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Burke and Wills

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Rumours abounded in the coastal cities as to what lay in the country’s largely unexplored centre


As white settlement in Australia progressed, rumours abounded in the coastal cities as to what lay in the country’s largely unexplored centre.

The scores of new arrivals brought by the gold rush heard tales of an enormous inland sea, scorching heat and vicious natives. Curiosity led South Australian John McDouall Stuart to become the first of the white settlers to reach the red centre in 1860, but no team had yet crossed the continent from South to North.

Whilst South Australia and NSW were both interested in sending teams, the larger city of Melbourne wasn’t initially enthusiastic. However, increasing media interest and a large anonymous donation led to the appointment of Edmund Burke as the leader of an 1860 expedition from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria and back.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
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a1485022

Preparing to start

The people of Melbourne closely followed preparations for the journey, and the explorers’ departure from Melbourne’s Royal Park was a widely attended and celebrated affair. The camels that were brought in from overseas to accompany the explorers were a particular topic of interest to the expedition’s supporters. However, they made up only a small part of their incredible selection of provisions. 

When they set out in April 1860, the full company included 15 men, 4 camel handlers, 27 camels and 23 horses. They took over two years’ worth of provisions and an enormous amount of equipment - including a cedar-topped table and a Chinese gong.  

Documenting the journey

Amongst the expedition’s party was the European-trained illustrator William Strutt, who later compiled his sketches, paintings and photographs into two albums depicting the travels of the explorers and their team.

In addition to these albums, Strutt took four sets of stereographic photographs of the preparations for departure. Two prints of the same image taken just a few inches apart are pasted side by side onto a card. They create a 3D image when viewed together through a stereoscope viewer.

About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485049
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About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485001
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills xploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485002
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Two portrait photos of men seated with beards and 1 portrait drawing of a man
W.Wills, The Explorer / who perished at Coopers Creek / Australia. William Strutt. Artist. / drawn by his father, Wm. Thos. Strutt. and Robert Ohara Burke / The Australian Explorer.
1846-61
Strutt, William, 1825-1915
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Digital ID: 
a1485003
photographs and drawings of men in hats
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485004
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About this item: 

Mr. Howitt, the leader of the party ... / search, & relief. Sent to Cooper's Creek. 

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485006
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One drawing of people with horses and another of a group of men in with horse and buggy as an exploring party
Burke and Wills leaving Royal Park Melbourne, 1860. Photograph of pencil and watercolour drawing. Original signed lower left 'William Strutt del'. and The exploring party encamped. Annotated: Becker. Landells. Burke. Beckler. S
1846-61
Strutt, William, 1825-1915
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Digital ID: 
a1485007
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485008
View collection item detail
Group of people camped with horses
William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June1861 Encampment of the Exploring Party
1846-61
Strutt, William, 1825-1915
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a1485010
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485009
View collection item detail
Group of Indigenous Australians covering explorer Burke with bushes whilst burying him
William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861 - Burial of Burke
1846-61
Strutt, William, 1825-1915
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a1485016
Two side view drawings of men with beards
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485011
View collection item detail
2 drawings of a man kneeling down with hands on his head in front of a man lying down who has died
William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861 - Depictions of Burke's death
1846-61
Strutt, William, 1825-1915
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a1485013
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485012
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485014
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485015
View collection item detail
About this item: 

 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861 - Stereographs
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485022
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485028
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485029
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485038
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Trained as an artist in England and France, William Strutt has been described as the finest figure painter in Victoria during his residence there between 1850 and 1862. Strutt aspired to record important events in the colony in the genre of history painting, and took a keen interest in the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860-61. He made several studies of their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and followed the expedition to its first camp at Essendon. Strutt collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition's sole survivor, upon their return. The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485040
View collection item detail
William Strutt - a collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil [...] illustrating the Burke and Wills exploring expedition crossing the continent of Australia from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria Aug 1860-June 1861.
1846-61
Digital ID: 
a1485052
View collection item detail

This story has been developed with the support of the State Library of NSW Foundation.

We would like to acknowledge the generosity of Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation.