Burke and Wills Expedition — Forensic Analysis of the Death of Charlie Gray

Arrival of Burke, Wills at Cooper's Creek on their return
The arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper’s Creek. Painted by John Longstaff in 1907. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Charlie Gray (? – 1861 ) is the forgotten man of the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860-1. Burke and Wills are credited with the first crossing of Australia from south to north and then south to Cooper’s Creek [1] again. That they were accompanied by John King (1841 – 72) is commonly remembered because he was the only member of the crossing party to survive. Charlie Gray is often only remembered as a footnote: that he crossed the continent with Burke and Wills but died on the return from the Gulf of Carpentaria, the day that the crossing party spent burying his body, was instrumental in the tragedy that was to follow.

The death of Charlie Gray has attracted a good deal of controversy, as I’ll examine in this article.

It is my belief that this article is the first time that the events leading up to his death have been subjected to a detailed forensic scientific examination.

My conclusions show that the likely cause of Gray’s death was from a parasitic disease that compounded his generally¬†poor health and malnutrition. Furthermore, this same parasitic disease affected the other members of the party, hastened their worsening malnutrition, leading indirectly to the deaths of Burke and Wills some months later. John King was also close to death but was fortunate in finding the native Yandruwandha people who showed him kindness and made him part of their tribe until the Victorian Relief Expedition was able to rescue him. Continue reading “Burke and Wills Expedition — Forensic Analysis of the Death of Charlie Gray”