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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Burke and Wills Expedition

burke-and-wills-statueThe Burke and Wills expedition, led by Robert O’Hara Burke, an Irish soldier and police officer, leaves Melbourne on August 20, 1860, ultimately becoming the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north, finding a route across the continent from the settled areas of Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Burke is born in St. Clerens, County Galway on May 6, 1821. He migrates to Australia in 1853 arriving in Hobart, Tasmania on February 12, 1853 and promptly sailing for Melbourne.

After the South Australian explorer John McDouall Stuart reaches the centre of Australia, the Parliament of South Australia offers a reward of £2,000 for the promotion of an expedition to cross the continent from south to north, generally following Stuart’s route.

In June 1860, Burke is appointed to lead the Victorian Exploring Expedition with William John Wills, his third-in-command, as surveyor and astronomical observer.

The expedition leaves Melbourne on Monday, August 20, 1860 with a total of 19 men, 27 camels and 23 horses. They reach Menindee on September 23, 1860 where several people resign, including the second-in-command, George James Landells, and the medical officer, Dr. Hermann Beckler.

Cooper Creek, 400 miles further on, is reached on November 11, 1860 by the advance group, the remainder being intended to catch up. After a break, Burke decides to make a dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria, leaving on December 16, 1860. William Brahe is left in charge of the remaining party. The small team of Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray reach the mangroves on the estuary of the Flinders River, near where the town of Normanton now stands, on February 9, 1861. Flooding rains and swamps prevent them from seeing the open ocean.

Already weakened by starvation and exposure, progress on the return journey is slow and hampered by the tropical monsoon downpours of the wet season. Gray dies four days before they reach the rendezvous at Cooper Creek. The other three rest for a day when they bury him. They eventually reach the rendezvous point on April 21, 1861, nine hours after the rest of the party had given up waiting and left, leaving a note and some food, as they had not been relieved by the party supposed to be returning from Menindee.

They attempt to reach Mount Hopeless, the furthest outpost of pastoral settlement in South Australia, which is closer than Menindee, but fail and return to Cooper Creek. While waiting for rescue Wills dies of exhaustion and starvation. Soon after, Burke also dies, at a place now called Burke’s Waterhole on Cooper Creek in South Australia. The exact date of Burke’s death is uncertain, but has generally been accepted to be June 28, 1861.

King survives with the help of Aborigines until he is rescued in September by Alfred William Howitt. Howitt buries Burke and Wills before returning to Melbourne. In 1862 Howitt returns to Cooper Creek and disinters the bodies of Burke and Wills, taking them first to Adelaide and then by steamer to Melbourne where they are laid in state for two weeks. On January 23, 1863 Burke and Wills receive a state funeral and are buried in Melbourne General Cemetery.

(Pictured: Burke and Wills Statue on the corner of Collins and Swanston Street, Melbourne)

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Birth of James Caulfeild, 1st Earl of Charlemont

james-caulfeildJames Caulfeild, 1st Earl of Charlemont, Irish statesman, soldier and nationalist, is born in Dublin on August 18, 1728.

Caulfeild, the son of the 3rd Viscount Charlemont, succeeds his father as 4th Viscount in 1734. The title of Charlemont descends from Sir Toby Caulfeild, 1st Baron Caulfeild (1565–1627) of Oxfordshire, England, who is given lands in Ireland, and creates Baron Charlemont (the name of a fort on the Blackwater), for his services to King James I in 1620. The 1st Viscount is the 5th Baron (d. 1671), who is advanced by Charles II.

Lord Charlemont is well known for his love of Classical art and culture and spends nine years on the Grand Tour in Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. He returns to Dublin and employs the Scottish architect Sir William Chambers to remodel his main residence Marino House, to design his town house Charlemont House and the unique Neoclassical garden pavilion building, the Casino at Marino.

Lord Charlemont is historically interesting for his political connection with Henry Flood and Henry Grattan. He is a cultivated man with literary and artistic tastes, and both in Dublin and in London he has considerable social influence. He is the first President of the Royal Irish Academy and is a member of the Royal Dublin Society. He is appointed Custos Rotulorum of County Armagh for life in 1760. For various early services in Ireland he is made an earl in 1763, but he disregards court favours and cordially joins Grattan in 1780 in the assertion of Irish independence. In 1783 he is made a founding Knight of the Order of St. Patrick.

Lord Charlemont is president of the volunteer convention in Dublin in November 1783, having taken a leading part in the formation of the Irish Volunteers, and he is a strong opponent of the proposals for the Acts of Union 1800. His eldest son, who succeeds him, is subsequently created an English Baron in 1837.

Lord Charlemont dies on August 4, 1799.

(Pictured: Charlemont as painted by Pompeo Batoni, c. 1753-56)


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Birth of American Folk Hero Davy Crockett

david-crockettDavid “Davy” Crockett, 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician, is born in Limestone, Greene County, North Carolina on August 17, 1786. He is commonly referred to in popular culture by the epithet “King of the Wild Frontier.” He represents Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves in the Texas Revolution.

The Crockett family is of mostly FrenchHuguenot ancestry, although the family settles in Ireland before migrating to the Americas. Crockett is born in what is now Greene County, Tennessee (at the time part of North Carolina), close to the Nolichucky River and near the community of Limestone. He grows up in East Tennessee, where he gains a reputation for hunting and storytelling.

Crockett is made a colonel in the militia of Lawrence County, Tennessee and is elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1821. In 1827, he is elected to the United States Congress where he vehemently opposes many of the policies of President Andrew Jackson, especially the Indian Removal Act. His opposition to Jackson’s policies leads to his defeat in the 1831 elections. He is re-elected in 1833, then narrowly loses in 1835, prompting his angry departure shortly thereafter to Texas, then the Mexican state of Tejas.

All that is certain about the fate of Crockett is that he dies fighting in the Battle of the Alamo in the Texas Revolution on the morning of March 6, 1836. According to many accounts, between five and seven Texans surrender during the battle, possibly to General Manuel Fernández Castrillón. General Antonio López de Santa Anna has ordered the Mexicans to take no prisoners, and he is incensed that those orders have been ignored. He demands the immediate execution of the survivors, but Castrillon and several other officers refuse to do so. Staff officers who had not participated in the fighting draw their swords and kill the unarmed Texians.

Crockett becomes famous during his lifetime for larger-than-life exploits popularized by stage plays and almanacs. After his death, he continues to be credited with acts of mythical proportion. In the 20th century these lead to television and movie portrayals, and he becomes one of the best-known American folk heroes.


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Birth of Explorer Robert O’Hara Burke

robert-o'hara-burkeRobert O’Hara Burke, Irish soldier and police officer who achieves fame as an Australian explorer, is born in St. Clerens, County Galway on May 6, 1821. He is the leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition which is the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north.

Burke is the second of three sons of James Hardiman Burke, an officer in the British army 7th Royal Fusiliers, and Anne Louisa Burke (nee O’Hara).

Burke enters the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in May 1835. In December 1836 he fails his probationary exam and goes to Belgium to further his education. In 1841, he enters the Austrian army and spends most of his time posted to northern Italy. Towards the end of 1847 he suffers health problems and ultimately resigns from the Austrian army in June 1848.

After returning to Ireland in 1848, he joins the Irish Constabulary (later the Royal Irish Constabulary). He does his cadet training at Phoenix Park Depot in Dublin between November 1849 and January 1850. At the end of 1850 he transfers to the Mounted Police in Dublin.

Burke emigrates to Australia, arriving in Hobart, Tasmania on February 12, 1853 and promptly sails for Melbourne. On April 1, 1853 he joins the recently established Victoria Police force.

After the South Australian explorer John McDouall Stuart reaches the centre of Australia, the South Australian parliament offers a reward of £2,000 for the promotion of an expedition to cross the continent from south to north, generally following Stuart’s route. In June 1860, Burke is appointed to lead the Victorian Exploring Expedition with William John Wills, his third-in-command, as surveyor and astronomical observer.

The expedition leaves Melbourne on August 20, 1860 with a total of 19 men, 27 camels and 23 horses. They reach Menindee on September 23, 1860 where several people resign.

Cooper Creek, 400 miles further on, is reached on November 11, 1860 by the advance group, the remainder being intended to catch up. After a break, Burke decides to make a dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria, leaving on December 16, 1860. William Brahe is left in charge of the remaining party. The small team of Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray reach the mangroves on the estuary of the Flinders River, near where the town of Normanton now stands, on February 9, 1861. They never see open ocean due to flooding rains and swamps.

Already weakened by starvation and exposure, progress on the return journey is slow and hampered by the tropical monsoon downpours of the wet season. Gray dies four days before they reach the rendezvous at Cooper Creek. The other three rest for a day when they bury him. They eventually reach the rendezvous point on April 21, 1861, nine hours after the rest of the party had given up waiting and left, leaving a note and some food, as they have not been relieved by the party supposed to be returning from Menindee.

Burke’s party attempts to reach Mount Hopeless, the furthest outpost of pastoral settlement in South Australia, which is closer than Menindee, but fail and return to Cooper Creek. While waiting for rescue Wills dies of exhaustion and starvation. Soon after, Burke also dies, at a place now called Burke’s Waterhole on Cooper Creek in South Australia. The exact date of Burke’s death is uncertain, but has generally been accepted to be June 28, 1861.

King survives with the help of Aborigines until he is rescued in September by Alfred William Howitt. Howitt buries Burke and Wills before returning to Melbourne. In 1862 Howitt returns to Cooper Creek and disinters Burke and Wills, taking them first to Adelaide and then by steamer to Melbourne where they are laid in state for two weeks. On January 23, 1863 Burke and Wills receive a State Funeral and are buried in Melbourne General Cemetery. Ironically, on that same day John McDouall Stuart and his companions, having successfully completed the south-north crossing, are received back at a large ceremony in Adelaide.