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Nameplate for Ludwig Leichhardt 1848

2006.0059.0001

Nameplate for Ludwig Leichhardt 1848

Object information

Physical description

Elongated rectangular brass plate with rounded corners. The plate is pierced by a circular hole at the centre top, and engraved with "LUDWIG. LEICHHARDT. 1848".

Statement of significance

The Bristow Smith Collection: Ludwig Leichhardt Nameplate, consists of a brass nameplate bearing Leichhardt's name and the date 1848. It measures 15cm X 2cm.

The disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt's 1848 expedition party has been one of the enduring mysteries of Australian inland exploration. Many theories have been proposed to explain where Leichhardt may have travelled and died. The nameplate, the first authenticated artefact from the expedition, proves that the explorer got to the Sturt Creek area between the Tanami and Great Sandy deserts. This shows that the explorer succeeded in travelling at least two-thirds of the way across the continent in his bid to cross from east to west, a very considerable achievement at that time. Although the nameplate does not indicate where Leichhardt died, it represents a relic of major significance to Australian history. Leichhardt was regarded as a leading scientist in his time and he was internationally recognised for his earlier feat of exploring from Moreton Bay (Qld) to Port Essington in the Northern Territory. He was a key observer of the Australian environment.

Educational significance

This is a rectangular brass plate with rounded corners belonging to Ludwig Leichhardt. The plate is pierced by a circular hole at the centre top, and engraved with 'Ludwig. Leichhardt. 1848'. It was discovered in about 1900 attached to a partly burnt firearm in a bottle tree (boab) near Sturt Creek, between the Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts, just inside Western Australia from the Northern Territory border. It measures 150 mm (w) X 20 mm (h).

The disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt's third expedition in 1848 and the failure to find any definite artefacts of the expedition has been one of the great mysteries of Australian exploration. Many theories have been proposed over the years to explain where Leichhardt died, numbers of them concluding he perished somewhere near the Simpson Desert. This object, in being the first authenticated relic of the 1848 journey, removes a big part of the mystery. While it still cannot tell us where Leichhardt died, it proves that he made it at least two-thirds of the way across the continent during his east-west crossing attempt. For a European to do this in 1848 represents a considerable achievement.

Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt was born in Prussia in 1813. He studied at the Universities of Berlin and Gottingen and he turned more and more to the natural sciences. Though he never obtained a degree he was well regarded for his scientific knowledge. He studied further in Britain and France and did field work there and elsewhere. Leichhardt arrived in Sydney on 14 February 1842, aiming to explore inland Australia and hopeful of a government appointment in his fields of interest. He began making field studies in the Hunter and then travelled alone from Newcastle to Moreton Bay, collecting specimens.

Leichhardt hoped to be part of a government-sponsored expedition from Moreton Bay (ie Brisbane) to Port Essington (north coast of the present Northern Territory) to be led by Surveyor General Sir Thomas Mitchell. When this fell through, Leichhardt decided to mount the expedition himself, with private funding, and accompanied by volunteers. The party left Sydney in August 1844, gained more members at Moreton Bay, and departed the Darling Downs on 1 October. Leichhardt reached Port Essington on 17 December 1845, having covered 3000 miles (nearly 5000 kilometres). Long given up for dead, Leichhardt and companions were feted as heroes upon their return to Sydney. Leichhardt's journey resulted in a massive amount of information about the new country explored.

Leichhardt's next major expedition was to cross the continent, east to west, from Moreton Bay to Swan River (ie Brisbane to Perth). He and his party started from the Darling Downs in December 1846 but after 800 kilometres were forced to return in June 1847. Leichhardt afterwards explored the area around the Condamine River. Leichhardt then mounted another attempt to cross from Moreton Bay to Swan River, and by February 1848 he and his party were on the Darling Downs. They left the Condamine River the following month. After departing Cogoon Station in April, the party was not heard of again.

It was expected that the expedition would take two to three years, but after no sign or word was received from the explorer, it was gradually assumed the party had died. Expeditions were mounted to try to find a sign of the party and although some signs were found (eg 'L' trees and possible camp sites), there was nothing more. The Leichhardt mystery continued to attract attention into the twentieth century and further attempts were made to find relics or explain the fate of Leichhardt and his companions.

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