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Burke, Robert O'Hara

(01-01-1821 to 30-06-1861)


The Australian explorer Robert O
 

 

Robert Burke was born in County Galway, Ireland, the second of three sons. He served as a captain in the Australian Army until 1848, whereupon he returned to Ireland to join the Irish Mounted Constabulary. He served in the police for five years until he emigrated to Victoria in 1853.


He joined the police force in Victoria and served in Carlsruhe, Beechworth and Castlemaine. He was appointed leader of an expedition which aimed to cross Australia from south to north. The expedition left Melbourne in August 1860. Burke's explosive and inpulsive personality lead to clashes with his men and rash decisions, such as abandoning supplies which may have aided in his men's survival.


Support camps were established at Menindee and Cooper's Creek, from which Burke set out to the Gulf of Carpentaria with Wills, Gray and King. By the time the exploration party had returned to Coopers Creek four months later (after failing to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria and Gray dying), their support team had abandoned the camp, leaving supplies buried under a tree.


Burke decided to head for settled areas in South Australia with Wills and King. Tribes of Aborigines approached them, offering them food; Burke and Wills both refused and died. Approximate date of death is given as late June 1861.


A monument now stands to Burke and Wills at the corner of Sanston and Collins Street in Melbourne.