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Queensland Places - Ludwig Leichhardt's explorations in Cape York

By JOL Admin | 21 May 2018

The European exploration of the Cape York land area commenced with the journey of the well-known historical figure, Ludwig Leichhardt, a Prussian naturalist and explorer, in the 1840s.  Having already developed a wide range of experience through his exploratory and scientific work, Leichhardt began his journey to Cape York Peninsula on 1 October 1844, with his starting point being the Darling Downs.

Leichhardt reached the Burdekin Valley in May 1845, located the Lynd River and followed it through to the larger Mitchell River.  He then followed the Mitchell for some way through good quality pastoral country, eventually reaching the river plain which fringes the Gulf of Carpentaria.  This river plain was formed by the confluence of a series of rivers with this proving to be an obstacle, slowing the party down considerably.  Leichhardt also realised he was too far north, which compromised his plan to locate a simple, river based route westward to Port Essington.  Faced with this situation, Leichhardt then made his way further to the south, with his aim to round the Gulf of Carpentaria.

During this on-going journey to the west, Leichhardt undertook further exploratory and scientific work, documenting a number of watercourses including Dunbar Creek, mistakenly concluding that this waterway was one of the heads of the Nassau River.  During this part of the journey, Leichhardt and his companions clashed with the local Aborigines, with injuries suffered on both sides.  At least one Aboriginal was killed, with others no doubt wounded and Leichhardt’s natural history collector, Gilbert, was killed within one of these skirmishes.

Following this period of confusion and difficulty, as well as surviving at least one major clash with the local Indigenous people, Leichhardt resumed the journey on 1 July 1845.  He came across a large river, naming it the Gilbert in honour of his recently lost naturalist and continued round the south end of the Gulf.  Along the way he continued to identify good quality pastoral land.

Leichhardt eventually reached Port Essington on 18 December 1845.

Settlers Hut, Gilbert River District, ca. 1869. John Oxley Librart, State Library of Queensland Neg 24556

Settlers Hut, Gilbert River District, ca. 1869. John Oxley Librart, State Library of Queensland Neg 24556

This image, dated to around 1869, shows a settler’s hut in the vicinity of the Gilbert River.

Brian Randall - Specialist Librarian, State Library of Queensland.


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