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Australian History

December 16, 1860 – Burke and Wills make the fateful decision to push on to the Gulf from Cooper Creek


Burke and Wills

Burke and Wills

Robert O’Hara Burke and William Wills led the expedition that was intended to bring fame and prestige to Victoria: being the first Europeans to cross Australia from south to north and back again.

They set out on Monday, 20 August 1860, leaving from Royal Park, Melbourne, and farewelled by around 15,000 people. The exploration party was very well equipped, and the cost of the expedition almost 5,000 pounds.

Because of the size of the exploration party, it was split at Menindee so that Burke could push ahead to the Gulf of Carpentaria with a smaller party.

The smaller group went on ahead to establish the depot which would serve to offer the necessary provisions for when the men returned from the Gulf.

On November 20, Burke and Wills first reached Cooper Creek.

From here, they made several shorter trips to the north, but were forced back each time by waterless country and extreme temperatures.

On 16 December 1860, Burke decided to push on ahead to the Gulf, regardless of the risks. He took with him Wills, Charles Grey and John King.

The expedition to the Gulf took longer than Burke anticipated: upon his return to Cooper Creek, he found that the relief party had left just seven hours earlier, less than the amount of time it had taken to bury Gray, who had died on the return journey.

Through poor judgement, lack of observation and a series of miscommunications, Burke and Wills never met up with the relief party.

They perished on the banks of Cooper Creek.

King alone survived to lead the rescue party to the remains of Burke and Wills, and the failure of one of the most elaborately planned expeditions in Australia’s history.

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