Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

Darling Downs Departure

“I bid you now a long farewell!”

Letter from Leichhardt to John MacKay, 3 March 1848

In April 1848 Leichhardt and a team of six or seven men rode westward from the furthest outstation of the Darling Downs. While the direction the party took has long been a topic of debate, the one certainty is that after leaving Mount Abundance they were never seen again.

The objective of the expedition was to reach the Swan River settlement on the other side of the continent, with the aim of arriving in 1850 or 1851. It represented Leichhardt’s second attempt to cross the continent from east to west, the first ending in failure due to the severity of the weather. Leichhardt’s reputation had been somewhat tarnished as a result of the rumours spread by his former companions during the previous failed expedition, but this did not deter him from a second attempt.

While there has been much debate over the direction Leichhardt took on his final expedition, historian Darrell Lewis in his thorough review of the evidence has established that it was always clear that Leichhardt would have taken the route across Australia’s top end. He was aware of Australia’s arid core almost from the outset of his arrival in Australia, and his large herd of stock was dependent on reliable sources of water that only the northern route could provide.

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