Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

Into Oblivion

“…die in Australia, for Australia”

Comment attributed to Leichhardt by John F Mann, 30 April 1847 in Eight Months with Dr Leichhardt

In 1846/47 Leichhardt set out on his first attempt to cross Australia from Moreton Bay, Queensland, to the Swan River in Western Australia. His purpose was to explore the heart of the country, including Sturt’s Stony Desert as well as the west and north west coasts, and to note the change in flora and fauna as he crossed from east to west. Both this and his second expedition in 1848 failed.

On 4 April 1848 Leichhardt wrote from Mount Abundance to the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald. This was his last letter before he and his party headed into oblivion. Added to the enormity of crossing from one side of the continent to the other, there was also the logistics of mounting such an expedition. Apart from the seven known members and their personal gear, there were 77 head of livestock, saddlery and other horse gear, navigational equipment, cutlery, crockery and kitchen equipment, as well as firearms and gunpowder – the list goes on.

There have been many theories about the fate of the explorers: they died of thirst, starvation or disease; they drowned in a flash flood; they were murdered by Aboriginal tribal groups; or even the bizzare conspiracy theory that they were murdered by the British Government. Despite endless speculation and numerous searches, the fate of Leichhardt and his party remains a mystery.

Darling Downs Departure

Darling Downs Departure

In 1848, Leichhardt led an expedition from the Darling Downs, in attempt to cross the continent from East to West. The debate over which direction they took adds to the mystery of their fate.

A Surveyor's Search

A Surveyor's Search

Several searches were mounted for Leichhardt and his missing party. One such expedition was led by the surveyor AC Gregory, who went on to become Surveyor General of Queensland.

von Mueller’s impassioned plea

von Mueller’s impassioned plea

In 1865, the Victorian botanist von Mueller appealed to the women of Victoria to raise money to search for Leichhardt, and the Ladies Leichhardt Search Committee is formed.

A Piece of Evidence

A Piece of Evidence

The only artefact that can be definitely attributed to Leichhardt’s final expedition, a rifle butt plate unfortunately sheds no light on his fate.

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