The Burke and Wills Expedition – Part 2 – Preparation and Departure

Nicholas Chevalier, “Memorandum of the Start of the Exploring Expedition”

In part 2 of our series, Robert Burke and the Exploration Committee hire men for the Victorian Exploring Expedition (VEE), including William Wills – who will serve the expedition’s surveyor, meteorologist, and astronomer. The VEE, consisting of 19 men, 26 camels, 23 horse, six wagons, and 200 tons of supplies, then prepares to depart Melbourne in August of 1860. The goal is to be the first men to cross the Australian continent.

People and Places

  • Robert O’Hara Burke – Leader of the Victorian Exploring Expedition (VEE)
  • George Landells – Horse trader who brought 25 camels to Australia, and second-in-command of the VEE.
  • William Wills – British surveyor and astronomer who was named as third-in-command of the VEE.
  • Victoria Exploring Expedition (VEE) – The official name of the expedition led by Robert Burke to cross the Australian continent.
  • John McDouall Stuart – Scottish explorer who would be the chief competitor with the VEE to blaze a route across Australia.
  • Hermann Beckler – German doctor and botanist of the expedition.
  • Ludwig Becker – German. Expedition’s geologist and naturalist.
  • Captain Francis Cadell – Steamship owner and member of the Exploration Committee. Offered to take the company’s supplies by boat to Menindee.
  • Julia Matthews – 18 year old actress who Burke had fallen in love with.
  • 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. About 750 miles from Melbourne.
  • Menindee – Most northerly outpost on the route of the VEE in their trek across Australia. About 400 miles from Melbourne.
  • Gulf of Carpentaria – The most direct route from Victoria to the northern coast of Australia – roughly a 1500 mile journey across the continent.


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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