The Burke and Wills Expedition – Part 1 – Australia, the Royal Society of Victoria and Robert Burke

Robert Burke

The first episode in the Burke and Wills Expedition series provides background to the endeavor – which was an expedition to cross Australia in 1860-61. We are introduced to the organizers of the expedition – Royal Society of Victoria – and its eventual leader, Robert Burke.

People and Places

  • Robert O’Hara Burke – Irish police superintendent from Castlemaine. Will be named leader of the expedition.
  • Royal Society of Victoria – aka The Society. Scientific society based in Melbourne. They will organize the expedition.
  • Exploration Committee – The committee of the Society which oversaw the Burke and Wills Expedition.
  • Victoria Exploring Expedition (VEE) – The official name of the expedition led by Robert Burke to cross the Australian continent.
  • Sir William Stawell – Key member of the Exploration Committee, and Chief Justice of Victoria.
  • John Macadam – Secretary of the Exploration Committee.
  • John Bruce – Wealthy Australian businessman who supported Robert Burke’s bid to lead the expedition.
  • Peter Edgerton Warburton – aka Major Warburton – Police Commissioner of South Australia and candidate to lead the VEE.
  • Gustov von Tempsky – Prussian adventurer and candidate to lead the VEE.
  • George Landells – Horse trader who would bring 25 camels to Australia to be part of the upcoming expedition. Would later be named second-in-command of the VEE.
  • Charles Sturt – British soldier who would explore Australia – discovering Cooper’s Creek in 1844.
  • John McDouall Stuart – Scottish explorer who would be the chief competitor with the VEE to blaze a route across Australia.
  • Augustus Gregory – Explorer who had gone from Brisbane to Adelaide in 1858. He turned down the opportunity to lead the VEE, but recommended any expedition go to Cooper’s Creek and set up a depot – and use it as a base for striking out to the north.
  • Cooper’s Creek – River in central Australia. It is about halfway across the continent if someone is traveling between Melbourne and Gulf of Carpentaria in the north.
  • William Wills – British surveyor and astronomer who will eventually become the second-in-command of the VEE.


The map below includes the modern borders of of most of the states of Australia, however, in 1860, the interior borders were not yet established. Most of the settlements were on the coast of the continent – even in the most populated areas (in the south and east).

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