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John Oxley Library

Queensland Places - Cape York - Edmund Kennedy Expedition

By JOL Admin | 20 May 2016

Edmund Kennedy was one of the more important and well known of the explorers who, through their endeavours, added understanding and knowledge of the Cape York area, although his most famous expedition was to end tragically.

Kennedy undertook a number of important exploratory expeditions during his career but it was to be his third journey, and fatefully last expedition which covered the Cape York region.  Kennedy’s reason for undertaking this expedition was that he had been commissioned by the colonial government to travel north from Sydney in order to find a suitable overland route from the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Sailing from Sydney in April 1848, Kennedy led his party overland from Rockingham Bay, near present day Cardwell to Port Albany near the tip of Cape York Peninsula.  However, from the outset, his expedition met with difficulties, including the rugged terrain and on-going shortages of provisions.  Kennedy split his group near Weymouth Bay, taking a smaller group of four, including an Aboriginal man named Jacky Jacky, to rush forward to link up with the supply vessel at a pre-arranged meeting place.

On the way, near Shelburne Bay, one of the group accidentally shot himself and Kennedy left two of the group behind to care for him.  This left Kennedy and his friend Jacky Jacky to continue onward, with further tragedy waiting in the swampy surrounds of the Escape River.  It was here that Kennedy lost his life during a violent conflict with the local Aboriginal people.  Jacky Jacky continued, finally linking up with the supply ship Ariel.  In the ensuing search and rescue mission by the Ariel, no survivors were found at the Shelburne Bay camp where Kennedy had left nine members of his expedition and only two at the Weymouth Bay camp.

Later, some of Kennedy’s papers were found where Jacky Jacky had cached them, but his remains were never found.

Edmund Kennedy Memorial

Edmund Kennedy Memorial

This photograph shows the memorial to Kennedy’s ill fated expedition, erected near Tam O’Shanter Point.

Brian Randall, Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.


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