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» Robert O'Hara Burke (1821-61)

Robert O'Hara Burke (1821-61)

The Burkes of County Galway, Ireland, were Protestant gentry with a tradition of military service. Robert O'Hara served in a cavalry regiment of the Austrian Army, then in the Irish Mounted Constabulary. After emigrating to Australia in 1853, he eventually became superintendent of police in the Castlemaine district. One of his notable achievements was leading a forced march of police troops to quell anti-Chinese riots on the Buckland River fields in 1857.

Burke's appointment as leader of the expedition was not a unanimous decision and, like all the senior appointments, owed as much to personal patronage and influence as to individual ability. His character remains ambiguous - a stickler for military discipline and procedure, but notoriously slovenly and eccentric in his personal life. He was moody, impulsive and liable to emotional outbursts when he felt his authority to be threatened. While his faults were obvious to many, others seemed to have boundless faith in his ablilities.