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In Search of Burke and Wills : The Story of William Landsborough, Queensland's Forgotten Explorer

By Gordon Landsborough

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Book Id: WPLBN0100000481
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Title: In Search of Burke and Wills : The Story of William Landsborough, Queensland's Forgotten Explorer  
Author: Gordon Landsborough
Language: English
Subject: Non Fiction, History, Australian explorer, William Landsborough
Collections: Biographies, Authors Community, Medicine, Most Popular Books in China, Science
Publication Date:
Publisher: Self-published
Member Page: Diana Cornwell


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Landsborough, M. G. (2017). In Search of Burke and Wills : The Story of William Landsborough, Queensland's Forgotten Explorer. Retrieved from

Everyone has heard of the explorers Burke and Wills, who died when attempting to cross the Australian continent in 1861, but few will know of William Landsborough, a quiet unassuming man who in the middle of the 19th century explored and opened up vast areas of land in north-eastern Australia to settlement and farming.He was considered such a good bushman and explorer that he was chosen to lead one of the four search parties sent out to look for Burke and Wills in 1861. In the process of this search he became the first man to cross Australia from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne. Adding even more interest to this already fascinating story, is the account of William’s boat trip north to the Gulf of Carpentaria to commence the search, during which he survived shipwreck and mutiny on one of the Barrier Reef islands. In his day, Landsborough’s exploits were fêted but now he is largely unknown, ironically perhaps because he was such a capable bushman and explorer that he lived to tell the tale.

Life of Australian explorer William Landsborough who was well known in the 1850s-1860s for his exploits in opening up Queensland to settlement and was chosen in 1862 to lead one of the search parties for the explorers Burke and Wills who had not returned from their expedition to cross Australia from south to north in 1861. In the process of this he became the first person to cross Australia from north to south.

The tragic story of the Burke and Wills expedition is now part of Australian folklore and we know the sad irony that by the time that the relief parties set out, only one member of Burke’s party, John King, was still alive. But in 1861, with none of the rapid means of communication we now enjoy, all the people of Victoria knew was that the explorers were long overdue on their return trip to the Gulf of Carpentaria. In 1860, Victoria and South Australia were involved in a race to achieve the prestige of the first crossing of the Australian continent from south to north. There was intense interest among the populace of the southern states in what lay in the unexplored country to the north of the settled areas, and when proposals to send a party to cross the unmapped interior were announced, it caused great excitement. Both states were planning to send an expedition but it was the Victorian one, led by Burke and Wills that was the first to set off in August 1860, in what amounted to a triumphal procession through the streets of Melbourne, past thousands of flag waving and cheering citizens. Burke, a former police-superintendent, a man with no background as an explorer and with little experience as a bushman, unexpectedly had been selected to lead Victoria’s expedition to find an overland route from the south coast of Australia to the north. Supremely outfitted, with no expense spared, he had struggled with his unwieldy baggage train, his followers at loggerheads with each other, until Cooper’s Creek was reached. Then, though it was December and the hottest time of the year, Burke and three men had plunged off on their own in a bid to make a fast crossing of the unexplored interior of the continent, to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Since that time no word had come out of the interior regarding the fate of the four men and, when they hadn’t returned by June 1861, pressure grew on the Royal Society and the Government of Victoria to send out a search party to look for the explorers. The Melbourne Argus championed the cause until the Government of Victoria finally agreed to fund it. In the end it was decided to send not one, but four parties to search for the lost explorers. In July 1961, Victoria dispatched a party from Melbourne, led by the immensely capable explorer, A.W. Howitt, with orders to follow Burke’s route to Cooper’s Creek and beyond. The South Australian Government sent a party headed by the giant Scot, John McKinlay, who was a bushman of almost legendary prowess. He was instructed to ride from Adelaide to Cooper’s Creek and then continue north along Burke’s trail. He set out in August 1861. Queensland was asked to participate because of its geographical location and it eagerly responded, agreeing to send two search parties, one to travel inland from Rockhampton to the Gulf of Carpentaria, looking for the tracks of the lost explorers, and there meeting up with a second search party, which would have been taken by ship around to the Gulf. The second party would travel inland, south along what was anticipated would have been the route taken by Burke and Wills. The first Queensland expedition was to be led by a hardy and resourceful bushman named Frederick Walker, a man who had already explored many thousands of miles of Queensland territory. The second Queensland expeditionary party would be led by William Landsborough who, as one of the best known and respected of Australian explorers, with many thousands of miles of exploration already to his credit, was an automatic choice when the Queensland Government discussed the leadership of the rescue operations.

Table of Contents
Foreword: xi Chapter 1: In Search of Burke and Wills 1 Chapter 2: The Making of an Explorer 8 Chapter 3: Explorations in Queensland 22 Chapter 4: The Wreck of the Firefly 38 Chapter 5: Sharks and Mutiny 51 Chapter 6: Around Cape York to the Gulf 60 Chapter 7: The Wait for Walker to Arrive 69 Chapter 8: The First Expedition to Mt Stuart 78 Chapter 9: Back at the Gulf 92 Chapter 10: The Second Expedition Commences 100 Chapter 11: The Search for Water and Food Becomes Desperate 111 Chapter 12: Awaiting Instructions on the Warrego 120 Chapter 13: A Hero’s Welcome 129 Chapter 14: Marriage and Financial Ruin 138 Chapter 15: A Return to the Gulf 147 Chapter 16: False Accusations and Dismissal 164 Chapter 17: Further Accusations and New Found Wealth 176 Chapter 18: A Happy Ending 181 Appendix : 207 Acknowledgements: 209


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