To Frederick McCoy1    20 April 1871

Melbourne botanic Garden




I understand, dear Professor, that your opinion will be taken (probably immediately) in reference to removing me from my Directorship or maintaining me in it. The idea "of placing a practical Gardener" (i.e. probably an illiterate individual or a man without any real science) "in charge of the botanic garden" means to drive me out of it, and the view "of affording me an opportunity of devoting my entire time to the pursuits of the scientific department of botany", implies to drive me out of the principle portion of my own creation, and merely covers with apparently friendly words a deep insult, i.e that I am no longer worth to look after my own creation.

In such an humiliation I shall never acquiesce; I will rather go to wreck and ruin. Fancy such a proposition being made after 18 years incessant service to Sir Will Hooker of Kew.

I have of course not yet heard, whether the proposition, which I quote from a letter of the Commission,2 will be really recommended to Government, but as I had not the advantage of your promised kind visit to the Garden, when I could have explained to you all the details of connected working in all divisions of my department, I thought it right, that I should say as much as I have done in this letter.

The matter is simply this. The Department is very poor and can not afford to throw away three hundred £ on a useless headgardener, as that sum can be far better spent in having 3 or 4 junior Gardeners. The Director alone can direct in a botanic Garden. I have good Gardeners to carry out my Directions, and a person standing between me and the Gardeners makes only matters complicated, causes misery and endless loss of time and misunderstanding.

To force on me an individual3 of hostile intentions and low behaviour to me since years, and investing him with a sort of independent power, to do the "practical" work and I the "theoretical" is so extraordinar, that I should have never believed such a proposition possible to me, had I not witnessed it.

The solution of the whole question is so easy, and can be effected in such an honorable way. Send the Inspector of forests to inspect the forests under local jurisdiction; let him have his headquarters in Ballarat, which arrangements could be effected for a few hundred pounds annually, and it will even be better that these few hundred pounds should be saved in my Department, then that an intruder in defiance of me, utterly ignoring me, should carry on independent work not of a botanic character whatever, and should continue to involve the greatest losses of plants and time and labor in the Department, as has been the case since the last 18 months, while my time is broke up in constant troubles and annoyances, and my mind gets depressed and my pride wounded, so as to render even my literary work retarded and my existence one of misery and worry and shame, with the prospect of an early death in humiliation before me.

With regardful wishes for you

Ferd. von Mueller


If the forest department cannot yet be formed (though I fail to see why not) then let the forest Inspector take charge of one of the many Parks of the Board of Land & Works to grow flowers there on public expense in preference to industrial plants in a young country. He would at least have Yan Yean water there and stand under one minister then only, instead as now (in a never before heard arrangement) under two ministers of the Crown.

For a published version of parts of this letter see Willis (1949) p.96.
Letter not found.
William Ferguson.

Please cite as “FVM-71-04-20,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 21 September 2021,