To Frederick McCoy1    February 1858

[February 1858]2


Remarks on the proposed instructions to the scientific board, transmitted to Prof. M'Coy.3

4.4 It is objectionable, that the heads of scientific departments should report through the board and not directly through the Cabinet Minister to the Government and the Legislature. Nor is the scientific board entitled to issue the proposed instructions as already a much completer code of instructions has been issued at least to the Government Botanist and Director of the botanic garden by government.5 The scientific departments should continue in every way independent from the board, nor can their respective administrators be considered in their official capacity members of the board, and it can not constitutionally exercise the power of receiving reports and remodelling estimates.

8.6 It is not advisable to subject the estimates of the scientific departments to the consideration of the board, but it is preferable, that they should as before and in a constitutional manner be submitted in their integrity to the Cabinet Ministers. Indeed it is more likely that in case of requisite alteration of the proposed expenditure such gentlemen could be more advantageously consulted, as are versed in the requirements of the respective departments, which in the board may be represented by only a solitary member.

10.7 The board can under no consideration exercise the power of enquiry into existing administration, in as much as its members representing totally different sciences can not be considered competent judges in all scientific matters. It would be far more desirable to call for such a purpose, as it is customary everywhere, a special board of enquiry, consisting of gentlemen sufficiently experienced in and acquainted with that branch of scientific administration, to be enquired into.

7.8 The fund, voted for the botanic garden ought not to be under the control of its Director, but should remain under the control of the office of public work, of which very properly the bot. Garden forms a branch department. —

[F. Mueller]9

MS in M's handwriting.
editorial addition — registered 16 February 1858.
The Board of Science was established by the Government of Victoria in February 1858 to provide advice on questions relating to the applied sciences in which the Government had an interest. It comprised the principal scientific and engineering officers in the civil service including M, with R. Brough Smyth as Secretary. See Cohn (1990) pp. 71-3. See also J. Moore to M, 21 January 1858.
Board of Science instruction no. 4: 'Those Members of the Board who have the control of Departments shall be required to report annually on the following matters, viz: … The Government Botanist or Director of the Botanic Gardens on the state of the Public properties confided to his care, methods of arrangement of the plants adopted, with description of all plants named by him, &c.'
Instructions not found.
Board of Science instruction no. 8: 'In preparing the Estimates of proposed Expenditure for each year the Heads of the Scientific Departments are recommended to seek the advice of the Board and in every case the Estimates must be submitted to the Board before being forwarded to the Chief Secretary — the Board thus having an opportunity of making known its opinion to the Minister on the Estimates for Scientific purposes —'.
Board of Science instruction no. 10: 'The Board shall have power to call for documents, examine witnesses, and collate evidence when required.'
Board of Science instruction no. 7: 'Monies voted for special Scientific purposes as for instance the monies voted for "Geological Survey" "Museums" &c shall be under the control of the Heads of those Departments, subject to the approval of the Chief Secretary'.

editorial addition.

McCoy (n.d.) commented on this letter for the Chief Secretary, W. Haines: 'The Government Botanist has called my attention to the objections he entertains to some of the Instructions proposed to be issued to the newly constituted Board of Science, and at my request has submitted his remarks on the subject in writing as herewith appended. It seems probable that Dr Muëller may not in every case have correctly apprehended the intention of these instructions, and he certainly has not always very clearly expressed what he means to say in commenting upon them; — but as I believe him to be very desirous to assist in carrying out the objects of the Government and as I interested myself some time since with the President of the Board of Land & Works — to get his position as Head of the Botanical Department in this Colony distinctly recognised, — I deem it right to point out for the consideration of the honble the Chief Secretary, that his objections are not altogether unfounded. Whilst fully appreciating the importance of establishing more systematic relations between the Government and the various Scientific officers employed at the Public Expense, — and duly estimating also the value of the services the latter can render — in reporting on the scientific qualifications of applicants for certain situations, as well as on application for grants of money for scientific purposes, — I do not I must confess perceive that any advantage is likely to accrue from bringing the ordinary operations of the several Departments under the control of a Central Board, — but on the contrary am disposed to think that the result must inevitably be — continual squabbling, — a great deal of what is nowadays styled — circumlocution, — considerable delay, and worst of all a very great diminution of responsibility on the part of the Heads of each Branch. I would suggest therefore that it would be far preferable to let each of these Heads as now send in his annual Report, submit his Estimates of Expenditure, and his List of Employés &c, to the proper Responsible Minister, — the Director of the Botanic Garden for instance to the President of the Board of Works, — and to leave the new Board of Science to confine itself to the other matters alluded to, except in case of special references from the Government.'

M's fears about possible interference in his work by the Board were not borne out. Mainly concerned with mining matters, the Board became a mining commission by default. It was disbanded in 1860. See Cohn (1990) pp. 71-3.

Please cite as “FVM-58-02-00,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 23 October 2021,