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The Burke and Landells Expedition


What was Burke and Landells' relationship before the expedition ?


Dear Jason,

Burke only met Landells after he had been selected as leader of the expedition in June 1860. Landells had just arrived back from India with a shipment of camels, and the two men met for the first time just two months before the expedition departed.

Not a great deal is known about Landells. Research by Len Meeny into another branch of the Landells family suggests that George James Landells was born in Barbados on 5 February 1825 to George Landells and Margaret Anderson. The family lived variously in Barbados, Jamaica, Gambia and England before George James Landells moved to India around 1842. He came to Australia in 1856 aboard the SS Havannah and worked for Colonel W P Robbins of the East India Company. In 1858 he was due to leave Melbourne for Kolkata with a shipment of heavy artillery horses and was looking for something to bring back to Australia as a return shipment.

At the time only six camels had been imported into Australia, and none had been imported into Victoria. However the Victorian Parliament was considering the potential benefits of bringing camels into the colony. Landells wrote to Dr Thomas Embling, MLA for Collingwood, suggesting the government commission him to purchase twenty-four camels in India.

Although fund raising for the Burke and Wills Expedition was underway in 1858, the camels were not initially destined for use on the expedition (contrary to popular belief). The camels were purchased for the Melbourne Botanical and Zoological Gardens, where the Government Botanist, Ferdinand Mueller, was to supervise a breeding program to supply camels as pack-animals for transporting goods, as well as using some of the animals for exploration. It was originally expected that the Burke and Wills Expedition would depart long before the camels arrived from India.

Due to a series of delays raising sufficient funds and selecting a suitable leader for the expedition, the camels landed in Melbourne just before Burke departed, and there was so much excitement about the impending expedition that Burke was allowed to select as many camels as he required. He took twenty-six of the thirty-two camels available, and Mueller never got to start his breeding program.

The expedition's organisers, The Royal Society of Victoria, thought the expedition needed a camel expert to manage the animals and supervise the eight sepoys that had come over from Karachi. Landells claimed to have worked with camels for fourteen years in India and he had been receiving favourable reports in the Melbourne press for the way he had selected the finest camels and transported them safely from India. He was probably the foremost camel expert in Australia at the time, however he had strong views about how the camels should be treated and he was obstinate while negotiating his salary and conditions with the Royal Society of Victoria. Burke met Landells while visiting the camels at the Parliament House stables, and he was impressed with Landells' knowledge of the animals and the strict way he dealt with the sepoys. Burke agreed that the Royal Society of Victoria should employ Landells, even though Landells demanded a higher salary than Burke.

When it came time to prepare for departure, Burke left the selection of camels, sepoys and tack to Landells, and the two men seem to have got on well, right up until the moment of departure when Landells objected to Burke placing loads on the camels.

George James Landells,
William Strutt, Strutt sketchbook, Parliamentary Library of Victoria.