Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

Sydney to Moreton Bay

“I’ve crossed the waters of the deep and defied its storms, the Sun has passed over my head from the South into the North, and now the whole mass of the Earth lies between you all over there, and me.”

Letter from Leichhardt to his brother-in-law, Carl Schmalfuss, 23 March 1842

On Valentine’s Day 1842 the Sir Edward Paget landed in Sydney bearing the young explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. With a brilliant scientific mind trained by some of Europe’s leading naturalists, he arrived with a year’s living allowance from his friend and benefactor William Nicholson, and a letter of introduction from leading English anatomist Sir Richard Owen to Sir Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor General of New South Wales.

Some weeks later, on April Fool’s Day 1842, Leichhardt began the first of his five Australian diaries. Over the following months he travelled north from Sydney to Moreton Bay, keeping an extensive record of his experiences and observations. While Leichhardt is recognised for his significant scientific observations on the geology and flora and fauna of the new colony, he also made numerous social and anthropological observations. During his explorations throughout the landscape he met many personalities; some later became supporters and benefactors of his expeditions of discovery.

His diaries also provide an independent insight into colonial society and its clash with Aboriginal culture; like many educated commentators of the time, he lamented the collapse of Aboriginal society as a sad but inevitable reality of British settlement.

Commentary on Society

Commentary on Society

Not being a part of the British establishment, Leichhardt was in a position to provide a unique perspective and fresh view into the nature of Australian colonial society.

Leichhardt meets the megafauna

Leichhardt meets the megafauna

While travelling through the Darling Downs area, Leichhardt recorded his opinions on the fossil record of the now extinct megafauna.

The Zion Hill Mission

The Zion Hill Mission

Originally impressed with the work carried out at the Zion Hill Mission, Leichhardt soon became disillusioned, foreseeing its failure.

Leichhardt and the Aboriginal War

Leichhardt and the Aboriginal War

Leichhardt’s movements through the colony allowed him to make numerous observations regarding the conflict between expanding European settlement and the Aboriginal tribal groups struggling for survival.

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