Brief history

In the 1850s the Gold Rush in the newly-formed colony of Victoria turned Melbourne into one of the richest cities in the world. It was the height of the Victorian Era, a time full of confidence and of an explosion of interest in science and discovery. In this decade Melbourne acquired a host of public buildings, a University, a Public Library, a Museum, a Herbarium, gas lighting in the streets and its first telegraph and railway lines. In 1854 the Philosophical Institute was founded, later to become the Royal Society of Victoria.

Settlement had extended throughout Victoria, and the new colony was hungry for new land and a place in the race to explore the outback. In 1857 the Philosophical Institute appointed an Exploration Committee. In August 1858 Ambrose Kyte’s anonymous offer of £1000 toward exploration was announced in the Melbourne Argus, an Exploration Fund Raising Committee was established and a decision made to import camels into Australia.  By the end of 1859, the Philosophical Institute had received a Royal Charter and become the Royal Society of Victoria, and had moved into its newly built premises in La Trobe Street. 1859 was also the year of publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

In January 1860 the Exploration Committee produced its fourth quarterly progress report and a special report. Over £3000 had been raised and the time had come for action: the Committee was determined that the Victorian Exploring Expedition would be the first to cross the continent from South to North. Fund-raising and organisation of the Expedition began in earnest and events unfolded as described in more detail below. If you prefer pictures to words, try the graphical timeline of all the events from fundraising to the funeral.

Thanks to Dave Phoenix, President, Burke and Wills Historical Society, for providing the historical data. For more information see the links on the “Explore other sites” page.