This book is perhaps the most comprehensive, academic, and downright 'forensic' anthology to date. It examines both the searches for the missing explorer and the theories behind his possible routes and trail of 'evidence'.
The review below is by Matthew Tesch, who is rapidly acquiring a library of Leichhardt lore, knowledge, books, maps and other ephemera ~ as well as a keener appreciation of why we ought to retain a little mystery in our 21st century lives.
Highly recommended reading: any links will direct you to the Monash University Publishing site to find out more, or to place your own order.
Set out over seven chapters, divided into two parts of three each and a concluding Discussion, Where is Dr Leichhardt? comprises 416 pages, the 1,372 footnotes of which reference 13 pages of Bibliography and sources. In addition, 20 maps help the reader avoid getting lost, and 78 b/w illustrations put faces to names and show key locations. A single appendix lists the known, and unconfirmed but likely, items of gear which accompanied the lost expedition, and the whole is rounded-off by a comprehensive Index.
Approaching the vast landscape and literature, Lewis establishes his case for collating identified “clusters” of Leichhardt finds or ‘evidence’ and separates these into two possible pathways. The three chapters of part one review the northern options, building on the 1844-45 Port Essington route: Central Queensland, the Gulf and Roper River region, and the Victoria River / Tanami Desert. The first two chapters of part two dissect the Simpson Desert, on the more direct east-to-west route, and the third chapter considers a possible Western Australian end of the saga.
Lewis leads the reader on a firmly constructed, cross-referenced and well-sequenced journey. He recounts details of the 15 or more formal efforts undertaken to search for traces of the missing party, and canvases the dozens of incidental encounters and discoveries of the past 160 years. He carefully describes successive expeditions and chance finds, testing and sifting reports and appraisals, showing what the historical ‘chaff’ is and patiently explaining why this is so.
You might wonder if, in such strenuous efforts to be balanced and factual, Lewis requires a lot of qualifiers – ‘maybes’ and ‘perhapses’ and ‘possiblys’. This proves not to be so, and the pleasant, academically correct canter of the book’s rhythm reflects well on writer and editorial team.
The fog of much mystery is cleared by Lewis’s technique: for instance, the numerous trees identified or reported as inscribed with “L” (or other markings) are compared and contrasted. We see how some were indubitably Leichhardt’s, and that many other wanderers – both then and later – also had surnames beginning with that letter. Gideon Lang may have so marked in certain areas; the better-known William Landsborough very likely did, as he mapped his way around Queensland.
For the general reader the degree of forensic detective detail is illuminating, and Lewis conversationally and deftly explains why things are or are not – or might be – so. Dating fragments of teeth and tools, or revealing the minting dates and quantities of discovered coins, is only part of it. Weaponry through the years plays a key role: firearms, for instance, were originally loaded from the muzzle rather than the breech, although the older method persisted for a time after the technological transition. This has a bearing on items of reputed relevance – pistols and ammunition cartridges – as Lewis scrupulously demonstrates. His comparative reasoning and soundly-footnoted endorsements give the lie to many a popular myth long embedded in the Leichhardt legend.
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