DETAIL : George LAMBERT  Russia 1873 � Australia 1930  'Chesham Street' [Chesney Street; The Doctor; Harley Street] 1910  oil on canvas National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased in 1993 DETAIL : George LAMBERT  Russia 1873 � Australia 1930  'The convex mirror' c.1916  oil with pencil on wood panel private collection
George LAMBERT | Burke and Wills on the way to Mount Hopeless

Russia 1873 – Australia 1930
Australia 1887-1900; England 1900-01; France 1901-02; England 1902-21; Australia from 1921
Burke and Wills on the way to Mount Hopeless 1907
26.2 (h) x 38.5 (w) cm
frame 58.3 (h) x 67.7 (w) x 2.0 (d) cm
signed and dated 'GEO.W.LAMBERT. 1907' lower right
Bendigo Art Gallery, purchased in 1960
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In 1860–61 Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills led an expedition to cross Australia from Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north. After arriving at their base camp at Cooper’s Creek, Burke selected Wills, John King and Charles Gray to accompany him to the gulf and left four men at the base camp. They reached the gulf but on their return journey Gray died of exhaustion, and when the others arrived back at the base camp it was deserted, the reserve party having departed only nine hours before they arrived. Burke decided to try to reach a police station at Mount Hopeless, but they eventually became too weak to continue, and he and Wills died from exhaustion and starvation. Only King survived, kept alive by Indigenous Australians until a search party found him.

Lambert depicted the exhausted body of Burke slumped against a tree, with King standing looking into the far distance and Wills crouching near an exhausted camel. He placed the event within a harsh and desolate Australian outback scene, overlooked by ominous black crows.

He made this watercolour as an illustration for W.H. Lang’s account of the expedition. It was published with the caption: ‘On the way to Mount Hopeless’ in a volume of boys’ stories, Romance of empire: Australia, in 1908. This was the first attempt to present Australia’s history in the form of an illustrated book for boys and met with considerable success.

Many artists depicted this story, including Ludwig Becker and Hermann Beckler, who participated in the expedition. John Longstaff painted Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper’s Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)in the same year that Lambert made this watercolour.

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