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Museum acquisition sheds light on great mystery of Australian exploration

23 NOVEMBER 2006

The Minister for the Arts, Senator Rod Kemp, today announced the acquisition of the first authenticated artefact from an enduring mystery of Australian history – the disappearance of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt's expedition in 1848.

The National Museum of Australia has acquired a brass nameplate marked 'LUDWIG LEICHHARDT 1848' which was discovered attached to a partly burnt firearm in a boab tree near Sturt Creek, between the Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts just inside Western Australia from the Northern Territory border.

'The nameplate was discovered around 1900 and passed to a South Australian family who made it available to the National Museum of Australia. The nameplate has been subject to extensive and detailed historical and scientific analysis,' Senator Kemp said.

'The disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt's third major expedition in 1848 and the failure to find any definite artefacts of the expedition has been one of the great mysteries of Australian exploration.'

The nameplate, the first authenticated relic of the 1848 journey, sheds light on a big part of the mystery. While it does not 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.

Detailed scientific analysis by conservators from the National Museum of Australia shows the brass dates from the first half of the nineteenth century. Importantly, the results of the scientific analysis are entirely consistent with the historical record.

'The marriage of the historical record and the scientific analysis represents a remarkable corroboration of the provenance of the nameplate,' Director of the National Museum of Australia, Craddock Morton, said.

The nameplate will be on display in the Hall of the National Museum of Australia until Thursday 7 December.

Media contact:

Michael Christo, Minister's Office, 03 9650 7274 or 0409 040 276
Dennis Grant, National Museum of Australia 02 6208 5351 or 0409 916 481