Today I called into World Museum Liverpool to say goodbye to Dr Clem Fisher, curator of birds and mammals, before she travels to Australia as a key speaker in an international seminar to study the life and success of German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt.
The Ludwig Leichhardt Rally commemorates and recreates Leichhardt’s pioneering expedition of 1844-45 from south-east Queensland to the north Australian coast – one of the most ambitious and dangerous exploratory trips ever undertaken in early Australia. For authenticity the delegates will sleep rough as they follow a trail of campsite locations recorded by Leichhardt as he led his eight men, 17 horses, 16 bullocks and a pack of dogs across the uncharted outback territory.
Clem is attending as the leading expert on John Gilbert, Leichhardt’s second-in-command, who was tragically speared to death by Aborigines in 1845 near the end of the journey. Gilbert, a noted naturalist from London, was on the expedition to study and collect Australian birds for his employer, the ornithologist and entrepreneur John Gould. Between them Gould and Gilbert were responsible for discovering a huge proportion of Australia’s birds and mammals. Gilbert is estimated to have collected the ‘type’ specimens (those which act as standards for the species) of at least 8% of all recent Australian birds and mammals.
Many of Gilbert’s specimens from the Leichhardt Expedition were acquired by the 13th Earl of Derby, who was a great naturalist and a close friend of John Gould. His collections formed the foundation of World Museum Liverpool when they were bequeathed in 1851.
Clem has been researching the life of John Gilbert for almost 30 years and has travelled all over the world in pursuit of Gilbert and Gould’s type specimens in other museum collections. I hope that this expedition has a happier ending than Gilbert's and she returns safely to Liverpool afterwards.