Leichhardt’s journey to death [chapter 28 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 28 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 6 January 1935.]

The story of Australia — XXVIII.

Leichhardt’s journey to death

Encouraged by the success of his first expedition, Leichhardt had no difficulty in raising funds to lead another party to cross the entire continent from the eastern to the western shore.

Leichhardt started in December, 1847, from his home station on Harley’s Creek. His scheme was to follow his previous route for a few hundred miles and then turn westward. What induced him to follow this course is uncertain. Whatever the cause, the result was disastrous.

When the Mackenzie River was reached most of the party were in a pitiful state. Fever and ague attacked them, and to make matters worse no medicine could be found to relieve their sufferings. Hemmed in by mud and bog, their condition was deplorable. They lost their stock, consumed their provisions, and made no progress. Leichhardt saw the uselessness of continuing his journey, and with heavy heart returned to civilisation seven months from the time of setting out.

Undaunted by failure, Leichhardt believed that he was capable of crossing the continent from east to west. He succeeded in raising sufficient funds to carry out the project, but his party was not comprised of the right class of men to undertake the most perilous enterprise hitherto attempted. The Rev. W. B. Clark, the well-known geologist, thus describes the personnel.

“The parties that accompanied Leichhardt were perhaps little capable of shifting for themselves in case of any accident to their leader. The second in command, a brother-in-law of Leichhardt, came from Germany to join him before starting, and he told me when I asked him what his qualifications for the journey were that he had been at sea and had suffered shipwrecks, and was therefore able to endure hardships. I do not know what his other qualifications were.”

Unknown fate

The expedition was supposed to have consisted of six whites and two blacks. Leichhardt determined to follow the route taken by Mitchell, which would take him as far as the bend in the Victoria (Barcoo), and then turn west. He started from McPherson’s station on the Cogoon River, now better known as Muckadilla Creek. His last letter dated April 3, 1848, is written from this station to a friend in Sydney. After that, silence.

There is no doubt that he did reach the Barcoo, for late in 1858 the letter “L” was found cut upon a tree. But no sure clue as to the fate of Leichhardt and his companions has come to light, and it will ever remain one of the strangest mysteries of Australian land exploration.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 6 January 1935, p. 25

[Editor: Corrected: “did not reach the Barcoo” to “did reach the Barcoo” (corrected with reference to three articles by the same author, containing nearly identical text, published in The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 17 April 1927, p. 22, The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 11 August 1929, p. 36, and The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 7 June 1931, p. 18).]

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