Ludwig Leichhardt (1813-1848) was a German explorer and scientist who came to Australia in 1842 to study its rocks and wildlife. He was born in East Germany and studied at the University of Berlin.
Leichhardt explored parts of Queensland and Northern Territory. While attempting to travel from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to Perth, his party disappeared. Many search parties went out to try and find traces of the party. Some of these found bones, but they were not able to prove that it was any of Leichhardt's party.
Some people believe that the party mutinied and killed Leichhardt and all were later killed by aborigines except for one member of the party, Adolf Classen. It was thought that he lived on among the aborigines. Other historians believe that Leichhardt's party was caught and died in sudden floods in the channel country in Queensland. Still others believe that he and his party may have died of thirst or that bushfires may have killed the party. For whatever reason, the expedition completely disappeared into the desert. His disappearance still remains a mystery today.
In October 1844, he left the Darling Downs with a party of nine men on an expedition to find a new route to Port Essington, near Darwin. He took with him 17 horses, 16 bullocks, 550kilograms of flour, 90 kilograms of sugar, 40 kilograms of tea and 10 kilograms of gelatine.
Leichhardt was a very poor bushman and the party was always becoming lost. To add to their troubles, food was always short. They ate all kinds of native animals, including lizards and flying foxes. Once when they dropped a bag of flour on the ground, they scraped it up with dried leaves and dust and made it into porridge. Two members of the party turned back shortly after the expedition started, and another, John Gilbert was killed by aborigines. Seven exhausted men finally reached Port Essington after a journey of 5 000 kilometres. The journey had taken them 15 months. They had travelled through good country, naming the Dawson, Mackenzie, Isaacs, Suttor and Burdekin rivers, as well as Expedition Range and Peak Range. Further north he named the Lynd and Mitchell rivers. Leichhardt followed the coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria, naming several rivers as he went. The party then travelled home by sea.
In 1846, Leichhardt set out on his first attempt to cross Australia from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the Swan River in Western Australia, but was forced to turn back because of the heat and drought.
In 1848, he tried once again to find a route from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to Perth, setting off with a party of 7 men including 2 aborigines. This expedition was badly equipped as Leichhardt thought that they could live off the countryside. However, he was not a good bushman. The expedition left the sheep station where they were staying and simply vanished. It was typical of Leichhardt that he took only 7 horses, one for each man. Presumably he never thought about horses going lame, or escaping - even dying. Since then many other expeditions have tried to solve the mystery. During the next 90 years, nine major expeditions tried to solve the mystery of Leichhardt's disappearance, and there were a number of smaller expeditions. Various things such as skeletons, a coin, tomahawk and some bones were found, but nothing to link them conclusively with Leichhardt's party.