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William John Wills was an English explorer, surveyor, astronomical observer, and an integral part of the Burke and Wills Expedition in Australia between 1860 and 1861. Born in Devon, Wills practiced as a surgeon alongside his father, studied chemistry, mathematics, field surveying, and astronomy. He joined the Burke and Wills Expedition after encouragement from members of the Royal Victoria Society. The expedition was exhausting and full of unknowns. Unfortunately, after several months of trekking, Wills became overcome with exhaustion, and illness, and died in June of 1861.
See the fact file below for more information on the William John Wills or alternatively, you can download our 22-page William John Wills worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
EARLY LIFE AND MIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA
- William John Wills was born in Devon, England on January 5th, 1834.
- He was the second of seven children in the family and they lived together at the family home in Ipplepen.
- As a young child, Wills contracted a fever that resulted in his speech to become very “slow and hesitant,” perhaps similar to a minute stutter.
- His father, a medical doctor, tutored him in the family home until Wills was 11. After that time he attended St. Andrew’s Grammar School for the next five years.
- Once he completed school at St. Andrew’s he took part in a sort of apprenticeship under his father’s guidance; Wills took courses in practical chemistry at various hospitals in London.
- His father had been interested in Australia, so as a result of the gold rush, he bought a share in the Melbourne Gold Mining Company in 1852 with plans to migrate there with his wife and older sons, William and Thomas.
- Due to objections, he delayed his departure, and William and his brother Thomas (who were 18 and 15 at the time) went alone on October 1, 1852, on the ship Janet Mitchell, arriving at Williamstown on January 3, 1853.
- By February of 1853, he and his brother worked as shepherds in charge of 1300 rams in New South Wales; they were paid £30 per year, which would work out to approximately $4,000 in today’s money, plus rations for food and other items.
- Wills’ father arrived in Australia in August of that same year, and all three men moved to Ballarat; here, William began working as a digger in the goldfields.
- In 1854, William John Wills began working as an assistant surgeon in his father’s practice.
- In 1855, Wills switched gears and began to study surveying, trigonometry, Euclid drawing, and geometry. He went on to learn field-surveying, and began his practical experience in late 1856.
- Through his practical work, Wills was promoted and placed in charge of a field party and received a wage increase.
- Once the field party had finished, he went back to Ballarat and continued working on occasional contracts for different companies.
- Throughout his learning and practical experience, William John Wills was known for having a factual mind with an interest in natural phenomenon, literature, and exploring the world around him.
- He was also known as someone who was intellectual, sympathetic, expressive, and agile, and he took great pride in his work.
THE BURKE AND WILLS EXPEDITION
- When news broke that the Royal Society of Victoria were looking for someone to cross Australia from south to north, William John Wills was encouraged by a member of the exploration committee to join.
- Once Robert O’Hara Burke was appointed leader of the expedition, he made Wills third-in-command, surveyor, and astronomical and meteorological observer in July 1860. His salary was £300 per year.
- The expedition left in August 1860 with horses, wagons, camels, and supplies that would last them for at least two years.
- Following an argument with the second-in-command, Robert O’Hara Burke appointed Wills the new second-in-command.
- The expedition was split up when the party arrived at Cooper’s Creek on November 11th, 1860. Burke, Wills, and a few other members left for the final destination, the Gulf of Carpentaria on December 16th and reached it on February 11th of 1861.
- During the exploration, Wills wrote extensively in his diary, detailing the physical toughness, lack of rations, illness, and weather, among many other things.
- The journey back to Cooper’s Creek was nothing less than disastrous.
- Upon returning, they found that the man left in charge of the supplies, William Brahe, had left them very little to come back to.
- Against the judgment of Wills, Burke decided to head down the creek towards Adelaide; unfortunately, had the party took the original route back to Menindee, they might have run into Brahe returning to look for Burke and Wills’ smaller party.
- In another unfortunate turn of events, the small party headed by Burke failed in their mission to Mount Hopeless and decided to turn back to Cooper Creek and wait to be rescued.
- While waiting to be rescued, Wills was exhausted and urged Burke and the others to continue.
- Wills eventually died alone at Breerily Waterhole on Cooper Creek in South Australia in June of 1861.
- His death was likely due to a vitamin deficiency disease known as beriberi, as well as scurvy and other environmental factors.
- A state funeral was held for both Wills and Burke in Melbourne in January of 1863.
- Following the death of both Wills and Burke, a government inquiry was opened wherein Burke’s leadership and decisions were called into question; there was little to no criticism of Wills, as he deferred all decisions to his leader, Burke.
William John Wills Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the William John Wills across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use William John Wills worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about William John Wills who was an English explorer, surveyor, astronomical observer, and an integral part of the Burke and Wills Expedition in Australia between 1860 and 1861. Born in Devon, Wills practiced as a surgeon alongside his father, studied chemistry, mathematics, field surveying, and astronomy. He joined the Burke and Wills Expedition after encouragement from members of the Royal Victoria Society. The expedition was exhausting and full of unknowns. Unfortunately, after several months of trekking, Wills became overcome with exhaustion, and illness, and died in June of 1861.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Comparing Explorers
- A Life Full of Adventure
- William John Wills Wordsearch
- Diary Drawings
- Describing William
- William John Wills Crossword
- Unscrambling Activity
- At Breerily Waterhole
- In Memoriam
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Link will appear as William John Wills Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, August 20, 2019
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