No, we're not talking about Ludwig's voyage out to Australia, but we have found some interesting stories about ships bearing the name Leichhardt. Curiously, three of them appear to have been at sea, in different parts of the world, around the same time in the 19th century!

Following his disappearance in 1848, his name was commemorated most significantly in Queensland and the Northern Territory. One steamer, built in Australia, served east coast ports from Sydney to to the far north in the 1860s-1870s. Another was a government schooner, which serviced isolated homesteads and settlements along the banks of the remote rivers in the Top End. So far, we have not been able to establish any information about their fates.

A third Leichhardt ~ about which information is also lacking, except for the circumstances of her sinking! ~ was run down by another vessel while at anchor in the river Thames in October 1868. You can read a facsimile version of one of the many newspaper reports of the time below. What type of ship she was is unclear; all we know from the reports is that she was preparing for a passage out to  New Zealand.

More recently,  the explorer's name was given to a 'roll-on-roll-off' (RoRo) container-carrying coastal vessel, which serviced ports around the tip of Cape York and Gulf of Carpentaria. Her place in the history books was made by the misfortune of her going aground, briefly, on a shoal in the Torres Strait in December 1987, while on a voyage to Weipa. There were no injuries, nor pollution damage, according to the ATSB report, and we don't (yet) know what became of this Leichhardt. 

A 21st century addition continues to make a sterling contribution to the economy of far north Queensland. In May 2010, the PB Towage group added a purpose-built, 28m-long tug named PB Leichhardt, to its Australian fleet of more than one dozen tugs. This sturdy little working vessel is based out of Townsville, and works ports in the far north according to need.

It would be misplaced to ascribe the explorer's chequered history ~ and uncertain fate ~ to the ships which later bore his name, but many of them seem to have been both notable and vexed as well. You can read a little more about each of them below (click on the thumbnail images to open larger versions) ... and if any of our visitors can shed any more light on any of these ships, please get in contact.

Leichardt on Victoria River NT PH0734-0053 300pxW thumb  

This undated image of the government schooner Leichhardt shows her alongside the banks of the Victoria River, somewhere in the northwest of the Northern Territory. Remote properties, homesteads and mission stations could rely on seaborne supplies and mail only when the rivers were not in flood during 'The Wet'. 

(NT government archives image PH0734-0053)

Click on the image to see larger.

1869.01.02 MTG BorderWatch article 300pxW thumb  

The curious case of the loss of another Leichhardt, run down by a ship in the Thames on the night of 23 October 1868, was reported some months later in many Australian newspapers. Here is a facsimile of the article in the Mount Gambier "Border Watch" of 2 January 1869. 

It appears that both negligence and "liquor" were involved in the collision, but it is the fate of one of the Leichhardt's passengers - Mrs Tone - and her worldly possessions which most excited the reporter's diligent grasp of the traqedy!


Click on the image to read the PDF (1.9MB) of the article.

Leichhardt Brisbane Paddles SLQ-117028 300pxW thumb  

The Australasian Steam Navigation Company's shipyards built the 459 ton paddle-steamer
Leichardt in 1863-64. Around July 1865, the new vessel  was placed into Sydney-Brisbane-Maryborough-Rockhampton service. Image likely to be in the Brisbane River.

Interestingly, historical records appear to show the vessel having only a single ‘h’ in her name!

(SLQ 117028)

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Leichhardt in Brisbanes dry dock 1885 SLQ 1 233538 300pxW thumb  

Beautiful view of Leichardt in the South Brisbane Dry Dock in 1885, looking in from the river-end caisson. She was converted from paddle-wheels to more efficient twin propellors in 1872, losing one funnel and gaining a third mast. Together with her clipper bow (visible in the river image above), these changes made her a very elegant vesel indeed.

With the discovery of the Palmer gold rush in far north Queensland in 1873, Captain Saunders took the Leichardt north from Brisbane on 15 October, carrying police, gold and engineering officials, and 70 optimistic miners,  arriving in the Endeavour River at Cooktown 10 days later

Returning south, Leichardt became the first coastal steamer to call in at Trinity Bay (Cairns), six days before that port received its first regular shipping

(SLQ 1 233538)

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Leichardt landing Silkhet immigrants BDB 1883 HM 300pxW thumb  

In 1883, the Leichardt was photographed bringing immigrants up the Burnett River, from the emigrant ship variously spelled Silkhet, to dock at Bundaberg.

There is a pronounced list, as crew and passengers crowd the vessel's starboard side! Her ultimate fate is unknown.

(SLQ 395093)

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Leichhardt TorresStr grounding ATSB report 1987-8 300pxW thumb  

The 20th century Leichhardt was a  64m-long, 1,155 GRT coastal freighter built in Japan in 1981. At 2050 on the night of 3 December 1987, she struck a shoal in the Torres Strait but refloated without injury or pollution (the holed fuel tank was fortunately empty at the time). Her bottom damage was repaired at Cairns in February 1988, but her fate is unknown.
(ATSB report)

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Pb Leichhard Scott-Mountford 300pxW thumb  


The PB Leichhardt was built in China by tug designer Damen Shipyard. At 28 metres long, with a beam of 10m, she has a maximum speed of 12.9 knots and is rated as 59- tonne bollard pull. She was joined in Townsville by identical sister vessel PB Herbert a month later.

Another tug, the 25-metre PB Endeavour, arrived to support operations while the two new vessels were being commissioned. PB Towage, a subsidiary of Pacific Basin Shipping, currently has about 15 tugs operating in Australia.

(Scott Mountford photo, from

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Remember, if you can add any information about any of these ships, please get in contact.


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