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by the citizens of Castlemaine

Tuesday, 21 January 1862

Wednesday, 22 January 1862: 2-3.


All day yesterday, though the municipal nomination served as a safety valve to public enthusiasm, considerable excitement was manifested pending the arrival of King the surviving explorer. On his first visit, if visit it can be called he was so reduced by the fearful trials he had gone through, that public curiosity in some measure restrained itself; but yesterday, King, having fully recovered, was obliged to bear the full brunt of the public's approbation.

It was known that he would arrive by the afternoon coach, and though the rain was pouring steadily down, the streets were lined with spectators, who waited patiently for the sight of one who had rendered himself so famous. When the couch drew up at the Commercial hotel, a general rush was made, but greatly to the disappointment of those making at it, it was ascertained that King had been met by the Chairman of the Council, on Forest Creek, and brought down in a buggy. He followed the coach, and, as soon as he was recognised, was heartily cheered. As he passed through the streets, no one appeared to know where he was bound to, and the consequence was, a helter skelter dash after the retreating buggy, which drew up at the Council Chambers, and King was then formally welcomed to Castlemaine by the councilors present.

Coincident with his arrival, came an almost breathless crowd who exhausted the little remaining breath they possessed in lustily cheering again and again, till the Council Chamber rung again. One excited individual was slightly disgusted at being as he considered 'dodged by the Chairman,' evidently considering that the latter should in season and out of season bore King with the public's presence. The injured individual was speedily silenced, however.

After making a bow to those present, King returned thanks warmly to the public for the reception that had been given him, but begged that as 'he was wet and tired they would excuse and allow him to retire. This elicited another burst of cheering, during which King effected his escape to the Royal Hotel, where he put up. He was not, however, permitted to remain there in peace, for hundreds assembled from time to time, determined to get a glimpse of him, whether or not. He looks very well, though traces of the toil and privation he has gone through are still visible, but these are gradually wearing off, and thanks to a most extraordinarily robust constitution, he bids fair to be none the worse for his wearisome, and for his companions, tragical journey.

The supper, banquet, dinner, or whatever it may be called, was supplied by host Beddard, in the Theatre, in the most recherche manner, and the whole arrangements were most creditable to his catering capabilities. In reality, the delicacies of the season were crowded on the tables, and the way in which the whole were set out was most tasteful. The decorations consisted of a black-edged star above the proscenium, immediately beneath, which, with a mourning border, appeared the name of Burke. On the right of the stage, Wills' name appeared, also in mourning, and on the left, the name of Gray, with the same sable encirclement. Immediately beneath Burke's name, appeared the name of King, in gilt letters, on a gold ground, and directly fronting the chair on the gallery, were the last words of poor Burke, 'King has acted nobly'. On the right and left were the words, festooned in evergreens, ' Welcome to Castlemaine.'

A very large number of persons (about 200) sat down, representing every portion of the district. After the cloth was removed, the usual loyal toasts were given and received with enthusiasm. During the drinking of these toasts, two bachelors, Messrs Fitzgerald and Sweeney, were told off by the Chairman, to supply the ladies in the sallery with refreshments, and Mr Davis, the Town Clerk, volunteered to go and show the fair sex the watch about to be presented to Mr King. Before the toast of the evening was proposed, as the ladies had not done looking at the watch, the Chairman called upon Mr Bannister to propose the 'Army and Navy,' which he did in appropriate terms.

Air by the Volunteer band ' The British Grenadiers."

Captain Bull, who was received with great applause, responded. He alluded to the military esprit which had been of late evoked in Castlemaine, and said it was with very great satisfaction that in King he recognised a brother soldier. He (King) had served eight years in the army, and that was the reason, he believed, that he was there amongst them that night. When Mr Burke selected King, he believed his choice was guided by the fact of King having been brought up as a soldier. (Hear hear.) When the 70th regiment knew how faithfully King had served his master and leader, they would be proud to know him as a comrade, and he only hoped that if they did their duty, which he had no doubt they would do as well in their arduous service in New Zealand, they might be well rewarded by a due recognition of their services; (Great applause.) Mr Christophers responded on behalf of the Navy.

The Chairman proposed the 'Memory of Robert O'Hara Burke and his brave companions who perished whilst returning from the Gulf of Carpentaria.' This toast was drunk in she most respectful silence.

The Chairman had next to give the toast of the evening. (This declaration evoked a burst of cheers.) The Chairman then proceeded to read the subjoined address:

Sir, The inhabitants of the district of Castlemaine desire to express to you their high sense of your loyalty and fidelity to the man who led you across the Continent.' You were faithful to him unto the last, and to you we and the whole world owe the preservation of a record of noble daring, of unselfish friendship, of devotion to duty — a record of deeds that may challenge comparison with the proudest efforts of British patriotism, and of British energy and courage.

You received, in the wild Australian desert, the last wishes of your leader, our beloved fellow townsman, Robert O'Hara Burke ; you shrouded with the sands of the desert all that remained of his friend and companion, William James Wills; yet in your desolation, far from civilisation, your only resource being in the society of untutored savages, you maintained the spirit of duty inculcated by your leader, and thus you were spared to relate the story of how painfully yet how gloriously they died, and to be the only man living who has ever crossed Australia from sea to sea.

It is by such men as you and the brave explorers whose loss we now mourn — Burke, Wills, and your third companion, Gray — that Britain has gained empire through the world, and we pray God that your life may long be spared to enjoy the gratitude of all to whom Robert O'Hara Burke and William James Wills were known, and the praise of all who can appreciate the successful performance of a task unparalleled in the history of Australian exploration.

The address was received by repeated out bursts of applause. About 800 signatures were attached to it. The Chairman continued, and said he had another pleasant duty - to present a gold watch and chain. He read the inscription, and said the watch was a token of respect; and at the same time said that the purse in which he presented the sovereigns, though not so handsome as it ought to have been, was also a free offering. It was given by a Scotchman, and it was known that Scotchmen did not give much away. (Laughter and disapprobation.) He did not mean it offensively to the Scotch, and he hoped they would not take it so; but the person who gave him the purse that day made a particular request that King's sovereigns should be therein enveloped, because he said he had brought 150 sovereigns in it to this country, and they had prospered him well. (Cheers.) Therefore Mr King must not disregard the outer covering of the sovereigns, which he might say were collected from every class of the Castlemaine community, and were given in very small sums, but at the same time expressed the good feeling of all. (Cheers.)

During this address, when alluding to the Watch and chain, he placed the chain round King's neck, and invested him, as it were, with it. This proceeding, as in fact every part of the address, was excellently received. The purse contained, we understand, 50 sovereigns, and if time had been allowed, at least twice as much could have been easily got. The watch and chain are very handsome specimens of manufacture. They are both of gold, and together cost £40, the chain being of colonial gold, weighing an oz and a half. The watch bears the following inscription:

Presented by the Town Council and inhabitants of Castlemaine, to Mr John King, in testimony of their esteem for his heroic conduct during the late Exploring Expedition, Jan. 21st, 1862.

The engraving of this inscription is beautifully done. The Council adopted a very proper method of selecting the watch. All the resident jewellers were invited to send samples of their stock, and from them tho Council made their choice, being ignorant at the time, as to the ownership of the various articles. The watch and chain chosen 'Were ascertained to have been sent in by Mr Farrel, of Market square.

Mr King on rising was greeted with renewed cheering. He read the subjoined address with, expression, and was evidently much affected:

To T. Wallace, Esq., Chairman of the Municipality, and to the inhabitants of the districts of Castlemaine.
Gentlemen and Fellow-Colonists, To me it is a source of much satisfaction to receive from the inhabitants of the important district of Castlemaine, through you, as the Chairman of this Municipality, so kind and complimentary an address.

Your reference to my late brave leader, Mr Burke, as your beloved fellow-townsman, is very gratifying to my heart, but your town may claim, in addition to the proud distinction of having given to the Government a leader so -well qualified for his position, - the best evidence of which is his accomplishment of the task, and under difficulties too, the half of which has not yet been told - but also for having supplied two others to the party, namely Patton and Langan, the former of whom died on returning from Cooper's Creek to Bulla.

My loyalty and fidelity' to the man who led us across the Australian Continent is mentioned in the address. I am happy to think that I never had any feelings towards him but those you name. I maintained them when it was attempted by one of the party to weaken them, and it its now a source of satisfaction which my heart alone can fully understand, that I accompanied Mr Burke and his truly attached associate and friend, Mr Wills, to the Gulf, and thence back to Cooper's Creek, where both died through the want of food and clothing.

I had the melancholy satisfaction of paying such reverential respect to the mortal remains of the fallen explorers, as the circumstances under which they died permitted. It was with an almost broken heart that I left the spot which had become sacred to me by the deaths of Messrs Burke and Wills, to seek the means of subsistence among the friendly blacks.

During this period of desolation and sorrow, I was upheld by the hope that I should be preserved by a merciful Providence to tell the fate of those brave and generous men also of Gray), and ultimately to hand over their invaluable notes and records to the Victorian Government. After enduring this state of mind for two months and ten days, I heard, through the blacks, of the presence of 'white fellows' who were going down the creek. These I found to be a portion of the relieving party under the able command of Mr Howitt, who showed me much sympathy, and under whose kind treatment my health which had all but gone, rapidly improved.

I do not claim to be a hero. I simply claim to have done my duty, and I feel now, although surrounded by so many generous friends, that the consciousness of having done so under circumstances so trying and mournful, will help to alleviate through the remainder of my life that sorrow of heart of which I am the subject when the memories of Burke, Wills and Gray force themselves upon me. They fell in the service of their Queen, their country, and of science.

I thank you, gentlemen and fellow-colonists, for your kind wishes and prayers for my happiness. I trust that no act of my future life will ever render me unworthy of those acknowledgments and commendations which you have been pleased to bestow upon me this day.

The Chairman then put the toast, which was drunk with much cheering. Mr King briefly, but feelingly returned thanks. He had had several receptions, but none so enthusiastic as this one given by the friends of his brave leader, Mr Burke. He might relate many anecdotes of the conversations which he and Wills had had with his leader in the solitary hours they had passed together in the wilderness, but he felt himself unequal to the task. (Hear) He should remain in Castlemaine for about a week, and would be happy to answer any description of questions that the friends of Mr Burke might put to him. He thanked the inhabitants of Castlemaine for their kind present, and assured them that he should keep the watch as a memento, not only of their kindness to him, but of their love for the memory of his noble loader, Mr Burke (much cheering).

Mr Taaffe proposed the Parliament of Victoria.

The band played, 'The Perfect Cure.'

Mr Johnston proposed — 'The Mining and Agricultural Interests.' Dr McNicoll responded. 'The Trade and Commerce of the District' was proposed by Dr Hardy, and acknowledged by Mr Myring. Mr Brown gave the ' Castlemaine Volunteers.' Capt. Bull responded, expressing a hope that the corps which he had the honor to command, would be found efficient in the field, if they were ever called on. Mr Price proposed the 'Magistrates of the District Mr Naylor responded, and paid a tribute to the memory of Burke,who did many kind acts as a magistrate, and as a private individual, that did credit to humanity. The Rev. Mr Bickford, who had accompanied King to Castlemaine, proposed the toast of the 'Municipal Council.' The toast was to have been proposed by Mr King, but owing to his nervous condition, it was necessary that he should find a substitute, and as such he (the Hon. speaker), presented himself. The Rev. gentleman eulogised Burke, and defended him against the attacks that had been made against him. Burke believed in an over ruling Providence. He (Mr B.) believed him to be one of the most generous men that ever lived. The rev. gentleman dilated at some length on the character of Burke and Wills, and eloquently pictured the results of the expedition which Burke had led. He hoped the example set by the Council of Castlemaine would be followed by other municipalities throughout the colony. (Cheers.) Mr Burnett responded to the toast.

Other toasts followed, and the company broke up about half-past eleven. We omitted to mention that the band of the Volunteers played during the evening, and that the boxes of the theatre were crowded with ladies.


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