DR. LUDWIG LEICHHARDT
HIS LAST LETTER IN 1848
(By "BARTLE FRERE")
Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt's letters show the remarkable character of this man. Here is one written from the Darling Downs on February 22, 1848, to his brother-in-law in Germany, when he was finalising his arrangements to set out on the journey from which be never returned.
On February 22, 1848, Dr. Leich- hardt wrote from the Darling Downs to his brother-in-law in Germany, as follows: "My dearest brother-in-law.—Four months have passed since I informed you about my return from Peak Range. I have utilised this time to equip for a new journey, and I will be ready in a few days' time to penetrate again the interior of Australia, and, if God pleases, to cross the whole con- tinent. I did my utmost to find good, efficient men, and believe that Clas- sen will be very suitable for my undertaking, although an expedition on land is considerably different from even the most difficult sea voyage. Another friend, Mr. Hentig, has join- ed me. I have hired two labourers, and am taking along the blackfel- lows one of whom accompanied me on my last expedition. The whole party consists of seven people, and I trust that this number will be sufficient. I have at present 20 mules, seven horses, 50 cattle, 20 of the latter I received from Mr. Robinson and 30 from the Government. I have in- formed you that the Government sent a Mr. Kennedy to follow the Victoria River up to its estuary. Sir Thomas Mitchell had seen this river on his ex- pedition without completely investi- gating it. Mr. Kennedy has returned, and found that the river turns to- wards the south and disappears in Sturt's Desert, and that it is very likely identical with Cooper's Creek, which is mentioned by Captain Sturt in his expedition. Therefore, I am again alone in the field, and I believe that I shall be able to solve numerous interesting problems as long as I manage to pass the northern end of the desert. "I left Sydney in December, after I had made all my purchases. I spent a week on a trip to the Hunter River, where I visited several friends. I went to Captain King, in Port Ste- phens, to repeat some observations with my thermometers to determine the heights from sea level; afterwards I bought six mules and travelled via New England, where I received 20
bullocks, coming eventually to my present domicile, the hospitable house of Mr. Bracker of Mecklenburg, a station manager. I was hardly under roof when severe rain started, which characterises the end of January and February in this colony. The colony has suffered indescribably from drought, and the sudden cold rain which came down on the newly shorn sheep of New England (the sheep be- ing exposed to the night air, and grazing in the open), did more dam- age than the drought itself. It is es- timated that 100,000 sheep perished in the colony during the rain. I person- ally was witness to the death of 800 sheep in one night, whilst a whole herd of 1000 sheep invaded horse stables, unafraid of people or dogs who threatened them . . . Nature revived itself as soon as the rain had passed the monotonous yellow of dried up plants disappeared and the charming sunny green permeated the open forest and the treeless pastures. This change from an almost entire stand- still in plant life, a hopeless paralysis of nature, to the most luxuriant vege- tation and awakening of swarms of insects, reminds the onlooker of Humboldt's description of the Savan- nas at the begining of the raining period. "As soon as the severe rains had stopped, after the creeks and rivers had become passable again I started to collect all my stock, which was dis- tributed over the whole Darling Downs, and to assemble them in Rosenthal, (Herr Bracker's place). I had also to look for people whom I wanted to take along. I have been busy the last four weeks, being almost constantly in the saddle, and very of- ten tired to death. My provisions will probably arrive to-morrow, or the day after to-morrow, and this will en- able me to start from here on Mon- day, the 28th of February. "I was pleased to hear that the Geographical Society in London has honoured me with one of its medals, and that the Geographical Society of Paris has conferred a similar honour on me. Naturally, I am pleased that such learned men find me worthy of such honour, but I have never worked for anything but for science and for science alone. And I will do the same in future, even if nobody in the world troubles about me. I fear to lose God's blessing if I give vanity the reins, al- lowing hard efforts for scientific achievements to be limited by a vain wrestling for acknowledgement and fame. "Mr. Durando, of Paris, wrote to me that the poor remains of my herbal collection had arrived safely and that Mr. Descaisne was busy with the sort- ing of same. Should my dried plants be unsuitable for the determination of new species, they will be at least in- teresting and useful for the plant geography of New Holland. "I have been very unfortunate with my seeds because local institutions are not suited to the culture of tropi- cal plants. You may ask why I did not send these collections to our home museums. The answer is that I have carried out my studies of nature chiefly in English and French Mu- seums: that during my youth I never stood in friendly connection with my countrymen, who naturally should have had preference. Durando was a botanist and my intimate friend. He had a hard battle for existence; I wished to give him the opportunity to distinguish himself if my collection was of any value at all. This friendly connection with Durando determined me to send the collection to him in- stead of to a famous English or Ger- man botanist but Durando has neither sufficient time nor self-confidence to undertake this work, and for that reason he has handed the collection to Mr. Descaisne, who has always proved very friendly and obliging towards me. It was a happy co-incidence that I saw before my departure my journal and my maps. The latter are very beautiful, and I owe great thanks to Mr. Arrowsmith for arranging my rough drafts so nicely. "I let others judge about my book; it is a simple tale about one expedi- tion, and just a simple description of the territory and the things I saw. As long as the traveller is faithful, the scientist at home will be thankful to him. One can never magnify a small landscape, neither can one describe the poor mountain chains of Austra- lia and present them as if they were like the giant ranges of America. I have never looked for dazzling effects and found it hardly worth while to describe kangaroo or emu hunts in the glowing language of a poetic hunter. The public seems to receive the book favourably; at least it has been criticised in favourable terms in the public papers. I would gladly cor- rect some disagreeable misprints, and should Franziska really intend to translate it he would do well to get in touch with Mr. Boone in London, to whom I intend forwarding the list of printing errors. The Governor of the Colony Sir Charles Fitzroy, has been constantly and favourably disposed towards my undertaking, and has presented me with 30 head of cattle, without be- ing asked for them. "Although I feel quite strong enough to start this new expedition, I cannot deny that my constitution has suffer-
ed very much, especially on this last voyage, and I possess much less mus- cular strength than four years ago, when I first started out on my wand- erings. I suffer especially palpitation of the heart, which frequently dis- quietens me. "I trust this letter will reach you all in the best of health, and that my dear mother will be long preserved to us, because if I return alive and healthy from my expedition, I intend to go for two years to Europe, and pay you all a long visit. "Believe you must and you must dare, And not depend on heaven's helping hand, You can be brought only by wonders rare. Back to the beauteous, glorious motherland." "I wish I could bring one of my two blackfellows with me; he is a very useful and good-natured boy, and by no means as wild as the blackfellow I had with me on my first expedition. His name is Jimmie or Wommai or "Killali." The other one is less use- ful, but both have extraordinary keen sight which makes them both useful to me. Farewell, my dearest brother- in-law. Greet my dear mother. Your affectionate brother-in-law, Ludwig Leichhardt." Leichhardt's last letter is dated April 3, 1848. It was written from MacPherson's station, Coogoon, now known at Muckadilla, on the Roma to Charleville railway line. "I use the last opportunity to make a report to you regarding my pro- gress. "After 11 days' journey we travelled from Birrell's Station, on the Conda- mine River, to that of MacPherson's, on the Fitzroy Downs. Although the territory offered occasionally consid- erable difficulties, everything went off well. My mules are in good condition, and my companions are in high spirits. Three of my steers are lame. One of them I shall kill to-night and lay in a supply of dried meat. "The Fitzroy Downs, which we tra- versed for about 22 miles from east to west, are in reality a beautiful country, and Sir Thomas Mitchell has not exaggerated in his description of their beauty. The soil is rich and stony, covered profusely with grass, and to judge by the Myall (Acacia Pendula) of nutritious value. I went straight towards Mt. Abundance, and passed with my caravan through its ravine. My measurements of the geographical longitude tallies exactly with those of Mitchell. I fear that lack of water on Fitzroy Downs will hinder, to a high degree, colonisation of this beautiful district. I made ther- mometer observations with the mois- ture meter (Psychrometer), but I fear that these observations will be very faulty. I will try to perfect them as I go along. The only serious acci- dent I had was the loss of a spade, but we are lucky enough to be able to replace this loss, since the overseer at this station will spare us one of his
own. "The days are still very hot, but the clear nights are beautifully cool and kill the mosquitoes which pester us. Our only plague is the myriads of flies. "When I consider how lucky I have been in my progress up to now, I en- tertain the hope that our Almighty Protector will permit me to bring my favourite plan to a successful end. Your sincere friend, Ludwig Leich- hardt." After writing this letter Dr. Leich- hardt travelled towards the interior and finally disappeared in the "Never- Never" with all his horses, mules, bul- locks and live stock and no authentic trace has ever been found of him or his party, or of his camping equip- ment or scientific instruments, in spite of the fact that from time to time searches have been made for the past 95 years. Dealing with the disastrous ending of this Final Expedition of 1848, Dr. G. G. Neumayer stated in his biog- raphy: "The expedition comprised be- sides the leader, Dr. Ludwig Leich- hardt, six members—four white men and two aborigines. The names of the white people were Adolph Classen, Ar- thur Hentig, Donald Stuart and Kelly, The animals which were taken alone amounted to 20 mules, seven horses, 50 cattle, and most likely there was an addition of goods and sheep before the last settlements were left behind. Leichhardt had estimated the dura- tion of the expedition at two and a half to three years, and he had cal- culated this time necessary to reach the Swan River from the Eastern Settlements." If one considers that it took 14 months to cover the distance from Moreton Bay (Q.) to Port Essington (N.T.), further that the difficulties which offered were considerably great- er than those anticipated in a cut right through the heart of the con- tinent instead of along the coast, one feels convinced that the impossibilities of getting regular supplies of re- sources of the country had to be taken into account, namely game, fish and greens, and therefore the equip- ment with provisions had to be con- siderably more comprehensive than it really was. One cannot deny the fact that the preparations were not in keeping with the greatness of the plan. When after three years' absence of the expedition, no news was received in the settlements, the thought was justified that the expedition might have lacked the necessary means of subsistence. Also it cannot be denied that considering the poor knowledge regarding the interior of Australia, Leichhardt's great and daring plan, was out of all proportion. Twenty years later, the expedition of McDouall Stuart, and that of Burke and Wills showed in general lines the character of the interior of Aus- tralia and put exploration on firm foundations. It also showed that Leichhardt's ambitions must have ap- peared as almost impossible to achieve. It needed the whole enthusiasm and the irresistible force of an explorer guided by great ideals to attack such a problem. Our admiration for the bravery of the poorly-equipped under- taking is surely not lessened when we consider that the explorer had the ex- perience of a great and successful ex- pedition to guide him. This is not the place to judge the plan or its exe- cution, but we want to consider the noble motives and pay homage to the experienced explorer of Australia. We possess in these letters import- ant material for judging the members
and equipment of this last and great undertaking by Dr. Leichhardt. His last letter of February 22, 1848, to his people contains interesting hints and details which have gained in im- portance in the course of time, since the writer has vanished. Apart from hints about the intention of his pros- pective undertaking, we find many items which enlighten us about the physical and mental condition of Leichhardt. We leam that he felt that his health and his physical strength were not the same as during his pre- vious expedition, but that he could not resist turning to the unknown territories of Australia's interior. In careful reading of these letters, one is especially attracted by the un- dertone which runs through them and reverberates where it is attempted to describe personal impressions. Fresh- ness of perception combines with a strong passion and the need to give truthfully his own impressions, and to do them full justice. We find this as well in the letters which the young Goettingen student addressed to his people, as later when Leichhardt sent his highly interesting letters from Australia to Germany. There are at present on view to the public in the Mitchell Gallery, Mac- quarie Street, Sydney, several holo- graph letters, written by Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt which were written by him in the years of his exploration in North Queensland. These letters are in a splendid state of preservation, and are easily read. Amongst the documents on exhibit relating to Leichhardt are the fol- lowing: (1) Holograph letter dated Novem- ber 14, 1846, written by Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt to George Farquhar Les- lie, of Canning Downs, expressing his thanks for the gift of four bullocks for his next expedition to North Queensland. It will be remembered that Leichhardt left Stephen's Sta- tion on the Condamine River (Q), on December 10, 1846, and after enduring great privations, chiefly owing to the heavy rains, returned to Chauvel's station, on the Condamine, on July 6, 1847. George Leslie and Patrick Leslie were members of the first group of settlers on the Darling Downs. Pat- rick Leslie pioneered the route from New England (New South Wales), in March, 1840, and he and his brother took up Glengallen Creek. This orig- inal letter was presented to the Mit- chell Library by Mrs. Alec Thomson, a grand-daughter of Patrick Leslie. (2) Diary of John Gilbert (Deputy Leader), which was written up daily during Leichhardt's first overland ex- pedition from Jimbour Station, on the Darling Downs to the Burdekin River and the Gulf of Carpentaria (1844-5). Gilbert was speared to death by wild blacks on June 28, 1845 near his tent on Dunbar Creek, Mitchell River (N. Q). This valuable diary was recently presented to the trustees of the Mit- chell Library, Sydney, by Alec H. Chisholm (F.R.Z.S.) of Melbourne. (3) Order in writing signed by Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt, dated at Glouces- ter, December 23, 1847, and addressed to his agent, John Mackay, merchant, Macquarie Place, Sydney, requesting payment of the sum of £81 to Captain Phillip Parker King for six mules purchased from the Australian Agri- cultural Coy., of which Captain King was commissioner. (4) Letter from Dr Ludwig Leich- hardt addressed to his agent, John Mackay, dated February 6, 1848, de- scribing the heavy rains which had set in at Rosenthal Station, Darling Downs on his arrival there. (5) Letter to John Mackay, dated Brisbane, February 14, 1848, in which Dr. Leichhardt expressed his delight with the English edition of his journal on the First Overland Expedition to North Queensland and the Northern Territory, and especially with the maps. (6) Letter to John Mackay dated February 24, 1848, written by Dr. Leichhardt from Canning Downs (Q.). (7) Leichhardt's last known letter in his own handwriting, dated April 3, 1848, and written from Allan Mac- Pherson's station (Coogoon) now Muckadilla, near Roma (Q.). There are also several tradesmen's accounts which were paid before Leichhardt left Sydney to embark on his Final Expedition, from which he failed to return. These accounts are for riding saddles, pack saddles, tents, chains, hobbles, girths, tarpaulins, gun buckets, stirrup leathers, head stalls, saddle cloths, tin boilers, tin plates, spirit pots, butcher's knives, steel, knife stone, skinner, copper boiler, bullock bells, padlocks, hasps, staples, flies, breaking up hoes, 60lbs. of tobacco, four dozen pipes, several pairs of boots and shoes, and accounts for the making of 30 shirts, eight
cloaks, as well as other accounts for stores and camp equipment in Novem- ber 1847. As 1946 was the centenary of Dr. Leichhardt's famous expedition to the Burdekin River (N.Q.), the Gulf of
Carpentaria and the Northern Terri- tory, thousands of visitors to the Mitchell Library, Macquarie Street, Sydney, have carefully inspected these letters and other documents during recent months.