To John Forrest   14 February 1878




Amidst the Valentine joys of others, dear Mr Forrest, this is a day of sad disappointment to me. I went to Mr Fraser1 this morning, he having just arrived, and to my sorrow he will not help me to obtain an other grant, though he said, that if it was done in his absense, he of course would acquiesce. I felt hurt, that I am to be regarded as an ordinary selector, that my right of final approval is not recognized & more that while I in good faith trusted to an arrangement being made, by which I could at least regain my £800 at any time, I now am in danger to loose the last I had in the world, the savings of several years, and this late in life, while in fluctuating health & while my official position is not for a moment secure. My own impression is, my dear friend, that I could not raise more than £200 cash from the land, for which (or I understood) you temporarily applied, because 400 acres are the maximum of fair land of the whole 2000, the rest being hilly Jarrah country. You call it a valuable estate. If so the difficulty would be solved at once, because then it could be sold for what I gave, and I should be content to loose the interest of the money, for some of it for six years, while in the meanwhile the sum might have been doubled & tripled by investment in Sheep.

You will kindly remember, that whenever I came to W.A. I told you at once, that whatever application was made for any land, it must be such, as admitted of my realizing at any time the full purchase sum. It was on the strenght of your own letter to Giles, that you could get at any time 8/ (like for your own selection) that I advanced Giles the rest of the purchase money £400 cash, he having had £350 (without interest) before.2 But like in every thing else of monetary affairs since my early orphanage I seem also in this instance doomed to disappointment, unless you acted at once on my telegram of to day3 & solicited from his Excellency, that he allowed an other application to be made. I told Mr Fraser, that I could not accept the land selected & wished to sell the right of selection.4 My widow sister5 is in-distress, I got into debt through my journey to W.A., where I certainly hoped to have my saying in the selection. I have in two months to raise £250 to pay the printer for the issue of my augmented edition of Wittsteins chemistry of plants;6 and my expenses here have been great during my absense. I fear my journey across to your colony, has done me here great injury, because the people say here "I had land as extensive as Europe there, and could raise from it £10000 or £20000 annually revenue not two £ as offered me! &c, you can understand that the idea of my prosperity will hinder all resuscitation of my Department.

The land in question can doubtless be made into a valuable estate by spending £10 an acre on clearing the timber, fencing, building, and by ploughing the small share of its areable land. On all this I wrote from Geograph Bay at once[.]7 I told your surveyor not to survey it for me, and he said, that he had not solely come for that, because other land had to be surveyed; why then now force this on me? especially as I am in difficulties. Such land should be taken up by a working man, who with a number of young strong children can do fencing, ploughing &c himself. Not even natural boundaries exist, the river with its fine flats is gone

Surely there is a wide difference between a grant from Earl Carnarvon & a solicitor taking up a small plot somewhere, "Nulla regula sine exceptione".8 — I do not think that I have deserved from W.A to be met in any other but the kindest & most generous spirits, and I am harrassed already enough here. I had such a faith in W.A., I thought that there for once in life I might meet with some generosity & help, to allow me to build up some little fortune. Perhaps it is yet so. For one thing I am sorry, but cannot help it now, to have given you so much trouble in this land affair, but had it not been your own spontaneous offer, I never would have thought of such a thing as purchasing the grant. I feel you may be displeased, my dear Mr Forrest, after all exertions for me & your goodness to me; but see, I am not young & strong & prosperous like you & this last ruinous transaction spoiles again my hopes for domestic happiness!

I have sent some drawings by last mail to Mr Frasers adress, & some more will come by this mail. There will be no hurry for the 2 reports,9 because the lithographer will have work to do for months and I have to be now in the field for several weeks on the Tanners bark commission.10


Ferd von Mueller


Best compliments to your generous Lady, to whom I have forwarded Lohengrin for kind acceptance.

You ought as acting Surveyor General be able to settle this land difficulty & cancel the grant.

I cannot express to you, my dear Forrest, how sad and forlorn I feel.11

Malcolm Fraser, Surveyor-General of WA.
See E. Giles to M, 2 June 1877.
Telegram not found.
In December 1877, while visiting WA, M inspected 2,000 acres of land that he had selected near Bunbury and decided to reject it as a poor investment when offered a rent of only £2 per annum; see Herald (Fremantle), 29 December 1877, p. 3.
Clara Wehl.
Wittstein (1878).
editorial addition.
No rule without an exception.
One of these was probably M’s report on the forest resources of WA, subsequently published as B79.13.10; the other has not been identified. Elsewhere, with his report on the forest resources already completed, he referred to three further reports he was to write for the WA Government; see M to E. Ramsay, 22 May 1878.
M was a member of the Board established by the Victorian Government on 7 January 1878 to inquire into the supply of wattle bark for tanning; for the Board's report, see B78.14.01.

On 2 March 1878, Forrest forwarded M's letter to the Colonial Secretary, R. Goldsworthy. On 18 March, Giles wrote to the Governor of WA, H. Ord, supporting M's request, as did Forrest on 4 April to his chief, M. Fraser. On 2 May, despite Fraser's opposing the application on the grounds that it would create a dangerous precedent, the Governor granted Giles permission to re-select the 2,000 acres to which he was entitled. Six months were allowed in which to make the selection.

On 7 July, M wrote to M. Fraser seeking an extension of time in which to make the new selection; he was given until the end of the year.

On 8 November 1878, M wrote (with a duplicate letter on 26 November), applying for a block of land between Perth township and the coast; see M to H. Ord, 8 and 26 November 1878. Unknown to M, however, the land in question had been set aside as Commonage; see R. Goldsworthy to M, 26 November 1878 (in this edition as 78-11-26a). M therefore sought a further extension of time; see M to R. Goldsworthy, 26 December 1878.

On 16 January 1879, Goldsworthy asked Forrest where matters stood, so that he could reply to M's request. Forrest replied: 'I do not think he need be answered. I have sold his right & the application will be made in a day or two & I do not anticipate any further difficulty' (Acc. 527, no. 345/8, State Record Office of WA). Since there is no further mention of the matter in the files, it would appear that the sale must have gone ahead, enabling M to retrieve his money.

Please cite as “FVM-78-02-14,” 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 13 August 2022,