Letter | Published:

A Twenty Years' Error in the Geography of Australia



IN almost every detailed map of Australia, including some of the latest, we find, at the head of the Alligator River, in about S. lat. 13½°, and E. long. 133°, some such note as this:—“Steep walls, 3,800 ft”. This is copied from the map illustrating “Leichardt's Journal” published in London in 1847. This map was (as stated in the preface) drawn by S. A. Perry, Esq., Deputy Surveyor General of New South Wales, from materials furnished by Leichardt, and was engraved in London by Arrowsmith. As Leichardt only returned from his first expedition at the end of 1845 or beginning of 1846 he could have had no opportunity of correcting or revising this map. Mr. James Wilson, the geologist to the North Australian Expedition under Mr. A. C. Gregory, having passed over much of the same country, and finding the plateau nowhere more than 1,600 feet above the sea, came to the conclusion that Leichardt's supposed statement was an engraver's or printer's error which had escaped correction, and gave his reasons for this view in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. i. p. 230, and subsequently in the same society's Journal, vol. xxviii. p. 137 (1858). Notwithstanding the extreme improbability—almost amounting to absurdity—of there being precipices of the enormous height of 3,800 feet, in a country where there were no important mountains, and where Gregory, who had passed within eighty miles, and M‘Douall Stuart, who had passed within forty miles of the place, found nothing but a moderately-elevated plateau, with ravines never exceeding 600 feet deep, no notice appears to have been taken of Mr. Wilson's correction, but the “3,800 ft”. has been copied again and again in works of reputation and authority. We find it even, in the new edition of the “Encyclopædia Britannica”, art. “Australia”, given as an established fact in the following words:—“On the north side of the continent, except around the Gulf of Carpentaria, the edge of the sandstone table-land has a great elevation; it is cut by the Alligator River into gorges 3,800 ft. deep”.

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