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to the Exploration Committee, 14 November 1860


November 14, 1860.

To the Hon. Secretary of the Exploration Committee.


I have the honour to report my arrival here, having left the exploring party on the 16th of October last.

I find that the fact of my resignation having been tendered and accepted, has already been made known to you. I now, therefore, beg to assign the reasons which induced me to take that step; first, however, expressing my regret that such explanations as I have to make did not reach you simultaneously with Mr Burke's report, and feeling assured that opinions of a far different character would thus have been arrived at respecting my conduct than those which I find have been so freely expressed.

I can conscientiously affirm that no member of the party felt a stronger interest in its proceedings than myself, and from the moment of my appointment I was profoundly impressed with the conviction that the position I had the honour to hold was a highly responsible one, and that it became me to do all in my power to assist in bringing the efforts of the party to a successful completion. No ordinary circumstance, therefore, would have led mo to separate myself from it.

The question will naturally be proposed, why, then, do so? I say at once, not simply because Mr Burke's conduct to me has been ungentlemanly, and his constant interference highly prejudicial to the best interests of the party, but that he has displayed such an entire absence of any and every quality which should characterize him as its leader, as has led to the conviction in my own mind that, under his leadership, the expedition will be attended by the most disastrous results. I therefore deny that my withdrawal was the result of those circumstances referred to in Mr Burke's report. His conduct throughout has displayed such a want of judgement, candour, and decision, as at once to destroy my entire confidence and respect. Indeed, that conduct has been altogether of such an extraordinary character, that I have on several occasions entertained grave doubts of his sanity. His temper was quite ungovernable. He usually carried loaded firearms, and I often was fearful that he would use them injudiciously whilst in a passion.

I would respectfully remind the committed that my appointment gave me sole charge of the camels, and, it being assumed that my long experience of those animals fitted me for the position, I was to have their entire management. So far, however, from this being the case, my every suggestion has been sneered at, whilst counter orders rendered me powerless. I saw clearly that a persistency in such a course on Mr Burke's part I must lead to the destruction of every camel; and I submit that, even on this ground alone, no other course was left open to me but the one I adopted, inasmuch as I stood fully committed to the opinion that, with their assistance, it would be quite practicable to cross the continent - an opinion, I may observe, which my past two months' experience has but strengthened. If, therefore, the success of the expedition depended upon the safety and preservation of the camels, it cannot but be supposed that l was most anxious that my views with that object should, as far as possible, be carried out. I have already intimated, I was never permitted.

I regard what I have already said as sufficient to justify me; but, in support of my conduct, I could beg to state more specifically the reasons which have actuated me, remarking that such charges as I may make against Mr Burke I am prepared at any moment to substantiate fully.

I fear that this communication will appear long. My desire, however, to state the whole truth, as also to defend my character, will, I trust be received as a sufficient excuse.

Mr Burke's conduct struck me from the first as strange: for instance, his urging me to find fault with the men dismissed in Melbourne, assigning his reason that they had been forced upon him, and that he wanted men of his own choosing. At Balranald a similar want of candour evidenced itself; so much so, that I lost all respect for him. He there told the men that he had received instructions from the Committee to reduce the pay, which you, Sir, have since denied. He told them that he would leave them there, confident that, after his representations, he should receive further instructions, and send for them, whilst I was instructed to leave three or four of the worst camels, and that he would allow a horse to remain, with two men whom he had no intention of dismissing, in order to blindfold those whom he had determined should never again join the party.

His inconsiderate conduct may be seen from the orders as issued, that Drs Becker and Beckler were to work as labouring men, doing nothing but attending on their camels. I was particularly requested not to allow Dr Becker to ride, the leader observing that, 'if Becker accompanied the expedition and got through, people would think that it would not be difficult to cross to Carpentaria, and that he wa to be walked until he gave in.' I may state that nearly every man has walked some 300 miles, Messrs. Burke and Wills riding the whole distance, excepting a one day walk to Wills. In the presence of Professor Neumayer, Mr Burke said that, with the exception of Wills, every man should walk to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and that if the camels did not keep up, he should proceed without them.

Mr Burke regards the camels as a 'drag', and I have no hesitation in saying has done this covertly and openly, to destroy their efficiency.

I will doubtless, be remembered that a great quantity of rain fell during our journey from Melbourne to the Mia Mia Hotel, which made me feel most anxious for the safety of the camels. I intimated to Mr Burke that they might, without great care, suffer from the heavy weather and bad roads. He simply said that they must go on as he directed, or he should at once report to the committee. I was, therefore, forced on against all reason.

I assert that the marches as performed would never have been continued by any man of experience or judgement, the party generally travelling from morning until dark. The irregularity of our marches, too, will be seen by the stages we made from Melbourne to the Darling - 20, 30, and once 45 miles a day; and with all this, stopping at spots where there was little or no feed for the cattle. Under these circumstances, it is my firm conviction that, when the grand start has to be made, every animal will be out of condition and unfit for its work – i.e. if Mr Burke persists in the same line of conduct.

In making this remark, I would be understood to refer to all the animals, the horses having become so exhausted that, before they reached, the Darling, the pack-horses, with a comparatively light weight - only about 80 lb. - as well as those in the waggons, lay down on the road.

But permit me to refer again to the chief point of my complaint - viz., his constant interference with me in the management and movements of the camels: even Wills was allowed to interfere. And here I feel I cannot do better than quote instances in point from my journal:-

While crossing the Wakool Punt, Wills's interference with my arrangements in disembarking the camels caused an accident to one of them, and nearly led to its total loss. At Balranald, Mr Burke undertook the management of crossing, and, contrary to my wish, so crowded the punt as to imperil a large number, rejecting all advice. And, believing as I did, and still do, that the responsibility or any accident would have rested upon me, I felt it would be impossible to proceed. Here, too, as the result of his impetuousness, and contrary to all advice, he rushed the waggons across the water, which led to the injury of the firearms, with other stores placed in the bottom of them.

Even the camels' food was curtailed, Mr Burke, with oaths directed at myself, ordering that the gram (taken expressly for the camels) should be given to the horses. The men, too, assisting were so frequently changed that they could never become accustomed to their work. This, perhaps, may be regarded its resulting from the frequency and rapidity with which changes took place in our party. By the time we reached the Darling, 10 expulsions in all had taken place, of men the most of whom were in every way adapted for their work. Mr Burke discharged Drakeford, the cook, on the 17th ult. He was the best bushman in his party. The reason assigned was his being drunk; but it was well known that he was dissatisfied with Mr Burke's arrangements. I believe the committee have been recommended to cut £5 from his salary. Drakeford was for years in Africa, living with the Dutch boers, and in the Cape mounted police, and could have joined Dr Livingstone's party. He was engaged also in taking horses to India from the Cape. He was a good camel attendant, having accompanied them from Kurrachee to this colony. Professor Neumayer can bear witness to his usefulness. And I would especially refer to another, engaged near Swan Hill, named Bowman, a man well known to Dr Mueller. He had been frequently engaged in exploring and on two occasions with Gregory. I would here beg to adduce his testimony, as I attach much value to it. Bowman stated that 'if Gregory had had camels, nothing could have prevented his crossing the country;' adding, that, 'from what he had seen of them, and the treatment they had received, horses, if similarly treated, would have been reduced to little but skin and bone before they reached the Darling,' Mr Burke says they did nothing!

Mr Burke's indecision of character and total want of confidence in all around him were other sources of severe trial to me; and his mind was the subject of such sudden and extraordinary changes, that I affirm at the last no one order has been received or executed with the spirit becoming those engaged in such an enterprise. And as, on the one hand, his views with regard to our operations hourly changed, so also, on the other, his opinions perpetually varied with regard to the members of the party. I think that this latter circumstance maybe accounted for I from his having so studiously cultivated the spy-system in the camp. As illustrative of this, I am in a position to state that Hodgkinson was engaged going amongst the men, and running Mr Burke down, so as to enable Mr Burke to know what was going on in the camp. McDonough also was continually occupied in the same mean system of espionage.

I might enumerate a number of other substantial reasons for the course adopted. I feel, however, that sufficient has been said to justify me in my conclusions with regard to Mr Burke's utter inefficiency as a leader; and, convinced as I was, and still am, that under his guidance our efforts could never be brought to a satisfactory completion, I withdrew.

I repeat, again, I believe Mr Burke destitute of every quality necessary for his position.

Although my resignation has been accepted, I would beg to state that I am as ready as ever to undertake the journey under a proper leader. I am prepared at any moment to rejoin the party, believing as I do that, properly conducted, no obstacle exists that may not be surmounted, and the efforts of the explorers crowned with the greatest success.

As Mr Burke's report is calculated to mislead with regard to the point which led to my ultimate resignation, I beg, as briefly as possible, to explain the whole matter.

On the 8th of October, Mr Burke came down from Mr M'Pherson's station in a great rage, saying that some of his (M'Pherson's) people were drunk on our rum. I said that I heard so, but had been informed that they got it from a hawker's cart that was encamped near our waggons. He said, 'I do not believe it, sir, and I shall leave all the rum at M'Pherson's; not one drop shall go with us.' I said, ‘I hope, Mr Burke, you will allow me to retain some of it for medicinal purposes. His rage then increased, and he replied, 'You are always advising me wrong, and you are constantly doing wrong.' He had said, on a former occasion, that the ghee and oatmeal were to be left behind, and I said this would not be giving me a fair chance for working the animals when the tug came. He said that, if they could not do without those things he should proceed without them; that the camels were like the waggons - nothing but a drag; and that I and the camels were the cause of our having the waggons. He added, 'I shall have no more of your friendship, sir, duty, duty, nothing but duty between you and me.' I said that I had always done my duty to the best of my ability, and that I had never refused any orders he had given me. He said, 'No, but you are always wrong, and advising me wrong.' This was spoken in a loud tone. The men were about 30 yards off, and under these circumstances, I felt that, had I submitted to be thus addressed, they would have no respect for me. I said, 'Mr Burke, as I cannot do anything to please you, I think it would be better for both parties that I resigned.' He said, ‘Do as you like.' I asked him, ' Have I your consent to resign?' He said, "Yes, and I shall recommend it.' I then requested Mr Wills to take charge of the articles belonging to Government in my possession; and being annoyed at the treatment I had received, said,-' I never know such a man as Burke; he does not know his own mind 10 minutes ; he has no confidence in himself nor any about him; in fact, I am afraid to sleep in the same tent with him, for at all hours he springs up, and calls out as though he wore going to be murdered.'

Some of the camels having strayed away, I was anxious to recover them; and having a camel ready to start in search, I called to Hodgkinson, who acted as Mr Burke's clerk, to make out a resignation according to form, at the same time telling him what to say. He said, 'I am near resigning myself. Mr Burke has not treated me fairly in charging me with staying away all night wilfully.' Little else was said then. The next day Mr Burke came down from M'Pherson's in great haste, and went into his tent. He then brought out a letter, and calling me aside said, 'This is what I am going to send to Melbourne.' He read it. I made no objection to any part, excepting the last words, which were 'Mr Landells leaves me disgracefully.' I said, 'Mr Burke, I never did a disgraceful act in my life.' He then tore up the letter, and commenced crying and sobbing, and caught me around the waist, saying, 'I do not think you could, Landells, and I like you, because I know you are an honest man,' adding, 'My God! I never thought you would leave me, as I have great dependence in you. Come on; I hope none of the men have seen this.' I said, 'Mr Burke, do not cut yourself up so, I will go, should you shoot me.' He said, ' I will not shoot you, Landells.' This was said in reference to the loaded firearms he usually carried.

Matters having now been re-arranged, we proceeded, but on my arrival at Menindie, I soon saw by his manner that something fresh had occurred, and I learnt that Wills had reported to Mr Burke what I had said when handing him over the Government property on the 8th of October. I went to him to report the arrival of the camels. He looked disturbed, and went and lay down with his back towards me. I went up to him and said, 'Mr Burke, I hope there is nothing wrong.' He sprang up and said, 'Yes, sir; what is this you have been saying to Wills and Hodgkinson?' I said, 'If you call them up I shall know what charges they have been making against me.' Mr Burke said 'You are a scoundrel, sir and I will now give you satisfaction, and waive all leadership, and meet you.' I said, 'Mr Burke, when I left Melbourne it was not to fight you with either words or weapons, but to fight the desert: will you now allow me to resign?' Looking at me scowlingly, as a fiend, he said 'Yes.' Soon after Mr Burke came to where I was encampad accompanied by Wills, and called out, 'Wills, you see the camels taken across tomorrow.' I asked Mr Burke if it was intended that Mr Wills was to superintend tho swimming of the camels? He replied, 'I shall not tell you, sir; why do you ask such an impertinent question?' 'Because' I said, 'I wish to know who will be responsible for them.' He simply replied, 'O, my boy, I shall soon get rid of you!' The next morning I sent him my resignation. His conduct towards me at this time caused M'Pherson, the saddler to say we wore all treated like convicts. The entire want of self-respect and self-control evinced in his challenge to fight him, showed me that his leadership was no longer safe.

I do not feel called upon to discuss each l point in Mr Burke's report verbatim, but there are certain statements therein which demand attention. He reports that I had said, if the rum was withdrawn I would not be responsible. My words were, 'It is hard to expect me to be responsible, if you take all from me that the committee allowed.' He had before said he would have all the ghee and oatmeal left behind; and my reasons for objecting to the articles named being left were, that I know of an officer who took two camels through a two years' campaign in Cabul, the Punjab, and Scinde by allowing them arrack when they were wet and cold, and exhausted from long journeys and want of food, whilst others were losing theirs daily and with them their baggage. The ghee and oatmeal, with the allum and spices, I had reserved for cases of emergency, as a small quantity of those would have sustained the camels independent of any other food, and supported them in long journeys. Again, he says it was without any solicitation on his part that I withdrew my resignation. I have already described the circumstances and his feelings on the subject, which facts are an answer to this point; but I would add that Mr Burke told me at that time that all the officers and most of the men had come up to him and begged of him not to let me go. But all this was evidently fore-determined, for, before my resignation was contemplated, Wills was inquiring of the men if they thought they could manage the camels without me, declaring that he could do so himself. This I have on the authority of King and Drakeford. I deny Mr Burke's statement in saying the camels had not been loaded during the journey; they carried from three and a half to four tons from Balranald to Menindie, but had light loads on leaving Melbourne. I never for a moment imagined we were to take hired waggons to Cooper's Creek. It is utterly false to say that I ever tampered with the men unless reference is made to my openly speaking to Hodgkinson and Wills, as I have previously mentioned.

I find that it has been insinuated that my reason for having my resignation post dated a fortnight was simply on pecuniary grounds, and great stress has been laid upon it. This I solemnly deny. My sole reason was that I might reach Melbourne in time to meet any charges made against me, but I have been detained longer by circumstances over which I had no control.

The following might not, perhaps, be regarded as a subject admissible here, but to me it is of sufficient importance I refer to the desecration of the Sabbath, and the non recognition of any one religious rite, in the camp When I mentioned this circumstance to Mr Burke, he smiled contemptuously.

I do not hesitate to express my disappointment in not accompanying the expedition, for I had hoped to have reported the practicability of carrying a line of telegraph across the continent by the aid of the camels - a subject on which I have felt considerable interest. It is a subject which I mentioned about three years ago to the then Chief Secretary. I have certainly reason to complain that my case has been prejudged, but I must leave the matter in the hands of the committee, with the consciousness that I have faithfully performed my duty, and have done all m my power to facilitate the views of Mr Burke up till the moment I left the party.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
George James Landells

Late second in command
Victorian Exploring Expedition



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