Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

Leichhardt and his cultural legacy

“Marianne would certainly make me unhappy and vice versa. She is an overbearing, cold hearted creature, who can apparently only feel sympathy and consideration for herself’.”

Leichhardt diary entry, 6 May 1842

In his award-winning novel Voss, Australian novelist Patrick White painted Leichhardt as a calculating and obsessive scientist. The original journals of Leichhardt give the impression that he was certainly strongly driven by emotion, but this was not restricted to his science. Throughout Leichhardt’s unedited and recently translated diaries spanning 1842 to 1844, there appear numerous social encounters, many of which involve women for whom Leichhardt developed a strong attachment. Unfortunately for Leichhardt, these feelings were unrequited.

While Australians were perhaps heavily influenced by the anti-German prejudice of the early 20th century – which some believe explains the reason why Leichhardt’s character is often painted as cold and calculating – we see in his candid diaries, written when he first arrived in Australia, a different portrait – that of a young scholar who emerged from the German Romantic tradition of the early 19th century, at times a vulnerable man, struggling to make his way professionally and socially in a strange land. It is hoped that future interpretations may explore in greater detail the more human side of his character.

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