Leichhardt’s expedition to Port Essington [chapter 27 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 27 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 30 December 1934.]

The story of Australia. — xxvii

Leichhardt’s expedition to Port Essington

Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt was born at Beshur, near Berlin, on October 23, 1813. He received his early education at Gottingen and Berlin, and afterwards studied in France. Having failed to report for military service in 1840, he was proclaimed a deserter, and to escape the consequences he emigrated to New South Wales.

He became a lecturer on botany, and the scientific knowledge which he displayed attracted great attention. His great desire was to join an exploration party in the capacity of a botanist, and while waiting for the opportunity he made several excursions in the Moreton Bay district in the interests of botanical and geological research.

Returning to Sydney he found that public attention was now being directed to the possibility of discovering an overland route to Port Essington, in the extreme north centre of the continent. It was conjectured that if such a route could be found a large export trade in Australian horses would be created with India. Sir Thomas Mitchell, who had already conducted three successful expeditions, expressed his willingness to make the attempt, and on the recommendation of Professor Owen, he agreed to take Leichhardt with him as second in command. Unfortunately, Sir George Gibbs, the Governor, refused to sanction the vote for supplies — it only amounted to £1000 — and the matter was left in abeyance.

Leichhardt, greatly disappointed at the turn of affairs, determined to organise a private expedition on his own account. In a very short time, by means of voluntary contributions, both in money and stock, he succeeded in equipping a party for the journey.

On September 1, 1844, he left Brisbane with a party consisting of six white and two black men, with provisions for seven months. Jimbour station, on the Darling Downs, was reached by September 30, and from here the work of exploration began.

Leaving Jimbour on October 1, he crossed the Darling Downs until the Condamine River was reached. Following the course of the stream as far as necessary he crossed the northern watershed, and discovered and named the Dawson, one of the chief tributaries of the Fitzroy. Continuing westward he passed through excellent country, which he named Peak Downs. Progress now became more difficult, as the scrub was thick, but water was plentiful. Several streams were crossed which he named the Comet, Planet, and Zamia.

On February 13, he discovered the Isaacs, and shortly afterwards, the Sultan, which brought him to the Burdekin, the finest river of all. This was followed to its head, where at the Valley of Lagoons, they crossed the watershed and picked up a stream flowing into the Gulf of Carpentaria. This river he named the Lynd. Its course was followed some distance, but as it was leading them too far north, Leichhardt took a westerly course.

Attacked by Blacks

On June 28, 1845, occurred the first native attack. The party had encamped for the night, when about 7 o’clock, a shower of spears was thrown among the unarmed men. Gilbert was instantly killed, and Roper and Calvert severely wounded. The body of Gilbert was buried in such a manner that all traces of the grave was hidden from the natives. The river, near where this tragedy happened, is now known as the Gilbert.

On July 1, Leichhardt travelled along the shores of the Gulf, crossing a number of rivers. On August 6 a river was discovered, which was thought to be the Albert, but later this was found to be a mistake. And the name of Leichhardt was given to it. After much toilsome travel the Roper was reached, and while attempting to cross it four of the horses were drowned. On December 17 the expedition, in the last stage of exhaustion, reached Victoria, or Port Essington. The journey had occupied 14 months.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 30 December 1934, p. 23

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