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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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

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

Accession number: 2009.126

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

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

William John Wills (age 27 in 1861)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

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, (late 1860s) Batchelder & Co. Photo
Charles Summers, (late 1860s) Batchelder & Co. Photo
Charles Summers, (late 1860s) Batchelder & Co. Photo
Charles Summers, (late 1860s) Batchelder & Co. Photo

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 both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.