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Leichhardt, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig (1813–1848)

Ludwig Leichhardt, n.d.

Ludwig Leichhardt, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 111753

A thousand times has this question been asked: a thousand times has it remained unanswered. Who is to answer it ? Who can tell where he may be?–who can venture to say that he is to be found, were any one to look for him, upon the face of the earth, that is to say, in health or alive?

It may be asked again, "for what purpose do you put forth a question, which you admit nobody can answer?"

Our reply is, briefly, this. We are not anxious to excite any useless alarm respecting this accomplished adventurer of the wilderness and the forest, but we are anxious to excite a kindly feeling of sympathy, and a desire to carry out, if necessary, such an enquiry as may be creditable to the community and humane towards our enterprising friend.

Three years will very soon have elapsed since [Ludwig] Leichhardt commenced his undertaking. Two years and three months, we believe, have already passed since he entered upon the actual journey. He always calculated, that it would be accomplished in two years time. But, although he was wonderfully successful in his first journey to Port Essington, we know, that in attempting a second, he only reached Peak Range; he and his party, then more numerous than the present one, having been laid up with sickness on the Mackenzie River.

Since then, too, we have all been shocked by the fatal termination of Mr Kennedy’s expedition, with "all appliances and means to boot," in the York Peninsula.

It is not, then, a betrayal of any confidence or hope, when we address our readers generally, and the influential part of the community especially, by the question at the head of these remarks–" Where is Dr. Leichhardt?"

We have all heard with deep admiration the painful and costly enterprises set on foot in search of Sir John Franklin. The British Government, the American Government, the Russian Government, the whole population of Europe, with a consentient voice, repeated the energetic appeals of Lady Franklin, and with united aims have taken upon themselves the duty of assisting in the discovery of the lost navigator. We trust Australia will not let that example be forgotten, should a similar cause of enquiry unhappily exist, with respect to the Australian explorer.

The object of Sir John Franklin is one purely scientific–it is impossible to suppose, that commercial relations could be much benefitted, even if the intrepid veteran should succeed in finding "the North-west passage."

It is different with Leichhardt. His scheme of an overland route to Swan River, is not simply one in which all lovers of science must take a deep interest, but one in which commerce and civilization, and all the permanent interests not only of the colonies, but of the whole future population of this continent, are deeply involved.

And when we consider the means, or rather the want of means, which attended his outfit, we are, we confess, constrained to have a slight misgiving, especially when we call to mind, that he departed with a certain heaviness upon his mind, which must have materially cramped his energies. His firm resolve was, however, to leave his bones in the wilderness, if he found he could not succeed. "I will die in Australia," he said "for Australia."

It was with no vain boast he said this. It was merely his mode of expressing the settled purpose of his mind.

When a rumour came to Sydney, shortly after his first expedition was commenced, that he was cut off, we remember the excitement that took place–the Don Quixotism, we may call it, of the celebrated Hodgsonian gallop to look for him, and the tearful condolence of the Australian muse. We are not now desirous of a repetition of that bustling and elegiac time. Such is not our object. We would wish to regard the matter in a sober way.

Should Leichhardt be unfortunate in finding no direct route to Swan River, and be compelled when on the north-west side of the continent to look out for a temporary place of retreat and refit, before he ventures a second time to set forth over the desert of the west, to what place could he naturally travel, but to Port Essington and what will he there find? A deserted settlement, and a savage population, or an expedition of trepang-fishing Malays.

It must be remembered, that the settlement has been broken up since Leichhardt set out: and we say it with all due respect, but, at the same time with a full sense of the evil, that it was a thoughtless affair to break up that establishment, without the slightest thought, apparently, that a party of white men were then in the wilderness, who might perchance require such aid as the settlement could have afforded. There ought to have been some provision made for the bare possibility that Leichhardt might be compelled to shelter awhile, where he had before received protection and assistance. And, as that chance is now removed, we think it would be becoming in the colony to be prepared for an emergency which may be, if not anticipated, yet at least not hypothetical.

Now the Government of Western Australia has, with praiseworthy forethought, already stirred itself upon this very occasion and rewards have been offered to the aboriginal tribes for any intelligence that may be brought to the colony, of the expected party of explorers.

Shall we, of New South Wales, be less concerned than the people of Perth or Albany, respecting one whom we know so much better than they?

What we would propose is this–let enquiries be made so far as is possible, along Leichhardt’s track, of the aboriginal tribes, as to his progress, and what has befallen him. Public feeling will be greatly excited hereafter if any accident should have happened: and if any news can be obtained of him, which can prove him to be in difficulties, we hold it to be the duty of the colony to do what it can to relieve him.

Now, it may be asked, how do you propose to make these enquiries? We would answer in this wise.

There are still questions respecting a near course to the Gulf of Carpentaria and the north-west coast, unresolved. There are still many points left unsettled by Mr. Kennedy’s last expedition, for which that expedition was sent out. There is a strong feeling in favour of a new settlement at Cape York, or somewhere towards the Gulf of Carpentaria.

There are also persons in the colony interested in exploration: and in our humble judgment, there never ought to be a period in which exploration is not going on, so long as any portion of the continent is unexplored.

In the Surveyor-General’s department are, perhaps, some individuals, whom it would be advisable to employ more actively or nationally than they are now employed.

We would therefore, propose (without consultation with any one on the subject,) that the question should be brought before the Government or the Legislature, and these hints of ours taken into account.

We feel assured that the Surveyor General himself, if consulted, would furnish very grave and potent reasons, why he should give the whole energies of his mind to the carrying out of our suggestions; for, in addition to the satisfaction of accomplishing the very object of many years anxious and laborious research, he would have the higher and nobler gratification of contributing to the satisfaction of the public, respecting one whom to assist and honour would not be a disparagement of his own laurels reaped in the field of Australian adventure.

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'Leichhardt, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig (1813–1848)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/leichhardt-friedrich-wilhelm-ludwig-2347/text28923, accessed 19 September 2017.

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