Traveller, a versatile scholar, discoverer, active in Australia, the Pacific Islands, North and South America, and in Southeast Asia

Although he discovered gold in Australia and Tasmania, knowledge was more valuable to him.

Paweł Edmund Strzelecki, around 1845
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Paweł Edmund Strzelecki was born on 20 July 1797 in Głuszynie near Poznan, on land, which as a result of the partitions of Poland, was under the dominion of Prussia. He was the son of an impoverished Polish nobleman, a tenant of German property.

He took an active part in the November Uprising in 1830 – a national uprising against Russia, then occupying other parts of Poland, which meant that one year later he had to leave his motherland. Some believe that the reason for this decision could be the fact that the father of his beloved Aleksandra Turno opposed their wedding. A passionate but impoverished young man could not make a husband for his beautiful daughter. An attempt by the pair to escape was thwarted and resulted in 23 lashes for the future discoverer of gold in distant lands.

In England, Strzelecki began geological studies, which prepared him for future activities. Two days after his 37th birthday, he arrived in New York and immediately began his journey and research in the United States. He was in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington. He visited sites associated with Polish national heroes like Kosciuszko and Puławski. He carried out geological surveys in several states in the Appalachia, and agro technical studies on farms in the eastern states. He crossed the border to Canada near Niagara and did work in Ontario (where among other things, he discovered copper deposits), Quebec, Montreal and Toronto. He carried out ethnographic research among the Huron Indians. He also reached the Great Antilles, Cuba, and Mexico.

In early 1836, he arrived in Brazil. He examined raw mineral materials in Minas Gerais state, and at the same time conducted ethnographic observations among the local Indian, and meteorological studies in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Following the river La Plata, he travelled southeast and arriving in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. He collected material for books on the often-despicable treatment of the local population by European colonists.

The next stage of his exploits was the trip to some of the archipelagos of the Pacific islands. On 20 July 1838, on board the ship “Fly”, he sailed from the Chilean port of Valparaiso. He reached the Marquises in French Polynesia, and then Hawaii. On the island of Hawaii, he carried out the study of Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes. He then returned to the south, visiting Tahiti, Gambier Islands, and the Kingdom of Tonga.

In early 1839, he spent three months in New Zealand, doing research among the Maoris. On 25 April, he arrived in Sydney. Local “Sydney Gazette”, informing the readers of the arrival of the researcher, misspelled his difficult to pronounce name, identifying the Pole as “Count Traliski”.  This period of his life is the best documented, and it is Australia that his name is primarily associated with, found in many geographical names. He began his research in the southern part of the Great Dividing Range (Wielkie Góry Wododziałowe) where, among others, he discovered the Snow Mountains. The highest peak of the continent that he conquered, of 2229 m, he named Kosciuszko, to commemorate the legacy of a national hero half a century before him, who also fought for the independence of Poland and the United States. “Behold the flower from the highest peak on this continent. May it always remind you of freedom, patriotism and love” – he wrote in a letter to his beloved Adyna, placing the memento in an envelope. In honour of his beloved, he named another peak in the Blue Mountains after her, Mount Adine.

He carried out studies of the fertile lands of Gipsland, discovered lignite in Latrobe valley, and first gold in Australia, in the area of Wellington and Clwydd valley. When he notified the authorities of the last discovery, they demanded that he keep it a secret in fear of social unrest and disruption of the slowly emerging new economy.

On 24 July 1840 he arrived in Tasmania, then called Van Diemen’s Land, where he began his geological surveys. He discovered carbon, copper ores and gold-yielding quartz in several places. It has made a number of important observations about irrigating agricultural areas. At the end of 1841, aboard the “Beagle”, he took part in a two-months expedition to the Bass Straights. After two years spent in Tasmania, has returned to the continent and travelled deep into it, reaching the source of the Murray – the largest river in Australia.

He left Australia after four years of residence and went to South East Asia. He visited the Malay Archipelago, Brunei, and then went to the Middle East. He carried out soil, meteorological, and ethnographical studies. Unfortunately, no publications or documents from that time period survived. The next stage of his journey were the   Philippines, then Guangzhou and Hong Kong. He went through Singapore and Suez on his way back to Europe, to London,

In London, he published his work “Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land “, which in 1846, was honoured with a gold medal by the Royal Geographical Society. Three years later, he was one of the first civilian recipients of one of the most important of British decorations – the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

In Ireland, he earned gratitude and respect for his philanthropic and humanitarian work during the great famine. During this time he established numerous contacts with the greatest English scientists. In 1853, for his great achievements and knowledge of Earth physics, Strzelecki become a member of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society, acting as the British Academy of Sciences. The University of Oxford distinguished him with an honorary doctorate. Four years before his death, he was knighted by Queen Victoria, together with receiving the most distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.

He never married. Always faithful to Adyna, he corresponded with her for a quarter of a century until … a meeting in Paris in the mid 40s. But romantic ideals did not survive the test of reality.

Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki died in London on 6 October 1873 and was buried there.

He asked for his documents, letters, and diary of his travels to be burned – and his wishes were complied with. More than 100 years later, his ashes were moved to the Crypt of Merit in the Church of St. Wojciech in Poznan.

Numerous geographic sites carry the name Strzelecki. The Strelecki Mountain, 636m above sea level, is located in the Growford ridge north of Barrow Creek in Australia. On the Flinders Island, a granite peak the height of 778 meters is called the Strelecki Peak. One of the periodic rivers in South Australia, at the very edge of the Sturta desert, caries the name Strzelecki Creek. His surname is also borne by the town, desert and bay, as well as living organisms: the crustacean Pleurotomaria Strzeleckiana and the trilobite Brachymetopus Strzelecki.

In 1988, in Jindabyne in the Australian Alps, a monument with the inscription: “Strzelecki Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki 1797-1873 The Polish Explorer of Australia was unveiled”.

In 1997, the National Bank of Poland issued a set of coins to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Paweł Edmund Strzelecki’s birth.

Zdzisław Preisner, dr (FI’2006, Polish Chapter of The Explorers Club)

Cooperation: Edyta Preisner


Słabczyński W., „Paweł Edmund Strzelecki. Pisma wybrane”, Warszawa 1960.

Słabczyński W., „Polscy podróżnicy i odkrywcy”, Warszawa 1988.

Strzelecki P. E., „Nowa Południowa Walia”, Warszawa 1958.

Portrait of Strzelecki from the magazine “Kłosy”, 1873.
Monument to Paweł Edmund Strzelecki in Jindabyne by Jerzy Sobociński, unveiled in 1988.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Commemorative coin with the image of P. E. Strzelecki
Source: Narodowy Bank Polski,
Plaque in Dublin commemorating Strzelecki’s activities in Ireland.
Source: Wikimedia Commons