State Library of Victoria \ Dig: the Burke & Wills research gateway
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Wills had two responsibilities as navigator. The first was to determine the party's position from day to day in order for them to reach their destination. The second was to keep a detailed record of their route so that any discoveries they made could be retraced. He employed two techniques of navigation:

Navigation by observation
This technique involved observing various astronomical bodies at particular times to determine a position upon the earth's surface. The calculation of latitude - one's position north or south of the equator - was comparatively simple and had been practised since antiquity. However the reliable calculation of longitude - one's position east or west of an agreed point - had defied solution for centuries, and only became possible in the 18th century with the development of extremely reliable timepieces known as chronometers.

Navigation by dead reckoning
Also known as navigation 'by account', the navigator starts from a known location, and records the distance travelled and every change of direction, as well as landmarks such as rivers and hills. At intervals, the distances and directions are plotted onto a map, and the new position is read off.

Wills used both kinds of navigation. A page of his astronomical observations is incomprehensible to anyone not trained in this technique. A page of his dead reckoning is slightly easier to interpret. Reading from the bottom up, times of day are noted on the left, and symbols and words indicate directions of the compass and geographical features.

Wills' real challenge as a navigator was the journey from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria - this was terra incognita at last. Even the journey back was a relatively simple matter of following their own northward trail.