Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/63

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49
THE STORY OF BURKE AND WILLS.

to take the leadership of the contemplated exploring expedition. No expense was spared in the equipment of the expedition, and on August 20th, 1860, the brave little band, with the soldierly figure of Burke riding in the van, left Melbourne, amidst the acclamations of the populace, to penetrate the mysteries of the interior. On arriving at Cooper's Creek, the farthest point in a due northerly direction that previous explorers were able to attain, Burke determined to establish a depot to act as a sort of base of operations, on which he could fall back in the event of insurmountable obstacles opposing his progress through the thousand miles of country to which his face was turned, and on which no white man's foot had yet been placed. Leaving this depot in charge of Mr. Brahe and a small party, Burke chose three companions. Wills, King and Gray (the latter two compatriots of his own) and, with the characteristic impetuosity of the Irish soldier, made a bold dash into the unexplored regions ahead. Had he been less enthusiastic in his enterprise, and less eager to earn the distinction of being the first man to cross the continent, the terrible series of disasters that enshrouded the close of an otherwise signally successful expedition would, in all human probability, have been averted. But Burke's ardent impulsiveness was not solely responsible for the calamitous close of this great event in Australian history. The exploration committee sitting in Melbourne, who should have sent a vessel round to the north of the continent to meet the explorers after they had finished their hazardous enterprise, did not do so until it was too late to be of any practical service. The result was that when Burke, Wills, King and Gray stood as victors on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, on February 4th, 1861, none of their countrymen were present