through the Interior 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.
- How the Expedition originated
- Appointment of the Leader, Officers, and Party
- Mr Robert O'Hara Burke, Mr GJ Landells, Mr W J Wills, Dr Hermann Beckler, Dr Ludwig Becker, etc.
- The Expedition starts from Melbourne on the 20th of August, 1860
- Progress to Swan Hill
- Discharge of Mr Ferguson, the Foreman
- Advance to Menindie
- Resignation of Mr Landells and Dr Hermann Beckler
- Mr Wills promoted to second in Command, and Mr Wright to third
The Exploring Expedition of 1860 originated thus. A gentleman, whose name is still concealed, offered £1,000 as an inducement to the Government and other parties to come forward and raise funds for an exploration of the island continent, now known as Australia, but formerly as New Holland; the vast interior of which had been supposed to be a desert, an inland sea, or anything that a poetical imagination might suggest. Attempts had been made, but always with insufficient means, and on too contracted a scale, to solve the problem. It was now for Victoria to take up the question in earnest. The £1,000 of the unknown contributor, increased to £2,200 by private subscriptions, with £6,000 voted by the colonial legislature, supplied in all a sum of above £9,000 for the prosecution of this great national enterprise. Let Victoria, then, receive the honour so justly her due, for an undertaking only on a par with her characteristic spirit of advancement. Any stranger who visits Melbourne, a place but of yesterday, must be struck by the magnificent scale and number of the public buildings. Let him look at the Churches, Library, House of Parliament, University and Museum, Railways and Parks, Banks, Hotels, Theatres, Botanical Gardens, [Footnote: Under the charge of that noble father of industry, Dr Mueller] etc., and then call to mind that all this is the growth of less than a quarter of a century, and that the existence of the colony dates from a period subsequent to the accession of our beloved Queen.
The arrangements for the expedition were in
progress from 1858 to 1860, under Mr O'Shannassy, a man far
above the common order, who now fills the superior office of
Chief Colonial Secretary. He entered into the object with his own
peculiar zeal. On his personal responsibility, Mr Landells, who
figures in this narrative, as also in a preceding one, with
little credit, was despatched to India to procure camels, those
ships of the desert, whose aid in traversing the unknown interior
was expected to prove invaluable. "The camels are come!"
was the cry when these new and interesting immigrants made their
first appearance in Melbourne. All the people were on the qui
vive [on the alert]. What was to be done next? Who was to be the leader? When
would the party start? Mr Nicholson had by this time taken the
place of Mr O'Shannassy, and he hit on the unfortunate expedient
of delegating to the Royal Society of Melbourne the direction of
this important expedition. I say unfortunate, because, by this
arrangement, the opinions to be consulted were too numerous to
expect unanimity. It is true they elected a special committee,
which included some who were well qualified for the duty, and
others who were less so; but, good or bad, the old adage of "too
many cooks" was verified in this instance. Had they all been
excellent judges, the course was still objectionable, as divided
responsibility falls on no one.
The first point to be settled was the choice of a leader. Meeting after meeting was held, and I must do them the justice to say that, on the whole, no thoroughly unexceptionable candidate offered himself. The necessary combination of physical and scientific requisites was not readily found. The question therefore fell into abeyance for a time on that account. But at length, and after a considerable delay, Robert O'Hara Burke Esquire, police inspector at the Beechworth district, and afterwards at Castlemaine, was appointed to the post. He was in his fortieth year, experienced, active, and well-connected, of one of the old Galway families, and had held a commission as lieutenant in the Austrian army; on quitting which service, he procured an appointment in the Irish constabulary. There he was so beloved by his men, that several resigned when he left for Australia and accompanied him, in the hope of still serving under their favourite commander. He was a brave and true man, covetous of honour, but careless of profit; one who would have sought reputation "even in the cannon's mouth". With his name that of my poor son is indelibly conjoined. From all I have since collected from King, their only surviving companion, Mr Burke loved my son as a brother; and William, writing of him, says: "The more I see of Mr Burke the more I like him;" and he wrote with caution, adopted no hasty opinions, and seldom changed them when once formed.
Mr Burke's appointment called forth discussions and strong comments in the Melbourne papers. Gentlemen who considered their own qualifications as superior to his, and their friends who thought with them, expressed their opinions with more ardour than justice or delicacy in their respective organs. The committee of management, selected originally from the Royal Society of Melbourne, now became united to another body called The Exploration Fund Committee. The board comprised the following members:
|Chairman||The Honourable Sir William Stawell, one of the Justices of Victoria|
|Vice-Chairman||The Honourable John Hodgson, MLC|
|Treasurer||The Honourable Dr Wilkie|
|Secretary||The Honourable Dr Macadam|
|Ligar Esquire, Surveyor General|
|James Smith, Esquire|
|Sizar Elliott, Esquire|
|Angus McMillan, Esquire|
|A Selwyn, Esquire|
|John Watson, Esquire|
|Reverend Mr Bleasdale|
|Hodgkinson Esquire, Deputy-Surveyor|
The commander being appointed, the next step was
to name the second. This choice, by a sad mistake, fell on Mr G J
Landells, who owed his preferment to the circumstance of his
having been employed to bring the camels from India. His
services, therefore, were considered indispensable for their
management in Australia. Having convinced the committee of this,
he demanded a salary considerably exceeding that of the leader,
or refused to go. When Mr Burke found that this point was to be
discussed at the next meeting, he, with his usual high and
liberal spirit, requested that no obstacle might be raised on
that account. We shall presently see how Mr Landells repaid his
leader, and proved himself worthy of this disinterestedness. My
son tendered his services as astronomer and guide, not at the
moment thinking of or desiring any distinct post of command, his
object being exclusively scientific. He had been for some time
assistant to Professor Neumayer at the Magnetic Observatory, was
a seasoned bushman, with great powers of endurance, and felt that
he could discharge the duties he wished to undertake. He was not
aware, until I informed him on his going into the Society's room
to sign the contract, that any command had been allotted to him,
neither did he stipulate for salary; but in consequence of Dr
Ludwig Becker demanding an advance of pay, on the sum first
fixed, my son's was raised from £250 to £300 per annum. The
next appointments were Dr Ludwig Becker, as naturalist and
artist, and Dr Hermann Beckler as botanist and medical adviser to
the expedition. These were scarcely more fortunate than that of
Mr Landells. The first named of these gentlemen was physically
deficient, advanced in years, and his mode of life in Melbourne
had not been such as to make up for his want of youth. I do not
mean to imply by this that he indulged in irregular or dissipated
habits. He possessed a happy gift of delineating natural objects
with the pencil, but died before passing the boundaries of
civilization, from causes unconnected with want or fatigue. Dr
Hermann Beckler, who has since returned to his native country, was
neither a man of courage, energy, nor of medical experience. He
resigned when Mr Landells did, and, as will be seen, for a very
poor reason. His place should have been immediately supplied; for
had any one worth a straw been sent, by his position he must have
been third in command instead of Wright, a more ignorant being
than whom could not have been extracted from the bush. He was
scarcely able to write his name.
The following is a copy of the memorandum of agreement, to which all the members of the Exploration party attached their signatures:
Memorandum of Agreement,
Made the eighteenth day of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty, between the Honourable David Elliott Wilkie, as treasurer of the Exploration Committee of the Royal Society, Melbourne, of the one part, and the several other persons whose names are hereto subscribed, of the other part.
The said persons forming an expedition about to explore the interior of Australia under Robert O'Hara Burke, hereby agree with the said David Elliott Wilkie faithfully to discharge the special duties described opposite to their respective names, and also generally to perform whatever in the opinion of the said Robert O'Hara Burke, as leader, or in the event of his death, in the opinion of the leader for the time being, may be necessary to promote the success of the expedition: and they hereby further agree to place themselves unreservedly under the orders of the leader, recognising George James Landells as second; and William John Wills as third; and their right of succession in the order thus stated.
In consideration of the above services being efficiently discharged, the said David Elliott Wilkie, as treasurer, and on behalf of the said committee, hereby agrees to pay the said persons the salaries, at the respective rates set opposite their names; such salaries to be paid by monthly instalments, not exceeding one-half the amount then due, on a certificate from the leader that the services have been efficiently performed up to the date; and the remainder on and rateably up to the day of the return of the expedition to Melbourne, and no more.
And each of the said persons hereby lastly agrees, on failure on his part fully to perform this agreement, that his salary shall be forfeited, and that he shall abide all consequences, the power of discharge vesting with the leader, and the power of dismissal and forfeiture of salary resting on the recommendation of the leader with the said David Elliott Wilkie, acting with the consent of the said committee. In witness whereof the said parties have hereunto set their hands the day and year above written.
|George James Landells||- in charge of camels, second in command|
|William John Wills||- as surveyor and astronomical observer, third in command|
|Hermann Beckler||- medical officer and botanist|
|Ludwig Becker||- artist, naturalist, and geologist|
|Charles J. Ferguson||- foreman|
|Thomas F. McDonagh||- assistant|
|William Paton||- assistant|
|Patrick Langan||- assistant|
|Owen Cowan||- assistant|
|William Brake||- assistant|
|Robert Fletcher||- assistant|
|John King||- assistant|
|Henry Creher||- assistant|
|John Dickford||- assistant|
|And three sepoys.|
Signed by all the above in the presence of
Monday, the 20th of August, 1860, will be a memorable day in the annals of Melbourne, as recording the commencement of the expedition. It was not a false start but a bona-fide departure. Nearly the whole population suspended ordinary business and turned out to witness the imposing spectacle. The camels were a great attraction. The Melbourne Herald of the 21st gave the annexed description of the proceedings:
Tom Campbell, in a tender moment, sang a sweet
hymn to a "Name Unknown," and many an ardent youth in and since
his time, has borrowed inspiration from the dulcet numbers of
the familiar bard, and allowed his imagination to run riot in
"castle-building" upon this simple theme. Had we the poet's
gift, our enthusiasm might, doubtless, prompt us to extol in
more lofty strain the praises of the "great unknown"--the donor
of the handsome instalment of one thousand pounds towards the
organization of an expedition to explore the terra incognita of
interior Australia. But in the absence of the favour of the
Muses, dull prose must serve the purpose we have in view. If
the "unknown" were present yesterday in the Royal Park, his
heart must have leaped for very joy, as did with one accord the
hearts of the "ten thousand" or more of our good citizens, who
there assembled to witness the departure of the Exploring
Expedition. Never have we seen such a manifestation of
heartfelt interest in any public undertaking of the kind as on
this occasion. The oldest dwellers in Australia have
experienced nothing to equal it.
The first day's march scarcely exceeded seven miles, the camping
ground for the night being on an open space of greensward near
the church at Essendon. Here I saw my son for the last time. It
was with a feeling of great misgiving that I took leave of him.
On shaking hands with Mr Burke, I said frankly, "If it were in
my power, I would even now prevent his going." I then added, "If
he knew what I am about to say, he would not, I think, be well
pleased; but if you ever happen to want my son's advice or
opinion, you must ask it, for he will not offer it unasked. No
matter what course you may adopt, he will follow without
remonstrance or murmur." Mr Burke shook me warmly by the hand in
return, and replied: "There is nothing you can say will raise him
higher in my estimation than he stands at present; I will do as
you desire." There were some photographers present to take
likenesses. My son refused to be taken. "Should it ever be worth
while," he said, "my father has an excellent one, which you can
copy from." Alas! it has been copied very often since.
The progress of the party was slow through the enclosed districts, until they reached Swan Hill on the Murray, which, properly speaking, is the northern boundary of the colony of Victoria. My son's first letter was dated August 26th.
My dear Father,
We are now at the Mia-Mia, lying between McIvor and Castlemaine (a roadside public-house). We are all right enough, except as regards cleanliness, and everything has gone well, barring the necessary break-downs, and wet weather. We have to travel slowly, on account of the camels. I suppose Professor Neumayer will overtake us in a day or two. I have been agreeably disappointed in my idea of the camels. They are far from unpleasant to ride; in fact, it is much less fatiguing than riding on horseback, and even with the little practice I have yet had, I find it shakes me less. I shall write to you from Swan Hill, if not before.
Your affectionate son,
William J Wills.
From Terrick Terrick, he writes, on the 31st of August, to his friend Mr Byerly:
Riding on camels is a much more pleasant process than I anticipated, and for my work I find it much better than riding on horseback. The saddles, as you are aware, are double, so I sit on the back portion behind the hump, and pack my instruments in front, I can thus ride on, keeping my journal and making calculations; and need only stop the camel when I want to take any bearings carefully; but the barometers can be read and registered without halting. The animals are very quiet, and easily managed, much more so than horses.
His next letter to me is dated from Swan Hill, September 8th:
My dear Father,
The road we are about to take is not that which I had anticipated, namely, down the side of the Lower Darling, as we hear there is literally nothing for the horses to eat; so that we are going right across the country to the Darling, passing the Murray at this place.
We leave Swan Hill about the middle of next week, and shall then be out of the colony of Victoria. We are expecting Professor Neumayer up shortly,--a scrap of paper to-day by the postman says to-morrow. I am rather disappointed at not having yet an assistant surveyor, but I hope he will arrive shortly.
Letters in future had better be directed to the care of Dr. Macadam, the secretary, as they will have to go by sea.
On the 17th of September he writes to his mother:
Balranald, September 17th, 1860.
My dear Mother,
We are now at the last township at which we shall touch on our way towards the interior of the continent. It is an out-of-the-way place, situated on the lower part of the Murrumbidgee River. Our journey so far has been very satisfactory: we are most fortunate as regards the season, for there has been more rain this winter than has been known for the last four or five years. In fact, it seems probable that we shall finish our work in a much shorter period than was anticipated; very likely in ten or twelve months. The country up here is beautiful; everything green and pleasant; and if you saw it now, you would not believe that in two months' time it could have such a parched and barren appearance as it will then assume. I hope to be able, either from the Darling or from Cooper's Creek, to send you some details of our proceedings.
Please to remember me
to all, and
At Balranald, beyond the Murray, Mr Burke found it impossible to
get on further with his foreman, Ferguson, and discharged him in
consequence. It required no deep penetration to discover that
this would occur. Before they left the Royal Park, I made a
remark to one of the committee on Ferguson's appearance and
general demeanour: the gentleman I addressed replied, "I have
just told Burke he will have to shoot him yet."
When Ferguson returned to Melbourne, he published his own account of the affair; and after the melancholy catastrophe of the expedition became known, he brought his action against the committee, and obtained a verdict for a considerable sum on the ground of unjust dismissal, proving his own statement in the absence of counter-evidence. Those who could or might have refuted it were dead.
Mr Burke had no sooner rid himself of his troublesome foreman, than his second began to exhibit insubordination in an unmistakable manner. This reached a crisis by the time they had proceeded as far as Menindie, on the Darling. Whatever Mr Landells' merits may have been as a manager of camels, his post of second in command had evidently affected the equilibrium of his intellects. He mistook his position, as also the character of his superior. His conduct was so manifestly unjustifiable that no one took his part, or defended him in the slightest degree. What his real motive was, whether to escape from danger when danger was likely to commence, or to obtain the leadership of the expedition himself, is difficult to determine. He had been sowing dissension in the camp from an early period. My son was so much engaged in his scientific avocations that he knew little of what was going on; but when Mr Landells was ill-judged enough to talk plain sedition to him, he saw at once, and clearly, the state of affairs. Mr Burke was of a generous and unsuspecting nature; he trusted every one until practical experience opened his eyes, and then he naturally became angry, almost to violence. The following correspondence, which was published at the time, explains the affair exactly as it happened. Mr Selwyn laid before the committee the letter from Professor Neumayer, enclosing my son's to him. The professor had been lost in the bush, and had to cut his way through the scrub for a distance of six miles.
My dear Sir,
I am right in the bush, and have just met with Captain Cadell, who is so kind as to take this to you, in order that you might have a chance of hearing both sides of the question. Landells I spoke to last night; and, according to his statement, of course he is in the right. I shall be in town in three or four weeks.
Excuse my writing.
Alfred Selwyn, Esquire, Government Geologist.
My dear Professor,
That Mr Landells has resigned, and gives over his things to-morrow, is news at which you will not be much surprised; but that Dr Beckler has been foolish enough to follow his example, for no better reason than that he did not like the way in which Mr Burke spoke to Mr Landells, will I think rather astonish you. I shall now give you a full account of the whole matter, so that you may be in a position to make any statement that you may deem necessary in explanation of the proceedings. It will be necessary for me to remind you that when you left Kornpany, Mr Landells was there with the camels, for the purpose of bringing on some of the heavy goods to lighten the waggons. This he did, and reached the camp at Bilbarka on Tuesday, the 2nd instant, with about three tons, whilst Mr Burke went round by the lower road with the waggons and horses; he was obliged to take the latter with him, greatly to their disadvantage, because Mr Landells would not assume the responsibility of bringing them with the camels. In bringing the things from Kornpany, one of Coppin's camels fell, having at the time on his back a load of upwards of 4 hundred-weight. The result of this fall was, ACCORDING TO MR LANDELLS' REPORT, a dislocation of the shoulder, for which he said nothing could be done, so that the camel has been left behind a perfect cripple. I have dashed the above words because I myself do not believe it to be a dislocation, but only a strain; but that's merely my idea; Mr L ought to know best. Certain it is that the poor brute hobbled nearly twenty miles after us on Thursday last, and I think that is rather a good pull for one with a dislocation of the shoulder joint.
On Thursday, the 4th instant, our own two waggons came up to McPherson's, and in the evening Mr Landells and I went down to the station to post some letters. On the way, Mr L made many remarks about Mr Burke and his arrangements that were quite uncalled for. He told me, amongst other things, that Mr B had no right to interfere about the camels; that he had agreements with the committee of which he believed Mr B was ignorant; that everything was mismanaged; and, in fact, that if Mr Burke had his way everything would go to the devil.
On Friday the other waggons came up, and it was intended that some of the camels should fetch up what things we required, and that the remainder should be stored at McPherson's; but the camels were not to be found until late at night. On Saturday morning Mr Landells and the Doctor went down with seventeen camels to the station, a distance of five miles, and, greatly to Mr Burke's disgust, did not return until after dark. In the meantime the nine remaining camels had travelled off, and could not be found anywhere.
On Sunday morning, McPherson sent a note to Mr Burke, requesting him to come down, as all the shearers were drunk on some of the camels' rum, which they had obtained from the waggons. Mr Burke hereupon expressed his determination, which he had previously mentioned to me, that he would leave the rum behind. Mr Landells objected to this, and insisted on the necessity of taking it on, and told Mr Burke, who was firm in his resolve, that he would not be responsible for the camels. Mr B said he should do as he pleased, and left the camp; and as soon as he was gone, Mr L called me to take delivery of the Government things in charge, as he intended to leave for Melbourne at once. He said that Mr B was mad, and he was frightened to stay in the tent with him. He then went off, telling me that he should deliver over the camels as soon as he could find them. It appears that he went down to the station, and on meeting the waggon-drivers on the road, told them that he was about to leave, so that every one in the camp knew it in a very short time. I should mention that everything was being got ready for a start; and on my mentioning to Mr Burke what had passed, he said that he should take no notice of it until it was brought officially before him. When Mr Landells returned, he asked Mr Burke in my presence to dismiss him, which Mr B refused to do, but said that he would forward his resignation if he wished it, with a recommendation that he should receive his pay up to that time. This did not exactly satisfy Mr L, who wished to appear before the public as the injured individual. He, nevertheless, expressed to me several times his fixed determination to stay no longer. He took an opportunity in the evening, in his tent, to give expression to opinions of his, which would not tend, if listened to, to raise a leader in the estimation of his officers. He said that Mr B was a rash, mad man; that he did not know what he was doing; that he would make a mess of the whole thing, and ruin all of us; that he was frightened at him; that he did not consider himself safe in the tent with him, and many other things. Some of this was said in the presence of the Doctor and Mr Becker; but the most severe remarks were to me alone after they were gone. On Monday, Mr Landells asked Hodgkinson to write out for him his resignation, and then in a private conversation, told Hodgkinson several things, which the latter thought it best to make a note of at once. Hodgkinson's statement is this--that Mr Landells having asked him whether he could keep a secret, told him, after extracting a sort of promise about holding his tongue, that Mr Burke wanted an excuse for discharging him, and that he had sent him with the camels with an order to him (Mr Landells) to find fault with him for that purpose. On hearing this, Hodgkinson wanted to go to Mr Burke and speak to him about it at once; but Landells prevented this by reminding him of his promise. This all came out owing to some remarks that Hodgkinson had made to me, and which I considered myself in duty bound to tell Mr Burke. On Monday evening Mr Landells was speaking to me about the best and quickest way of getting to town, when I suggested to him that he might be placing himself in a disagreeable position by leaving in such a hurry without giving any notice. He replied that he did not care, but that he meant to propose certain terms to Mr Burke, which he read to me from his pocket-book, and on these terms only he would go:--"That Mr Burke should give him a written agreement that he, Mr L, should have full and unqualified charge of the camels, and that from that time Mr B should not interfere with them in any way; that they should travel no further nor faster than Mr L chose, and that he should be allowed to carry provisions for them to the amount of four camels' burthen." Just after this, Mr B came up and called Mr L aside, and, as the former told me, read to him a letter that he had written to accompany the resignation. The contents of this letter had a considerable effect on Mr L, who said that it was a pity they should have had any quarrel, and so acted on Mr B's feelings, that he allowed him to withdraw his resignation. I believe that the information which had arrived about a steamer being on its way up the river had had a great influence in making Mr Landells desirous to withdraw his resignation; but the chief reason was, no doubt, that he feared, from the concluding sentence of Mr Burke's letter, that the committee would refuse him his pay.
After this, everything appeared to be healed for a day or two; but on Wednesday, from various matters that had occurred, I considered it my duty to mention to Mr Burke about Hodgkinson and some things that Mr Landells had said to me; whereupon it came out that Mr L had been playing a fine game, trying to set us all together by the ears. To Mr Burke he has been abusing and finding fault with all of us; so much so, that Mr B tells me that Landells positively hates me. We have, apparently, been the best of friends. To me, he has been abusing Mr Burke, and has always spoken as if he hated the Doctor and Mr Becker; whereas with them he has been all milk and honey. There is scarcely a man in the party whom he has not urged Mr Burke to dismiss.
Mr Burke went ahead with the horses from Bilbarka, partly because he wanted to be here sooner than the rest, and partly in order to avoid a collision with Mr Landells. He asked Dr Beckler to accompany him, for we both expected that Mr Landells would be tampering with him, as we found he had been with others; but the Doctor said that he preferred going with the camels, so that after the first day, when we found that Dr Beckler would not go on with the horses, Mr Burke took Mr Becker and myself with him. We crossed the horses at a very good crossing at Kinchica, six miles below Menindie. Mr Burke sent me up from there in the steamer, whilst he took the horses up. On our arrival, we found that Mr Landells had ridden up also, having left the camels at Kinchica; he objected to making them swim the river, and wanted the steamer's barge to cross them over. This Mr Burke refused, because the captain and every one else said that it would be a very dangerous experiment, from the difficulty of getting them on or off, which is no easy matter to do safely, even on a punt arranged for the purpose; and as for the barge, it can scarcely be brought within six feet of the bank; so Mr Burke insisted on their swimming the river at Kinchica. After dinner we went down to assist in crossing them, but Mr Landells said it was too late, and that he would cross them at ten o'clock next morning. On his remarking that there was no rope here, I mentioned that we had just brought one across with us, when he wanted to know what business I had to say anything. Altogether he made a great fool of himself before several of the men; and a Mr Wright, the manager of the Kinchica station. For this Mr Burke gave him an overhauling, and told him that if his officers misconducted themselves, he (Mr B) was the person to blow them up. Mr Burke then told me, before Mr Landells, that he wished me to be present at the crossing of the camels, at ten o'clock to-morrow.
Mr Landells then jumped up in a rage, asking Mr Burke whether he intended that I should superintend him, and what he meant by desiring me to be present. Mr Burke answered him that if he knew his place he would not ask such a question; that he had no right to ask it, and that he (Mr B) should give what orders he thought proper to his officers without considering himself responsible to Mr L; that Mr Landells' conduct was insolent and improper, and that he would have no more of it. This was on Monday. On Tuesday morning Mr L sent in his resignation, and in the course of the day, Dr Beckler followed his example, giving as his reason that he did not like the manner in which Mr Burke spoke to Mr Landells, and that he did not consider that the party was safe without Mr Landells to manage the camels. Now there is no mistake, Dr Beckler is an honest little fellow, and well-intentioned enough, but he is nothing of a bushman, although he has had so much travelling. Landells has taken advantage of his diffidence for his own purposes; and at the same time that he hates him, he has put on such a smooth exterior, that he has humbugged and hoodwinked him into the belief that no one can manage the camels but himself.
The upshot was that the committee accepted the resignations of Mr Landells and Dr Beckler, and expressed their entire approbation of the conduct of Mr Burke. The following extract from the Melbourne leading journal, the Argus,--and with the view therein expressed all the other newspapers coincided--shows pretty clearly the state of public opinion on the question:
Whatever may be the interest attached to the communications respecting the Victorian Exploring Expedition, as read before the committee of the Royal Society, there can be little doubt but that the judgment pronounced on Mr Landells remains unaltered. He deserted his leader on the eve of the fight; and such an act, so subversive of all discipline, and so far from the thoughts of the smallest drummer-boy, renders all explanations contemptible. In the present instance, Mr. Landells' explanations make his act the more inexcusable. He is still of opinion that the camels are indispensable to the safety of the party, and that he is indispensable to the safety of the camels. The inference is, therefore, that he knowingly left the party to perish. Indeed, we should not at all enter into an examination of Mr Landells' letter, but that it may enable us to form some opinion as to the prospects of the expedition itself, and as to the suitability of Mr Burke for its leadership. The charges brought against Mr Burke by his late lieutenant, comprise almost everything that a commander should not be guilty of. His acts of commission and omission comprehend everything that a bad general could possibly commit or omit, and Mr Landells winds up his bad qualities by asserting that he "cultivates the spy system," and treats his men like a parcel of "convicts." Not only is he "ungentlemanly" to his officers and "interfering with the best interests of the party"--not only has he "displayed such a want of judgment, candour, and decision;" but he has also shown, in addition to these and many other shortcomings, "such an entire absence of any and every quality which should characterize him as its leader, as has led to the conviction in my own mind that under his leadership the expedition will be attended by the most disastrous results."
But in this matter we are not left to decide between Mr Landells' account and Mr Burke's account. Mr Wills, the third officer, may be taken as an impartial observer, and his statement, a private communication to the head of the department to which he lately belonged, Professor Neumayer, is free from any suspicion of toadyism. From it we may find abundant reason for the conduct which Mr Landells calls "strange." If Mr Burke was restless at nights, hasty in the day, and apparently undecided what course to pursue, we have from this account of the matter only to wonder that he managed to bear with Mr Landells so long as he did. Here the rage is all on Mr Landells' side. "Mr Landells then jumped up in a rage, asking Mr Burke whether he intended that I should superintend him?" To talk, touch, or mention anything about his favourites, the camels, was sure to bring on "a scene." "On his remarking that there was no rope here, I mentioned that we had just brought one across with us, when he wanted to know what business I had to say anything. Altogether, he made a great fool of himself before several of the men, and a Mr Wright, the manager of the Kinchica Station." These camels, under Mr Landells' spoiling, appear to have become the plague of the expedition. They were to have rum--solely, as it now appears, because Mr Landells "knew of an officer who took two camels through a two years' campaign in Cabul, the Punjab, and Scinde, by allowing them arrack." They were to carry more stores for themselves than they were worth. They were not to make long journeys, nor to travel in bad weather, nor to be subject to any one's direction, or opinion, or advice. In fine, the chief difficulty of exploring Australia seemed to consist in humouring the camels. We may imagine the feelings of a leader with such a drag as this encumbering him. Mr Pickwick could never have viewed with such disgust the horse which he was obliged to lead about as Mr Burke must have regarded his camels. When to this it is added that the leader observed various intrigues carried on, we cannot wonder that he determined to come to an open rupture before Mr Landells and the camels had completely disorganized the expedition. "Whereupon it came out," writes Mr Wills, "that Mr Landells has been playing a fine game, trying to set us all together by the ears. There is scarcely a man in the party whom he has not urged Mr Burke to dismiss." Under such a state of things, the leader of the expedition must have been painfully aware that his party was in no fit state of organization to enter on a most perilous undertaking, and that while such continued, both he and his men were going to inevitable destruction. If his conduct appeared to Mr Landells restless and uncertain, we may wonder how, under the circumstances, it could be otherwise.
We find it impossible to believe that the Exploring Committee of the Royal Society could have secretly informed Mr Landells that he held independent command, for such a thing would be a burlesque on discipline. He claims the sole management of the camels; and perhaps the committee may have defined his duty as such. But so also has a private soldier the sole management of his musket, but it is under the directions of his officer. Profound as may be Mr Landells' knowledge of camels, it would be worse than useless unless subject to the direction of his commanding officer.
Mr Burke, on the resignation of Mr Landells, immediately
promoted my son to the post he had vacated, which appointment the
committee confirmed. Here there was perfect union and reciprocal
understanding. Neither had petty jealousies or reserved views.
The success of the expedition was their object, and personal
glory their aim. The leader had every confidence in his second,
and the second was proud of his leader. But Mr Burke committed
an error in the selection of Mr Wright for the third position in
command, without any previous knowledge or experience of his
capabilities. In this he acted from his impulsive nature, and the
consequences bore heavily on his own and my son's fate. To the
misconduct of Mr Wright, in the words of the report of the
Committee of Inquiry, "are mainly attributable the whole of
the disasters of the expedition, with the exception of the death
of Gray." In appearance and acquirements, there was nothing
to recommend him. The gentleman suggested by Mr Burke as a
substitute for Dr Beckler, most unjustly, according to general
opinion, desired to supplant my son. This the majority of the
committee refused to accede to, and Mr Nicholson, the chief
secretary, agreed with their decision. Others, including myself,
offered to go; and a dispute, or rather a discussion arose on the
matter, which produced delay, so that no one was sent at all.
Another fatal mistake. It will be a source of sorrow and strong
regret to me as long as I exist, that I did not, of my own will,
push on to Menindie, where I might have been instrumental in
saving one for whom I would willingly have risked my life. But no
one then foresaw or expected the errors which caused the
surviving travelers to perish on their return.
But the actual cause of what might appear to be neglect on the part of the committee, in procrastinating the medical appointment, or other matters that were delayed, arose from the want of funds. The sum subscribed had been expended, and when Mr Hodgkinson arrived at Melbourne, with Wright's despatch (written, however, by Hodgkinson), asking for cash, and a confirmation of his appointment as third in command, the committee had no balance at their disposal. His Excellency, Sir Henry Barkly, to prevent any misfortune on that ground, came forward on his personal guarantee, and became responsible until Parliament should again meet. The funds asked for by Wright, and even more, were granted; but I believe it would puzzle the committee, to this day, to find what became of them. One of the avowed objects was to purchase sheep; this, at least, was neglected. Hodgkinson fulfilled his mission zealously, and returned to Wright within as short a time as possible. But Wright lingered inactively at Menindie, allowed the proper time for following out the track of Mr Burke to glide away and disgracefully broke faith with one who had too generously trusted him.
One word more with respect to Mr Landells. His assertion, believed by no rational person at the time, and emphatically denounced by Mr Burke in his despatch as "false," that he had private instructions from the committee, rendering him in some respects independent of his leader, was utterly disproved by the evidence of Dr Macadam, Honorary Secretary, related before the Royal Commission, who said in reply to Question 110: "We gave Mr Landells no private instructions whatever; that has been answered over and over again."