Robert O'Hara Burke, William Wills and party set out from Melbourne on 21 Aug 1860, sponsored by the state of Victoria, to be the first to cross Australia from south to north. The neighboring state of South Australia sponsored a 2000 pound prize for the feat, and also sponsored their rival, John McDouall Stuart. Burke and Wills were first to the Indian Ocean, but didn't live to claim the prize. Australian actor Jack Thompson will be part of an expedition, leaving Aug 20, that retraces the route.
The Royal Society of Victoria headquarters in Melbourne, one of the oldest and most significant buildings in the city, where Burke and Wills took final instructions on Aug 21 from their sponsors, the Royal Society of Victoria committee, has been renovated for the anniversary. After the expedition, Burke and Wills' coffins lay in an elaborate shrine in the society's hall for two weeks in Jan 1863. The Age newspaper reported that 86,000 mourners filed past. More than 40 events will mark the 150th anniversary, and the Royal Society of Victoria, which is sponsoring the 2010 expedition, will also publish a book analyzing the 1860 explorers' scientific results. The expedition was the best outfitted and most expensive of its kind. Camels, well suited for the central Australian deserts, were brought over from India. They reached their goal, but desperately short of supplies and separated from members of their party on the way back, Burke and Wills are believed to have travelled in circles and lived on a diet of grass seed and rats. They died of starvation in late June 1861. Stuart and party left Adelaide on 26 Oct 1861 and reached the Indian Ocean on 24 Jul 1862. His feat is celebrated each year by descendents of the original party. (Last updated Dec/09)
Date written/update: 2010-08-21