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Science and the making of VictoriaRoyal Society of Victoria
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Royal Society of Victoria 1854-1959


Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science

Philosophical Society of Victoria

Philosophical Institute of Victoria

Royal Society of Victoria



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Royal Society of Victoria (continued)

Thus, 1859 was one of great significance for the Institute in that, for the first time, it had a meeting place of its own, and also received the title 'The Royal Society of Victoria'. An important era in the history of the organization was completed.

The exhibition, at the meeting held on 4 June 1860, of specimens of 'malleable iron' from Cranbourne in the Western Port district of Victoria brought forth considerable discussion as to the nature and origin of such material. The original samples came from a Mr Cameron, a resident of Cranbourne, who believed the deposits in question to be portion of a series of strata extending through the locality for a distance of five miles in sufficient quantity to constitute a commercial inducement to the formation of a railway to the area. However, further enquiries revealed that there were only three masses of such material present in the district, and that they were of meteoric origin. These masses became known later as the Cranbourne meteorites which attracted much attention, not only locally, but also in scientific circles overseas.

The final arrangements for the exploration party envisaged earlier and the despatch of that party on their journey northward were completed in 1860. As this project constituted one of the major activities the Society had considered up to that time and proved of such interest at a later date, it is well to consider in detail the arrangements for such exploration. It will be remembered that the exploration committee had raised a sum of more than £2,000 privately in order to secure the donation of £1,000 that had been promised anonymously, and that the legislature had voted the sum of £6,000 for the same purpose. The importance of taking advantage of the winter season to commence the expedition was nullified to some extent by the decision to obtain camels from India for the transport of the party. To this end the sum of £3,000 was forwarded to India. The camels, 25 in number, arrived in Hobson's Bay on 25 June 1860 in good order and condition on board the Chinsurah, and were immediately landed and properly housed.

The important duty of selecting a leader for the expedition was met by publicly calling for applicants. From a large number of applicants, the choice of Robert O'Hara Burke was made by the committee. Burke was the superintendent of police in the Castlemaine district and a former cavalry officer in the Austrian service. His appointment was unanimously endorsed by the government. The selection of the remaining numbers of the party was not such an easy task, as over 700 candidates applied for the various positions. These were invited to meet Mr Burke at the hall of the Society and, after careful inquiries and personal interviews, the following were selected:

George James Landells, Second in Command
William John Wills, Surveyor and Astronomer
Herman Beckler, Medical Officer and Botanist
Ludwig Becker, Artist and Naturalist
Charles Ferguson, Assistant and Foreman
William Patten, Assistant
Patrick Langan, Assistant
Owen Cowen, Assistant
Robert Fletcher, Assistant
Henry Creber, Assistant
William Brahe, Assistant
John Drakeford, Assistant
John King, Assistant
Thomas McDonough, Assistant

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Philosophical Institute of Victoria; Royal Society of Victoria

People in Bright Sparcs - Becker, Ludwig; Burke, Robert O'Hara; Wills, William John

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Pescott, R. T. M. 1961 'The Royal Society of Victoria from then, 1854 to now, 1959', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, vol. 73, no. 7, pp. 1-40.

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