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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Ferdinand von Mueller's Collectors

In my last post I paid tribute, albeit an utterly inadequate one, to 19th century Australia's towering figure of botany, Ferdinand von Mueller. As discussed there he described some 2,000 species of Australian plants (browse any plant list that includes the authors and you'll see that his work was rigorous enough to stand the test of time). About half of those were from specimens  he collected himself, so what of the origins of the others? Von Mueller was a very astute man, as you'll have gathered by now, and he kept a very close eye on who was collecting what, in part through his huge web of contacts both in Australia and Europe. When he came across someone providing material to his 'opposition', he made sure to induce them to supply him as well. Moreover, he ensured wherever possible that exploring expeditions took a botanist who would report to him, and made contacts with anyone else who was going to be in remote areas to enlist their aid. Today I have only room to tell the stories of a few of the numerous people who provided his specimens, but I hope it gives an idea of the breadth of their backgrounds, though in a couple of cases we know very little in fact. I have stuck too to collectors for whom he named plants (he was generous in this) and, for the sake of breaking up the text, ones that I can illustrate! 
Leichhardt's Breadfruit Tree Gardenia wilhelmii, near Georgetown, north Queensland.
Named for Carl Wilhelm, an important von Mueller collector - see below.
Unfortunately, every person we meet today was a man; however von Mueller made a point of enlisting over 200 women in his vast network of collectors. He placed letter-advertisements in papers around the country, with tips for collecting and preserving specimens. Notable among these was Louisa Atkinson. Von Mueller did name plants for some of his female collectors, but sadly I can't offer an example which meets our criteria today. For an excellent account of his female collectors, see here.

Firstly the professional collectors; there was evidently a lucrative enough living for those skilled and hardy enough to ply the trade in remote corners of the world. Botanic gardens, herbaria and museums (and even some wealthy private individuals) paid good money for specimens and seeds; some even sponsored the best collectors. Von Mueller did pay some collectors to be in the field for limited periods of time, and paid expenses; to independent professional collectors he certainly paid for material provided. Some amateur collectors were rewarded with gifts, such as books and seeds. Given his background and contacts, it is unsurprising that many of his professional suppliers were Germans working in Australia.

One such was Carl Wilhem, a man of whom we know intriguingly little. He arrived in Australia in 1850, and worked for three years as Protector of Aborigines in the Port Lincoln area, in South Australia. He sent many specimens from this period to von Mueller; he was apparently a good botanist and keen collector, and came to work at the Melbourne Botanic Gardens just a year before he became acting-Director while von Mueller was off on the Gregory expedition (I'm going to assume you have read, or will read, the last posting - sorry!). After von Mueller returned Wilhelm did a lot of valuable collecting, especially in the Grampians, then returned to Dresden in 1864, where he apparently opened a seed shop.

Acacia wilhelmiana, near Temora, New South Wales.
William Bauerlen was another such, who was engaged by von Mueller to collect for him in the 1880s. He was later official botanical collector to a scientific expedition to New Guinea.
Chef's Cap Correa Correa bauerlenii, south coast New South Wales.
Another German who collected for von Mueller was Hermann Behr, a medical doctor who seems to have been much more interested in anthropology, botany and entomology. He arrived in South Australia in 1844 and lived among in Aboriginal communities, learning languages and publishing anthropological observations. He described many new insect species (mostly published in Germany), and collected large numbers of plants. He returned to Germany but later went on to California, where von Mueller sent him plants, thus introducing many Australian species to North America.
Pink Velvet Bush Lasiopetalum behrii, Caralue Bluff Conservation Reserve,
Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. Family Malvaceae (formerly Sterculiaceae).
Carl (Charles) Walter came to Australia from Germany in the 1850s and wandered the outback with a swag and his camera. He collected seeds to send back to Germany – presumably for funds – and this activity brought him to von Mueller's attention. Von Mueller was always on the alert for competent collectors, and Walter was able to add many plants to the Victorian list. He later worked for the Technological Museum at the Public Library of Victoria, compiling an annotated collection of vegetable products; he later performed the same task for von Mueller. He was an early member of the Victorian Field Naturalists' Club and later opened a wine shop in Swanston Street.
Monkey Mint-bush Prostanthera walteri, Mt Morris, East Gippsland, Victoria.
This unusual mint-bush is limited to granite hills in forests of north-east Victoria and
south-east New South Wales.
It was collected for von Mueller by Walter.
Augustus Oldfield on the other hand was an English plant and animal collector who worked from Tasmania to Sydney (he apparently walked from Melbourne to Sydney) to Western Australia and was highly valued by von Mueller, as well as by Joseph Hooker of Kew Gardens. Like Behr he had an active interest in indigenous Australian anthropology. Oldfield collected the type specimen of Eremophila oldfieldii (along with other specimens) on the Murchison River, at a place he called Yattoo, but its location remains a mystery.

Charles Moore, originally Scottish-Irish, trained at Kew and in 1848, aged just 28, was appointed New South Wales government botanist. He ran the botanic gardens efficiently, and collected widely in New South Wales and Queensland, as well as into Melanesia. I'll leave it there, as I've talked about him in more detail previously.
Pinkwood Eucryphia moorei, Monga NP, New South Wales. A member of an ancient Gondwanan
family, with very close relations in South America. This species is limited to southern New South Wales
cool temperate rainforest. Moore collected it on either the Clyde or Shoalhaven River.
Walter Hill was appointed first director of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens in 1855 and, when Queensland became a colony in its own right in 1859, separate from New South Wales, he also took on the role of Colonial Botanist. He had previously worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and Kew, then came to Australia where he went plant collecting in tropical Queensland and was the only survivor of an attack by Aboriginals in the Whitsundays, shortly before taking up the botanic gardens position. He set up a herbarium but the combination of the humid sub-tropical climate and poor quality buildings meant that specimens deteriorated rapidly (and many were eaten by termites!) so he sent most of his material off to von Mueller and to Kew. He travelled and collected widely in Queensland. He also apparently introduced mangoes, pawpaws, ginger and jacaranda to Australia, and was the first to grow Queensland macadamias commercially (in the botanic gardens).
Myrtle Bells Orchid Sarcochilus hillii, Nowra, above and below.
This exquisite little epiphytic orchid grows north from the far south of
coastal New South Wales to the Tropic of Capricorn in Queensland.
Hill collected it at Moreton Bay.
Others who supplied plants to von Mueller were not professional collectors, but collected in the course of their day job. Explorers were an obvious target, though arguably the greatest of them all, John McDouall Stuart, was too focussed on the task to be much diverted by plants. He did nonetheless send some material back to von Mueller, who received this attractive and unusual desert plant thus, and thanked Stuart by naming it for him.
Desert Peppercress Diplopeltis stuartii Family Sapindaceae, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia,
above and below.
It is unusual in its family in having such conspicuous flowers, as most members (including the familiar
Australian hop-bushes Dodonea) are wind-pollinated with small greenish flowers.

One who did contribute more heavily was another eminent desert survivor, Ernest Giles. 

In 1875 he travelled west from the Flinders Ranges to Perth, then back again just south of the Tropic of Capricorn; 8000km in summer in some of the most arid country in Australia. Zoologist Hedley Finlayson in his 1952 classic The Red Centre wrote: “All who have worked in that country since Giles’ time have felt both admiration and astonishment at the splendid horsecraft, the endurance and the unwavering determination with which those explorations were carried out… The discovery, with the very scanty resources at his command, of the great system of ranges, including the Everard, Musgrave, Petermann, George Gill and Rawlinson, and much of the county between, is one the finest feats of exploration in the history of the Empire.” When his companion Gibson lost his horse, Giles gave up his own, and walked, while suffering extreme thirst and starvation. He survived, while Gibson did not; Gibson had the desert named for him. Despite all this he collected plants for von Mueller and got them back to him.
Eremophila gilesii, central Australia.
Another extraordinarily hardy desert explorer who found time and energy to collect plants in the course of his travails was Charles Sturt. I have previously told his story here, so won't reiterate, but it's worth a read.
Solanum sturtianum, Broken Hill.
Sturt collected the type specimen somewhere in central Australia, but it's not clear exactly where.
Yet another in this category was Augustus Gregory, with whom von Mueller had a special relationship, having travelled with him extensively on the North Australian Expedition of 1855. His story too I have previously told - he's not a household name, but he deserves to be.
Desert Kurrajong Brachychiton gregorii, Mereenie Loop, central Australia.
The only dryland kurrajong, this is found across the western half of inland Australia.
It is unclear whether Gregory collected it for von Mueller, or whether the botanist
himself did so on Gregory's expedition.
Senecio gregorii, Lasseter Highway, central Australia.
This one was collected by Gregory, in the course of his ultimately fruitless search for the
vanished explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, later the subject of the Patrick White novel Voss.
Ralph Tate was appointed as the inaugural chair of natural sciences at Adelaide University in 1874; primarily a geologist he also had an interest in zoology (especially molluscs) and botany. To be honest I'm unclear where he stands with regard to his place in this article - it's not obvious that he did supply von Mueller, but it's certainly more than possible. Von Mueller certainly named species for him.
Androcalva (formerly Commersonia) tatei, Heggaton Conservation Park, South Australia.
The formal authorship is "F. Muell. ex Tate"; I don't know what to make of that.
One reason I've included it here is in the hope of clarifying the situation - thank you in anticipation!
Another geologist who definitely collected for von Mueller in the course of his field work was James Stirling, who worked for the Victorian Mines Department in the second half of the 19th century, and was an active member of the Royal Society of Victoria.
Oven Everlasting (referring to the Ovens River in Victoria) Ozothamnus stirlingii, Namadgi National Park,
Australian Capital Territory.
A very different man, working in a very different place, was Pastor Friedrich Kempe, originally from Dresden, who ended up working as a missionary among the Arrernte people of central Australia, where he produced the first Arrernte grammar and vocabulary guide. The mission he founded, formerly Hermannsburg, is now the Antaria community. He corresponded with von Mueller and sent him upwards of 500 plant specimens, many of them doubtless provided by Arrernte collectors. Among them was one of the most familiar small trees of the area.
Witchetty Bush Acacia kempeana, near Alice Springs. The common name stems from the fact that
the large edible wood-boring larvae of several moth species, known collectively as Witchetty Grubs,
are collected from the roots.
And some collectors remain a complete mystery, at least to me. One such is Alex Walker, who collected the spectacular dry country pea named for him by von Mueller from the Peel Range (now known as Cocaparra Range, near the town of Griffith in southern inland New South Wales). Von Mueller himself recorded that, but I can find nothing more about him, and indeed no other reference to him (other than regularly reiterated statements that he "found" it). Again, any assistance gratefully received!
Cactus Pea Bossiaea walkeri, Nullarbor Plain.
The leafless shrub is found across southern arid Australia.
And with that I shall end this lengthy odyssey - which nonetheless deals with only a tiny fraction of the myriad people who supplied von Mueller with plants. I hope it has been of at least passing interest.

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Susan said...

Us Walters, we get everywhere :-)

The F. Muell. ex Tate citation should mean that whilst Mueller named the plant Tate wrote the valid published description (which may have been based on an original but for some reason technically invalid description by Mueller).

Ian Fraser said...

OK thanks Susan - clarification appreciated! Likewise your claim to that branch of the family...

Bevan Buirchell said...

Hi Ian, Interesting to catch up with Muellers Collectors. Oldfield certainly did collect a couple of specimens of eremophila. Eremophila oldfieldii is obviously named after him. The other species was E. graciliflora, found near Yattoo, (where ever that is) and it has remained as a species in eremophila ever since. However no more plants have been sighted and it is believed that E. graciliflora is a hybrid between E. longifolia and E. oldfieldii. By the way the Photo you have of E. oldfieldii is one of the E. glabra subspecies probable tomentosa. Cheers Bevan - we met on the Desert Discovery expedition

Ian Fraser said...

Hello Bevan, and nice to hear from you again, though my interactions with you seem to involve you politely correcting embarrassing Eremophila gaffes on my part! I do greatly appreciate it however. You may be interested in a short series of postings I'm currently doing on the Desert Discovery trip - so far just an introductory post and one on animals. One on plants coming up this week, in which I'll doubtless stumble at some point! In fact, I wonder if I could send you a couple of pics of plants which have baffled me? If so, I'd need an email address; many thanks!