Burke & Wills Web
The online digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020

by Edwin James Welch

Edwin James Welch, The Tragedy of Cooper's Creek
ML:MSS 314/225 filed at A1928 (ML CY1115) n.d, c. 190-?, Angus & Robertson Collection.
State Library of New South Wales

Chapter X

How Burke & Wills died

[John King...]

"When Mr Burke, Mr Wills and I reached the Depot we were awfully disappointed to find nobody there. We had only two knocked-up camels with us, and all the grub we had left was about a pound and a half of dried meat - the last of poor "Billy". We were all close upon starving, and enjoyed our first good feed from the stores Brahe had buried. Then we talked about the best thing to be done, for we were too weak to follow after them on foot, and had no animals able to carry us. Mr Burke said we ought to try and make across to Mount Hopeless, but Mr Wills and I wanted to try and get back the way we came, but he would not listen to it."

"So, after spelling for five days we started down the creek, but before we got very far one of the two camels got bogged, and we worked as hard as we could for two days trying to dig him out, but it was no use, so we had to shoot him, and cut off all the meat we, could reach. That kept us back for some more days, then we threw away a lot of things and put as much on "Rajah", our last camel, as he could carry, and divided the rest between us."

"A little further on the creek spread out in branches in all directions over the plains, and Rajah knocked up, so we had to spell some more days, and Mr Burke and Mr Wills went to look for the blacks, to try and get something to eat. They got some nardoo (See Appendix A) cake and fish, and brought me some when they got back in three days. Rajah was very ill then so we shot him and cut off as much meat as we could with two broken knives and a lancet. Then we all went to look for the blacks, but their camp was empty, so we slept there and went back again. Mr Burke and I tried again to find them, leaving Mr Wills, who was getting very weak, in camp, but we did not succeed, so we decided to make another attempt to reach Mount Hopeless. We did this with about three pannikins of flour, five of oatmeal and what meat was left and got about forty five miles from the creek and got to another one, and Mr Wills went back to the Depot by himself to bury some more papers."

"While he was away - about eight days - Mr Burke and I lived on nardoo and some fish the natives gave us when they came there to catch some, most of the rations having been given to Mr Wills when he started for the Depot. Then the blacks got too friendly and tried to steal some of our things, so I fired a revolver off over their heads and they all ran away. But they came back again with more fish and Mr Burke, who thought they were going to attack him, knocked some of the fish out of their hands and sung out to me to fire again, which I did and again they ran away."

"When Mr Wills got back he told us that he had met some natives who were very kind to him and had given him plenty to eat, and he went back to their camp for two days, when they made signs for him to go away. While he was with them the wind blew hard and our gunyah caught fire, and before we could put it out everything was burnt except a gun and a revolver. So then we decided to go and live with the blacks, but before we could find them, Mr Wills got to be so weak that he could not help in gathering nardoo, and Mr Burke was nearly as bad, so Mr Wills said that as our only chance was to find the blacks, Mr Burke and I should, and look for them once more and he urged us to do that. We left him with enough nardoo to last for a week, and water and firewood handy, and he gave Mr Burke his watch and a letter for his father in case he should die while we were away."

"As we went on up the creek, but very slowly, Mr Burke got worse and worse, and on the second day we had to throw away our swags because we couldn't carry them any further. Then I had nothing left but a gun, a little powder and shot and a few matches. I managed to shoot a crow for supper and Mr Burke ate some but said he was sure he couldn't last much longer, and wrote some notes in his pocket book, for Sir William Stawell if I lived to get back, and said:

I hope you will stop here with me till I'm quite dead, it's a comfort to know that someone is by, but when I am dead I wish you to put the pistol in my right hand, and leave me where I lie.

"After that he said very little, and in the morning he was not able to speak at all and died about eight o'clock. I stopped beside him for a few hours, but felt very lonely, and went on for a short distance up the creek to look again for the blacks. I could not see any, but found a bag of nardoo in an empty gunyah, which I took, and afterwards shot another crow. I stopped there two days because I was too weak to move, but the rest helped me a little, and I started to go back to Mr Wills, shooting three more crows on the way, and took them with me."

"When I reached the place, Mr Wills was lying dead in the gunyah. I covered him with sand and boughs, and stopped there some days, and then went on down the creek till I found some blacks who took me to their camp and gave me some nardoo and fish. They seemed to be sorry for me and gave me plenty to eat, but after a few days they signed to me to go away, which I would not do, but shot some crows which pleased them very much. After that they were different and one woman who had a sore arm, which I touched with caustic, was quite grateful when it got better, though she made a great fuss at the time and cried out that it was "mokow" (fire). Often they tried to get me to go away, but I stuck to them because I knew it was my only chance, and when they saw it was no use they gave it up altogether."

"One day when we were fishing in a waterhole close by I showed some of them where Mr Burke's body lay. It was awfully knocked about by native dogs, and they put some bushes over it and cried like children. I have been living with them ever since, until you found me the other day, and they have, all the time been good to me. They call the place where Mr Wills died "Brierili", that is about seven miles below "Goiapidri", where you found me, but I don't rightly know their word for the place where Mr Burke is, I think it is "Innamineka", it is about eight miles higher up than Goiapidri, on the way to the Depot."

"I never saw or heard anything about Mr Wright after we left Menindie, only I know that he never came to the Depot while we were there."

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