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Tragic explorer of Queensland
Born in Britain and trained as surveyor Kennedy arrived in Sydney at the age of twenty one and was soon appointed an assistant surveyor in the Surveyor-General Department, then run by Thomas Livingstone Mitchell. He briefly worked on surveying projects. His duties were light and he become popular in social circles, helped by his pleasant singing voice, humour and skills in drawing and watercolours.
In November 1845, as the second-in-command he accompanied Mitchell on the expedition to find an overland route to the Gulf of Carpentaria. With his explorer’s zeal and attention to duties Kennedy earned his commander’s approval. On this exploration Mitchell ventured into what is now central-west Queensland, discovering Victoria River while Kennedy held the base camp with their provisions. The explorers returned to Sydney in January 1847.
A few months later Kennedy was back in central Queensland to verify if Victoria River was flowing north-west to the gulf, as Mitchell suspected and hoped. Kennedy followed the river south-west, correctly deducing that it is a tributary of Cooper Creek. He renamed Victoria River which is now known as Barcoo River. Kennedy encountered Thomson and Warrego rivers, before returning to Sydney after 11 months travel. One of Kennedy’s companions was Thomas Wall, often working for the Australian Museum as a casual collector. On this expedition Wall made an impressive collection of over 300 specimens, mostly birds and insects, as well as 13 artefacts used by the aboriginal inhabitants of the Barcoo River region.
On 28 April 1848 Kennedy embarked on his most ambitious mission. The plan was to commence his journey at Rockingham Bay (just north of Hinchinbrook Island), traversing north along the east coast of Cape York up to Albany Island where supplies would be brought by ship. From there he would continue south along the west coast to link with the paths of previous explorations by Thomas Mitchell and Ludwig Leichhardt (who perished in 1848), and returning to Sydney overland.
The expedition turned out to be a tragic one. Thomas Wall, who again accompanied Kennedy, never returned home, and his remains were subsequently buried on Albany Island. Constrained by mangrove swamps, mountains, sickness, shortage of provisions and extreme fatigue, the explorers made little progress. A frustrated Kennedy took four men on a desperate march north, leaving the main part of eight men to follow with the provisions. None of them survived. Only Kennedy and his Aboriginal companion Jackey Jackey managed to come within about 30 km of Albany Island, but Kennedy died, speared at the Escape River, nearly at the tip of Cape York Peninsula. Jackey Jackey reached the supply ship alone, the only witness of the ill-fated adventure.
Queensland, as a self-governing colony, was established in 1859. Previously it was part of New South Wales. In fact Captain Cook symbolically took possession of New South Wales on Bedanung Island (he named it Possession Island) of the Kaurareg People of Torres Strait on 22 August 1770.