Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

Arrival at Port Essington

“I was deeply affected in finding myself again in civilised society…”

Leichhardt diary entry, 17 December 1845

On 17 December 1845, seven skeletal men, their clothes in tatters and mounted on equally gaunt horses, rode into the Royal Marine encampment at Port Essington. Their planned six-month journey had taken fourteen and a half months. Indeed, 10 months after their departure from Moreton Bay, Leichhardt’s friends in Sydney had feared the worst. They had already penned verse and music in memory of their lost friend ‘sacrificed to the cause of science’. On learning that he had not perished, a piece entitled 'Dr Leichhardt's march' was hastily written. A celebratory dinner was held by the Commandant of the fort in honour of Leichhardt. Four weeks after their arrival they left on the supply ship Heroine for Sydney.

Following a nine-week journey, on 29 March 1846 the Heroine quietly slipped into Sydney Cove and the next day the Sydney Morning Herald published Leichhardt’s account that he had penned en route on the Heroine. The city was alive with the stories of Leichhardt’s triumph, crowned by a formal lecture series by Leichhardt that was later published in the Sydney Morning Herald. Dubbed the ‘Prince of Explorers’, Leichhardt and his men received donations and honoraria. He emerged as the colony’s hero who set off with minimal support and resources. Back from the dead, he immediately began planning his next expedition: this time to cross the continent from east to west

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