First Man From
Two Polish geologists visited Australia in the thirties of last century-men of the same social class in their own country, both great travellers, both interested in exploring new lands and studying what
they found there; both poor.
EACH made excursions into
the Southern Alps of N.S.W. One discovered and named a river, the other a mountain.
Each discovered gold.
But there the likeness ends.
One has fame, reputation, memorial tablets, British citizen- ship, the gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society, membership of the Roya! Society and the CB.
The other, when he is mention- ed at all, is usually remembered as the "impostor" or "the turbu- lent Dr. Lhotsky."
Yet there is little doubt, for anyone who studies the lives of the two men, who was the more likable character.
Lhotsky's chief "faults" were honesty (except on his debts), sin- cerity, a warm heart, a lively sympathy, a true feeling for de- mocracy, and the tactlessness to make clear that he had to earn his living.
Strzelecki, the other Pole, was seldom guilty of any of them, but wore a mask most of his life.
Seldom, if ever, in English at least, did he
let slip an indiscreet word. And, above all, he never offended any- one in high places.
Strzelecki mastered the diffi- cult art of "How to live well on nothing a year."
Lhotsky never even tried to study it. He comes into Austra- lian history and goes out of it
poor, shabby, likeable.
I have no doubt which of the two I would rather meet, and travel with. Lhotsky had a sense of humour, Strzelecki absolutely
DR. Johann Lhotsky (probably
originally Jan Lodzki) came originally from Lwow (Lemburg) in the east of Poland, but went early to Germany. Some authori- ties claim him as Czech. But, since he always described himself as Polish, it seems more reason- able to accept it.
His medical degree was prob- ably a German one, and he was a member of the Bavarian Botani- cal Society.
He travelled in many, of the places where Strzelecki after- wards followed in South Ameri- ca and New Zealand.
He came to N.S.W. about
1833-34, and got to know the scientific men of Sydney. He gave successful lectures, and be- gan to collect plant and animal specimens as well as rocks and
At first, things went well with him. Then trouble started.
There was a vacancy at the museum. Lhotsky's name was favourably considered, but he did not get the post. Nobody was appointed. F. Deas Thompson, the Colonial Secretary, drew a small salary for nominal super- vision.
Lhotsky's attacks on Thomp- son's "mechanical attendance" made Lhotsky the first of a large crop of Thompson's enemies.
Lhotsky threw himself into the fight with enthusiasm, and from then on he took every opportu- nity to attack what he believed to be the evils existing in the colony.
He was often right, often un- answerable, a gadfly stinging the smug flanks of officials, includ- ing the Governor. His home truths were pungent and un- palatable.
He even committed the cardi-
nal sin of laughing at the English.
He deplored the growth of a landholding aristocracy, while Strzelecki made his closest friends in this class. He pointed out the inhumanity of the treatment of convicts, especially on the remote stations, their exploitation by their masters, the indifference of the Government.
Strzelecki was too tactful to mention the convicts except as his
Lhotsky went further. He was kind to those he could teach, his servants taught the younger ones useful arts by which later they could live, made them write home, and when they showed him the letters, scolded them for be- ing too enthusiastic. He made one add a postscript that 50 per- sons were executed every year in Sydney, while 2,000 were worked in irons on the roads.
He was humane enough to notice the exhaustion of the male and female prisoners he met, and he was horrified and vocal about the neglect of syphilis among
Although he advocated execu- tion by beheading as more merci- ful, considering the agony of death by suffocation he may have been right.
In 1834, in a dray, with a
cheerful band of assigned servants and meager equipment (his credit was already very bad and destin ed to become worse) Lhotsky set off for the interior to collect specimens.
He deplored the size of the estates like Camden (where Strzelecki was a happy visitor a few years later) and praised the few humane and progressive landowners he met.
He reached and named the Snowy River Then, supplies exhausted, he brought his spoils back to Sydney.
Gold was among them. None of the later literature has given him credit for it, but it was a
He was five years ahead of Strzelecki, seven years earlier than Clarke.
Yet his name occurs nowhere He had no influential friends Even his discovery of the Snowy is admitted grudgingly, with a sort of sniff by his fellow foreig ner, Von Mueller, the botanist.
Honest But Tactless
Of gold, ex cept by himself
there is no men-
tion. Once obscure French sneer (everything went wrong with poor Lhotsky) was that the gold he "discovered" he had previously stolen, being foolish enough to leave the label from a museum in Austria on it.
He then crossed to Tasmania where he received a small Gov- ernment position and generous help from Sir John Franklin, but no friendship.
There, too, he anticipated much of Strezclecki's work but got no
He left Hobart in April, 1838 for London. He was still poor, obscure, and unabashed, but still
lively and full of fight.