Complete Free Issue 8

Page 66

the book shelf

Who was the real

Ludwig Leichhardt? A brave and fearless botanist, or a maniac on an ego trip? The views about explorer Ludwig Leichhardt have diverged widely over the past 160 years. In his latest book, Into The Unknown, author John Bailey looks at the man, the myths, and his mysterious disappearance


udwig Leichhardt’s expedition in 1844–5 from the Darling Downs, Queensland, to Port Essington, Northern Territory, established his reputation as one of Australia’s greatest explorers. His expedition of 1848 to cross the Australian continent ended in his disappearance and death giving rise to one of the enduring mysteries of Australian history. The years following Leichhardt’s disappearance brought claims that he was incompetent, aloof, tyrannical, driven beyond reason and possessed of a strong streak of Prussian arrogance. One of the first vilifiers was co-explorer Daniel Bunce in his Australasiatic Reminiscences (1857), reissued in 1859 as Travels with Dr. Leichhardt in Australia. This was followed by an even harsher attack by another companion on the second expedition, John Mann, in Eight Months with Dr Leichhardt (1888). Henry Stuart Russell, in Genesis of Queensland (1888), while praising Leichhardt for his courage, tenacity, and ambition, ridiculed him as an eccentric and claimed he lacked “practical adaption… common sense, and a sufficiency of self-denial in crises



of suffering”. Ernest Favenc in The History of Australian Exploration (1888) wondered “how anyone so destitute of tact and readiness of resource ever achieved the journey to Port Essington”. Robert Logan Jack, in his Northmost Australia (1921) allowed his anti-German feelings to infect his judgement: “He was callous to the suffering of the fever-stricken members of his party, who were unable to keep up with his pace. He made agreements that he refused to fulfil. He carried secret stores of dainties on which he luxuriated while his followers were on the brink of starvation. In the middle of the 19th century he was living proof that the Prussian spirit, as the world came to know it in 1914–18, was no new thing.” Leichhardt’s reputation plummeted further, if that was possible, with Alec H. Chisholm’s 1941 biography Strange New World (later republished as Strange Journey: The Adventures of Ludwig Leichhardt and John Gilbert). In mouth-foaming denunciation Chisholm enthusiastically vilified Leichhardt as an imposter claiming a doctorate

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