Leichhardt expedition map offers new insights

By searching through old journals, ANU experts have created a new much more accurate map of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt’s route.
By Leila Berney October 13, 2014 Reading Time: 2 Minutes

A NEW INTERACTIVE map of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt’s 1844-45 expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington has been created by experts at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

This new version corrects the previous route, and includes entries from the explorers’ journals, as well as includes the ability to use Google Earth to explore terrain described in the entries.

“It’s amazing how interested people are in explorers’ routes, and being able to read Leichhardt’s journal entries whilst looking at an interactive map of his route is a great resource,” says Christine Fernon, who led the project at ANU’s National Centre of Biography.

Leichhardt and his team travelled 4800km over 14 months on a privately-funded east-west crossing from southern Queensland to the coast of the Top End. After running out of food seven months into the trip, they had to rely upon the land, observing local Aboriginal groups to help them survive the harsh conditions.

Ludwig Leichhardt given up for dead

Long given up for dead, Leichhardt and his team finally arrived in Port Essington, 300km north of Darwin in the NT, on 17 December 1845.

“Leichhardt was the first white man to traverse the land in North Queensland and record it. It was the longest land exploration up to that date, and through very rugged land, so it’s very significant,” Christine says.

Leichhardt himself and three of his companions documented their experiences in journals, which provided a wealth of early information to outsiders about the environment and Aboriginal culture in the interior of the continent.

Lauren Carter is a GIS (Geographical Information Systems) analyst at ANU who calculated the new route. To do so, she pored over Leichhardt’s journal and a map of the route sketched by British mapmaker John Arrowsmith in 1847.

Mapping the routes of Australian explorers

Although of great quality considering the resources of the time, Arrowsmith’s map was still out by up to 32km off in places, she told Australian Geographic.  

Lauren was also aided by the work of historian Glen McLaren, who retraced Leichhardt’s footsteps as part of his PhD in the 1990s, checking and correcting the latitudes and longitudes of Leichhardt’s campsites.    

Christine says this interactive map and the hardcopy map drawn from it are just the beginning of what the National Centre of Biography plans to do as part of their new resource, Exploring Australia.

“We’re not only interested in explorer’s routes, but we also want people to go out and see how different or similar the land is now,” she says.

The ANU team is now retracing the routes taken by Australian explorers, the Forrest brothers, from 1869-1879.

The interactive Leichhardt map can be accessed here.