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Sir Pauł Strzelecki was the first European to scale Australia’s highest mountain, naming it after Polish revolutionary hero Tadeusz Kościuszko.

On this day, 15th March 1840. Strzelecki reached the summit of Mount Kosciuszko.

Sir Paul Edmund de Strzelecki, born 20 July 1797, was a Polish explorer and skilled geologist who emigrated to London following the national uprising against tsarist Russia in 1830. In 1839 he arrived in Australia, where he made influential friends, among them wealthy grazier James Macarthur. Macarthur was keen to explore promising-looking land in Australia’s southeastern corner with the view to acquiring more grazing land and establishing a harbour from which to export pastoral products. Interested in the geology of the Great Dividing Range, Strzelecki agreed to accompany Macarthur, and the two departed, in February 1840.

A month later, the two men climbed Mt Townsend, believing it to be the highest peak in the Australian Alps. Using his numerous geological instruments, Strzelecki determined that another peak was higher. He was determined to climb the peak and did so, on 15 March 1840, and named the mountain after a Polish patriot, Tadeusz Kosciuszko. At the time, Strzelecki determined the height of the mountain to be 6,510 feet (1984m) above sea level, but it is probable that, whilst making the steep and perilous descent during which he fell many times, Strzelecki damaged his instruments. The actual height of Kosciuszko is 7,316 feet, or 2228m.

The State Library of New South Wales holds this copy of a photograph of Strzelecki and letters and manuscripts relating to him.