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» The Thomas and Anthony Belt Expedition?

The Thomas and Anthony Belt Expedition?


Thomas Belt applied to be part of the expedition, was he successful?
If so, a quick summary of his history and any possible inputs or finds he may have contributed.
Thanking you for your reply.

Graham Schmidt

Dear Graham,
Thomas Belt submitted an application to the Royal Society of Victoria for the position of leader of the Victorian Exploring Expedition, but he then withdrew his application and left Australia, so he did not take actually take part in the expedition.
Thomas Belt (1832-1878) was an English geologist who came to Australia in 1852. In 1855 he joined the Philosophical Institute of Victoria (which later became the Royal Society of Victoria, the organisers of the Burke and Wills Expedition).

Membership of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria:
*1855 - Thomas Belt, White Hill, Maryborough, Victoria.
*1857-1860 - Thomas Belt, Meteorological Observer, Mount Egerton, Victoria.

On Wednesday, 26 November 1857 he presented a paper to the Philosophical Institute titled On the course of whirlwinds.

A meeting of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria was held last evening in the Hall of the Mechanics' Institution [Collins-street, Melbourne], at ' half past seven o'clock. There was a full attendance.

The Course of Whirlwinds
Mr Thomas Belt, Meteorological Observer, Mount Egerton, read a paper on the above subject. He noticed the fact that Melbourne lay within the range of one of the great hurricane tracts, and, reasoning from analogy, the causes of the small circular gusts of wind, so frequently to be observed in the summer season, might perhaps be found to be similar to those of those more formidable phenomena of nature known by the name of whirlwinds. Alter alluding to the general descriptive features of the eddies in question, and to their prevalence in more countries than one, the reader commented upon their apparent causes. They might be considered as the initial phases of the great whirl-storms, and were perhaps similar in their nature to the simoons of Africa. There was also a likeness between them and the phenomena and causes of typhoons and cyclones. Hitherto the reading of the barometer had been too exclusively attended to, especially in regard to cyclones; whereas, the thermometer, on the other hand, had been too much neglected.

Argus, Thursday 26 November 1857: 5.

The paper was not selected to be published in the Transactions and the Proceedings of the Philosophical Institute. but it was published in the London Philosophical Magazine.
*See: Thomas Belt, "An inquiry into the Origin of Whirlwinds," Philosophical Magazine Volume 17, Issue 111, London, 1859: 47–53.

The same evening that Belt read his whirlwind paper, Dr Ferdinand Mueller read a lengthy and detailed paper titled "The Explorations of Australia." Mueller's paper was significant as it was part of the Philosophical Institute's early attempts to organise a Victorian expedition. The Institute's president, Dr David Wilkie had just announced their intention to organise an expedition, the Exploration Committee had been established and had met three times, and Mueller's paper outlined to the public what areas were left to explore. The enthusiastic attendance at the Mechanic's Institute was more a result of Mueller's talk on exploration rather than Belt's discussions of whirlwinds.
*For a transcript of Mueller's paper, see:

Mueller and Wilkie had different ideas on how the expedition should be managed. Wilkie wanted a large, scientific expedition to cross Australia from Brisbane to Perth. Mueller thought that a small, fast expedition from Cooper's Creek to the Gulf of Carpentaria would be better. He only wanted to use horses and objected to any suggestions to import camels for the expedition. Mueller initially wanted Augustus Charles Gregory to lead the expedition, but Gregory declined, as did the second choice, Peter Egerton Warburton. By March 1860 a leader had still not been appointed, and the Honorary Secretary of the Exploration Committee, Dr John Macadam, advertised for a leader in the press.

Victorian Exploring Expedition

Gentlemen desirous of offering their services for the leadership of the forthcoming expedition are requested to put themselves In communication with the Honorary Secretary of the Committee on or before the 1st day of March ensuing.
By Order of the Committee
John Macadam, MD, Honorary Secretary,
Fitzroy Cottage, Fitzroy-square.
Royal Society, Victoria-street, Melbourne.
January 30, 1860.

Argus, Thursday 2 February 1860: 2S, column c.

Thomas Belt had been following the discussion on exploration and considered himself a suitable candidate as leader. He submitted a lengthy application (7 foolscap pages) on 1 March 1860.

Melbourne, March 1st 1860
To the Exploration Committee of Victoria

I beg to offer my services as a leader in the proposed exploration of the interior. I have for several years taken a great interest in the subject and prepared myself in various ways for the duties of such a command. In December, 1857 I forwarded to the Exploration Committee of the Philosophical Institute an offer to attempt the traverse of the Australian continent form the River Albert in the Gulf of Carpentaria to the settlements on the Southern coast.

Further study of the subject has confirmed me in the opinion that the exploration of the interior may be best accomplished by making a series of transverse journeys across the continent from the Northern coast – and I beg respectfully to forward herewith a statement of my review on the subject:-

In respect to my ability to describe the natural phenomena met with during the journey I may state that I am thoroughly conversant with geology and meteorology. I 1857 I read before the Philosophical Institute of Victoria a paper on the “Origin of Whirlwinds” which, although it was not selected by the council of the Institute for publication, met with the decided approval of the Astronomer Royal of England, and was through him published in the  Philosophical Magazine, a copy of which I enclose.

In conclusion I would respectfully remind your Committee that geographical knowledge has been extended much more by individual effort than by large and costly expeditions.
I am, Gentlemen,
Your most obedient servant
Thomas Belt

Applications to join the Victorian Exploring Expedition received by the Exploration Committee, Box 2076/1, MS 13071, State Library of Victoria.

Belt then went on to outline his ideas for the expedition. He suggested that if the Victorian Government would take him and his older brother, Anthony, by ship to the Albert River in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the two men would then cross Australia to Melbourne. He wanted one man as an armed escort to accompany them for the first 20 miles, and then he and Anthony, with 25 pack-horses would cross the continent.
He argued:

If we fail, only two lives will be lost, but all chances are in our favour; we are provided with water and food more than ample to cover the distance we have to travel. Every step of our road carries us homeward and to safety. If we never find a drop of water on the road, our animals have enough to carry those who have to bear the whole journey to their goal, and as the animals succumb they will be shot or turned adrift.

Thomas Belt, The naturalist in Nicaragua: A narrative of a residence at the gold mines of Chontales; Journeys in the savannahs and forests; With observations of animals and plants in reference to the theory of evolution of living forms. London: J Murray, 1874.

He wanted to use packhorses rather than camels, as he thought camels were untested and may be unreliable. Belt's ideas for a small, fast expedition were very different to the final composition of the Burke and Wills Expedition with its grand entourage of camels, horses, wagons and men. He thought the whole expedition would cost just £2,500 (The Burke and Wills Expedition cost £10,045/14s/01d).

On 5 March 1860 the Exploration Committee considered Belt's application, along with fourteen other candidates. They commented on Belt's courageous proposal:

When the government expedition for crossing the Australian continent was first proposed, Belt pointed out the dangers attending any attempt to travel from south to north, and promised to make the journey successfully, with his brother as his only companion, if the government would convey them to the northerly gulf of Carpentaria, and let them start thence for the south.

Your Committee have had under their consideration a lengthy communication from Mr Belt, a member of the Institute, who proposes to undertake alone an expedition from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Adelaide. All that he requires is to be landed at the mouth of the Albert River, with five horses, provided with waterbags, and a small supply of provisions and oats. He expects to be able to reach Sturt's furthest point without difficulty, and then to follow his track to Adelaide.

Your Committee need only observe that the hostility and rapacity of the natives would render it extremely hazardous for one man to undertake such all expedition, not to mention the impossibility of one man leading or driving five horses through a scrubby and it may be a waterless country. They cannot, however, withhold their admiration of the zeal and courage displayed by Mr Belt in thus offering, single handed, to undertake so difficult and hazardous an expedition.

"First Report," Progress Reports and Final Report of the Exploration Committee of the Royal Society of Victoria. Melbourne: Royal Society of Victoria. Mason & Firth Printers. 1863.

However, the Exploration Committee could not agree on a suitable candidate for leadership, and so they deferred the decision for three months. Belt then wrote to withdraw his application:

Melbourne, 10 March 1860.

Having determined to proceed on a visit to Europe, I beg most respectfully to withdraw my application for the leadership of the proposed exploring expedition.

I am gentlemen,
your most obedient servant,
Thomas Belt.

Applications to join the Victorian Exploring Expedition received by the Exploration Committee, Box 2076/1, MS 13071, State Library of Victoria.

Thomas Belt left Australia and returned to England, and he was no longer mentioned in connection with the expedition.

Additional Information:
Hi Dave,
My name is Arturo and I grew up in Nicaragua, where Thomas Belt spent 4 years and wrote The Naturalist in Nicaragua. I'm seeking information about his insect collections and photos of him or of his family or home. Unfortunately I have no idea where to begin. I live in Germany and have recently translated his book from original English into German, which will be titled Der Naturforscher in Nicaragua. I would like to illustrate his writing by placing photos of the specimens he collected and surely are kept somewhere in England ... but where? Maybe you can give me a hint where I could ask? Any information would be terrific and most appreciated.
Best wishes,
E. Arturo Castro-Frenzel, Berlin.
Sehr geehrter Arturo,
Vielen Dank für Ihr email.
Unfortunately I am not aware of any collections made by Thomas Belt, certainly not here in Australia anyway.
Thomas Belt travelled widely (England, Wales, Australia, USA, Russia, Nova Scotia, Nicaragua and Siberia) so his collections (if they still exist) could be in any of these countries. I would suggest sending enquiries to the British Natural History Museum ( and the British Royal Entomological Society (
Belt was born in Northumberland in England, and joined the Tyneside Field Naturalists Club, which is now called the Natural History Society of Northumberland (, so they may have some details about Belt's collections.
I would also suggest contacting the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society ( to see if they have details of Belt's genealogy or any photographs of Thomas and his family.
Viel Glück mit Ihrer Forschung !