by Professor Sir Ernest Scott
A Polish nobleman who was unjustly „identified” as the original of Count Smorltork in „Pickwick Papers” Count Strzelecki spent what in those days would have been called a small fortune in his explorations in Australia.
He named Mount Kosciusko and Gippsland. The journey, during which he found the highest peak and traversed Gippsland, nearly cost him and his companions their lives.
Read also below.
Strzelecki discovered gold in the Bathurst district in 1839, but he did not publicly disclose his discovery because the Governor (Sir George Gipps), fearing a gold rush, requested the explorer to keep it secret.
A town and a range near Westernport, Victoria, and a creek in the north-eastern comer of South Australia, are named after Strzelecki.
ON may 12, 1840, a small party of half-starved and nearly naked men staggered into Westernport from the rugged back-county after a painful journey through the mountains of south-eastern Australia.
THEY were Count Paul de Strzelecki, a Polish refugee, and two Australians, Arthur Riley and James McArthur - a son of member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales of the same name - with their servants, including an aboriginal named Charley, who belonged to a Goulburn Plains tribe.
MORE than a fortnight elapsed before the adventures of the party became known in Melbourne, where their arrival provided a topic of interest such as judging from the newspapers of the period, did not often occur in the little four-year-old town.
STRZELECKI was a man of 43 when he arrived in New South Wales in 1838 with letters of introduction to the Governor, Sir George Gipps. He had studied science at the universities of Heidelberg and Edinburgh, and then travelled extensively in America, Asia, and the Pacific.
His main object in visiting this country was to examine its geological characteristics, and especially its mineral resources; and after making excursions through much wild and broken country he declared it to be a „vast field for a most exciting and interesting geological in vestigation.”
After exploring part of the Australian Alps, where he discovered and climbed the mountain which he named Kosciusko after Poland's patriot-hero, he wished to trace the course of the range towards the sea.
The journey was extremely fatiguing. After the Latrobe River was crossed the pack-horses had to be abandoned, together with all the scientific specimens which had been collected. Already the food supply had run so short that the members of the expedition were reduced to an allowance of one biscuit and a slice of bacon a day.
The original intention of continuing the journey to Wilson's Promontory was seen to be impossible, and the most direct route to Westernport was determined upon.
That plan compelled the party to cut their way, during 26 toilsome days, through scrub so dense that they progressed scarcely two miles a day. Their clothes were torn to shreds, and their flesh was cut and scraped as though with hooks and knives.
When the provisions were exhausted they must have perished but for the exertions and bushcraft of Charley, who was able to provide a sufficiency of koala - disrespectfully described in one narrative as „Australian bear or monkey”.
The flesh was eaten raw through inability to light fires owing to the dampness of the under growth. Charley was undoubtedly the saviour of the party.
„On one occasion…wrote Strzelecki
when we were reduced to great straits, and worn out with fatigue, his master and most of the others had almost given up the toilsome struggle in despair, when Charley, though no less exhausted than his friends, endeavoured to cheer their drooping spirits, and seating himself on a log beside Mr. McArthur, he said, looking affectionately in his face, » Me never leave you, massa.«
The fervour with which the unsophisticated son of nature expressed his determination to share the fate of his young master touched the hearts of his companions in distress and encouraged them to persevere in their efforts to overcome the obstacles which lay between them and safety.”
* * *
THEY were in a sorry plight in deed when they emerged, on May 12, at the little Westernport settlement.
On May 28 the travellers arrived in Melbourne, where the Port Phillip Patriot, John Pascoe Fawkner's newspaper, chronicled the fact and commented: „We hear that their privations and sufferings have been extreme.”
Three newspapers were published in Melbourne in 1840, the Port Phillip Patriot, the Port Phillip Gazette, and the Port Phillip Herald. The third of these commenced issue in January of that year, and is the only one which survived. Competition between them was fierce, and the rival editors frequently attacked each other with venomous rage.
The Herald, as the new comer, became the natural object of the aversion of the other two, when previously had fought pen-and-ink duels, But the Herald achieved, perhaps, the first local triumph of the kind known in modern journalistic language as a „scoop”, when it displayed in its largest type a full, two column story about Strzelecki's adventures.
The Count handed his manuscript journals to a friend, H. F. Gisborne - well known in the public life of Melbourne at this period - who wrote from them a very good summary, which the Herald published on June 9 th, together with a leading article commenting upon the importance of the opening up of the new province which Strzelecki named Gippsland.
On one point the three Port Phillip newspapers did agree; a name beginning with four consonants seemed too tangled for toleration. So they spelt It either as „Streleski” or „Strelenski”. What was then believed to be the highest mountain in Australia made its first bow, so to speak, to the Melbourne public as „Kosciusko”.
The name Gippsland was given to that part of Victoria by Strzelecki, but was not the first name it bore, nor was he the discoverer of the territory. Angus Macmillan, in 1839, in search of good grazing country, obtained a view of the sea from a mountain top in the Buccan district.
In the following year he traversed what he described as „some of the worst description of country I ever saw” camped beside the Tambo, discovered Port Albert and, taking a general view from a hill beside the Mitchell, was reminded of the scenery of Scotland, „and therefore named it at the moment Caledonia Australis” There were in fact three settlers at Omeo when Macmillan was there at the end of 1839 Nevertheless.
Strzelecki's name for Gippsland was convenient and appropriate - certainly more convenient than Macmillan's „Caledonia Australis” and was officially adopted, although Sir George Gipps was shy of mentioning it in his despatch describing the explorations.
The Strzelecki Ranges, now traversed by excellent roads, are of course appropriately named after the explorer.
Continuation of part 2 on the next page _can be found here_ …