Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

Port Essington Triumph

“I was inspired with the desire of attempting it…”

Introduction to Journal of an overland expedition in Australia from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, a distance of upwards of 3000 miles, during the years 1844-1845

When Ludwig Leichhardt heard of a planned New South Wales government-sponsored expedition to find an overland route to the remote outpost of Port Essington on the Coburg Peninsula (near modern day Darwin), he decided that he too would mount an expedition to Port Essington. Port Essington had caught the imagination of many of the colony’s entrepreneurs who believed an overland link with the Port Essington settlement would allow trade to open between Asia and the colony. It has also been suggested that the settlement was established as a strategy to maintain British control of Australia. Leichhardt, on the other hand, was motivated not by commerce, but by his quest for knowledge.

Leichhardt had limited success in convincing the upper echelons of colonial society to support his proposed expedition. However, he did manage to capture the imagination and support of the merchants and press of Sydney and Brisbane, which resulted in the supply of much of his equipment and stock. This 1844-1845 expedition was to be the most significant scientific investigation of the continent since the initial explorations of Sir Joseph Banks. It was unlike any that had preceded it that century, or indeed any that followed it for many decades to come. While beset with difficulties and conflict, the journey allowed Leichhardt to record the wildlife and landscape and ultimately proved to colonial society that he was indeed an “explorer”.

Paradise Parrot

Paradise Parrot

While the Paradise Parrot was not first collected on Leichhardt’s Port Essington venture, it was its sightings by the expedition’s ornithologist, John Gilbert that showed the extent of its habitat.

The Valley of Lagoons

The Valley of Lagoons

Both Leichhardt and John Gilbert commented on the natural beauty of the Valley of Lagoons.

Death of Gilbert

Death of Gilbert

Eight months after setting out for Port Essington, Leichhardt and his men were attacked by a group of Aboriginal men. John Gilbert was killed and two other men were wounded.

Arrival at Port Essington

Arrival at Port Essington

Assumed lost, the Leichhardt and his party finally arrived at the Royal Marine encampment at Port Essington, in December 1845, establishing his reputation as an explorer.

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