Image Funeral of Burke and Wills, Melbourne, 1863

TLF ID R3348

This is a 17.3 cm x 24.3 cm black-and-white wood engraving of the 1863 state funeral of Burke and Wills in Melbourne, Victoria. Crowds line the street, and watch from balconies and rooftops, to see the procession that includes an ornate horse-drawn open carriage bearing the caskets of the two famous explorers, preceded by people walking. Many mourners follow, some in carriages and some on foot. A building is draped with black crepe.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts the funeral procession of Robert O'Hara Burke (1821-61), a rural police officer, and William John 'Jack' Wills (1834-61), a doctor and surveyor; both men died during an expedition after becoming the first people, along with John King and Charles Gray, to travel across Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in far north Queensland - Gray became sick and died soon after starting the return journey, but the other three made it back as far as their abandoned base camp at Cooper's Creek, Queensland.
  • It illustrates the public's sympathy for the explorers, whose fate could very easily have been different - Burke, Wills and King headed south-west from Cooper's Creek, trying to reach a South Australian police outpost at Mount Hopeless, 250 kilometres away; their main party had headed south from Cooper's Creek only hours before and, had the trio followed, they may have survived; the group was helped by Aboriginal people, who gave them fish and cakes made from nardoo seeds, but Burke did not trust them and chased them away; the group gathered nardoo seeds themselves, not realising these cause vitamin deficiencies unless correctly prepared; both Burke and Wills died of starvation in the desert; King joined the Yantruwanta people, who looked after him until he was found 11 weeks later by a search party led by Alfred William Howitt.
  • It depicts the first state funeral in Australia, which was held on 21 January 1863 - the remains of Burke and Wills lay in state in the hall of Melbourne's Royal Society for two weeks before the funeral, where they were viewed by more than 100,000 people; businesses closed by midday to enable people to watch the funeral procession (beginning at 1 pm) that stretched for four city blocks and drew the largest crowd ever seen in Melbourne (estimates put the crowd at between 70,000 and 100,000), with some onlookers in trees, up lampposts or on roofs.
  • It shows some of the people included in the official procession - over 200 groups wanted to take part, but few were chosen by the Exploration Committee; the procession was led by the Castlemaine Rifle Volunteer Regiment and the Castlemaine Light Dragoons; six pallbearers, including John King, walked beside the hearse; six mourning carriages followed, carrying dignitaries, with many people marching at the rear of the cavalcade.
  • It features the ornate horse-drawn hearse that carried the coffins through Melbourne's streets, past buildings that were draped with black crepe - the hearse was modelled on the one used for the Duke of Wellington and was drawn by six horses wearing elaborate harnesses and black plumes; black was traditionally the 'colour of mourning', and wearing black clothing was a way of showing respect; sprigs of nardoo plant, that had been collected by Howitt, were symbolically included in the funeral ceremony at Melbourne's General Cemetery, where shots were fired as a mark of respect.
Year level

3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Name: Illustrated London News
  • Organization: Illustrated London News
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Illustrated London News
  • Organization: Illustrated London News
  • Description: Author
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements