Ludwig Leichhardt’s Australian Expeditions

Ludwig Leichhardt

Ludwig Leichhardt

On October 23, 1813, Prussian explorer and naturalist Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt was born. He is most famous for his exploration of northern and central Australia. Leichhardt went to Australia in 1842 to study the rocks and wildlife in Queensland and the Northern Territory. In 1846 he left on an expedition with nine men to find a route from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to Perth, rather poorly equipped. The party disappeared, leaving a mystery as to its fate which nine major expeditions in the next 90 years failed to solve.

Ludwig Leichhardt was born in Prussia and studied philosophy, language, and natural science at the Universities of Göttingen and Berlin, however, he never received a degree. Leichhardt moved to England in 1837 and continued his natural science studies there, undertaking field work in several European countries, including France, Italy and Switzerland. In order to explore the inland of AustraliaLeichhardt arrived in Sydney in February 1842. He went to the Hunter River valley north of Sydney to study the geology, flora and fauna of the region, and to observe farming methods. Leichhardt returned to Sydney in 1844 and hoped to take part in an expedition sponsored by the government from Moreton Bay to Port Essington.

Unfortunately, the plans for this mission fell through, Leichhardt decided to undertake the expedition anyway, accompanied by volunteers and supported by private fundings. In August 1844 the crew sailed to Moreton Bay where further expedition members joined and together they officially departed on the first of October 1844 from Jimbour, the farthest outpost of settlement on the Queensland Darling Downs. The party arrived in Port Essington on 17 December 1845 after completing about 4800 kilometers overland. Leichhardt returned to ydney by boat, arriving on 25 March 1846 to a hero’s welcome. The Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, a Distance of Upwards of 3000 km, During the Years 1844 and 1845 by Leichhardt describes this expedition. The next expedition Leichhardt started was supported financially by the government and by private investors. The expedition began in December 1846 and was supposed to take him from the Darling Downs to the west coast of Australia and ultimately to the Swan River and Perth. The crew had to return in June 1847 after covering only 800km due to bad weathers, malaria fever and famine. After recovering from malaria Leichhardt spent six weeks in 1847 examining the course of the Condamine River, southern Queensland, and the country between the route of another expedition led by Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1846 and his own route, covering nearly 1,000 km. For his achievements Ludwig Leichhardt was awarded the annual prize of the Paris Geographical Society along with French explorer Rochet d’Héricourt. Further, the explorer the Royal Geographical Society of London awarded Leichhardt its Patron’s Medal as recognition of ‘the increased knowledge of the great continent of Australia‘.

Already one year later, Ludwig Leichhardt set out for another expedition from the Condamine River to reach the Swan River and part of the journey were four Europeans, two Aboriginal guides, seven horses, 20 mules and 50 bullocks. Ludwig Leichhardt was last seen on April 3, 1848 at McPherson’s Station, Coogoon, on the Darling Downs. His sudden disappearance remains a mystery until this day. even though the latest evidence suggests that they may have perished somewhere in the Great Sandy Desert of the Australian interior. The expedition was expected to last about two to three years, but four years after his disappearance the government of South Wales sent out a search expedition but without any significant results. In 1869 the Government of Western Australia heard rumours of a place where the remains of horses and men killed by indigenous Australians could be seen. A search expedition was sent out under John Forrest, but nothing was found, and it was decided that the story might refer to the bones of horses left for dead at Poison Rock during Robert Austin’s expedition of 1854.

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