To Thomas Elder1    24 September 1872

Botanic Garden Melbourne,

24th Septr. 1872


Last evening, dear Mr Elder, I received your two letters of the 18 & 19 Sept.2 to which I can only briefly reply this morning in time for the Adelaide mail steamer, being besides harassed undeservedly with departmental anxieties at this moment.

It is reflecting great honor, both on you and Capt. Hughes,3 that you afford the means for Colonel Warburton's enterprise, in order that his spirited desire to add to the geographic discoveries in this great continent may be early realized. The gallant colonel deserves much praise that late in life he is foregoing for the while the comforts of life in his family home, to brave the dangers of the inhospitable regions of the desert interior. I trust he is provided or will be provided with surgical aid, as otherwise the least bodily accident may involve disastrous sequences to the whole party. It must be a happy feeling to the colonel, to be responsible to no legislature, no journal, no public man of any kind, but only to two generous private friends. As you do me the honor to lay your and Capt. Hughes' plans before me, I venture to offer a few suggestions in the interest of your enterprise. You are aware that Mr. Giles started westward from the Peak Station,4 as that will likely prove the nearest point to diverge to the southern tributaries of the river Murchison5 (in about the same latitude, 28° S.) At best, in likewise turning west from the Peak Station, the colonel will only rediscover what Mr. Giles noticed before, in as much as likely the same geographic features before them will guide both (one after the other) in the same direction. If however your expedition went straight North on the 136th meridian, the colonel would gain an independent field for research, for I see no trace of exploration recorded in that longitude northward, even on the new telegraph map. The colonel will not have any chance to overtake Mr. Giles on the line adopted on my suggestion by the latter, and he will therefore be forestalled in discoveries on that line, unless indeed singularly unforeseen circumstances have impeded the progress of Mr. Giles' small band. In advancing northward to the latitude of Central Mt Stuart6 (22° S.) the colonel would doubtlessly intersect many new watercourses of importance, and would finally have a width of 150 miles unexplored country between him and Central Mt Stuart without having gone much out of his way. In finally departing from that mount as the real point of his start your expedition must be largely guided by the geographic appearance of the country in its movements, but as the use of the dromedaries, so generously supplied by you, give your party more freedom of action than a sole horse party can possibly possess, it will probably be easy for the colonel to do, what J. M'Dowall Stuart could not accomplish, namely to dash across to Termination Lake, where we left off under Gregory in 18567 and to proceed then again through absolutely new country to King's Sound or Nichol Bay8 according to circumstances with a fair chance of discovering a vast extent of the same magnificent basaltic country, which we found at the upper part of Sturt's Creek9 and of which we did not see the limits. These basaltic tracts are quite alike to Peak Downs and Darling Downs10 in the East, and they are far more likely to exist on the way to King's Sound than towards the Murchison River. The Colonel might thus open up a magnificent pastoral country near good harbours. Will you kindly bear in mind, that Messrs John and Alex Forrest intend to start also from the sources of the river Murchison in a few months, and will therefore anticipate many discoveries in the country East of that river, should Mr. Giles not arrive there before. In the latter they will profit from his observations, and explore either North or South from his track. The field for exploration being so extensive yet, we really should guard against embarrassing the several explorers in their various lines of operations. 11Were I to offer an opinion on the best plan, to be adopted by Mr Gosse's party, it would be to advise, that this expedition might well turn in the direction of Lake Barlee.12 It would then cross Mr. Giles' supposed or intended track only in one place, and as it has also the superiority of using dromedaries, it might well endeavour to return from Lake Barlee to Stuarts Ranges,13 after refitting in West Australia. Excuse the frankness of my expressions, as I have served in the field of exploration myself, and as I have no worldly interest in any of these different contemplated enterprises, but only desire the wide territory of Australia mapped for settlement. But on one question I have an ardent wish personally, it is the withdrawal of the veil from Leichhardts fate, and I trust that all the S. Austral. expeditions will interrogate the natives, whenever the opportunity occurs, in reference to the missing explorers, and will follow any vestiges of these poor men, which may suddenly turn up. Your generous offer to supply dromedaries to any Eastern party I will gladly bring under the notice of influential friends, and trust that advantage will be taken of it, although the Government of Queensland obtained on my recommendation several years ago all our dromedaries, and is thus provided so far with great facilities for inland exploring. Some of my West Austral. friends are doubtful, whether the favorable copious rains have extended to the interior of their territory. Allow me to ask you and Capt. Hughes for your autographed photograms, to be placed in the series of my geographic friends. I am certain that you will greatly enjoy the visit of the distinguished Chevalier Dr. Christopherson.

Regardfully Your

Ferd von Mueller.


Of course you will have ample time to give the Colonel further directions by telegraph. If any sudden and pressing cause for communication should arise you might send me a telegram and I will do the same. Surely your united action ought to be honored and rewarded. I would like to get Mr. Gosse's plants also, in order that I may work them up with those of the Colonel so kindly promised. I can then write phytographic appendices for the journals,14 as will also be the case in Mr. Giles' instance, should providence spare me life & health. Is there no prospect to see you and your friends here on a visit again? I have advised Messrs Forrest to connect the Upper Murchison River with Sturt's Creek by their new expedition, as that will also give them an independent line of action.15

Letter not found. The text given here is from a copy of the letter that M sent to August Petermann. The MS is marked 'Copie' and has an annotation by Petermann: '[Erh]. 13 dez. 1872' [Received 13 Dec. 1872].
Letters not found.
Walter Watson Hughes.
Now Lake Gregory, WA, the furthest point reached by Gregory and his companions (including M) during the North Australian Exploring Expedition, 1855-6.
Both on the NW coast of WA.
Both Qld.

A copy of the text from here to 'refitting in West Australia' was sent by Elder to SA’s Commissioner of Crown Lands, Thomas Reynolds, accompanied by the following letter:

1 Oct.

My Dear Sir

as you will probably be writing Mr Gosse on friday Would you approve of sending him the enclosed extract of a letter I received from Baron Mueller the other day?

Col: Warburton started his Camels from Belt[ana] this morning, and follows with 15 horses in a day or two; He says that so far Everything is right.


[…] Elder

Hon. Thos Reynolds

(GRG 35/254/26, Department of Lands, State Records of South Australia, Adelaide.)

Macdonnell Ranges, NT, discovered by Stuart?
The text I would … for the journals is also included in the extract at GRG 35/254/26, State Records of South Australia.
Most of this letter was quoted and the rest summarized in 'The great western explorations'. Evening journal(Adelaide), 28 September 1872, p. 3 (B72.09.09).

Please cite as “FVM-72-09-24,” 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 7 October 2022,