Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Strzelecki, Paul Edmund de
STRZELECKI, Sir PAUL EDMUND de (1796–1873), Australian explorer, known as Count Strzelecki, of a noble Polish family, was born in 1796 in Polish Prussia. He was educated in part at the High School, Edinburgh. When he came of age he finally abandoned his native country, and, encouraged by friends in England, commenced in 1834 a course of travel in the remote East. On his way back from China he called in at Sydney in April 1839, and was introduced to the governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps, who persuaded him to undertake the exploration of the interior. Following in the footsteps of Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell [q. v.], he devoted himself especially to the scientific examination of the geology and mineralogy, flora, fauna, and aborigines of the Great Darling Range, conducting all these operations at his own expense. Upon completing the survey of the Darling Range, Strzelecki and his party, including James Macarthur and James Riley, decided not to return to Sydney, but struck out upon a spur of the range leading southwards into Victoria. On their way, on 7 March 1840, they unexpectedly encountered the prospecting party of Angus MacMillan [q. v.] The latter had named the district, distinguished by its grand scenery and mild climate, Caledonia Australis; but, at the suggestion of Strzelecki, it was renamed Gippsland. Upon leaving Millan's camp, with provisions running short, the count and his men attempted to reach Melbourne by a short cut across the ranges. They had to abandon their packhorses and all the botanical and other specimens, and for twenty-two days literally cut their way through the scrub, seldom advancing more than two miles a day, and being in a state of starvation. Their clothes were torn piecemeal away, and their flesh was lacerated by the sharp lancet-like brambles of the scrub; but they succeeded in reaching Melbourne by the middle of May. During this memorable journey Strzelecki discovered in the Wellington district, two hundred miles west of Sydney, a large quantity of gold-bearing quartz. He mentioned to Gipps upon his return to Sydney the probable existence of a rich goldfield in the locality; but the governor earnestly requested him ‘not to make the matter generally known for fear of the serious consequences which, considering the condition and population of the colony, were to be apprehended from the cupidity of the prisoners and labourers.’ The first official notice of the discovery of gold in Australia was thus actually entombed for twelve years in a parliamentary paper, framed upon a report communicated by Gipps; and it was not until 1851 that the rich deposits were turned to practical account by Edward Hammond Hargraves and others. The priority of the discovery undoubtedly belongs to Strzelecki.
The explorer returned to London in 1843, and two years later issued his ‘Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, accompanied by a Geological Map, Sections, and Diagrams, and Figures of the Organic Remains’ (London, 8vo). The work, though lacking in arrangement and power of presentation, contains most valuable statistical information; it is dedicated to the author's friend, Sir John Franklin. The plates were engraved by James De Carle Sowerby [q. v.] The fact of the discovery of gold was suppressed in fulfilment of a promise made to Governor Gipps, but a few specimens of the auriferous quartz were taken to Europe, and, having been analysed, fully confirmed Strzelecki's views, which were further corroborated by the opinion of Murchison and other geologists. The count was not tempted to renew his colonial experiences. About 1850 he was naturalised as a British subject through the good offices of Lord Overstone. He was selected as one of the commissioners for the distribution of the Irish famine relief fund in 1847–8, was created C.B. in consideration of his services (21 Nov. 1848), was consulted by the government upon affairs relating to Australia, and assisted in promoting emigration to the Australian colonies. He accompanied Lord Lyons to the Crimea in 1855, and became an active member of the Crimean army fund committee. He was elected F.R.S. in June 1853, and was created D.C.L. by the university of Oxford on 20 June 1860. He was made a K.C.M.G. on 30 June 1869, and died in Savile Row, London, on 6 Oct. 1873. His name is commemorated in the Strzelecki range of hills in the district of Western Port, Victoria, by the Strzelecki creek in South Australia, and by several species among Australian fauna and flora. By way of a supplement to his ‘Physical Description,’ he published in 1856 a brief pamphlet giving an account of his original discovery of gold in New South Wales.
[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1714–1886; Ann. Reg. 1873; Times, 7 and 17 Oct. 1873; Blair's Cyclopædia of Australasia, Melbourne, 1881, pp. 560–1; Meynell's Australasian Biography; Calvert's Exploration of Australia, i. 199; Westgarth's Colony of Victoria, p. 316; Simpson's Many Memories, 1898; Fraser's Hic et Ubique; Edinburgh Review, July 1862; Brit. Mus. Cat.]