The Burke and Wills Expedition – Part 5 – Across Australia

Arrival of Burke & Wills at Flinders River by Edward Jukes Greig

In part 5 of our series Robert Burke and William Wills lead a small contingent of men from the supply depot at Cooper’s Creek and into the outback of Australia in an attempt to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria – and in the process become the first men to cross the continent. Meanwhile, William Wright will struggle to get the relief column from Menindee to Cooper’s Creek.


Map source: By Rocketfrog at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

People and Places

  • Robert O’Hara Burke – Leader of the Victorian Exploring Expedition (VEE)
  • William Wills – British surveyor and astronomer. 2nd-in-command of the expedition.
  • 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 was the chief competitor with the VEE to blaze a route across Australia.
  • Hermann Beckler – German doctor and botanist.
  • Ludwig Becker – German geologist and naturalist.
  • William Wright – Bushman who joined the VEE at Menindee.
  • John King – 22-year old ex-soldier. Selected by Burke to be part of the contingent going to the north coast.
  • Dick – Aboriginal Guide who accompanied Burke – and then Lyons – to the north.
  • Thomas McDonough – VEE member who accompanied Burke and Wills to Cooper’s Creek.
  • Charley Gray – VEE member who was selected to go with Burke and Wills to the north coast of Australia.
  • 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.
  • Selwyn Range – Rugged mountain range in the interior of Australia that the expedition would need to cross.

Select Resources

The following are some good books and links regarding the Burke and Wills Expedition.

The Dig Tree: A True Story of Bravery, Insanity, and the Race to Discover Australia’s Wild Frontier by Sarah Murgatroyd – Excellent book on the expedition.

Burke and Wills: The Triumph and Tragedy of Australia’s Most Famous by Peter FitzSimons – Another well done book on the expedition.

Burke and Wills Digital Archive – Online collection of all the original source material – as well as links to other resources – for the expedition.

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