Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills led an expedition of 18 men with the intention of crossing Australia from Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, a distance of around 2,800 kilometres across largely unsettled lands. The expedition set off from Royal Park, Melbourne at about 4pm on August 20, 1860, watched by a crowd about 15,000 strong.
The 19 men of the expedition included five Englishmen, six Irishmen, four Indian sepoys, three Germans and an American. They took twenty-three horses, six wagons and twenty-seven camels.
The party arrived at what would become known as the “Dig Tree” on December 6, 1860. Some of the party stayed behind, while Burke, Wills and another man named King pushed on. Those who stayed behind planned to wait for 13 weeks. In the event, they stayed for 18 weeks, finally departing on Sunday 21 April 1861.
The three men returned only 9 hours later. Over the next few weeks, the two parties missed each other several more times. Although King found a tribe of Yandruwandha willing to give him food and shelter and in return he shot birds to contribute to their supplies, Burke and Wills both died at the Dig Tree. The exact date of their death is unknown and different dates are given on various memorials in Victoria. The Exploration Committee fixed June 28, 1861 as the date both explorers died.
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