Angas McMillan, who was the discoverer of what is now so widely-known as Gippsland, in Victoria, was a manager of the Currawang station, in the Maneroo district. On the 20th of May, 1839, he started from the station on a trip to the southward to look for new grazing land. He had with him but one black boy, named Jimmy Gibbu, who claimed to be the chief of the Maneroo tribe, so that if the party was small, it was very select. On the fifth day McMillan got through to the country watered by the Buchan River, and, from the summit of an elevation which he called Mount Haystack, he obtained a most satisfactory view over the surrounding region. The next night, McMillan, awakened by a noise, found Jimmy Gibbu bending over him with a nulla-nulla in his hand. Fortunately, McMillan's pistol was within easy reach, and, presenting it at Jimmy's head, he compelled him to drop the nulla-nulla, and to account for his suspicious attitude. Jimmy confessed to a fear of the Warrigals, or wild blacks of that region, to acute home-sickness, and to a general unwillingness to proceed further.

McMillan examined the country he had found, and having judged it to be very desirable pastoral land, he returned home. He then formed a new station for Mr. Macalister on some country he had found on the Tambo River, and went himself on another trip of discovery. This time he had four companions with him, two friends named Cameron and Matthews, a stockman, and a black boy. they followed the Tambo River down its course through fine grazing country, both plains and forest, until in due course it led them to the point of its embouchure in the lakes of the south coast. He named Lake Victoria, and then directed his course to the west, where he discovered and named the Nicholson and Mitchell rivers. He was so deeply impressed with the resemblance of the country he had just been over to some parts of Scotland, that he called the district by the now obsolete name of Caledonia Australis. On January the 23rd, 1840, he was out again and discovered and named the Macalister River, and pushed on as far west as the La Trobe River. This addition of rich pastoral regions to the already settled districts was altogether due to Angas McMillan's energy, and is now known as Gippsland, being named officially after Sir George Gipps, the Governor who had the amusing eccentricity of insisting that all the towns laid out during his term of office should have no public squares included within their boundaries, being convinced that public squares encouraged the spread of democracy.


Count Strzelecki's expedition through Gippsland with the discovery of which district he is commonly and wrongly credited, was due to the literary and geographical work he had undertaken, as he was gathering material for his well-known work, The Physical Description of New South Wales, Victoria, and Van Diemen's Land. He ascended the south-east portion of the main dividing range, and named the highest peak thereof Kosciusko, after a fancied resemblance in its outline to that Polish patriot's tomb at Cracow.

On the 27th of March, 1840, he reached the cattle station on the Tambo whither McMillan had just returned, and was directed by him on to his newly-discovered country. Strzelecki pushed through to Western Port, meeting with some scrubby and almost inaccessible country during the last stages of his journey. His party had to abandon both horses and packs, and fight its way through a dense undergrowth on a scanty ration of one biscuit and a slice of bacon per day, varied with an occasional native bear. It was here that the Count, who was an athletic man, found that his hardy constitution stood the party in good stead. So weakened and exhausted were his companions, that it was only by constant encouragement that he urged them along at all. When forcing their way through the matted growth of scrub, he often threw himself bodily upon it, breaking a path for his weary followers by the mere weight of his body. It was in a wretched condition that they at last reached Western Port.


In 1840 Patrick Leslie, who has always been considered the father of settlement on the Darling Downs, started with stock from a New England station, then the most northerly settled district in New South Wales, and formed the first station on the Condamine River, actually before that river had been identified as a tributary of the Darling. There was a general impression that the Condamine flowed north and east, and finally found its way through the main range to the Pacific. In 1841, Stuart Russell, who closely followed Leslie as a pioneer, followed the river down for more than a hundred miles to the westward, and in the following year it was traced still further, and the Darling generally accepted as its final destination.


Leichhardt is the Franklin of Australia, around whose name has ever clung a tantalising veil of mystery and romance. Truth to tell, his claim as a leading explorer rests solely on his first and undoubtedly fruitful expedition. But for his mysterious fate mention of his name would not stir the hearts of men as it does. Had he returned from his final venture beaten, it must have been to live through the remainder of his life a disappointed and embittered man. Far better for one of his temperament to rest in the wilderness, his grave unknown, but his memory revered.

Leichhardt was born at Beskow, near Berlin, and studied at Berlin. Through an oversight he was omitted from the list of those liable to the one year of military service, and the sweets of exemption tempted him to evade the three-year military course. The consequence was that he was prosecuted as a deserter, and sentenced in contumaciam. Afterwards, Alexander von Humboldt succeeded, by describing his services to science on his first expedition in Australia, in obtaining a pardon from the King. By a Cabinet Order, Leichhardt received permission to return to Prussia unpunished. When the order arrived in Australia, he had already started on his last expedition.

Dr. Leichhardt appears to have been a man whose character, to judge from his short career, was largely composed of contradictions and inconsistencies. Eager for personal distinction, with high and noble aims, he yet lacked that ready sympathy and feeling of comradeship that attract men. Leichhardt's followers never desired to accompany him on a second expedition. Yet strange to say, he was capable of inspiring firm friendship in such men as William Nicholson and Lieutenant Robert Lynd.

When he left on his first exploring expedition, on which he was successful owing to the luck of the novice, people generally predicted - and with much reason - that he would fail. But when he set out on his second and disastrous journey, universally applauded and with his name on everybody's lips, it was never doubted but that he would succeed.

[Map. Leichhardt's Route 1844 and 1845, Mitchell's Route 1845 and 1846, and Kennedy's Route 1847 and 1848]

On his first expedition he was insufficiently equipped, had but inexperienced men with him, and was a bad bushman himself. In fact the journal of the trip reads to a man accustomed to bush life like the fable of The Babes in the Wood; yet he managed to blunder through. On his second expedition he was amply provided, and most of his companions were experienced men, but it proved a miserable fiasco.

His great confidence in himself led him to ignore or undervalue the fact, patent to others, that he was no bushman either by instinct or training. And he seemed to prefer for companions men like himself, who could not detect this failing, as is evident from a letter written by him to W. Hull, of Melbourne, with reference to a young man who was anxious to join his party. In this letter he enumerates the qualities that he considers necessary in a follower: -

"Activity, good humour, sound moral principle, elasticity of mind and body, and perfect willingness to obey my orders, even though given harshly...I have been extremely unfortunate in the choice of my former companions."

The last remark is an unworthy one, and of course applies to the companions of his second expedition. He does not include a knowledge of open-air life amongst his qualifications, nor the needful bushmanship; and apparently in Leichhardt's opinion, a useless man of good moral principle would be as acceptable to an explorer as a good bushman of doubtful morality. It causes one to inquire whether the devoted men who toiled for Sturt, private soldiers and prisoners of the Crown, were men of sound moral principle? This extract affords an insight into Leichhardt's failures. He wanted only those men who would blindly and ignorantly obey and believe in him. For a man of Leichhardt's temperament, such men were not to be found: he had missed the fairy gift at birth - all the essentials of good leadership.

Stuart Russell, in his Genesis of Queensland, cites his shrewd old stockman's opinion of Dr. Leichhardt, as he was just before his first trip. The station from which Leichhardt started on that occasion was near Russell's, so that the man spoke from personal knowledge: "It's my belief that if Dr. Leichhardt do it at all, 'twill be more by good luck than management. Why, sir, he hasn't got the knack of some of us; why it comes like mother's milk to some. I can't tell how or why, but it does. Mark my words, sir, Dr. Leichhardt hasn't got it in him, and never will have."

Two invaluable qualities in an explorer, apart from his scientific attainments, Leichhardt possessed. These were courage and determination; necessary no doubt, but not sufficient in themselves to carry through an expedition to success. He lacked tact, and was deficient in practical knowledge of the bush, and especially in what is known as bushmanship. One fixed idea of his was, that in dry country if one can only keep on far enough one is bound to come to water: a theory plausible enough if it could be carried out to its logical conclusion; but the application of which often involves a physical impossibility. And it must be taken into consideration that Leichhardt had never travelled in the dry country of the interior, but that what small experience he possessed had been gained on the fairly well-watered coast. He asserts in his journal that cattle and horses trust entirely to the sense of vision for finding water, and not to the sense of smell. The exact reverse is of course the case.

The character of the lost explorer will thus be seen to have militated strongly against his success when he came to be pitted against the - to him - unknown dangers of a dry season in the far interior. But his fatal self-confidence led him to challenge the desert, thinking that he must succeed where better men had been denied even the hope of success. When his last expedition comes to be reviewed, a more detailed discussion of the probabilities of a successful issue to it will be made. Poor Leichhardt, with all his moods and caprices, it would have been strange if he had not shown some appreciation of humour. Let us quote his description of his sudden and unexpected arrival in Sydney, after the Port Essington expedition.

"We did come to Sydney, it was quite dark; we did go ashore, and then I thought to see my dear friend Lynd. So I went up George Street to the barracks. And then I went to his quarters to his window. He was dressing himself; I did put in my head; he did jump out of the other window and I stood there wondering. Soon many people did come round, and did look, Oh so timid. I did not know all. And there was such a greeting. I was dead, and was alive again. I was lost, and was found."

But in thus reviewing Leichhardt's aptitude - or rather inaptitude - for the work, and commenting upon his shortcomings, we must do him the fullest justice by paying homage to the sincerity of his belief in himself and his mission. In that belief he was honestly loyal. His conception of his duty was of the highest, and in its interest he would, and did, make every sacrifice in his power. If some prescient tongue could have told Leichhardt that the end of his quest would be an unknown death, he would have accepted the fate without a murmur, provided his death benefited geographical discovery.

As the man of science in a party under a capable leader, Leichhardt would have achieved greater success than many men who have filled that position; as the leader himself he was, of necessity, an absolute failure.

Leichhardt arrived in New South Wales in 1842, and after some botanical excursions about the Hunter River district, he travelled overland to Moreton Bay, and there occupied himself with short expeditions in the neighbourhood, pursuing his favourite study of physical science. When the subject of the exploration of the north was mooted, he was desirous of securing the position of naturalist, but the delay in forming the projected expedition disappointed him, and he resolved to try and organise a private one. In this he received very little encouragement. He persevered, however, and eking out his own resources by means of private contributions, both in money and stock, he managed to get a party together. On the 1st of October, 1844, he left Jimbour station on the Darling Downs, on the trip that was destined to make his name as an explorer. His preparations were on a much smaller scale than Mitchell's. Considering the importance of the undertaking, his party was absurdly small. He had with him six white and two black men, seventeen horses, sixteen head of cattle and four kangaroo dogs; and his supply of provisions was equally meagre. His plan of starting from Moreton Bay to Port Essington differed considerably from Mitchell's proposed journey to the Gulf from Fort Bourke, but although longer and more roundabout, it would be a safer route for his little party to adopt, as they would keep to the comparatively well-watered coastal lands. Leaving the Condamine, he crossed the northern watershed, and struck the head of one of the main tributaries of the Fitzroy River, which he named the Dawson. Thence he passed westward into a region of fine pastoral country, which he named the Peak Downs. Here he named the minor waters of the Planet and the Comet, and Zamia Creek. On the 10th of January, 1845, he found the Mackenzie River, and thence crossed on to and named the Isaacs, a tributary of the Fitzroy coming from the north. This river they followed up till they crossed the watershed on to the head waters of the Suttor River. They followed this stream down until it brought them to the Burdekin, Leichhardt's most important discovery.

Up the valley of this river they travelled, until they reached the head, where, at the Valley of Lagoons, they crossed the watershed on to the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Here, for some unknown reason, Leichhardt went far too much to the north, which necessitated a long detour around the south-eastern corner of the Gulf. It was while they were retracing a southern course along the eastern shore of the Gulf that the naturalist Gilbert met his fate. Up to this time they had been so little troubled with the natives that they had ceased almost to think of a possible hostile encounter with them. This fancied immunity was broken in a most tragic manner on the night of the 28th of June, 1845. It was a calm, quiet evening, and the party were peacefully encamped beside a chain of shallow lagoons. The doctor was thinking out his plans for the next few days, Gilbert was planting a few lilies he had gathered, as was his nightly habit when any flowers were available. Roper and the others were grouped around the fire warding off the attacks of the mosquitoes. Suddenly about seven o'clock a shower of spears was thrown among the unarmed men, and Gilbert was almost instantly killed, Roper and Calvert being seriously wounded. The whites rushed for their guns, but unfortunately not one weapon was ready capped, and it was some time before any of them could be discharged, when a volley caused the blacks to scamper off. It is most astonishing that the whole of the members of the party were not cut down in one dreadful massacre.

The body of the murdered naturalist was buried at the fatal camp, but the grave was left unmarked, and a large fire built and consumed above it to hide all traces of it from the natives. The river where this sad mishap occurred now bears the name of Gilbert.

From the scene of this tragedy, which ordinary precautions would have avoided, the party proceeded around the southern shore of the Gulf, keeping a short distance above tidal waters; but their progress was slow and painful on account of the two wounded men. Most of Leichhardt's names are still retained for the rivers of the Gulf which he crossed, the Leichhardt itself being an exception. This river he mistook for the Albert, so named by Captain Stokes during his marine survey of the north coast. A.C. Gregory rectified the error in after years, and gave the river the name of the lost explorer for whom he was then searching. With fast-dwindling supplies, lagging footsteps, and depressed spirits, the expedition travelled slowly on to the south-west corner of the Gulf where, in crossing a large river, the Roper, four of the horses were drowned in consequence of the boggy banks. This misfortune so limited their means of carriage that Leichhardt had to sacrifice the whole of his botanical collection. On the 17th of December, 1845, the worn-out travellers, nearly destitute of everything, reached the settlement of Victoria, at Port Essington, and the long journey of fourteen months was over.

This expedition, successful as it was in opening up such a large area of well-watered country, attracted universal attention both to the gratifying economic results and to the hitherto untried leader. He was enthusiastically welcomed back to Sydney, and dubbed by journalists the prince of explorers. But what captivated public fancy was a certain halo of romance that clung to the journey on account of the reported death of Leichhardt, a report that gained general credence. His unexpected return invested him with a romance which - fortunately for his reputation - the total and absolute disappearance of himself and company in 1848 has but the more richly coloured. Enthusiastic poets gush forth in song, and a more substantial reward was raised by public and private subscriptions and shared among the expedition in due proportions.

Encouraged by these encomiums on his success, and perhaps a little intoxicated by the general acclamation, Leichhardt now conceived the ambitious idea of traversing the continent from the eastern to the western shore; keeping as far as possible on the same parallel of latitude. This was a bold project, coming as it did so soon after Sturt had returned to Adelaide from his excursion into the interior with a terrible tale of thirst and suffering. But this time the hero of the hour experienced no difficulty in obtaining funds and other necessary aids. The party, when organised, travelled from the Hunter River to the Condamine, taking with them their outfit of mules, cattle, and goats. When the expedition departed from Darling Downs, they numbered seven white men and two natives, with 270 goats, 180 sheep, 40 bullocks, 15 horses, and 13 mules. There were besides an ample outfit and provisions calculated to last the explorers on a two years' journey; for it was estimated that the expedition would be absent from civilisation for that time.

Instead of setting out westwards from the initial point in a direction where Leichhardt could reasonably expect fair travelling country for some distance, he proceeded along his old track north to the Mackenzie and Isaacs Rivers. What induced him to adopt this course is uncertain. He explained to one of his party that it was to verify some former observations; or he may have had some dim notion that by keeping to the tropical line he would gain some climatic assistance. Whatever the cause, the result was disastrous. The wet season and monsoonal rains caught the party amongst the sickly acacia scrubs of that region; and hemmed in by mud and bog they lost their stock, consumed their provisions, and made no progress. Henceforth the narrative is one of semi-starvation, varied by gorging on the days when a beast was killed; and wrangles and quarrels, in which the leader appeared in no amiable light. Medicine had been omitted from the stores, and all the covering they had from the torrential rains was provided by two miserable calico tents. The 6th day of July found them back on Chauvel's station on the Condamine; a sad contrast to the party which had aspired to cross the continent.

The onus of this wretched failure Leichhardt tried to cast upon his companions, upon whom he made many unjust aspersions. J.F. Mann, late of the Survey Department of New South Wales, was one of the expedition, and the last surviving member of any expedition connected with Leichhardt. He wrote a booklet in which he vigorously defends his comrades and himself against the unworthy slurs cast at them by Leichhardt. Amongst his papers is a rough sketch from life of Leichhardt in bush costume.

On reaching the Condamine, Leichhardt was put into possession of the news of Mitchell's return and of the discovery of the Barcoo. Being anxious to examine the country lying between the upper Condamine and Mitchell's latest track, he, in company with two or three of his late companions, left Cecil Plains for that purpose; he went as far as the Balonne River, crossed it and returned. This doubtless was in view of organising another expedition, with which he evidently intended to start in another manner, straight to the westward.

Still persisting and believing in his capability of leading an expedition across the continent, and fearful that this ambitious project might be forestalled, he now made strong and strenuous efforts to organise another party. He succeeded at length, but the party was neither so well provided, nor so large, nor composed of such capable men as the second.

In fact, very little is known of the members that composed it; the only thing certain is that it was not at all adapted for the work that lay before it. A few words of the Reverend W.W.B. Clarke, the well-known geologist, have been many times quoted, and they convey about all that is known of the personnel of the expedition: -

"The parties that accompanied Leichhardt were perhaps little capable of shifting for themselves in case of any accident to their leader. The second in command, a brother-in-law of Leichhardt, came from Germany to join him before starting, and he told me, when I asked him what his qualifications for the journey were, that he had been at sea and had suffered shipwrecks, and was therefore well able to endure hardship. I do not know what his other qualifications were."

The last sentence is very pregnant, and implies that a very poor opinion of the men as experienced bushmen was entertained by those who saw them.

The lost expedition is supposed to have consisted of six whites and two blacks; the names known being those of the doctor himself, Classen, Hentig, Stuart, and Kelly. He had with him 12 horses, 13 mules, 50 bullocks, and 270 goats; beside the utterly inadequate allowance of 800 pounds of flour, 120 pounds of tea, some sugar and salt, 250 pounds of shot, and 40 pounds of powder. His last letter is dated the 3rd of April, 1848, from McPherson's station on the Cogoon, but in it he speaks only of the country he has passed through, and nothing of his intended route. Since the residents of this then outlying station lost sight of him, no sure clue as to the fate of him and his companions has ever come to light. The total evanishment, not alone of the men, but of the animals - especially the mules and the goats - is one of the strangest mysteries of our mysterious interior. Thirst probably caused the death of the animals, and in that case they would have died singly and apart, and their remains would in after years elude attention. A similar fate probably befel the men.

Rumour has always been rife as to the locality of Leichhardt's death, and suggestions the most hopelessly unlikely and inconsistent have been put forward and seriously considered. At the same time, the only two reliable marks, undoubtedly genuine and fitting in in every way with Leichhardt's projected course of travel, have been neglected.

Leichhardt started from McPherson's station on the Cogoon, now perhaps better known as Muckadilla Creek. There was a rumour, never authenticated, that after he had proceeded nearly one hundred miles he sent back a man with a report that he had passed through some splendid pastoral land, but this is not at all likely to be true. The first indication of him is then met with on the Barcoo (Victoria) whereon A.C. Gregory, in charge of the Leichhardt Search Expedition, in 1858, found his marked tree and other indications: -

"Continuing our route along the river (latitude 24 degrees 35 minutes; longitude 36 degrees 6 minutes), we discovered a Moreton Bay ash, about two feet in diameter, marked with the letter L on the east side, cut through the bark about four feet from the ground, and near it the stumps of some small trees that had been cut with a sharp axe, also a deep notch cut in the side of a sloping tree, apparently to support the ridge-pole of a tent, or some similar purpose; all indicating that a camp had been established here by Leichhardt's party. No traces of stock could be found; this however is easily accounted for, as the country had been inundated last season."

There can be little doubt about the authenticity of the trace, and it at once does away with the truth of the stories told to Hovenden Hely by the blacks as to Leichhardt's murder on the Warrego River. Gregory then went up the Thomson River but found no other mark, and returning followed that river and Cooper's Creek down to South Australia. This camp of Leichhardt's is easily understood. Then follows an account of the other found by the same explorer in 1856, during an earlier expedition. This was on the upper waters of Elsey Creek, and his description of it runs as follows: -

"The smoke of bush fires was visible to the south, east, and north, and several trees cut with iron axes were noticed near the camp. There were also the remains of a hut, and the ashes of a large fire, indicating that there had been a party encamped there for several weeks; several trees from six to eight inches in diameter had been cut down with iron axes in fair condition, and the hut built by cutting notches in standing trees and resting a large pole therein for a ridge. This hut had been burnt apparently by the subsequent bush fires; and only some pieces of the thickest timber remained unconsumed. Search was made for marked trees, but none were found, nor were there any fragments of iron, leather, or other material of the equipment of an exploring party, or of any bones of animals other than those common to Australia. Had an exploring party been destroyed there, there would most likely be some indications, and it may therefore be inferred that the party proceeded on its journey. It could not have been a camp of Leichhardt's in 1845, as it is 100 miles south-west of his route to Port Essington, and it was only six or seven years old, judging by the growth of the trees; having subsequently seen some of Leichhardt's camps on the Burdekin, Mackenzie, and Barcoo Rivers, a great similarity was observed in the mode of building the hut, and its relative position with regard to the fire and water supply, and the position with regard to the great features of the country was exactly where a party going westward would first receive a check from the waterless tableland between the Roper and Victoria Rivers, and would probably camp and reconnoitre before attempting to cross to the north-west coast."

Leichhardt's track, as far as the Elsey, seems tolerably plain and entirely in accordance with the character of the man and his intentions. Forced to retreat from the dry country west of the Thomson, he probably followed that river to its head, and crossing the main watershed regained and re-pursued his track of 1845, as far as the Roper, of which river Elsey Creek is a tributary. When he left the camp seen by Gregory, he would, going either south-west or west, find himself in the driest of dry country, which is even now but sparsely settled. And there came the end.

Long before the last water they carried with them had been used, their beasts would have all died, left here and there wherever they fell. So too would the men. Differences of opinion would have arisen, and some would have been for turning back, and others for keeping on. Some would have persisted in changing the direction they were following, and, led on by some mad delirious fancy in seeing water indications in some rock or bush, would have separated and staggered on to die alone. Their baggage would have been left strewn over the desert where it had been abandoned, and the men, one by one, would have shared the same fate. Into such a waterless and barren region the blacks would seldom penetrate, and what with the sun, hot winds, bush fires, and sand-storms, all recognisable traces would soon have been effaced.

With regard to the notched tree to support a ridge-pole, which feature was noticed by Gregory in both camps, J.F. Mann, of whose companionship with Leichhardt mention has already been made, often stated that he would recognise Leichhardt's camps anywhere by this singular device for supporting the ridge of a tent.