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The fateful second expedition
In 1848 Leichhardt set out again, hoping to cross the continent from east to west and then follow the coast down to Perth. Leichhardt is believed to have given his compass and thermometer to a friend in Port Stephens, New South Wales, before leaving for what, unbeknownst to him, would be his last expedition.
In early April 1848, the party headed inland from the Darling Downs and vanished. The expedition’s disappearance has been a mystery ever since.
Many theories seek to account for the disappearance of the party. The two most popular explanations are that the party perished in the desert or were attacked and killed by Aboriginal people, the latter thought to be the most likely.
In search of Leichhardt
Augustus Charles Gregory (1819-1905) was an experienced explorer, and later surveyor-general of Queensland. In 1855 he led an important scientific expedition to explore the north of Australia. Leaving Moreton Bay in August that year, his party of 18 men explored the Victoria, Elsey, Roper and Macarthur Rivers and discovered and named the Leichhardt River.
They then returned to Brisbane by way of the Flinders, Burdekin, Fitzroy and Burnett Rivers, taking sixteen months to complete the expedition. Gregory was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his efforts.
In 1858, Augustus Charles Gregory led another expedition for the New South Wales Government, hoping to unravel the mystery of what had happened to Leichhardt. In March, after several months of preparation, Gregory and his party of seven experienced bushmen and 40 horses, each carrying 150 lb (68 kg) of provisions, set out from an area near Ipswich.
Upon reaching the Barcoo River in April, a tree marked ‘L’ by Leichhardt was discovered. Unfortunately, prevailing drought conditions ultimately forced Gregory’s party to abandon their search and travel to Adelaide.
The fate of Leichhardt was as much in doubt as ever.