Across the Australian Desert
Robert O'Hara Burke (1821-1861) was one of the great Victorian explorers. In 1860 he was appointed to lead the Victorian Exploring Expedition, which aimed to cross the Australian continent from south to north. The expedition left Melbourne on Monday, 20 August 1860 with a total of 19 men, 27 (rum fuelled) camels and 23 horses. The expedition was dogged by disputes and poor leadership decisions from the start. Even at the first staging post the second in command and the medical officer resigned. Burke left groups of men, horses and camels at staging posts along the way to provide a supply chain of provisions for the return journey. However the supply chain was poorly managed and provisions ran low.The small team of Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray set off on an impetuous dash for the northern coast and reached the mangroves on the estuary of the Flinders River, near where the town of Normanton now stands, on the 9th of February 1861.Weakened by starvation and exposure, progress on the return journey was slow and hampered by the tropical monsoon downpours. Gray died four days before they reached the staging point at Cooper's Creek. The other three rested for a day when they buried him. They finally reached the meeting point on 21 April 1861, 9 hours after the rest of the party had given up waiting and left, leaving a note and some food, as they had not been relieved by the party supposed to be arriving from base camp.The final three made a valiant attempt to find their way back from the desert, and despite much help given to them by local Aborigines, by the time a search party arrived, there was only one survivor left of the original party.