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Museum acquires Burke and Wills expedition watch

23 SEPTEMBER 2008

The National Museum of Australia has acquired a gold pocket watch used by the explorer William John Wills on the 1860s Victorian Exploring Expedition, the legendary Burke and Wills expedition.

The William Wills watch was bought at auction for $122,000, including the auction house commission.

"The Victorian Exploring Expedition, embarked upon by Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills in 1860, remains one of the most celebrated journeys of the 'heroic era' of Australian land exploration. The William John Wills expedition watch, together with other objects in the National Museum's collection, will help us tell their story," said National Museum Curator Pip McNaught.

The case back of the 18 carat gold pocket watch is engraved Wm. John Wills Explorer Melbourne 1860 R.O.H.B. Wills. The James Murray 5243 watch is identified by its unique serial number which regularly features in documentation associated with the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition 1860-61.

The watch was the personal property of William John Wills and his dying wish to John King, the sole survivor of the Expedition, was for the watch to be given to his father Dr William Wills. The watch remained in the Wills family until it passed to a New South Wales watch collector and was auctioned as part of the collector's estate.

Other objects relating to Burke and Wills in the National Museum's collection include a lithograph map of Burke and Wills' route from Cooper's Creek to Carpentaria published by the Office of Lands and Survey, 1861 and a copy of Neumayer's Results of the Magnetical, Nautical and Meteorological Observations owned by William John Wills and a water bottle believed to have belonged to Robert O'Hara Burke.

The story of Burke and Wills will feature in Creating a Country, a new gallery due to open next year at the National Museum of Australia.


For interviews, images and more information please contact Dennis Grant on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481; Caroline Vero on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au