Burke & Wills Web
The online digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020

Seventh & Final Report, 1863.

Progress Reports and Final Report of the Exploration Committee of the Royal Society of Victoria.
Melbourne: Royal Society of Victoria. Mason & Firth Printers.

Drawn up by Drs Wilkie, Mueller and Macadam.
Adopted, after amendment, by the Exploration Committee on the 17th August.
Received at an Ordinary Meeting of the Royal Society of Victoria on 31st August 1863.

Having at length brought their labours to a close, the Exploration Committee have he honor to submit the following report, supplementary to and completing those which have proceeded it.

The return of the various parties under the command of Mr William Landsborough, Mr Frederick Walker, Mr John McKinlay and Mr Alfred William Howitt, since the issue of the Committee's last report has relieved them of the anxiety then felt for the safety of those travellers, and it is gratifying to the Committee to contemplate the wide extent of' geographical discoveries which have been ac­complished by enterprises originating in Victoria, and which must conduce to the settlement of the Australian territory.

Mr Frederick Walker advanced on a new line, west of the tributaries of the Burdekin River, to the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria and discovered Burke's tracks on the Flinders River, and returned from Commander Norman's Depot at Albert River to Port Denison, thus contributing largely to our knowledge of the country lying between the River Burdekin and the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Committee would be unmindful of their duty were they to pass in silence the valuable services rendered by Captain Mayne, Auditor-General of' New South Wales, in organising Mr Walker's Expedition.

Mr W Landsborough, after attempting to reach Stuart's route, on a SW course from the Albert River, as recorded in the Committee's last report, proceeded, although but scantily equipped, to the Flinders River, with a view of tracing the course of our unfortunate explorers. Though unsuccessful in this attempt, which under any circumstances would have been too late to succour the objects of his search, Mr Landsborough performed a brilliant achievement in the discovery of a well­ grassed and watered country, composed for the most part of rich pastoral land, extending along the waters of the Flinders to the dividing range and thence along the Thomson from its source to the Victoria River or Barcoo, and thence to the Warrego and Darling. Proceeding finally to Melbourne, he has opened up a new and most favorable line of overland communication from the northern to the southern shores.

Of the zeal evinced by Commander Norman, in bringing his responsible mission to a successful issue, notwithstanding the wreck of the "Firefly" on Sir Charles Hardy's Island the Exploration Com­mittee cannot speak in too high terms of praise. That gallant officer returned in April 1862, and the recognition of his services was appro­priately expressed at a public meeting at which also Mr Ambrose Kyte, the generous donor of £1000 to the Exploration Fund, and Mr A W Howitt, the Leader of the Depot Party, received well earned tributes of gratitude from our community.

The latter gentleman has performed the mournful duty of con­veying the remains of the lamented Burke and Wills to a permanent and honored resting-place in our city; and the universal homage paid to those immortal men, expressed during the solemn ceremony of their public funeral may be regarded as a spontaneous acknowledgment of their heroism, as sincere, if not so lasting, as that by which the State intends to perpetuate, in noble monuments, the memory of these great explorers.

Mr Howitt, whilst awaiting the return of Messrs. Landsborough and Walker, and maintaining the Depot at Cooper's Creek, has rendered not unimportant additions to the geography of central Australia in exploratory excursions the country N and NW from Cooper's Creek and has established from thence a safe and comparatively short line of communication to the Northern Settlements of the Colony of South Australia. Mr Howitt discovered, moreover, a new track over the large expanse of country intervening between the Darling and Cooper's Creek, via Mount Murchison.

It would be unjust to omit, in this report, a brief allusion to the skilfully and successfully conducted expedition of Mr Mckinlay, which originated in the honorable desire of the Government and colonists of South Australia to participate in the endeavors, then making, to afford succour to the Victorian explorers. Mr McKinlay, in an ably conducted journey, crossed the Continent from Cooper's Creek to the Gulf of Carpentaria partially to the eastward, partially to the westward of Burke and Wills track - driving for the first time, sheep overland to the Northern shores and returning in safety with his companions from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the coast settlements of Queensland. In this remark­able journey Mr McKinlay encountered, in Central Australia, extensive floods which, whilst to a certain extent promoting his progress over some otherwise waterless tracts of country, exposed his party, in the depressions of the interior to imminent danger.

The Committee cannot conclude their work without alluding, in terms of special gratification, to the munificent spirit in which the Legislature and people of this Colony have supplied the requisite funds for the prosecution of' the great enterprise now terminated. If, to the sums disbursed in the actual work of Exploration, be added the amount (£5000) expended in the purchase of camels, and the outlay incurred in sending the steam sloop Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria, a total will be arrived at of something like £35,000 (thirty-five thousand pounds) applied to the purposes of geographical discovery. Nor was this munificence stimulated by any mercenary aims, or by any expectations, however remote, of material advantages to accrue from the exploration of the interior of Australia. It was not generally conjectured, and it certainly could not have been foreseen that all the preconceived theories of the sterility of the centre of this Continent would prove to be at variance with the actual facts, and that vast areas of pastoral or cultivable territory would be found to exist, in regions hitherto supposed to be arid deserts.

It is scarcely within the province of this Committee to pronounce an opinion upon the political appropriation of the territory thus discovered, but they conceive that they will not be exceeding their duty in dwelling with some emphasis upon the sacrifices of life and treasure which the colony of Victoria has incurred in promoting the exploration of the interior; and that they are justified in expressing a hope that those circumstances will be brought under the notice of the imperial Government, so that the colony which has "borne the heat and burden of the day" may not be overlooked when the apportionment of Burke's Land comes under the consideration of Her Majesty's advisers in England.

The Committee have annexed a brief financial statement of their honorary Treasurer, showing approximately the total expenditure incurred by the various expeditions despatched under their direction by the Victorian Government. This statement, however, does not include the sum of £500 (five hundred pounds sterling) voted by the Legislature of Queensland towards the outfit of Mr Landsborough's party, in response to a request made to the Government of that colony for co­operation in an expedition to be conducted through unexplored portions of their own territory. Mr Landsborough's party was, by the desire of the Exploration Committee, and with the concurrence of this Government, organised for more speedy action in Queensland.

Before closing their labors, it is incumbent on the Committee to express their grateful acknowledgements to His Excellency, Sir Henry Barkly, KCB &C, the Governor of Victoria, for the readiness and zeal with which His Excellency gave his valuable assistance to the Com­mittee, and for the timely advice which he placed at their disposal.

The Committee have also pleasure in recording with gratitude, the generous support to the Victorian Expeditions by successive Administrations and by the votes of the Legislature.

The Hon Richard Heales granted at once, when the perilous position of the original Victorian Expedition was anticipated, the auxiliary use of the steam sloop Victoria, and approved also of the extra expenditure incurred in fitting out Mr Landsborough's Expedition.

The same earnest cooperation was also afforded to the Committee by the Hon John O'Shanassy, whose interest in the work of Exploration was signified by the strenuous efforts which he made to procure the requisite number of camels, and by his foresight of the Political advan­tages which might accrue to the Colony of Victoria from the issue of the proposed Explorations.

The Committee, in concluding this necessarily brief statement, beg to refer for an account of their previous labors to their former reports, and for details of the Explorations to the full accounts, circulated long since through the press.

Fully persuaded that the unavoidably protracted maintenance of three distinct parties in the field, has involved the Government of Victoria in a far greater expenditure than was originally contemplated, and deeply deploring the sacrifice of so many lives by which the achievements of our explorers were effected, the Committee feel that the gloomy reflections, arising from the contemplation of the mournful losses which the Expedition sustained, will be mitigated by the conviction that to the Victorian Expedition is due the honor of having opened the first overland route from the Southern and Eastern Colonies to the Gulf of Carpentaria; that the superiority of camels as animals of burden for traversing the more arid parts of the interior has been clearly demonstrated; that, by the peaceful conquests of our explorers, immense additions have been made to the map of the Australian continent and that the conjectured existence of a great Central Desert of Australia has been partially, if not altogether, disproved.

The Committee have not thought it necessary to enter upon any further vindication of their conduct from the aspirations which have been cast upon it, believing that it would be premature to do so. When time shall have effaced those personal prejudices against which all public men have to contend, and shall have rectified the hasty opinions of the imperfectly informed and the rash judgments of the inconsiderate, justice will be done, both to the motives and the actions of the Committee. A calm review of the circumstances under which it was appointed, the novel duties it was called upon to perform and the grave exigencies with which it had to deal, will serve to show that if an absolute immunity from error was impossible, the censure which was imputed to the Committee was, in most due to persons removed from their control. The disasters which befell the Burke and Wills Expedition created a strong and painful feeling in the public mind. That feeling, sought to relieve itself by expression. Grief was ineffectual, and indignation demanded an object. None presented itself at the moment but the Exploration Committee, which was condemned without the opportunity of a trial, and denounced without the opportunity of defence.

That posterity will reverse a decision which was as precipitate as it was unjust, the Exploration Committee confidently expect. All the materials for arriving at a just, deliberate and impartial decision are to be found in the records of their proceedings and in the various reports to which the present is a sequel; and they relinquish labors ;- which have been arduous and protracted in themselves and glorious in their results, with the calm consciousness that those labors have been conducted in a zealous and disinterested spirit, have been persevered in, in the face of obloquy misrepresentation and detraction, and will be fund to have conduced most materially to the honor of Victoria and the advantage of the British race.

William F Stawell,
Chairman of the Exploration Committee.
20th August, 1863.

Summary of the expenditure incurred by the Exploration Committee on account of the various Victorian Exploring Expeditions, to the 30th June 1863;

Burke and Wills Expedition

Outfit (see Appendix No 2)
4, 510 -
02 -
-do- General expenditure
5, 535 -
11 -
10, 045 -
14 -
Howitt's Expedition
4, 975 -
14 -
Landsborough's -do-
3, 746 -
03 -
Walker's -do-
3, 242 -
07 -
1, 180 -
16 -
Funeral of Burke & Wills
-,749 -
03 -
Unpaid claims and accounts
2, 200 -
00 -
26, 139 -
19 -

This does not include the £5000 expended in the purchase of camels, nor the outlay incurred by the Victorian Government in sending HM Steam Ship Victoria and transports to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

David E Wilkie MLC,
Treasurer of the Exploration Committee.


www.burkeandwills.net.au Burke & Wills Web The digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020, Dave Phoenix