There is much more to the story of the great man's journeys across Queensland and Australia than the lasting mystery of his disappearance, as Robin Kleinschmidt and others explain. This piece was published in October 2012 in the book Queensland's German connections, and we acknowledge the GACCQ for permission to reproduce it here.
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|With thanks to Dr Isolde Neugart, our German visitors can read a translation of this article here.|
Natural scientist and explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt’s place in the history of Australia has been made permanent in its geography. Place names ranging from a suburb in Ipswich, suburb and municipality in Sydney, Leichhardt Streets in Brisbane, Sunbury in Victoria, and Bull Creek in Western Australia – along with highways, rivers and mountain ranges, an electorate and a national park – all remind us of the name.
Many remember Leichhardt for the mystery of the disappearance of he and his party on his third expedition across Australia, but what do we really know of the man before he vanished?
Born in 1813 in Trebatsch in Brandenburg (about 150km southeast of Berlin) into a middle-class family, Ludwig was the fourth son and sixth of eight children. Between 1831 and 1836 he studied philosophy, languages and natural science at the universities in Berlin and Göttingen, but did not receive a degree. Aside from philosophy and languages, the natural sciences were his main interest, and he continued his studies in London and Paris, extending this with field work in Italy, France and Switzerland.
On the recommendation of an English colleague, he sailed for Australia, arriving in February 1842. His primary objective was exploration of the flora, fauna and geology from his naturalist’s perspective. After an initial sortie into the Hunter Valley, he set out on a solo expedition to collect specimens between Newcastle and Moreton Bay.
When he returned to Sydney in 1844, he found the government planning an expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington in the far north of what is now the Northern Territory. Those plans came to naught, so Leichhardt decided to mount his own with the support of volunteers and financed by private funding. The government, still hoping to establish an overland route to the north, and a connection with Singapore, gave its support but without a financial contribution.
In August 1844 the party sailed to Moreton Bay, where Leichhardt visited the Gossner missionaries at Zion Hill (German Station), and commented favourably on their dedication, probity and sober lifestyle. The group then travelled to Jimbour station on the northern Darling Downs, the furthest limit of white settlement in 1844, where they were joined by a final contingent of four men.
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