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Annual Address of the President of the Royal Society of Victoria.

8 April 1861

Extract from the address, concerning the conduct of the Victorian Exploring Expedition.


Gentlemen of the Royal Society,

.....But it is to the preparations for exploring the interior of Australia that the time and energy of a large number of the members of this Society, who were nominated a committee for the purpose, at a meeting of the subscribers the the Exploration funds, have been chiefly devoted during the past year. When I delivered my last inaugural address the arrangements connected with the proposed expedition, including the most important of all - the appointment of a leader - remained to be made. With a single exception, the aspirants to this post of difficulty and danger could boast little personal acquaintance with Australian exploration, they still had their spurs to win. The choice of the Committee fell on a gentleman of whom I will only on this occasion say, that he has done as yet nothing to discredit the confidence reposed in him, and that if courage, disinterestedness, and a firm determination to succeed in crossing the desert, despite all obstacles, were amongst the foremost qualifications for leadership, no better selection could have been made.

Before Mr Burke was well out of the settled districts, rumours reached us of that extraordinary journey of Mr Stuart's from the adjacent colony, which if it has not altogether solved the problem of Australian geography, has at any rate obliged the most learned geographers of the day to confess themselves mistaken in assuming the whole of the interior to be either an arid and inhospitable desert or a vast central lake.

To the veteran South Australian explorer it still remains to complete his track from Chamber's Creek to the westward of Lake Torrens, to Stokes's Victoria River on the north coast, or to Arnhem Land, and we are all aware that he started from the spot on the first day of the present year with a larger party and ampler equipment, bent on still claiming the honour of being the first to cross the continent.

As regard the victorian competitor - I will not call him rival, in this glorious race, Mr Burke, we might long since have looked to hear of his arrival at he pre-concerted Depot on Cooper's Creek, and of his departure thence to skirt the eastern border of the desert, as the shortest route to the Gulf of Carpentaria, but for the delay which occurred in the transmission o the second portion of his stores from the Darling, which probably deterred him from sending back a messenger with the news of his movements. We know that the rest of the party with these stores left the camp on that river on the 24th January, so that we may soon expect to receive intelligence of their junction, or the course Mr Burke had adopted in their absence. It is certainly possible that he may have pushed on towards the northern coast without awaiting their arrival,but, as he was fully aware that no arrangement was in contemplation for sending a vessel to meet him there, he is not likely to have gone beyond the point from which, with the aid of camels, he could fall back on his supplies; and therefore, no ground for anxiety as to his safety, though of course, we must be prepared to act promptly, according to the tenor of the first advices which may reach us.

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