Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leichhardt, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig

LEICHHARDT, FRIEDRICH WILHELM LUDWIG (1813–1848), Australian explorer, son of Christian Hieronymus Matthias Leichhardt, was born at Trebatsch near Beeskow in Prussia, 23 Oct. 1813, and studied at Göttingen and Berlin. With William Nicholson of Clifton he travelled in France, Italy, and England. In 1841 he went to New South Wales, where he pursued petrological and botanical investigations, and sent numerous fossils to Professor Owen from Darling Downs. The results of his labours appeared in 'Beitrage zur Geologie von Australien,' 'Abhandlungen der naturforschenden Gesellschaft zu Halle' (1856), iii. 1-62, in 'Documents pour la Geologie de l'Australie,' edited by Girard, published at Halle in 1855, and in Owen's 'Reports' to the British Association in 1844.

The colonial government having proposed an overland expedition from Moreton Bay on the east coast of Australia to Port Essington on the north coast, the governor, Sir Thomas Mitchell, recommended Leichhardt for the leadership. Accompanied by nine persons he left Sydney on 14 Aug. 1844. Passing along the banks of the Dawson and the Mackenzie tributaries of the Fitzroy river in Queensland, he advanced northwards to the source of the Burdekin river; then turning westwards, made an easy descent to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and skirting the low shores round the upper half of the gulf to the Roper, he arrived, by way of Arnheim Land and the Alligator river, at Port Victoria, otherwise Port Essington, on 17 Dec. 1845. He thus completed three thousand miles amid many hardships within fifteen months. On his return to Sydney on 29 March 1846 he was most cordially received. On 24 May 1846 he obtained the patron's medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and he published an account of his wanderings in a 'Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, during the years 1844-6.' London, 1847, 8vo.

On 7 Dec. 1846, with eight persons, Leichhardt left the Condamine river with the intention of discovering the extent of Sturt's Desert in the interior, and the character of the western and north-western coast. He went as far as the neighbourhood of Peake Range in Sturt's Desert, but, after going through great sufferings, returned to the Condamine on 5 July 1847. On 9 Aug. 1847 he began a brief and unsuccessful journey to the westward of Darling Downs, to examine the country between Sir Thomas Mitchell's track and his own. In March 1848 he undertook the formidable task of crossing the entire continent from east to west. His starting-point was the Fitzroy Downs, north of the river Condamine in Queensland, between the 26th and 27th degrees of south latitude. On 3 April 1848 he wrote announcing his safe arrival at McPherson's station on the river Cogoon. This was the last authentic news heard of him or his party. Various expeditions were at different times sent out to search for Leichhardt, but no trustworthy information of him was obtained.

[D. Bunco's Twenty-three Years' Wanderings in Australia, 1846, pp. 79–216, with portrait; Illustr. London News, 1846, ix. 141, with portrait; Journal of the Royal Geographical Soc. 1846 xvi. 212–38, 1847 vol. xvii. pp. xxvi–vii, 1849 vol. xix. p. lxxiii, 1851 vol. xxi. p. lxxxi; Heads of the People, Sydney, 1848, ii. 1, with portrait; Zuchold's Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt, 1866, with portrait; Wood's Discovery and Exploration of Australia, 1866, ii. 41–76, 147, 515–20; Mueller's Fate of Dr. Leichhardt, 1865; Dr. L. Leichhardt's Briefe an seine Angehörigen, herausgegeben von Dr. G. Neumayer und O. Leichhardt, 1881; Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, 1883, xviii. 210–14.]

G. C. B.