From Skelton Emmett1    25 May 1874

Circular Head

25 May 1874

Dear Sir

Your letter of the 26th Ultimo,2 came safely to hand a few days afterwards

I delayed replying to it, in order to obtain, the specimen of Fern Tree you required —

I gathered yesterday a frond from the Cyathea Affinis, full of seed, but the damp weather not enabling the leaf to be dried, engenders a vast number of minute insects, which I am afraid may consume the seed before it reaches its destination

I will forward it per Schooner "Melbourne" to the care of the Owners, Messr Piggott Brothers as soon as that vessel returns which will probably be in during this week. — The history of the fern is to the following effect,

Some two years ago I wrote to Mr R C Gunn, informing him of the nature of the fern, and he replied that my new fern had been known sixty odd years calling it Alsophila Australis

A few months elapsed, when Mr Stephens, the Chief Inspector of Schools, came to see the fern when that gentlemen expressed doubts about it being Alsophila, stating that the latter, had a kind of thorn or sharp spines near the base of the frond, whilst the one on my farm had not.

I sent one to Mrs Du Cane the Governors lady at her desire and from Mrs Du Cane, ascertained that the fern was supposed to be new in Tasmania, but growing freely at New Zealand, where the Maoris made arrowroot from the pith, and was named Cyathea Medullaris. It had been submitted to you, and named Cyathea Affinis

I have five specimens now growing on my own farm 8 miles from Stanley,3 from 1 foot to 30 or 40 in height — The tallest had been cut down by some mischievous boys (41 feet) and 5½ inches in diameter. The stalk appears extremely rigid like a bar of Iron, and seems to be built up by concentric layers of the base of each frond, becoming incorporated with the stem so different to the Dicksonia which is all fibre. I can if you like send you a small specimen so that you can better observe it when growing, the one I sent to Hobart Town put forth several fronds soon after planting. The Cyathea also only appears to have one single row of fronds in all instances, whilst the Dicksonia may have two or five according to habitat — the leaves in the frond too are differently placed, growing more at right angles to the stalk than the other kinds, and are darker and thinner, the seed placed on the back in double rows, as you will perceive, 5 or 6 in each row —

4I found south of the Arthur river about 455 from this, a peculiar looking tropical tree or plant from 5 to 25 feet high — it had large leaves, like Indian corn growing from near the ground to the top where the fanlike leaves were almost touching between each leaf a small thread like stalk protruded, containing the blossoms — also about 25 miles south, on a hill a tree about 80 feet high two feet thick and very straight, having large leaves like the Musk. but with whitish blossoms the corrolla divided into 6 segments, the tips turned back — and containing I think 6 stamens, the blossom was solid or whole at the base, half way up when the devision took place, I never saw the tree before — also a shrub growing on a rise in an open bottom, with bunches of white flowers, having a very delicious scent — none of the three, have I observed in the colony before — I will endeavour to send you sketches of the two last.

— You had better nominate me your collector, when I could forward you dried specimens once a month from this district — outfit would cost about £20 a year in the shape of provisions & clothes, I should be very glad to undertake the job as I have thank God a passion for everything belonging to Nature and very little appertaining to man, or in plain language would rather look down from the summit of Mount Etna, than from the Dome of St Pauls

Our communication with Melbourne generals6 takes place once a week, or even less, so that there is no difficulty or delay in forwarding anything, and the Masters & Agents are at all times very obliging, and never yet charged me for parcels of specimens either vegetable or mineral

Your name has been familiar to me for many years, and always in a way gratifying to those who can appreciate a useful life

I remain

Dear Sir

Yours faithfully

S. B. Emmett


Alsophila Australis

Cyathea Affinis

Cyathea Medullaris


MS annotation by M: 'Answ 15/6/74 on receipt of the fern F.v.M.' Letter not found.
Letter not found.
MS annotation in unknown hand: 'Commence'; this paragraph and the one that follows were published in M. Willis (1949), pp. 128-9.
miles is presumably intended, though the word was omitted.

Please cite as “FVM-74-05-25,” in Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller, edited by R.W. Home, Thomas A. Darragh, A.M. Lucas, Sara Maroske, D.M. Sinkora, J.H. Voigt and Monika Wells accessed on 8 August 2022,