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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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William John Wills

c. 1861
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

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

De Gruchy & Leigh (lithographers) (age 4 in 1861)

William John Wills (age 27 in 1861)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Charles Summers
Charles Summers
Charles Summers
Charles Summers

The importance of being bearded

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2012

Joanna Gilmour discovers that the beards of the ill-fated explorers Burke and Wills were as epic as their expedition to traverse Australia from south to north.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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