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Ladies Leichhardt Search Expedition, 1865.

In 1863, Duncan and Donald McIntyre left Victoria to take up land in the Gulf of Carpentaria. (Duncan and Donald were often referred to as brothers, but were more probably cousins.) While waiting for a stock quarantine permit for entry into Queensland they explored the Paroo, Barcoo and Bulloo Rivers as well as Cooper Creek where they discovered a couple of old horses. On the way to the Gulf they found two trees blazed with an 'L'. McIntyre believed the trees and the horses were from Leichhardt's 1848 expedition.

On returning to Melbourne McIntyre convinced President of the Royal Society of Victoria, Ferdinand von Mueller to finance a search expedition. Mueller organised a committee of Melbourne ladies who raised £1500 for the 'Ladies Leichhardt Search Expedition'.

Duncan McIntyre led the expedition and they took the seven Longerenong camels with them (although Giles "Australia Twice Traversed says 16). The arrangements were left to McIntyre's second in command, Dr James P Murray who had been the surgeon on Howitt's second expedition to the Cooper in 1862. The party also included Mr Barnes and the sepoy camel handler, Belooch Khan.

They left Mt Murchison (Wilcannia) on 21 August 1865. After travelling for three waterless days between the Paroo and the Cooper, they found the waterhole on the Cooper was dry. Duncan decided to return to the Paroo, but after a few miles he split the party, leaving the horses and most of the men to wait while he went on with the camels, Aboriginal guide and Esau and Belooch.

Dr Murray, believing they had been abandoned to die of thirst, opened the six bottles of medicinal brandy and the men became drunk. The pack-horses wandered off and were lost or died. Only Barnes declined to drink the alcohol. When Duncan returned with water he found the party in disarray and he discharged Murray and most of the men.

On 9 February 1866, Donald and Duncan again left for the Gulf. They reached Gibson's station on the Gilliat River late in March and camped 26km from Burketown between 20 April and the 4 May. On 4 May Duncan reported he was following rumours of a white man among the Aboriginals, however on the 23 May he fell ill while on his way to a base camp on the Gilliat River. He died on 4 June 1866 of Gulf Fever, which he contracted while visiting Burketown, and was buried at McIntyre Waterhole on Julia Creek on what later became Dalgonally Station. Dalgonelly was taken up by Donald, who also claimed the camels and ran them on the station. Dalgonelly was held by Donald until 1907 and is now run by the Australian Agricultural Co.

After Duncan died, Mr W F Sloman became the expedition's new leader, but he died as well, of a combination of heat stroke and heart failure.

Mr William Frederick Barnett was appointed leader and on 21 December 1866 he reported from the Gulf of Carpentaria that the camels were all fine and well suited to Australian travel. However the expedition was abandoned in 1867 without having found any traces of Leichhardt.

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© 2017, Dave Phoenix