Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

Leichhardt and the Aboriginal War

“Now there is open warfare between the two.”

Leichhardt diary entry, 30 July 1843

Soon after his arrival in Australia Leichhardt started to witness the dispossession of Aboriginal people that was occuring across the colony. Quite often pastoral expansion was actively resisted through ‘guerrilla warfare’, which led to indiscriminate reprisals by Europeans who often made no attempt to identify those who had been involved in the violence. Massacres were documented across the colony of New South Wales, which at that time included present day Queensland.

During Leichhardt’s visit in 1842 to Kilcoy Station, at least 30 and perhaps as many as 60 Aboriginal people were massacred by unknown perpetrators, who had placed arsenic in flour, resulting in the mass poisoning of the group. It was not clear if the landholder, Sir Evan Mackenzie, was responsible, or whether it was the result of actions by itinerant shepherds. Leichhardt’s friend, the German missionary Reverend Schmidt, was the first European to make public comments of this event; the squatters of the region did not appear to have discussed the event in any formal capacity. No action was taken by the authorities.

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