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History of Systematic Botany in Australasia

Proceedings of a symposium held at the University of Melbourne, 25 - 27 May 1988

Edited by P.S. Short
National Herbarium of Melbourne, 1990



Preface ......................... v

Australian herbaria

Melbourne: a focal point for early botanical activity - J. H. Willis ......................... 1
Politics and the purchase of private herbaria by the National Herbarium of Victoria - P. S. Short ......................... 5
The history of the herbarium, School of Botany, University of Melbourne - I. C. Clarke ......................... 13
History of early Western Australian herbaria - J. W. Green ......................... 23
History of the Waite Arboretum and Waite Herbarium - Jennifer A. Gardner ......................... 29

Australian botanists and collectors

Botanical contributions overlooked: the role and recognition of collectors, horticulturists, explorers and others in the early documentation of the Australian flora - R. M. & W. R. Barker ......................... 37
Early impressions of the vegetation of the Sydney region: exploration and plant use by the First Fleet Officers - Jocelyn M. Powell ......................... 87
William Baeuerlen - a 'circumspect and zealous' collector - K. L. Wilson ......................... 97
Retracing the route taken by Robert Brown and company in a portion of the Flinders Ranges - R. Grandison ......................... 105
The 1851 botanical excursion of Ferdinand Mueller to the Flinders Ranges, South Australia - R. Grandison ......................... 109
Carl Wilhelmi, the seedsman from Dresden: his botanical endeavour in South Australia and Victoria - Darrell N. Kraehenbuehl ......................... 115
The contribution of the Russian botanist Turczaninov to Australian plant taxonomy - N. G. Marchant ......................... 121
The Western Australian collecting localities of J. A. L. Preiss - N. G. Marchant ......................... 131
Cunningham's collecting localities while botanist on Lieutenant Phillip Parker King's survey of coastal Australia, December 1817 to April 1822 - Suzanne Curry & Bruce Maslin ......................... 137
Alexander Morrison (1849-1913) and Edinburgh's botanical connections with Australia - Jennifer Lamond & Alan Bennell ......................... 149
Moving mountains - Allan Cunningham and the mountains of southern Queensland - Ian R. H. Telford ......................... 157
Domin and Daneg in Java and Australia 1909-1910 - A. D. Chapman ......................... 159
Retracing the botanical steps of Leichhardt and Gilbert in June 1845 - Betsy R. Jackes ......................... 165
Hugo Flecker and the North Queensland Naturalists' Club - J. R. Clarkson ......................... 171
Ronald Campbell Gunn 1808-1881 - A. M. Buchanan ......................... 179

New Guinea botany

Explorers, institutions and outside influences: botany north of Thursday - D. G. Frodin ......................... 193
Mary Strong Clemens: a botanical collector in New Guinea (1935-1941) - Barry J. Conn ......................... 217

New Zealand botany

The botanical collections of John Buchanan F.L.S. - Nancy M. Adams ......................... 231
A comparison of the approach to taxonomic botany by T. F. Cheeseman and L. Cockayne - A. D. Thomson ......................... 235


The lean legacy of freshwater phycology in Victoria - Timothy J. Entwisle ......................... 239


Type specimens of bryophytes in Australian herbaria - H. P. Ramsay & Julie Seur ......................... 247


Aspects of Australian mycology: 1800-1900 1. - H. Parbery & W. H. Sheather ......................... 253
History of systematic mycology in Australia 1. - G. Pascoe ......................... 259
History of the study of Australian Agaricales - T. W. May ......................... 265

Cultivated plants

Australian plants cultivated in England, 1771-1800 - Tony Cavanagh ......................... 273
. . . and flowers for our amusement': the early collecting and cultivation of Australian plants in Europe and the problems encountered by today's taxonomists - E. Charles Nelson ......................... 285

Botanical art

Early Austrian influence on Australian botany - Sophic C. Ducker ......................... 297
Early art work as a source of botanical information in South Australia - D. E. Symon ......................... 305
Documenting botanical art collections in Australia - Brian Morley ......................... 307


Building a bibliography: some difficulties, with specialreference to Taxonomic Literature, ed. 2 - Richard S. Cowan ......................... 311
History is now - A. S. George ......................... 317

Index ......................... 319



Taxonomists are constantly confronted with history. The selection of lectotype specimens requires an understanding of historical events associated with the naming of plants, and the rules of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature dictate that we search historical literature for early plant names. These facts, plus a general interest in historical botany, led to my suggestion that the Australian Systematic Botany Society Inc. (ASBS) hold a botanical history symposium.

Following approval by ASBS council contributions, as papers or posters, on the following topics, which were to cover indigenous Australasian cryptogams and phanerogams, were called for: botanists and collectors - when and where they collected, locality of collections; establishment and holdings of herbaria; history of publications and sources of historical information; introduction of plants overseas and their subsequent description; and botanical art. To ensure that some topics were adequately covered three key-note speakers, i.e. Drs Richard Cowan, David Frodin and Charles Nelson, were invited to contribute papers. Many papers were offered and a symposium was subsequently held from 25-27 May 1988 at Ormond College, University of Melbourne.

This volume contains the majority of papers presented at the conference. It also contains papers derived from the poster session. Initially papers derived from the latter source were not to be published in this volume. However, as all posters contained valuable information that should be available to the botanical community, most are presented here. Because of this the only papers presented in the same order as in the symposium are the first, by Jim Willis, and the last, by Alex George. Others have been grouped, at times somewhat loosely, under general headings. The style of presentation naturally varies with author and really needs no comment. However, readers should note that some authors chose to publish manuscripts in the form they were read at the symposium. Others extensively modified their manuscripts after the symposium and so this volume is not a true reflection of the papers presented at the May conference.

Original letters and manuscripts concerned with the production of this volume are housed in the library of the National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL).

The success of the symposium was the result of the efforts of many people and organisations, i.e. other members of the symposium committee (Helen Cohn, Barry Conn, Rex Filson, Don Foreman & Neville Marchant), Bloomsbury Conference Services, ASBS Council, the Maud Gibson Trust and the Sydney Botanic Gardens who provided funds, and of course the contributors. It is perhaps rude to single out contributors as all papers and posters were gratefully received. However, 1 was especially pleased to receive contributions from overseas colleagues, especially Jennifer Lamond and Alan Bennell who could not attend the conference, and from our officially retired, but still very active colleagues, Dr Sophie Ducker and Dr Jim Willis, both of whom have made extensive contributions to our knowledge of Australian botanical history.

For assistance with the production of this volume I am indebted to many people, but particularly my colleagues at MEL, including Jim Ross for allowing me the time to edit manuscripts, Doris Sinkora for extensive comments on several papers, Anita Barley for the cover illustration, and Joan Thomas (and several typists at NSW) for retyping some manuscripts. Don Foreman was particularly generous with his time, and indeed very patient, as 1 battled to become familiar with the intricacies of a personal computer. Don also provided some editorial advice. However, my most sincere thanks are reserved for Helen Cohn, MEL librarian, for her constructive comments on editorial matters and the content of many manuscripts.

P.S. Short


Melbourne: a focal point for early botanical activity
J. H. Willis


Ferdinand von Mueller made Melbourne the chief centre of botanical activity in Australia during the 44 years that he laboured there. His botanical journeys, and collections therefrom, led to the establishment in 1853 of a colonial herbarium that evolved into the National Herbarium of Victoria. The preparation of Flora australiensis in seven volumes (Bentham 1863-1878), also Mueller's (1858-1882) classical 12-volume Fragmenta phytographiae Australiae are important earlier by-products of this institution. He was most interested in acclimatization and interchange of plant seeds, and he also investigated plant fossils. Mueller was involved with the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, contributing numerous papers to its journal and encouraging its specialist, if amateur, members with their projects. His death, in 1896, left a vacuum in Victoria's floristic research that was only partly relieved by the arrival of A.J. Ewart from England in 1906.


Through the commendable foresight of Charles Joseph La Trobe, Superintendent of Port Phillip District, N.S.W., Melbourne's embryonic Botanic Garden was established in 1846, only 11 years after foundation of the settlement; he also reserved space for the Fitzroy and Carlton (Exhibition) Gardens. At this time virtually no botanical work had as yet emanated from the infant Melbourne, except perhaps for some 'extensive and excellent collections' (Hooker in Maiden 1908, p. 102) around the settlement by one Frederick Adamson between 1840 and 1855 - specimens had been sent to Kew Herbarium.

By contrast, Sydney's Botanic Gardens (1816) had an advantage of 30 years and its collectors - notably Charles Fraser, Allan Cunningham, James Anderson, James Kidd and Charles Moore - had made substantial contributions from the environs of Port Jackson and far beyond, not to mention the achievements of such earlier visiting plantsmen as Joseph Banks (plus his entourage), John White, Luis Nee, George Caley, Robert Brown, Leschenault de la Tour and Franz Sieber.

John Arthur and John Dallachy, both Scottish gardeners, were the two first superintendents of Melboume Botanic Gardens; neither was a trained or active botanist, but they doubtless gave advice on such botanical matters as identifications. Daniel Bunce (1813-72) claimed the distinction of being Victoria's first resident botanist. He had come to this colony as a horticulturist from Tasmania in 1839, and later went on to establish Geelong's Botanic Garden in 1857.

Concurrently with a movement of population from South Australia towards the newly discovered goldfields in Victoria, young Dr Ferdinand J. H. Mueller arrived in Melbourne from Adelaide during August 1852. Well accredited in botanical circles, he was appointed within five months to the position of Victoria's first Government Botanist (on 28 January 1853), and he immediately commenced a series of stupendous exploratory journeys by horseback and on foot. By the end of 15 months he had covered 6,400 km and netted 1,459 species of plants not previously recorded for Victoria, many of these being undescribed (Mueller 1853, 1854). Other explorations followed year by year, throughout and beyond the colony, bringing in a wealth of information that was soon to be disseminated by published accounts containing descriptions of a myriad of new species. A conservative estimate of his total travels by land would be 24,000 km, half of it in Victoria.

Probably Mueller's greatest achievement was in establishing the Melbourne Herbarium (MEL) which could be said to date from 1853 when he reported that 'a collection of dried specimens of plants has been commenced for the Government. This Herbarium will be at all times accessible to the public' (Mueller 1853, p.7). It was initially housed in his new cottage above Gate H of the Botanic Gardens, and by 1857 in the Director's residence (built 1854). During 1860-1861 the specimens were transferred to much more commodius quarters (the 'Old Herbarium') erected in The Domain; Mueller and his staff always referred to the repository as 'the Museum'. By 1869 the rapidly increasing number of specimens had risen to 350,000 (Mueller 1869). In the 1860s Mueller kept his own private herbarium separate from the larger government collection, but it is not known precisely when he donated the former material for amalgamation in a single national collection. His considerable and valuable library was purchased by the Government (for the Herbarium) in 1898 - two years after Mueller's death.

The National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL), moved to its present site and building in 1935, has grown to be the largest in Australia (probably also in the southern hemisphere) and by far the richest in historic collections and type material. The Australian specimens gathered on such expeditions as those of A.C. Gregory (1855-1856 & 1858), B.H. Babbage (1858), J. McD. Stuart (1860-1862), Burke & Wills (1860-1861), A.W. Howitt (1861-1862), J. & A. Forrest (1869-1871), W.E.P. Giles (1872-1875), W. H. Tietkens (1889) and D. Lindsay (1891-1892) all came to Melbourne for examination by Mueller who worked through them, describing many novelties. Between 1876 and 1882 Lutheran missionaries F.A.H. Kempe and W.F. Schwarz supplied Mueller with hundreds of plant specles from their Centrallan station at Hermannsburg (Kempe 1880, 1882). Amongst Melbourne's special treasures are many duplicates from the early gatherings by Joseph Banks (1770) and Robert Brown (1802-1805), both donated by the British Museum (Natural History). Then there are a set of J.A.L. Preiss's Western Australian collections (1838-1841) and J.G.C. Lehmann's type-rich folders which were purchased as part of the great Otto Sonder herbarium (about 250,000 specimens) between 1870 and 1883 - they contain sheets from 18th century botanists, a few having even belonged to Linnaeus! These priceless resources remain as essential points of reference for most taxonomic research on the Australian flora.

The seven-volume Flora australiensis (Bentham 1863-1878) was a literary monument to the collaborative skills of two brilliant men working from opposite ends of the world, George Bentham at Kew and Ferdinand Mueller in Melbourne. Over a period of 16 years tens of thousands of Australian specimens were successively packaged by Mueller, shipped to London and returned when investigated by Bentham, without loss or damage - could one expect as much in these modern days of sophisticated handling and rapid transport? After more than a century, Flora australiensis still remains the only definitive work on the vascular vegetation of the whole continent.

A remarkable production of Mueller's was the Fragmenta phytographiae Australiae (twelve volumes in 94 fascicles between 1858 and 1882) wherein he described many of his 2,000 odd new species of plants (Mueller 1889). This work holds the unique distinction of being Australia's only scientific periodical to be printed entirely in Latin. Mueller's other writings are voluminous - some 1,330 items ranging from notes, plant lists, pamphlets and articles with original descriptions to floristic handbooks and immense monographs (Churchill et al. 1978). He wrote innumerable reports on the plant species accruing from various expeditions throughout Australia.

Mueller was Australia's first palaeobotanist, working and publishing (1871-1883, see Churchill et al. 1978) on the plant fossils turned up in Tertiary sediments by mining operations, especially along the deep leads under basalt . Excepting ferns, he sent to appropriate experts overseas all other cryptogams bryophytes, algae, fungi and lichens. A stimulating early experience was to meet the renowned phycologist, Professor W.H. Harvey of Dublin University, who spent four months of spring and early summer 1854 in collecting seaweeds along the Victorian coastline (between Phillip Island and Port Fairy); Mueller rendered ample assistance and accompanied Harvey on several nearer excursions. After 18 months' collecting in various parts of Australia, Harvey returned to Ireland with 20,000 specimens - replicates of many are in MEL.

Another important involvement was Mueller's almost obsessive interest in acclimatization of plants suitable for timber, food, medicine, ornament, sandbinding and other uses. Many of our most acceptable trees in forest plantations, parks and gardens bear witness to the success of his early introductions. In the year 1857/58 alone he had distributed 7,120 living plants and 22,438 packets of seed to gardens throughout the colony (Mueller 1858). Vast amounts of Australian seed (notably of Eucalyptus) were also sent abroad to various climatically favourable countries in both Old and New Worlds. A startling success, that earned him a papal knighthood, was to render habitable the fever-ridden Pontine marshes near Rome by plantations of Eucalyptus globulus, commencing in 1870.

For more than 40 years Ferdinand (later Baron von) Mueller held undisputed sway as Victoria's, if not Australia's, most productive, distinguished and highly decorated scientist. No other single person could match the output of this incredibly hard-working and dedicated explorer, geographer, horticulturist, phytochemist and systematist par excellence. In a very real sense the name of Mueller became synonymous with botanical endeavour throughout the colony and he certainly focussed attention on Melbourne as an important centre of culture and research. For the first three decades of Mueller's service, Victorian botany had been virtually a one-man show aided by a few rather faceless local amateurs. It is therefore interesting to speculate how and when botanical activity might have been generated here without the presence of a Mueller.

As the Baron aged, his fieldwork slackened off, and there were no exploratory marathons after 1877. Henceforward he concentrated on literary undertakings and much correspondence (to 3,000 letters per annum), while younger collectors provided him with needful specimens. Thus he enlisted, and inspired, a veritable army of willing enthusiasts from many walks of life - e.g. school teachers, doctors, clergymen, postal employees, surveyors, miners, farmers and their womenfolk.

A vital factor in promoting botanical activity in and around Melbourne was the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, founded in 1880 with von Mueller as its patron and staunch supporter. The club's journal, The Victorian Naturalist, began on a monthly basis in 1884 and Mueller was a frequent contributor to its pages 79 articles and notes to August 1896. As well as general observers and collectors of plants, the club had several members with specialist knowledge, viz.: Charles French (orchids and ferns), Daniel Sullivan (mosses), Rev. Francis Wilson (lichens), Henry Tisdall (fungi and algae), John Bracebridge Wilson (algae), Henry Watts (algae) and Prof. Arthur Lucas (algae) - all contributed papers to The Victorian Naturalist (Willis 1949).

Mueller's death in October 1896 left a vacuum in botanical effort that took many years to fill. As historian Lionel Gilbert reminds us, 'When he was ousted [in 1873] the Botanic garden by the Yarra became beautiful but intellectually void. Systematic botany in Victoria has been a long time recovering' (Gilbert 1986, p. [ix]).

Some renewal of collecting activity and an impetus to taxonomic work followed the arrival from England of Professor Alfred J. Ewart early in 1906. Ewart held the dual position of Government Botanist and head of the Botany School at Melbourne University, dividing his time between the National Herbarium and the University. With a depleted staff, the severe exigencies of World War 1 and Ewart's departure in 1921 to fulltime duties at the Botany School, Melbourne's Herbarium sank into a slough of unproductiveness, if not complete inertia, over a period of some three decades - until World War 11. Only The Victorian Naturalist and research papers by Professor Ewart's students and associates, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, helped to keep systematic botany alive in this State until the 1940s. Significant highlights in this comparative limbo had been A census of the Plants of Victoria (1923, revised in 1928), prepared and published by the Plant Names Committee of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria - a most useful pocket book retailing at three shillings & sixpence and A.J. Ewart's long-awaited, rather bulky, single volume Flora of Victoria (Ewart 193 1).

Most other State Herbaria are controlled by appropriate departments; but, until quite recently, Melbourne's had been bedevilled by its location either within the Chief Secretary's Department or that of Crown Lands & Survey where due appreciation and understanding of botanical needs were often-times minimal or sometimes completely lacking.



Bentham, G. (1863-1878). Flora australiensis. 7 vols. (Lovell Reeve: London).

Churchill, D.M., Muir, T.B. & Sinkora, D.M. (1978). The published works of Ferdinand J.H. Mueller (1825-1896). Muelleria 4: 1-120.

Court, A.B. (1972). Preliminary notice on the Sender collection in the National Herbarium of Victoria. Muelleria 2: 188.

Ewart, A.J. (1931), Flora of Victoria. (Melbourne Uni. Press).

Gilbert, L. A. (1986). The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. (Oxford Uni. Press: Melbourne). p. [ix].

Kempe, J. [F.A.H.] (1880). Plants indigenous to the neighbourhood of Hermannsburg, on the River Finke, central Australia. Trans. & Proc. Roy. Soc. South Australia 3: 129-137.

Kempe, H. [F.A.H.] (1882), Plants indigenous to the neighbourhood of Hermannsburg, on the River Finke, central Australia. Trans. & Proc. Roy. Soc. South Australia 5: 19-23.

Maiden, J.H. (1908). Records of Victorian botanists. Victorian Naturalist 25: 101-117.

Mueller, F.J.H. (1853). First general report of the Government Botanist on the vegetation of the colony. Victoria-Parl. papers votes and proceedings of the Legislative Council 1853. 1 (A. No. 26a & b): 1-22.

Mueller, F. J.H. (1 8 54). Second general report of the Government Botanist on the vegetation of the colony. Victoria-Parl. papersvotes and proceedings of the Legislative Council 1854-5. 1 (A. No. 18): 1-20.

Mueller, F.J.H.(1858). Annual report oftheGovernmentBotanist and Director of the Botanic Gardens. Victoria-Parl. papersvotes and proceedings qf the Legislative Assembly 1858-59. 2 (No. 17): 1-27.

Mueller, F.J.H. (1858-1882). Fragmenta phytographiae Australiae. 12 vols & suppl. (Melbourne).

Mueller, F.J.H. (1869). Report of the Government Botanist and Director of the Botanic Garden. Victoria-Parl. papers-votes and proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1869. 3 (No. 21): 1-21.

Willis, J.H. (1949). Botanical pioneers in Victoria-11. Victorian Naturalist 66: 103-109.