Galway to honour 150th anniversary of Burke and Wills expedition

Robert O’Hara Burke

Robert O’Hara Burke

A brave Galway explorer who dared to venture into the harsh terrain of the Australian bush 150 years ago is to be honoured this weekend at City Hall and at the Galway City Museum.

To help mark the 150th anniversary, Australian ambassador Mr Bruce Davis will also visit the city as part of a drive to build better links with Ireland, and will join Mayor Michael Crowe in a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall on Friday at 12 noon.

The Galway City Museum will also host a talk by adventurer Dermot Somers and historian William Henry this Saturday at 1pm on the subject of the ill-fated exploration of Australia that was led by Galway native Robert O’Hara Burke.

In June 1860, Burke was appointed to lead the Victorian Exploring Expedition with Englishman John Wills as surveyor and astonomical observer. The expedition left Melbourne on Monday, August 20 1860, with a total of 19 men, 27 camels, and 23 horses. Throughout the trek the group of men, inexperienced in the bush, encountered treacherous weather and extreme environmental conditions, with stifling heat giving way to flooding rains and swamps.

The exploration was the first successful crossing of Australia from south to north by Europeans; however, the return journey proved too much as the band of explorers had by that time been considerably weakened by starvation and exposure. Seven of the 19 explorers died over the course of nine months. Burke and Wills died at Cooper Creek in 1861.

It is believed that Burke was born either in St Clerans, Co Galway, or in the city itself around 1821 and was baptised in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. He lived for part of his childhood with his family in Dominick Street. His varied career took him from the British army to the Imperial Austrian army to the Mounted Irish Constabulary to the Melbourne Police.

Following the flag-raising ceremony at City Hall on Friday, there will be a visit to St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church to view an extract of the baptismal register, before a tour of the city taking in a viewing of a plaque in honour of Burke at his former home in Dominick Street and a visit to the City Museum where the Nigel Havers and Greta Scacchi film, Burke and Wills, will be screened.

A few years ago Irish explorer Dermot Somers took on the challenge of completing Burke’s journey across the continent of Australia and his experiences are captured in the TG4 documentary, Craiceann Gael, Croí Dorcha which will be shown at the museum this week. Somers will be joined at the free talk this Saturday by local historian William Henry who published the book The Shimmering Waste - The Life and Times of Robert O’Hara Burke last year.


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