Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land


“I am doing my utmost towards some day achieving something worth while, towards raising myself above the general level…”

Letter from Leichhardt to his father, 28 February 1836

Ludwig Leichhardt, born in Germany in October 1813, is an enduring figure in Australian history. An extensive and varied education and a passion for the natural sciences brought him to Australia in 1842. Over the next five years, he managed to visit vast tracts of the country in his quest to learn all he could about this strange land so far from his home.

Leichhardt’s formal education began at boarding school in Zaue at the age of six, and continued at universities in Berlin and Gottingen.  Inspired by the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, an early 19th century explorer and naturalist, Leichhardt developed a wide range of interests, embracing the study of philosophy, medicine, language, and the natural sciences. John and William Nicholson, fellow students in Germany, were also an influence on Leichhardt – John piqued his interests in natural science, while William’s medical studies encouraged him in that direction. In 1837 Leichhardt moved to London to join William, and to study at the British Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons, and later at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The pair carried out field trips in Europe and England, and as early as October 1837, Leichhardt wrote to his parents telling them that he was contemplating travelling to Australia to continue his study of the natural sciences. On 1 October 1841 Leichhardt left London for Australia. William Nicholson paid Leichhardt’s fare, gave him a set of travelling clothes and a loan of £200, and Leichhardt set off on a journey that would ultimately see his demise.

Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

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