June 2010

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Count Paul Strzelecki & Lady Jane Franklin

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Paul Strzelecki had itchy feet. The son of a minor nobleman, without land or title, he quit Poland aged 33 and headed for England. There, he pursued geology and began to style himself as count.

Then it was Africa, then Canada and the US, Mexico and Cuba. Charm opened doors and rare rocks paid the bills. Strzelecki hiked most of the way, the better to study the terrain and spot minerals. In 1836, he walked from Chile to California. In Hawaii, he climbed a volcano. In June 1839, he dined at Government House in Sydney.

Present at the meal was Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen’s Land and vigorous supporter of antipodean science. She’d once had a thing for Peter Mark Roget, inventor of the thesaurus, but married a naval officer and explorer when her affections were unrequited, abnegated, rejected, spurned. Franklin was knighted soon after their marriage and some saw her Ladyship as the brains of the partnership.

Lady Jane took an immediate shine to the “most agreeable Pole”. No slouch herself in the gadabout department, she had trekked overland from Melbourne shortly before, the first white woman to do so. Conversation possibly touched upon the Illawarra, a promising source of fossils. In any case, they “talked much”.

Strzelecki began to prepare an expedition. After calling again on Lady Jane, he made a 2000-mile circuit of New South Wales. Declaring the mineralogy “very tame”, he then marched south to conduct a more general geographical survey. On 12 March 1840, after a supper of lyrebird, he hauled his instruments to the top of a craggy protuberance that reminded him of Poland’s national hero.

He spent the next two years in Tasmania as a guest of Lady Jane and Sir John, travelling extensively, conducting experiments, making maps and writing up his notes. Lady Jane was also busy furthering the cause of science by being lugged to Macquarie Harbour by a team of convicts.

Helped by a hefty donation from his scientific friends in Tasmania, Strzelecki returned to England in 1843 to publish his findings. He became a naturalised British subject and a luminary of the Royal Geographical Society. Lady Jane, meanwhile, was financing search parties for her husband who had perished with his entire crew, in his attempt to find the North-West Passage.

Appropriately, Strzelecki is now a highway between Mirboo North and Leongatha. The Lady Jane Franklin is a fast, quiet, spacious and environmentally designed cruise ship.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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