January 15

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1872 John King (33), Tyrone-born soldier and the only survivor of the four men of the Burke and Wills expedition (1860–1), the first to cross Australia from south to north, died of tuberculosis.
  • 1988 Seán MacBride (83), lawyer, government minister and international politician, died.
  • 1988 Seán MacBride (83), lawyer, revolutionary and international jurist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1977), died.
  • 1920 Using proportional representation (PR) for the first time, local government elections gave Sinn Féin, other nationalists and the Labour Party control of 172 out of 206 councils, including 72 out of the 127 municipal councils.
  • 1861 Terence Bellew MacManus, Young Irelander who had been transported to Van Diemen’s Land for his role in the William Smith O’Brien affray at Ballingarry in July 1848, died in poverty in San Francisco. His funeral to Glasnevin in November that year was effectively stage-managed by the Fenian movement.
  • 1872 John King (33), soldier and the only survivor of the first successful crossing of the Australian continent from south to north, died. Born in Moy, Co. Tyrone, he was an assistant on the Great Northern Exploration Expedition—popularly known as the Burke and Willis expedition—that was organised by a group of Australian businessmen under the command of County Galway-born Robert O’Hara Burke to explore the Australian interior and find the continent’s northern limits. Setting out from Melbourne in August 1860, the party of nineteen, complete with horses, camels and wagons, made rapid progress to reach Cooper’s Creek, the last European settlement on their route, in November that year. Having left a depot there with most of the expedition’s men and supplies, Burke, along with his second-in-command William Willis, Charles Gray and King, made a 750-mile dash to the northern coast, arriving in the swamps of the Gulf of Carpentaria in February 1861. Misfortune, however, stalked their return journey. Contending with constant tropical rain and low on supplies, Gray died a month later. Then, in mid-April, when they finally reached Cooper’s Creek, they found it deserted. It transpired that, after waiting for four months, the remainder of the party had abandoned the depot that very same day, leaving only a meagre store of provisions. The three struggled on but only King survived. He was cared for by aborigines and was rescued in September 1861. Whereas the bodies of Burke and Willis were recovered and accorded state funerals and a bronze memorial was erected in Melbourne in their honour, King was rewarded with a gold watch and a modest pension. He retired to relative obscurity and married a cousin, but never recovered from his experience. He died from tuberculosis.

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