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Blog post from Tuesday, 30 June, 2015

On this day, 30th June 1861, the explorer Robert O’Hara Burke (of Burke and Wills fame), died on the banks of Cooper Creek, in inland Australia.

Robert O'Hara Burke, with William Wills, led the expedition to try to cross Australia from south to north and back again. They set out from Melbourne in August 1860, farewelled by around 15,000 people. The exploration party was very well equipped, and subsequently very large. Because of its size, the exploration party 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 at Cooper Creek which would serve to offer the necessary provisions for when the men returned from the Gulf. After several unsuccessful forays into the northern dry country from Cooper Creek, Burke decided to attempt to reach the Gulf in December 1860, regardless of the risks. He took with him Wills, Charles Gray 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. 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.

These items relating to Robert O’Hara Burke are from the collections of the State Library of New South Wales.

Series of scenes depicting various incidents in the Burke and Wills expedition, with portraits of Burke and Wills

Portrait of Robert O’Hara Burke

Inkstand made from piece of tree under which R. O'Hara Burke died, September 1861 at Innaminka Station / William Campbell