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A summary of the life and works
of Sir Paul Edmund de Strzelecki
Polish explorer and scientist (1797-1873)

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by Lech Paszkowski

After four years of exploration in both Americas Pacific and New Zealand, Paul E. de Strzelecki arrived in Sydney in April 1839.

His main interest was the mineralogy of Australia. In September he discovered gold and silver near Wellington (NSW) and in the Vale of Clywd, in the vicinity of Hartley. He collected there numerous samples of Australian gold, which were sent to eminent geologist. Sir Roderick Murchison of London, and also to Berlin, but the Governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps, fearing unrest among 45.000 convicts, stifled the news about the discovery.

This discovery, if announced might have Tfa’d greater impact on Australian history than the 1851 goldrush started by Hargreaves in the same area of Bathurst, as it preceded the Great Irish Famine and the Californian gold rush. Strzelecki also found traces of gold in Tasmania in 1841. He located deposits of coal, iron, pyrites, copper, oxides of titanium, opals, agates, asbestos, marble, kaolin and other minerals.

liscStrzelecki explored the Snowy Mountains and Gipps-land in 1840, naming Mount Kosciusko, Gippsland. Lake King, La Trobe River and Mount Arrowsmith in Tasmania.

He published the first map of Gippsland and its description which helped to open up this fertile part of Victoria. He produced the first large geological map of Eastern Australia and Tasmania. His book „Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land”, published in London in 1845, gained the praise of Charles Darwin and other scientists. It was an unsurpassed source of knowledge on Australia for at least forty-five years.

     In 1845 Strzelecki was naturalised in England. During the great famine in Ireland, in the years 1846-1848 he offered his services to the British Relief Association. He devoted himself to the relief with great dedication and success. For the important services rendered in Ireland, the British Government nominated Strzelecki one of the first Civil Companions of the Bath, bestowed on him on 21st November 1848. In the words of Lord Overstone he had, indeed, afforded „abundant proof that he possessed those high moral qualities which the British public always hold in the highest esteem”.

liscMany Australians are direct descendents of the British emigrants who came to this country thanks to the help of the Family Colonisation Loan Society, originated by Caroline Chisholm.

Strzelecki was, for many years, an active member of this Society and in 1854 was its Chairman, fulfilling his duties with great zeal. He was also an esteemed member of Lord Herbert’s Emigration Committee and of the Duke of Wellington's Emigration Committee. He was, as well, a member of the Crimean Army Fund Committee. At the end of this campaign he accompanied Lord Lyons on a visit to Sevastopol. Strzelecki was also associated with Florence Nightingale and helped her in facilitating the publication of a series of her articles.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in May 1853, and one month later he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. On 20th June 1860, Strzelecki received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Civil Law from the University of Oxford, for his „five years' exploration of Australia, the discovery of gold, the discovery of new territory... and the construction of topographical and geological maps… ”.

Strzelecki had a great vision for the future of Australia. He was one of the first men concerned with the Australian ecology, the first man who advocated the most ambitious plans for large scale irrigation in New South Wales and Tasmania. He foretold a bright future for the Australian wool industry. He was the first man who proposed to organise a vast geological survey in Australia as early as 1845. There are about twenty geographical features bearing his name in Australia and one in Canada.

liscStrzelecki died in London on 6th October 1873 and the famous British politician and Prime Minister, William Gladstone, paid him a final tribute when visiting him personally at his death bed. Strzelecki was buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery.
The grave was damaged by a German bomb in 1940. It was later restored by the Australian and Polish Governments.