The exploits of Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt in Australia had tweaked the public’s interest in Europe and especially in Germany. He was born in 1813 at Trebatsch in Prussia, and after pursuing but not completing University courses in Berlin and Göttingen, pursued the study of medical and natural sciences in England with his friend William Nicholson, who later paid Leichhardt’s fare to Australia. It was Leichhardt’s intention to explore the inland of Australia. The first such expedition took place in 1845 in which Leichhardt’s party went from Jimbour on the Darling Downs to Port Essington completing an overland journey of nearly 3000 miles (4828 km). Leichhardt was hailed as ‘Prince of Explorers’ and his party as national heroes.
For his next expedition in 1846, Leichhardt planned to traverse Australia from the Darling Downs in the east to the Swan River in the west. However, after 500 miles, the party was forced to return home.
His contemporaries valued his work highly: in April 1847 the Geographical Society, Paris, divided the annual prize for the most important geographic discovery between Leichhardt and Rochet d’Héricourt, and on 24 May the Royal Geographical Society, London, awarded him its Patron’s medal as recognition of ‘the increased knowledge of the great continent of Australia’ gained by his Moreton Bay-Port Essington journey. Prussia recognized this achievement by the king’s pardon for having failed to return to Prussia when due to serve a period of compulsory military training. Geologists and botanists valued Leichhardt’s collections of specimens and the records of his observations which, in an age accustomed to extravagant travellers’ tales, were remarkable for their restraint and accuracy; he believed that as long as the traveller was truthful the scientist at home would be thankful to him.
In 1848 Leichhardt and his party set out on a second Swan River expedition, but somewhere during the journey, all disappeared without a trace. The enigma of his fate only served to increase the public’s interest in the man and in the ‘Great South Land’.17
17. Erdos, Renee; Australian Dictionary of Biography.