WILLS, William John (1834-1861)

WILLS, William John (1834-1861)
was born at Totnes, Devonshire, England, on 5 January 1834, the son of William Wills a surgeon. He was educated at a grammar school at Ashburton. Early in 1852 he began studying medicine but later in the year sailed with a brother to Australia. He had first some experience on the land, then began studying surveying, and in 1857 was in charge of a field party. In November 1858 he received an appointment at the Melbourne observatory. He was making good progress as an astronomer, but in the middle of 1860 was given the third position in the Burke (q.v.) and Wills exploring expedition. He had not sought this, having joined as surveyor and astronomer. On the defection of Landells, the second in command, he was given his position. An account of their journey and successful crossing of the continent will be found under Burke, Robert O'Hara. Wills proved himself to be a most loyal lieutenant to his leader, and it is to his diary that we owe our knowledge of what occurred. Burke was a man of 40, used to authority, while Wills was only 27, and though a better bushman was disinclined to press his views too much. When Burke and his two companions returned to Cooper's Creek, Wills wished to take the track towards Menindie which would have been by far the better course. He, however, loyally went with Burke to the south-west, and after suffering great hardships died after their return to Cooper's Creek about the end of June 1861.
Wills was a man of fine character and great courage as his last letter to his father shows. Had Burke taken his advice at Cooper's Creek in all probability the three explorers would have been saved. In addition to the statue by Summers (q.v.) in memory of the two explorers near parliament house, Melbourne, there is a monument to Wills at Totnes, Devonshire.
W. Wills, A Successful Exploration through the Interior of Australia; Andrew Jackson, Robert O'Hara Bourke; The Exploring Expedition, Diary of Burke and Wills, Howitt's Journal and Dispatches, Melbourne, The Age Office; F. Clune, Dig.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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