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Burke and Wills

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Burke and Wills

The Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition

Edited by:
EB Joyce   The University of Melbourne
DA McCann   The University of Melbourne

Colour illustrations
368 pages, 245 x 170 mm
Publisher: CSIRO PUBLISHING


    Hardback - 2011
ISBN: 9780643103320 - AU $ 59.95

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This book challenges the common assumption that little or nothing of scientific value was achieved during the Burke and Wills expedition.

The Royal Society of Victoria initiated the Victorian Exploring Expedition as a serious scientific exploration of hitherto unexplored regions of inland and northern Australia. Members of the expedition were issued with detailed instructions on scientific measurements and observations to be carried out, covering about a dozen areas of science. The tragic ending of the expedition meant that most of the results of the scientific investigations were not reported or published. Burke and Wills: The Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition rectifies this historic omission.

It reveals for the first time the true extent and limits of the scientific achievements of both the Burke and Wills expedition and the various relief expeditions which followed.

 
 
Listen to an interview on Radio 6PR Perth with one of the editors Bernie Joyce.


Press play arrow to start
 
Read an article in the Courier-Mail about the legacy of the ill-fated journey.
Read an article in The Age about the book.
Listen to an interview on Bush Telegraph with chapter author Linden Gillbank.
Listen to an interview with the authors on 2UE and 4BC.
 

 This book challenges the common assumption that little or nothing of scientific value was achieved during the Burke and Wills expedition.

The Royal Society of Victoria initiated the Victorian Exploring Expedition as a serious scientific exploration of hitherto unexplored regions of inland and northern Australia. Members of the expedition were issued with detailed instructions on scientific measurements and observations to be carried out, covering about a dozen areas of science. The tragic ending of the expedition meant that most of the results of the scientific investigations were not reported or published. Burke and Wills: The Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition rectifies this historic omission.

It includes the original instructions as well as numerous paintings and drawings, documents the actual science undertaken as recorded in notebooks and diaries, and analyses the outcomes. It reveals for the first time the true extent and limits of the scientific achievements of both the Burke and Wills expedition and the various relief expeditions which followed.

Importantly, this new book has led to a re-appraisal of the shortcomings and the successes of the journey. It will be a compelling read for all those interested in the history of exploration, science and natural history, as well as Australian history and heritage.

 

 
  • The book draws extensively on material held in the State Library of Victoria's collection. This includes the original instructions from Macadam to members of the expedition, the sketchbooks of Becker, Beckler and Strutt, and Wills' fieldbooks.
  • The book will lead to a re-appraisal of the successes of the journey.
  • Published in association with the State Library of Victoria and the Royal Society of Victoria.
 

 Conflicting priorities: exploration, science, politics and personal ambition
William John Wills as scientist
Geology, soils and landscapes of the expedition route
The botanical legacy of Ferdinand Mueller and Hermann Beckler
Zoology: an encounter with the fauna of Australia's unique arid environment
Hydrologic insights of inland Australia
Meteorology: a remarkable set of early inland observations
The space between: Aboriginal people, the Victorian Exploring Expedition and the relief parties
Conclusion: rewriting history

View the full table of contents.
 

 
  • Historians of science and natural history
  • Historians of nineteenth century Victoria
  • Burke and Wills fanatics
  • Those interested in Australian heritage, and Victoria's heritage in particular
  • Cartographers
 

 "As well as contributing to the historiography of 'Burke and Wills', the volume is valuable as an example of how old records can be used to address current scientific topics. It is attractive, has a reasonable index, and non-specialists interested in the place of this expedition in Australian legend could benefit from most chapters."
Arthur Lucas, Reviews in Australian Studies, 2013

"The book is beautifully illustrated throughout with paintings and drawings (most by Becker) and photos of plants and animals collected and now in museums. This is a very fine book which redresses the imbalance between the hype and what was actually achieved by the Victorian Exploring Expedition. Well done, Joyce and McCann, for bringing it all together and also to the authors of each chapter for highlighting the achievements of the scientists of the Burke and Wills expedition, who0 made such a lasting and important contribution to the body of knowledge about the natural history of the interior of Australia."
Anne Morton, The Victorian Naturalist, p. 122, June 2012

"This handsome, beautifully illustrated volume is a tribute to the dedication of the editors, Bernie Joyce and Doug McCann, and to the enthusiastic additional thirteen authors. This is a long overdue work, beautifully produced, and is a credit to the authors and the powers behind them. Anyone interested in the history of Australian exploration and the history of science in Australia will find much to learn and enjoy."
David Branagan, The Australian Geologist, No. 163, June 2012

"This book is remarkable for its scope and thoroughness. This beautifully produced book is a monument to the efforts of the expedition's scientists and a tribute to their idealism, dedication, and powers of endurance as well as a scholarly account of what they achieved."
Geoff Hiller, Melbourne Club Newsletter, Library Acquisitions, May 2012

"This is a beautifully produced book, illustrated throughout with contemporary paintings and sketches, maps, and photographs of botanical specimens, all presented in full colour; the black and white photographs of significant individuals are excellently reproduced. Perhaps most importantly, the index is comprehensive and includes both scientific and common names for the many mentioned genera and species. Burke & Wills: The Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition is a significant addition to the history of scientific endeavour in Australia."
Gary Presland, Historical Records of Australian Science, Volume 23 Number 1

"Overall this is an excellent account of the long-neglected scientific results of the Victorian Exploration Expedition, illustrated by original and contemporary material, and bringing together diaries and reports which otherwise would be difficult to access. Its wide coverage will appeal equally to scientists, historians and the general public."
Beth Gott, Australasian Systematic Botany Society Newsletter 150, March 2012

"I commend two of this year's books which, so far, I have not heard discussed. One is Burke & Wills: The Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Edition, a most scholarly book edited by E.B. Joyce and D.A. McCann. It is fascinating; nearly all experts have said that they left no scientific legacy, but this book shows how much the explorers and their team discovered."
Geoffrey Blainey, Australian Book Review 'Books of the Year', Dec 2011- Jan 2012, No 337

"The publicity for this outstanding collection of papers suggests that on the 150th anniversary of their public demise, the achievements of the Burke and Wills expedition are at last being "rediscovered". This is not an exaggeration. As Frank Leahy writes, while awaiting a lonely death on Cooper Creek, William John Wills "may have found some solace in the thought that he would be written about as a 'scientist' 150 years later".
Robert Willson, Canberra Times, 11 February 2012

"More than a long-awaited journal describing the wealth of scientific information collected by the expedition, McCann and Joyce’s heroic efforts lay a solid foundation of fact onto the popular accounts of this fascinating chapter of Australian colonial history. "
Heather Catchpole, COSMOS Magazine, Issue 44 Apr/May 2012

"A compelling read for anyone interested in science and natural history, as well as Australian colonial heritage."
4 X 4 Australia, January, 2012

"We can choose from geology, zoology, hydrology, meteorology and anthropology, or read the lot, as a collection of deeply rewarding and unexpectedly lyrical socio-scientific texts… this book is even larger and more moving than the sum of its parts."
Evelyn Juers, Weekend Australian, 19-Nov-2011

 

 Bernie Joyce is Honorary Principal Fellow at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne.

Doug McCann is Honorary Fellow at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne.

 

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