Born in Prussia in 1813, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt studied natural science and philosophy at the universities of Berlin and GOttingen.
As a young man, he traveled through Europe doing fieldwork and became fluent in English, French, and Italian. In 1841, an English companion sponsored Leichhardt’s voyage to Australia, where Leichhardt planned to use his skills to explore the interior of the young colony.
From 1842 to 1844, Leichhardt collected plant and rock specimens in the Hunter River Valley. In 1844, he joined an overland expedition to Port Essington. But Leichhardt grew impatient with the slow pace and raised money for his own trip.
In October 1844, Leichhardt and ten men ventured into the interior of Australia, intending to blaze an overland route from Brisbane on the eastern coast to Port Essington on the northern coast. The expedition members were plagued by their inexperience.
Moving only six miles a day, the expedition lost a tent and one-fifth of its flour. Two men quit. The others quarreled bitterly. Leichhardt, an ineffective leader, couldn’t maintain group harmony. On June 25, 1845, one man was killed and two others wounded in an aborigine attack. By then, the tiny, weary group was on the verge of starving.
Leichhardt had supplies for a seven-month journey, but food ran out. Desperate, Leichhardt used his knowledge to identify plants for food. On December 17, 1844-14 months after they began, the group reached Port Essington, where shocked townspeo ple greeted them as heroes.
The newly world famous Leichhardt planned another journey, this time to cross the continent from east to west. In March 1848, Leichhardt led another group into the Australian wilderness on an expedition he estimated would last two years. They were never heard from again.