Leichhardt’s first expedition
In 1844 Leichhardt set out on his first ambitious expedition. Bound for the Northern Territory’s Port Essington, he crossed vast areas of previously unexplored terrain on a route skirting the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
After their departure from the Darling Downs in Queensland in October, little was heard of Leichhardt’s party’s progress, and as the weeks passed they were given up for lost.
When the expedition eventually reached their destination in December 1845 they caused a national sensation. Part of the reason for their new celebrity was that Leichhardt and his party had covered nearly 5,000 miles (ca. 8,000km), discovering a number of major rivers including the Burdekin, Lynd and Mitchell.
A dangerous journey
The long journey was not without incident. The party met and traded with many of the Aboriginal peoples through whose lands they travelled. They lost valuable equipment including four horses at the Roper River, and suffered an ambush by one hostile party of Aborigines that left naturalist John Gilbert dead and other members of the party injured.
Despite these privations, Leichhardt carefully recorded the botany, geology and the lie of the land in his drafted fieldbooks. He noted the presence of useful natural resources such as water, timber and minerals, and recognised the support of friends and benefactors by naming geographical features in their honour.
"Mr Gilbert was the only one, who received a deadly wound, a spear entering into the chest between the neck and the clavicle…when he was stooping to get out of his tent."
- Ludwig Leichhardt