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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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William John Wills, 2nd in command of the Victorian Expedition

1860-1861
Henry Samuel Sadd (engraver) and Fergusson & Mitchell, Melbourne (publisher) after Thomas Adams Hill

mezzotint on paper (sheet: 49.0 cm x 38.0 cm, image: 31.5 cm x 25.5 cm)

William John Wills (1834–1861), explorer, had started studying medicine in London before coming to Victoria in 1853. With his brother, Wills worked as a shepherd and then went to Ballarat to assist in his father’s medical practice. He later studied surveying, becoming an assistant at Georg von Neumayer’s astronomical and magnetic observatories in Melbourne. Neumayer, a member of the Royal Society of Victoria’s Expedition Committee, encouraged Wills to join the expedition to the Gulf; he was duly appointed its surveyor, astronomer and third-in-command. Wills became Burke’s lieutenant when clashes with the expedition leader resulted in the resignation of the man initially appointed to the post. A skilled bushman and navigator, Wills was modest, loyal, serious and self- disciplined and some have suggested that the expedition would not have ended so disastrously had Wills been more forthright in challenging Burke’s decisions. Despite the awful trials of the expedition’s final months, Wills continued to record meteorological and other observations in his diary up until the last. In late May 1861 Wills recorded: ‘We are trying to live the best way we can, like the blacks, but find it hard work.’ Wills was later left in camp while Burke and King went to find Aboriginal people to help them obtain food; he wrote his last letter on 29 June, reporting to his father that ‘spirits are excellent’, despite anticipating being able to survive only another four or five days. King, having left Burke dead, returned to find Wills in the same condition. His body was buried by a search party on 18 September 1861, but later his remains were returned to Melbourne and he was accorded a public funeral with Burke in January 1863.

Henry Samuel Sadd (1811–1893) arrived in Australia in 1853 and worked in Sydney for a time before relocating to Melbourne. Sadd became known for his mezzotint portraits of governors, clergymen and other public figures, exhibiting his work at the Victorian Exhibition of Art in 1856 and with the Victorian Society of Fine Arts in 1857. Many of Sadd’s portraits were taken from photographs: these mezzotints of Burke and Wills are based on ambrotypes taken by Thomas Adams Hill in Melbourne in 1860. Though Sadd’s work was much admired he, like many other artists, suffered from photography’s increasing popularity as a medium for portraiture. He died in St Kilda in 1893.

Purchased with funds provided by Ross A Field 2007

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Henry Samuel Sadd (age 49 in 1860)

Thomas Adams Hill

Fergusson & Mitchell, Melbourne

William John Wills (age 26 in 1860)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Supported by

Ross A. Field (12 portraits supported)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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