet successful adventure which this statue is intended to commemorate, it will be forgotten, or remembered only with regret, that there once was cavil and contention whether a sounder judgment, or - as men who have learned to believe that the issue of great events are little under the control of human wisdom may prefer to call it - a more fortunate judgment might not have been exercised, and a broader beam from the light of experience brought to bear both upon the inception and the execution of the exploring enterprise. Nor should we, assembled as we are, not to discuss the merits of the project, but to pay honour to the memory of those who conquered the difficulties which beset it, forget that, if it be true that amongst those difficulties were the want of previous training for, and special adapt ion to, the perilous task, so much more were the glory and credit of the victory enhanced.
Nor will the sad tale of the fate of these men be without its beneficial influence upon the intellectual training and moral elevation of our people. For, oft as it shall be told, and oft-times it will be told upon this very spot, Australian parents, pointing to that commanding figure, shall bid their young and aspiring sons to hold in admiration the ardent and energetic spirit, the bold self-reliance, and the many chivalrous qualities which combined to constitute the manly nature of O'Hara Burke. (Cheers).
While gazing on that more lowly and retiring form, they may teach them to emulate the thirst for science, the deep love of the Almighty's works in nature, the warm and filial family affections, the devotion to duty, self-control and submission of his own judgment to authority which he regarded as rightly conferred and exercised, and which, if I read the history of his brief career aright, preeminently marked the character and conduct of William John Wills. (Cheers).
Better for themselves, and might haply have averted their melancholy end, if in Burke there had been more of the practical wisdom which we call prudence, and a larger measure of self-assertion and desire to sustain his own opinion, in the character of his unfortunate companion. Better, I have said, for themselves, but not for the cause of discovery and civilisation, for which they laid down their lives; for who can doubt that the knowledge of the country eastward of the line of the successful exploration, which has been acquired by the expeditions sent forth under the auspices of this and the sister colonies, to endeavour to solve the mystery of their fate, is immeasurably greater than could have been reasonably expected to follow for many years to come, had Burke and Wills returned to enjoy the peaceful laurels they had won ?
United in undying fame, all that was mortal of them now rests in the same hallowed grave. Well we know that "neither storied urn or animated bust" can "back to its mansion call the fleeting breath". "Honour's voice" cannot, indeed, "provoke the silent dust;" if it could, well might their dust breathe again, and be eloquent today. But what man can do has now been done. There in the quiet cemetery will be placed the "storied urn". Here in the thronged city we have raised the "animated bust".
It shall serve to unite also in honoured memory the names and the effigies - the very form and semblance of those now celebrated men, whose great exploit has shed such lustre upon the records of exploration and discovery in this age, and engrafted so large a share of interest and glory upon the earlier annals of Victoria.