BURKE, Robert O'Hara (1821-1861)

BURKE, Robert O'Hara (1821-1861)
was the third son of James Hardiman Burke, an officer in the British army. He was born at St Clerans, County Galway, Ireland, in 1821 and was educated partly at home and partly in Belgium. He entered the Austrian army as a cadet and reached the rank of captain, but in 1848 returned to Ireland and obtained a position in the police force. He emigrated to Australia in 1853 and became a district inspector of police. He obtained leave of absence to go to Europe to fight in the Crimean war, but arrived too late and returned to Australia in December 1856. In 1858, when he was at Castlemaine, the movement to send an exploring expedition across Australia was begun, and there was much discussion before a leader was appointed. It was not until 1860 that Burke was selected. G. J. Landells was given the second position and W. J. Wills (q.v.) the third. On 20 August 1860 the expedition left Melbourne. It included 15 other men of whom three were Asiatics in charge of the 26 camels and 28 horses. At Swan Hill Charles Gray was added to the party. At Balranald Burke discharged his foreman, Ferguson, and Gray was given his position. Menindie was reached on 23 September where, in consequence of a quarrel with his chief, Landells resigned and returned to Melbourne. Dr Beckler the medical officer also resigned. Wills was appointed to the second position and Wright to the third. The latter was an ignorant man who had been recently added to the party and proved a bad choice. Cooper's Creek, about 400 miles from Menindie, was reached on 11 November and early in December Burke resolved to make a dash for the Gulf of Carpentaria taking only Wills, King and Gray with him. William Brahe was left at Cooper's Creek in charge of a small party, with instructions not to leave unless from absolute necessity. Wright had previously gone back to Menindie with instructions to bring up further stores. He' however, did not return until it was too late.
Burke and Wills left Cooper's Creek on 16 December with six camels and one horse, and on 9 February 1861 found themselves almost on the shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The ground was too swampy to enable them to actually reach the shore, but they were close enough to be able to claim that the continent had been crossed. On 13 February they began the return journey, but wet weather made progress very slow at first and the animals gradually became weaker and weaker. Gray fell ill and died about four days before the party reached Cooper's Creek on 21 April, to find that Brahe and his men had left on the morning of that very day. Burke felt that it was hopeless for him to try to catch up with Brahe's party and decided to make south-west to Mount Hopeless, an outlying police station less than half the distance to Menindie, but the provisions gradually gave out, the remaining camel died, and they had to return to Cooper's Creek which was again reached on 30 May. They lived for some time on nardoo seed, gradually getting weaker. Both Burke and Wills died about the end of June 1861. King was befriended by aborigines and was rescued by the relief party, which had been sent out under A. W. Howitt (q.v.), on 15 September. A royal commission inquired into the circumstances, and, while not completely exonerating Brahe, found that Wright's delay was the main cause of the whole of the disasters of the expedition with the exception of the death of Gray. It found too that Burke was partly responsible, as he had given Wright an important command in the expedition without previous personal knowledge of him. It is clear that Burke had not the particular qualifications needed by a great explorer. He was a brave man but he did not show high qualities as a leader, and he was not a bushman. His tragic fate, however, has made him better known than several others of the early explorers who have better right to fame. A statue to the memory of the two explorers is at Melbourne.
Andrew Jackson, Robert O'Hara Burke; W. Wills, A Successful Exploration Through the Interior of Australia; 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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  • Robert O'Hara Burke — (6 May, 1820 or 1821 – c.28 June 1861) was an Irish soldier and police officer, who achieved fame as an Australian explorer. He was the leader of the ill fated Burke and Wills expedition, which was the first expedition to cross Australia from… …   Wikipedia

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  • Robert O'Hara Burke — Robert O Hara Burke. Robert O Hara Burke (* 1821 in St. Clerans, County Galway, Irland; † 30. Juni 1861 am Cooper Creek, South Australia) war Polizist in Melbourne. Er war der Führer der ersten Süd Nord Durchquerung Australiens von …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Robert O’Hara Burke — Robert O’Hara Burke. Robert O’Hara Burke (* 1821 in St. Clerans, County Galway, Irland; † 30. Juni 1861 am Cooper Creek, South Australia) war Polizist in Melbourne. Er war der Führer der ersten Süd Nord Durchquerung Australiens von Me …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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