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William Landsborough & John McKinlay.

Exhibition Building, William-street, Melbourne.
Tuesday, 30 September 1862


About a month after Landsborough's arrival in Melbourne intelligence was received that McKinlay and his party, who had gone from South Australia in search of Burke and Wills in August of last year, had safely reached Port Denison in August of this year. No tidings of McKinlay had been heard from the time of his finding poor Gray's grave on Cooper's Creek, where he learned the fate of Burke and Wills. His future instructions were to proceed to Stuart's route and search for a goldfield on a part of it which had been described by Stuart as giving indications of being auriferous; but in consequence of the flooded state of the country he was unable to go in that direction. He therefore proceeded to Carpentaria, exploring the country chiefly in the middle part of his journey on a track betwixt Burke's and Landsborough's, and afterwards tracing down the Leichhardt River. At Carpentaria, where he expected to get supplies of flour, tea, and sugar, the Depot being abandoned, his hopes were disappointed, and he was obliged to proceed to Port Denison, a distance of about 700 miles, without either of these articles.

On his arrival at Melbourne with some members of his party the reception given to Landsborough and them by the public was so cordial that we consider the following report (taken from the Argus) of the meeting held to do them honour will be read with interest.

Demonstration in Honour of Messrs. Landsborough & McKinlay
Extract from the Melbourne Argus

A public meeting of the citizens of Melbourne was held last night at the Exhibition Building, in honour of the leaders of the Queensland and South Australian Contingent Exploration Expeditions and their parties, and to testify the admiration of the inhabitants of this colony at the successful and heroic manner in which those explorers had accomplished their mission.

The doors were advertised to be open at seven o'clock, but it was not until about twenty minutes past that hour that they were unlocked. In the meantime a vast crowd which had commenced to assemble as early as half-past six o'clock had gathered in front of the building and manifested considerable impatience to be admitted. Within a very few minutes after the doors were thrown open the spacious edifice was densely crowded in every part. There were probably nearly 3000 persons present. On the motion of Dr Macadam the Honourable Matthew Hervey, MLC, was called upon to preside. He was surrounded on the platform by several members of the Exploration Committee and other gentlemen. Mr Landsborough and Mr McKinlay and some members of their respective exploring parties were present; as was also Mr King, the companion of the unfortunate Burke and Wills; and also Mr C Verdon, who was recently the successful bearer of despatches from the Exploration Committee to Mr Howitt.

The Chairman, in opening the proceedings, congratulated the assembly upon having met together to pay a mark of respect to their distinguished fellow-countrymen, Messrs. Landsborough and McKinlay. (Applause)

They were doubtless aware of the circumstances under which those gentlemen had become conspicuous amongst the Australian community. Immediately upon the discovery of any danger attending the Victorian explorers Messrs. Burke and Wills--upon discovering that there was a possibility of their being unable to surmount the difficulties which surrounded them in the desert, it was thought desirable to start contingent expeditions from the neighbouring colonies, as well as from Victoria, in search of them. The people of Melbourne had assembled that evening to congratulate those distinguished gentlemen, Messrs. Landsborough and McKinlay, upon their safe return from their expeditions. They most cheerfully volunteered their services to the respective Governments under which they lived to proceed in search of Burke and Wills, and everyone was aware to some extent of the result of their labours. They had been most successful explorers. They proceeded in cheerfulness to encounter the dangers of the desert, such as in the eye of every individual unaccustomed to bush travelling seemed insurmountable. (Hear, hear.) They had all heard something of Mr Landsborough's expedition from the statement which he had made before the Royal Society, and they knew something also of the expedition undertaken by Mr McKinlay. The immense difficulties which each had experienced placed both gentlemen side by side as great and successful explorers. (Cheers.)

Having briefly directed attention to the circumstances under which the meeting had assembled, he would detain them very little longer. He was sure that they had done their duty as inhabitants of Victoria in meeting to welcome back again to this colony the gentlemen who had been sent out in search of those who first crossed the continent of Australia and brought into conspicuous notice the great enterprise, which was first initiated by the colony of Victoria, of exploring the whole of this vast continent. (Applause.)

The Reverend Dr Cairns, who was called upon to move the first resolution, remarked that this was a magnificent meeting, and that he had seldom been more delighted in the course of a long life. (Applause)

When Mr McKinlay was received by the Royal Society he (Dr Cairns) made the very natural remark that he supposed he would receive a welcome from the public of Melbourne (Hear, Hear) that, however cordial might be the welcome extended to him and to Mr Landsborough by private committees or private societies, the community at large had a right to express their feelings, and in the most public manner to give a welcome to those successful explorers. (Applause)

He thought then, as he thought now, that in making that remark he not only expressed his own feelings but the feelings of the community in general. A very ill-natured notice of his opinion and conduct in the matter appeared in The Argus of that morning, but for what purpose it had been written he was unable to say. He rejoiced in the present meeting, however, as the best of all possible answers to such a piece of invidiousness. (Hear.) One of the characteristic signs of the present age was the very great progress of discovery in opening up regions of the earth which had hitherto been hermetically sealed even to the eye of intelligence. It was a very suggestive fact to his mind that the successful exploration of Central Africa and the great Australian Continent had been reserved for the present day, that until now these immense dominions had been unknown lands to the civilised world; and that not until the latter half of the nineteenth century had the honour been conferred on the enterprising sons of that wonderful little island far away in the north sea--peopled by Christian Britons--of penetrating the mystery, and finding out that, instead of stony deserts and inhospitable wilds, those countries contained luxuriant fields, abundant waters, and balmy woods--inviting homes for millions and millions of human beings, or rather let him say for flourishing nations. (Applause)

The present marked a great era in the history of this hemisphere. A benignant Providence had lifted the cloud of their ignorance, and they heard a kindly voice calling upon them to arise, to go forth, to possess, to subdue, to people this goodly land. (Hear, hear) The friends whose success they had met to celebrate that evening would henceforth have their names enrolled with those of Mitchell, Leichhardt, Sturt, Gregory, and Burke and Wills, who had sacrificed their lives to their zeal. (Hear, hear)

To the two latter explorers belonged the praise--which time would never obscure or diminish--of having been the first to solve the practicability of traversing this great continent from south to north. The names which he mentioned constituted a brilliant catalogue; and he ventured to think that no inferior splendour would henceforth illustrate the names--now familiar as household words--of Stuart, Landsborough, and McKinlay. (Cheers and loud cries of "King")

The name of King ought also most assuredly to be included. (Cheers) They were a noble band, and he wished they had all been present that night. He rejoiced to have the opportunity of seeing those explorers who were present, of looking on their faces, speaking to them, shaking hands with them, and calling them friends. (Applause)

He was proud of these men, and all whom he was addressing must be proud of them also. They were worthy of esteem, they were entitled to applause; and mean, base, ineffably shabby, stupidly mean and base was the soul--if such a soul there were--that questioned their merit or grudged them a meet reward. (Applause) He was delighted to have the opportunity of looking upon the two great heroes, Landsborough and McKinlay. They had undertaken and accomplished great things. Without deliberation they undertook the arduous task assigned them and faced its hazards. They had to contemplate hard privations, and it might be disease, accident, or even a lingering and lonely death. These were the terms--the necessary terms--on which they engaged in their uncertain and perilous speculation. They went forth not knowing whither they went; but their Heavenly Father watched over them and protected them from dangers, seen and unseen. He was especially struck with the providence of God in the case of McKinlay. The flood of waters which troubled him might have been a deluge to sweep him away, but, by the gracious overruling providence of God his life was preserved, and he was now in their midst. Both Landsborough and McKinlay had returned none the worse for wear, but fresh and blooming, he would say, for the tan which they got from the sun seemed to him to be the richest of blooms. (Laughter)

They were the very models of fine, stalwart men. He thanked God for it, who was the author of all their talents and all their gifts. Their wonderful success, under God, was attributable to their foresight, prudence, and for want of a better word he would say their bush experience. From the energy, sagacity, and unwearied patience which they had exercised the public had learnt some new things. From Mr McKinlay they had learnt that it was possible to drive a flock of silly sheep all the way to Carpentaria and eat them up one by one at leisure. (Laughter) They had further learnt that old horse was very palatable beef to a hungry man, and that boiled camel was a savoury morsel in a weary wilderness. (Renewed laughter.)

From Mr Landsborough they had learnt the important lesson that it was most wise to rest and refresh both man and beast upon that seventh day which had been ordained us a universal blessing. (Hear, hear) He quite enjoyed hearing of Mr Landsborough and his men luxuriating on a breakfast of meat and pig-weed, followed, after a due interval, by an epicurean dinner of cold rice and jam. (A laugh) The result of their explorations had been immense, for they had probably tripled, or even quadrupled, the extent of territory in Australia available for settlement, and added greatly to the resources of the country. The advantages thus secured for pastoral purposes were beyond all calculation, though they could not now be appreciated as they would be hereafter. They deserved well of their country. In all ages such services as they had rendered had been regarded as national benefactions. The principle of the state rewarding such services had been recognised in this colony and had been reduced to practice. Recompense was decreed by Parliament to the discoverers of new goldfields, and the admirable constitution of this colony had provided a most soothing consolation, in the shape of 1800 pounds per annum, to requite the devotion of those self-sacrificing spirits who consented to bow their studious heads and delicate shoulders to the responsibilities of government for the weary space of two whole years. (Laughter) If such were the case, what was the debt which the country owed to those great national benefactors, the explorers. Their discoveries had opened the eyes of the people of Australia to the fact that God had given them a most wealthy inheritance, which might be compared to the whole world in miniature. It had the best of every clime under the sun, and the gifts of nature were scattered with great profusion. As to the precious metals it might turn out that what had been found was only an earnest of what was to follow; but there could be no doubt that Australia was to be the woolgrower of the whole world, and that it would grow cotton to feed all the mills of England. Dr Cairns concluded by moving the following resolution:

That this meeting begs, in the most cordial manner, to welcome the explorers, Messrs. Landsborough and McKinlay, on their safe return, and to express admiration of the many excellent qualities displayed by them in the prosecution of their arduous enterprise, and considers that it is a duty to acknowledge the hand of Divine Providence in preserving them in the midst of danger.

Mr King, who was received with great acclamation, said it afforded him much pleasure to be present on that occasion and join with so many of his fellow-colonists in congratulating Mr Landsborough and Mr McKinlay on their safe arrival in Melbourne. (Applause.) He was the more glad to offer his congratulations because he knew the arduous nature of the journey which Messrs. Landsborough and McKinlay had accomplished. He was little accustomed to appear or to speak in public, but he should have been sorry to miss this opportunity of expressing his thanks to Mr Landsborough and Mr McKinlay for the manner in which they had endeavoured to come to the relief of the party of which Burke and Wills were at the head. However successful they might have been in that expedition they could have been of very little service to Burke and Wills, for it would have been impossible to reach them in time to save their lives. He had much pleasure in seconding the resolution and in congratulating Messrs. Landsborough and McKinlay upon their safe arrival in Victoria. (Cheers.)

The resolution was put and unanimously adopted amidst cheers, as were also the resolutions subsequently proposed.

The chairman explained that Mr Landsborough, having been out of town, had not yet arrived at the meeting but was expected shortly. In the meantime he called upon Mr McKinlay to respond to the compliment which had just been paid to himself and his brother explorer. He also requested the meeting to excuse Mr McKinlay from making any statement with respect to his journey as he felt bound in the first place to communicate the particulars to the Government by whom he had been sent out.

Mr McKinlay, who was received with hearty and prolonged cheering, briefly returned thanks for the kindness which had been shown him. His journey had certainly been accomplished successfully, but it had been undertaken under very favourable circumstances and, had such not been the case, probably the result might have been very different. He felt himself compelled to refrain from stating many particulars which the public would be glad to learn, but they would no doubt be known in due course. At present he could merely express his sincere thanks for the great kindness with which he had been received that evening. (Cheers.)

Mr Wyld, Mr Poole, Mr Kirby, and Mr Davis, fellow travellers with Mr McKinlay, were severally introduced to the meeting by the chairman, and each received a cordial welcome which they duly acknowledged.

Mr Landsborough, who had in the meantime arrived, then came forward to address the meeting and was greeted with cordial and enthusiastic cheering. He was much gratified, he said, at the warm reception which he had received, and little expected that his humble services would have been acknowledged in such a public way by such an assemblage as he saw around him. He had been rather hurriedly called upon as he was unaware that the meeting was to be held that evening until his arrival from Geelong an hour or so ago. (Hear, hear.) "My friend and brother explorer," continued Mr Landsborough, "has just come in from a glorious trip from South Australia, by Carpentaria and by Port Denison. I consider his mode of exploring with livestock consisting of camels, cattle, sheep, and horses, nearly the best. To make it complete he only wanted some aborigines as trackers. This I am sure he felt on one occasion when Mr Kirby and his sheep were lost for three days. Mr McKinlay deserves the greatest credit for being the first to take sheep across the continent. The camels will yet be found of the greatest value; for it is probable that other explorers will not find water at such convenient distances as we have done, and as they can go nearly three times as far as horses without water they will be of the greatest value for searching ahead for water, and when water is once found it is very easy to take the party on, as it is generally found at distances sufficiently near to be reached by a party like that which Mr McKinlay and I had. By Burke, Walker, McKinlay, and myself six of the Carpentaria rivers have been traced. These rivers chiefly water country of a character which, although dry, is the kind that I like best for pastoral purposes. And now that my friend McKinlay has taken sheep across the continent I hope flocks and herds will soon follow, so that the fine pastures of Carpentaria, instead of lying waste, will soon become profitable not only to Australia but to the whole world." (Applause.) In conclusion Mr Landsborough intimated that he intended to publish the rest of the information which he had to communicate in the form of a pamphlet. On resuming his seat he was again warmly applauded.

Mr Bourne, the only member of Mr Landsborough's exploration party now remaining in Melbourne, was introduced to the meeting, who likewise honoured him with a round of cheers. He acknowledged the compliment in a few pertinent remarks. He would rather, he said, perform another journey through the continent of Australia than make a speech in public, and he did not seem to be singular in that opinion. On his own behalf, and that of the rest of the party to which he was attached, he begged to return thanks, and et cetera. (Laughter and applause.)

Mr Aspinall, M.L.A., proposed the second resolution:

That this meeting recognises the good services rendered by the Governments of South Australia and of Queensland in organising these contingent expeditions with a view to discover and assist the missing party under the lamented Burke and Wills.

It would only, he remarked, be a just compliment to the neighbouring colonies to adopt this resolution most heartily. (Hear, hear.) Whilst the meeting recognised these gallant men--Landsborough and McKinlay--men of heroism and enterprise, men who were an honour to their race and the colonies which they represented, they ought also to recognise in them a manifestation on the part of the neighbouring colonies of a hearty sympathy in a matter concerning the general welfare of Australia. (Applause.) While doing honour to the men themselves they ought to express their gratefulness to the Governments and the people who chose them for the work which they had performed. Those Governments were willing in a moment to aid the expedition which the Government of Victoria had sent forth and, as the result proved, they had put the right men in the right place. (Applause.) The explorers however must be regarded as the representatives of the sentiment and the feeling of the colonists who had sent them forth. In sending them forth those colonies were not influenced by any ideas of the acquisition of territory; and, whatever advantages they might have gained, their primary object was to endeavour to rescue Burke and to assist the expedition of which those unfortunate explorers were the leaders. While admiring the heroism of Messrs. Landsborough and McKinlay, let them add their tribute of admiration to the colonies which had sent them forth to do the work which they were so admirably fitted to do. (Applause.)

Mr Gillbee heartily seconded the resolution, assured that in so doing he was but expressing the sentiments of everyone present. (Applause.)

The resolution was carried unanimously.

Dr Macadam, M.L.A., proposed the third resolution which was to this effect:

That this meeting is persuaded that it is incumbent on the various Australian Governments to mark in some appropriate manner their sense of the great merits of the leaders of the contingent exploration parties, and of the important results which must flow from their discoveries; and that a copy of this resolution be forwarded for the consideration of the respective Governments.

Some difference of opinion, he said, had been manifested in reference to the manner in which the exertions of the respective explorers should be recognised. He himself had only had one opinion upon the subject, namely, that they should be recognised through the Legislatures of the respective colonies to which the explorers belonged. Although he and, he believed, the committee with which he was connected had been blamed for not sympathising materially with the subscription being raised for Mr Landsborough, he had already personally explained to Mr Landsborough his own views. It was held as a general principle that when a national good was conducted it was entitled to a national reward. (Hear, hear.) He trusted that this would remove any impression which might exist as to there being any opposition on his part, or on the part of the Exploration Committee, to the subscription which was being raised for Mr Landsborough; but, as he had already stated to Mr Landsborough and Mr McKinlay, they believed that the legislatures of the different colonies should recognise that which he thought was a greater benefit than that for which any amount of money could be spent under any other vote of the Legislature. (Applause.) He had to make one word of personal explanation in reference to the meeting. He had been somewhat blamed in The Argus of that day for having initiated, with his friend Dr Cairns, a meeting of that kind. The chairman of the meeting was also the chairman of the meeting at which it was resolved to present a testimonial to Mr Landsborough; and he was aware that this meeting originated in a spontaneous suggestion made on Friday by Dr Cairns, who thought that, while it might be convenient to the Exploration Committee to meet in an afternoon, it would be a great pleasure to the community at large to hold an evening meeting at which, instead of merely having the opportunity of recognising the explorers by their portraits in the Saturday prints, they might meet them face to face, and speak to them. (Applause.) Influenced by this suggestion he (Dr Macadam) set about to make arrangements for this meeting, and he was sorry to say that he met with considerable opposition; but he had always found that whenever a man threw himself upon the public sympathy he was never mistaken. (Hear, hear.) If the Exploration Committee had not called the meeting they would have been blamed, and he was quite prepared to see that they would receive a great amount of opposition from certain quarters. Without further remark upon this subject he would leave the correction of the error, if error he had committed ("No, no.") to a gentleman who was present at the Landsborough testimonial meeting, and who wrote the paragraph in The Argus alluded to--he would leave it to a gentleman who took a deep interest in his prospects, and who had the highest admiration of his ability; and he would refer the meeting to the Yeoman of Saturday for a full, deliberative, and calm consideration of the whole matter. He regretted the absence of the Governor from the meeting, but he would explain the reason. His Excellency instructed him to say that he had exceedingly regretted to perceive by the newspapers that that day had been fixed for the grand reception, and stated that his absence was caused by a prior engagement. Mr McKinlay had received permission to decline an invitation which he had received from the Governor that night in order that he might be present at the meeting. The fact of the invitation however showed the appreciation in which McKinlay was held by the Governor. (Applause.) In moving the resolution he had simply to state that he trusted the Governments of the respective colonies would reciprocate in an adequate manner the services which had been rendered by the explorers; he thought the gratitude of the Governments of the respective colonies should also be shown by their doing more to encourage immigration than that hitherto done. Some two years and a half ago the task of exploring the continent was commenced in Victoria and, whatever might be said derogatory to the management of the exploration, the work had been accomplished, the continent was now marked out, and it only required private enterprise to establish communication between every part of it. (Applause.)

Captain Norman, being loudly called for by the meeting, made a few remarks indicating the cordial unanimity in which he and Mr Landsborough had cooperated together, and mentioned that Monday was the anniversary of their safe arrival at Carpentaria after the wreck of the Firefly in Torres Strait.

Mr Ramsay, MLA, in seconding the resolution, expressed his full concurrence with the opinion it contained; and stated that he would do his best in his place in Parliament to support any motion for carrying it into practical effect. (Applause.)

The resolution was put and carried.

On the motion of Dr Wilkie, seconded by Captain Matthews, a vote of thanks was given to the chairman.

The chairman, in acknowledging the compliment, gave an emphatic contradiction to an opinion which, he said, he understood had been expressed in some quarters, that Landsborough and McKinlay had had tracks to guide them in their exploration journeys.

The proceedings then terminated, the meeting, in response to Dr Macadam, giving three hearty cheers for the explorers.

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