The Ludwig Leichhardt letter of 1839, which formed part of the Brisbane Johnsonian Club Letterbook collection, has now been digitised and is available for viewing through our catalogue. As you will remember from a previous blog post the letter was written by Leichhardt while he was a student in Paris and was addressed to his friend John Nicholson in Germany. At the time Leichhardt was living with John Nicholson’s brother, William, who was his benefactor and close companion. When Leichhardt commenced his explorations in Australia it was William Nicholson who provided the funding and in effect made his journeys of exploration possible.
In addition to the original letter the collection also includes an English translation which was done for the Johnsonian Club by Ernst Marwedel of Toowoomba in 1887. The letter provides a fascinating and intimate insight into Leichhardt’s life in Paris as a young student and his relationship with the Nicholson brothers. In the letter he laments not having heard from John Nicholson for some time, describes his life with William Nicholson, and makes observations on the political situation in Paris, visits to the Louvre, the fashion of lovers to commit suicide co-jointly and the religious life of the Parisians. The question remains, however, as to how the letter ended up in Brisbane. One theory revolves around John Nicholson’s son, John Henry Nicholson, who came to Queensland in 1859. John Henry Nicholson, teacher and writer, was a founding member of the Brisbane Johnsonian Club. It seems possible that he obtained the letter from his father, brought the letter to Australia and presented it to the Johnsonian Club.
John Henry Nicholson was best known as the author of the book “The Adventures of Halek”, an allegorical story, which was described in his obituary in the Brisbane Courier(3/7/1923, p.10) as being “welcomed by thinking readers as a masterpiece, worthy to rank with the works of Dean, Swift and John Bunyan as classics”. This book is held in the John Oxley Library collection.
The Brisbane Courier obituary includes the following account of Nicholson’s life: John Henry Nicholson was born in Lyme Regis, in Dorsetshire, England, in June 1838, but spent most of his boyhood at Penrith, in the Cumberland lakeland, where his father, Dr. Nicholson lived. Dr. Nicholson, by the way, with his brother (Dr. W.A. Nicholson, of Bristol) was directly responsible for the embarkation of Dr. Leichhardt on exploring work in Australia, and their connection with the enterprise is commemorated in the name of the Nicholson River, which runs into the Gulf of Carpentaria. Mr. J.H. Nicholson began his career as an Australian colonist in New South Wales in 1854, when he was 16 years of age, but returned to England in 1859; only for a very short stay, however, for he was back in the Antipodes before the close of the same year, this time in Queensland, which had just secured independence from New South Wales, and had been erected into a separate colony. Thus for 64 years has he been identified with the history of this State. The full obituary may be viewed on Trove.
The 1839 Ludwig Leichhardt letter is available through our One Search catalogue. The Brisbane Johnsonian Club Letterbook (Acc: 29171, Box 17825 Rare & Restricted) may be viewed at the John Oxley Library.
Lynn Meyers – Original Materials Librarian, State Library of Queensland