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Charley Gray died on the morning of Wednesday, 17 April 1861. Burke, Wills and King spent the day digging out a shallow grave before continuing on to the Cooper. This was Camp 58R on the return from the Gulf.

Wills did not record the exact location, having planted all his surveying instruments on the 4 April 1861 and as a result there has been much conjecture over the actual site of Gray's death.

McKinlay visited a place called Kadhi-baerri on Sunday, 20 October 1861 and found a corpse he believed was European. Thinking the entire party had been killed by Aborigines, McKinlay gave the place the European name of Lake Massacre. King did not give any detailed description of the place other than to describe it as a lignum lake, but when questioned at the Commission of Enquiry he believed the body McKinlay found fitted the description of Gray. Howitt never visited the grave, but thought from the description the body might be one of Bleasley's Party. He later decided it must be Gray. Even the South Australian Governor, Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, expressed doubt that the body had been Gray.

Threadgill (1922) was unconvinced that the body was that of Gray. Larcombe published a series of articles in 1926 and 1935 regarding the fate of Leichhardt and he too cast doubt on the validity of the claims.

The first detailed look at whether the body at Lake Massacre was that of Charley Gray was done in 1939 by Morphett, Parker and Sommerville. Their detailed investigation concluded that Lake Massacre must have been one of Burke's northbound camps that they revisited when returning from the Gulf.

In 1943 Hambridge also published a paper which concluded that Lake McNamara had been shown as Lake Massacre on some maps and had been connected with an incident involving Mr Wylie of Coongy Station and an altercation with the local Yandruwandha. He shows that the northern lake was the one McKinlay visited.

Lake Massacre Expeditions.
Captain Charles Sturt explored to the west of Lake Massacre on his first trip northwards from Depot Glen in August and September 1844, and passed well to the east of Lake Massacre on his second trip northwards in October November 1844, so it appears Hack and McDonald were the first Europeans in the area in 1858 or 1859. If Burke and Wills did pass this way on the return journey, they were the second group of Europeans. McKinlay's party was the third.

There had been five Lake Massacre Expeditions up until 1983. (Collier, 1985).

  1937 ? H V Foy Leichhardt search expedition  
  1948-1963 Alfred Cory Towner Retracing Burke & Wills  
  1982 Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme Sturt's Stony Desert Expedition  
  1983 Roger Collier Lake Massacre Expedition  
  1988 David Corke Locating Camp 67  
  1988 Preshil Camping Club Expedition I Camp 69 Expedition  
  1991 Preshil Camping Club Expedition II Beyond the Cooper  

In 1937 ? there was an expedition into the Simpson Desert to look for signs of Leichhardt, Mr H V Foy visited Lake Massacre as part of this expedition.

In 1948 Alfred Cory Towner visited Lake Massacre and erected a sign within 60 metres of McKinlay's blazed tree. There are no records to show whether he found the tree and grave.

In 1982 the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme organized an expedition to Lake Massacre, but failed to find any blazed trees.

In 1983 Roger Collier organized the Lake Massacre Expedition, which relocated the burial tree that McKinlay blazed. Collier was convinced he had found Gray's grave.

In 1986 David Corke did the first of a series of investigations in order to locate some of the expedition's northbound campsites in order to establish Burke's route and he found a place on Cooper Creek which he believed was Camp 67. His next expedition was with sixteen students and parents from Preshil School Camping Club in 1988. The Camp 69 Expedition camped on Tirrawarra Waterhole and identified locations they believed represented Camps 69, 70 and 71 on Cooper Creek as well as Camp 73 on the Diamantina River. The second Preshil Expedition in 1991, the Beyond the Cooper Expedition, found a location on Cooper Creek which they believed was Camp 68 and they also searched around a polygonum swamp for a possible grave site for Charley Gray.

McKinlay's journal at Lake Massacre
On 12 September 1861 , McKinlay was on Badnoota Plain, east of Wilpena Pound when police sergeant James Howe from Blanchewater rode up with news from Aboriginals near Lake Hope . Howe told McKinlay,

A blackfellow came in from Lake Hope recently. He had the hair of two white men, which he showed to the cook and the stockman at Tooncatchin [an outstation of Blanchewater – DGP]. He says it was given to him by other blacks who said there were white men living farther out than where he had been. One of the stockmen, Frank James, saw him again a week ago and tried to get the hair from him, but he had given it to the other blacks. James promised him tobacco for it and he's promised to get it back.

Sambo says the white men are naked. They have no firearms or horses, but some animals which sound like camels. He says they sleep on a raft which they've built on the water, and live on fish which they catch in nets made from grass.

Sambo says there are twenty sleeps between Tooncatchin and the whites. I don't think their sleeps are much more than ten miles, so they could be on or near Cooper's Creek. Sambo says he's quite willing to go all the way with a party of white men – and the blacks up there are afraid of these men.

McKinlay was not convinced, believing this to be an idle rumour, but he went to check out the area anyway. He arrived at Blanchewater a week later and on the 24 September 1861 departed for the interior with a party that consisted of McKinlay, Hodgkinson as second in command, John Davis, Thomas Middleton, William Bell, Paul Wylde, Robert Poole, Edward Palmer, John Kirby and two Aboriginals, Frank (AKA Peter) and Jack.

McKinlay established a depot at Wantula and on 18 October 1861, left the depot to continue the search. With him he took Hodgkinson, Middleton and Bulingari, four camels, three horses, 160 lb of flour, 32 lb of sugar, 11 lb of bacon, 4 lb of tea and some rum (Lockwood, 1995). On the way they came upon a much better site for a depot, and McKinlay sent back for the main party.

McKinlay arrived at Kadhi-baerri at 14.20 on Sunday, 20 October 1861, where he found a crude grave. McKinlay waited for the camels to catch up and they rear of the party arrived around 17.00. That night McKinlay and Hodgkinson searched the immediate area of the grave and found an old flattened pint pot.

The next morning, McKinlay went around the lake looking for Aborigines. None were found and he went to open the grave.

On arrival, removed the earth carefully and close to the top of the ground, found a body of a European enveloped in a flannel shirt with short sleeves, a piece of the breast of which I have taken. The flesh, I may say, completely cleared from the bones and very little hair but what must have been decomposed; what little there was, I have taken.

Description of the body scull [sic] &c. – marked with slight sabre cuts, apparently two in number, one immediately over the left eye, the other on the right temple, inclined over right ear, more deep than on the left. Decayed teeth existed on both sides of the lower jaw and the right of the upper; the other teeth (four between in front) rather projecting, as is sometimes called in the upper jaw, buck-teeth. I have measured the bones of the thigh and leg, as well as the arm, with a cord, not having any other method of doing it..

Gathered all the bones together and buried them again, cutting a lot of boughs and other wood, and putting over the top of the earth.

Body lies with head south, feet north, lying on face, head severed from body. On small tree, immediately south we marked…

OCT 21-61.

Immediately this was over, we questioned the native [Bullingani] further on the subject of his death. He says he [the European] was killed by a stroke from what the natives use as a sword, [an instrument of semi-circular form] five to eight feet long and very formidable. He showed us where the whites had been in camp when attacked.

We saw lots of fish bones, but no evidence then on the trees to suppose whites had been there. They had certainly chosen a very bad camp in the centre of a box scrub, with native huts within 150 to 200 yards of them. On further examination we found the dung of camels and horse or horses, evidently tied up a long time ago.

Between that and the grave we found another grave, evidently dug with a spade or shovel, and a lot of human hair of two colours, that had become decomposed on the skin of the skull and fallen off in flakes – some of which I have also taken.

I fancy they must have all been murdered here; dug out the new formed grave with a stick (the only instrument we had), but found remains of bodies save one little bone. The black accounted for this in this manner – he says they had eaten them. Found an old fireplace, immediately adjoining what appeared to be bones very well burned, but not in any quantity. In and about the last grave named, a piece of light blue tweed and fragments of paper and small pieces of a Nautical Almanac were found, and an exploded “Eley's cartridge”. No appearance on any of the trees of bullet marks, as if a struggle had taken place.

On a further examination of the black's camp, where the pint pot was found, there was also found a tin canteen, similar to what is used for keeping naphtha in, or some such stuff, both of which we keep. The native says that any memos the whites had are back on the last camp we were at on the lake, with the natives, as well as the iron-work of the saddles which, on our return, we may endevour to recover if the blacks can be found; it may be rash, but it is necessary for it. I intend, before returning, to have a further search. No natives seen here yet.

McKinlay searched around on the 22 October, and although he found five Aborigines, he found no more traces of the Expedition. He blazed a tree near the grave at Lake Massacre :

OCT 22-61

where he buried a memo for any other search party. The memo read :

S.A.B.R. Expedition.
October 23 rd 1861 .
To the Leader of any expedition seeking tidings of Burke and Party :-
Sir, - I reached this water on the 19th inst., and by means of a native guide discovered a European camp one mile north, on the west side of flat. At or near this camp traces of horses, camels and whites were found. Hair, apparently belonging to Mr Wills, Charles Gray, and Mr Burke or King, was picked from the surface of a grave dug by a spade, and from the skull of a European

Other less important traces-such as a pannican, oil can, saddle stuffing &c., have been found. Beware of the natives; upon whom we have had to fire. We do not intend to return to Adelaide , but proceed to west of north. From information, all Burke's party were killed and eaten.

I have, &c.,
JNO. McKinlay.
PS; All the party in good health. If you had any difficulty in reaching this spot, and wish to return to Adelaide by a more practicable route you may do so for at least three months to come by driving west for eighteen miles, then south of west, cutting our dray track within thirty miles. Abundance of water and feed at easy stages.

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