To Frederick Barlee1    28 February 1869

Botanic Garden, Melbourne




Again, honored Sir, I can only write to you confidentially in reference to my long cherished project of revisiting West Australia. The sudden departure of my principle Assistant2 in the horticultural branch for establishing a private business in Adelaide and the anticipated voyage of my Museum Amanuensis3 to Germany have augmented still more the difficulty of leaving the Department for a few month. I have in consequence not yet consulted with my ministerial Chief, and this is the only reason, why secrecy on my intended movement should be observed. My desire to investigate the phytology of the interior of your colony is as ardent as ever, and as I hope, that the estimates for my establishement will be passed in March, it may be possible for me to get away by next mail steamer, provided the Acting Surveyor General4 will be allowed to exercise during my absence some surveillance over the establishment.

I now ask under any circumstances from you and your honorable colleagues in the administration of your Government a special and distinct favor.

1, Let not this coming cool season be lost without Mr. Monger's discoveries being followed up, without the existence of the talked of large inland lake being ascertained and also the correctness or incorrectness of the fate of Leichhardts death (as narrated by the natives to Mr. Monger and Mr. Roe) being set at rest.5

I really look upon it as a point of honor of your colony to solve Leichhardts fate this winter, when it is said that the poor man perished only 11 days distance from Mongers country!

2, To effect this end a party should be organized early in April, so as to reach the remotest locality, to which Mr. Monger penetrated at the end of April (about 300 miles.)

3. The four cool month, May, June, July and August should be devoted to explorations as far inland as possible, and thus the party should return before the great heat sets in, during September to Perth.

There is no necessity of the party being out four months. It can return in one or two months, if it accomplishes its object, or accidents or illness arise.

4., To render it as inexpensive as possible I would advise, that two of the prisoners being made members of the party and if possible that the selection should fall on such men as had some knowledge of surgery and surveying and bushmanship.

5., It would then only require a leader and one free man and two aborigines.

6., I should be willing to undertake the command of such a party, if I can get the necessary leave of absence for the time (6. months) and I should probably bring a young man with me from my department to assist me in collecting plants.

7. In the event of my going I would spend my income for the time (£.300) in the enterprise, provided that I obtain the probable permission to leave on full pay and that the aid of your colonial Government to my enterprise will be looked on rather as given to a private individual and no great public responsibilities are asked, in as much as I could not very well serve two Governments formally at the same time.

8., I will with the aid of the Ladies6 endeavour to secure a monetary reward for the party, should it be successful in revealing Leichhardts fate, but I should not legally be held responsible for such reward.

9. I would suggest that the survey and prison Departments aid in the loan of horses, saddles, arms, ammunition & provissions, to reduce the cash expenditure to a minimum.

10 On the last station some oxen should be slaughtered and the boneless meat be dried to serve the party for two months, while on the home way (as in Gregory's northern expedition7) horses should be consumed for food, if game cannot be obtained.

11. At once several strong galvanized iron or zinc cylinders should be made to convey a good many gallons of water for emergency. These cylinders would be filled only in dry country, otherwise buckled on the top of the packs, and they would be of immense use to aid reconnoiterings away from ranges in a waterless country.

12. I will bring an American borepump if I can get it here in time. But we must not wait for it.

13. One of the members of the party ought to be fit to shoe horses.

This would embrace the principle points of consideration. While now imploring the honorable the Commandant, yourself and the venerable Capt. Roe, I must in candour confess, that I should feel equally disappointed if in the event of my coming delays arose to my start and even in the event of my not coming not a Surveyor or even good bushman only was entrusted with this enterprise and if even a single month cool weather was lost. I distinctly would disadvise to wait for rains; vernal or otherwise, or to be deterred by saltmarsh bogs in winters, as such can be rounded by any man of earnest determination and will!

That the aid I can myself afford is almost nothing, I regret much. But I have worked now nearly 30 years for science; 22 in Australia and am poorer now than when I came in 1847, with some capital, and have nothing substantially to show for my toils of so many years, not even a family brought up. I trust also the Commandant, Mr. Roe and yourself will bear in friendly remembrance, that Oldfield8 spent for me several hundreds of pounds of cash in your colony, that Maxwell9 received from me goodish sums from time to time during 12 years and that I spent myself about £.100 in visiting W. Austr. in 1867.

Besides I need scarcely add, that I shall always be ready to afford gratuitous aid by information as before to your Government as far as my knowledge goes.

I have appealed to many here by letters and conversation, to aid the enterprise, but all say W.A. reaps alone the advantage and ought to do its work itself. There should be not one days delay on my (possible) arrival! as my time is precious. If I can not go myself I should be glad to be allowed to name 2. or 3. of the new geographical spots likely to be discovered.

A few plants might be gathered for my establishment on the way.

Looking forward with great anxiety for a favorable answer by next mail I remain your very regardful

Ferd. von Mueller


I should feel deeply sorry, if it was found necessary to await the arrival of the new Governor for the sanction of this new enterprise, which will throw credit on all concerned and need not be at all costly in cash.10

MS written by C. Wilhelmi with final sentences and signature by M. MS annotated at beginning in an unknown hand: 'Ex:Co: 17 March 1869'.
Ernst Heyne.
Carl Wilhelmi.
A. J. Skene.
While searching for new grazing land in the eastern districts of WA, the pastoralist J. H. Monger had met an Aborigine who said he knew where a party of white men had been killed by Aborigines many years before, and offered to lead Monger to the place. See 'Expedition to the North-Eastward of York. From the diary of Messrs Monger', Inquirer and commercial news (Perth), 14 October 1868. See also Crowley (1971) pp. 28-9.
Ladies' Leichhardt Search Committee?
North Australian Exploring Expedition, 1855-6.
Augustus Oldfield.
George Maxwell.

Looking forward … costly in cash written by M.

MS annotation possibly by Barlee: 'Proposed Expedition to Eastward | Would six men — to include two natives be sufficient? How many horses? Would a cart be necessary? How long should they be provisioned for? What equipment can be supplied from Survey Dept? Can instruments be supplied? Can you furnish descriptions of the galvanized iron or zinc cylinders? How many would you advise?'

See also F. Barlee to M, 31 March 1869, in which Barlee reports that M's suggestions will be carried into effect. In the event, M was unable to join the expedition and J. Forrest was appointed leader instead. Between April and August 1869, the expedition covered over 3,000 km of previously uncharted territory around Lake Moore and Lake Barlee, WA.

Please cite as “FVM-69-02-28,” in Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller, edited by R.W. Home, Thomas A. Darragh, A.M. Lucas, Sara Maroske, D.M. Sinkora, J.H. Voigt and Monika Wells accessed on 4 December 2023,