Skip to main content

William John Wills
, c. 1861

by De Gruchy & Leigh (lithographers)

lithograph on paper (sheet: 19.0 cm x 13.5 cm)

In August 1860, shortly before the departure of the Victorian Exploring Expedition, Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills sat for the Melbourne photographer Thomas Adams Hill. Burke (1821–1861), an Irish-born former policeman, had been appointed leader of the expedition, and Wills (1834–1861) its astronomer and surveyor. In November 1861, the news reached Melbourne that the expedition had ended in awful circumstances, Burke and Wills being among the several men who lost their lives in the venture. The pair were instantly elevated to hero status. Waxworks proprietors were quick to advertise tableaux featuring the tragic heroes; a ‘Grand Moving Diorama’ of scenes from the expedition was exhibited; and various firms instantly responded to the demand for souvenir portraits and accounts of the ‘late lamented explorers’. Hill’s earlier portraits of Burke and Wills thereby became the template for various posthumous commemorative depictions, including this pair of lithographs by the Melbourne printers De Gruchy & Leigh.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2009
Accession number: 2009.126