To William Thiselton-Dyer   12 May 1878


Strictly private 1


Let me thank you for your kind letter, dear Mr Dyer, of 18 febr.2 It is not surprising, that a Dipteraceous plant is found in N. Guinea; indeed I hope to demonstrate the occurrence of the order some day in Australia yet, in the N.E. part, where even Paradise-birds occur. I had a visit from Dr Beccari;3 what a humiliation of the "Princeps of Australian Botany" (as you considerately call me)4 to be obliged to tell the Director of the botanic Garden of Florence, that his colleague here was a Nurseryman,5 and that I could not set my foot into my own garden since 5 years with any self-respect.6 Pray look on my report of 18697 & the Gardenplan; nearly every walk is changed, nearly every tree moved or destroyed to remove all traces of my work and to convert a scientific Garden into a Cremorne.8 There was even the Vict. reg. first through me in Australia,9 the first Glass-houses in Austr, islands in the lake, Geyserfountain, Bamboos, Palms, and many thousand species of plants, systematically arranged, others geographically, others industrially. All this with 1/4 of the means available after my time. Look to the 600 000 pl largely Himalaian & Californ Pines which I distributed. Now how is it, that altho' I am praised as a Botanist, Kew has never given me any support in my struggles as a Horticulturist. This is an enigma to me and my friends here and abroad.

One single letter from Kew , such as I could have shown to Ministers here might have saved me from ruin! See, my dear Dyer, you have a young Lady to grace your home, but I am forbidden to build up a household, because when I was driven for the sake of a common Gardener [&] (who usurpates the Director-title & boasts to be the Colleague of Hooker, but who is Gazetted only Curator and should not be acknowledged by any professional University-man otherwise), well —, when I was deprived of House and home and staff & votes and the very living plants, which I as well as Hooker & yourself want daily as much as our Museum plants, for research, — I had then in this expensive country to maintain the wreck of a once illustrious department mainly out of my salary; indeed I would be infinitely better off with £300 & my house & former votes in the bot Garden than with £800 out of it. So my future is blighted, for I was forsaken as a Director even by Kew.

Two days ago I waited with the Explorer D'Albertis10 on the Governor,11 when his Exc. distinctly asserted, that Sir Joseph told him that he wished to be placed like myself! This very statement was made by Sir Geo. Bowen to my former Minister, the hon. John M'Pherson, and altho' this expression may have been made hastily yet Dr Hooker was fully informed, that I was ruined as a Head of my Department & that without the bot Garden I could not do my work as Gov Botanist.

These young colonies do not care about my sorting Museum specimens; they want me to elaborate for them means for new industries & cultures; but even my laboratory was pulled down & my apparatus taken away, & the greater part of my library is stored away since 5 years!

Now, could not a single letter have been written to me — or could not even now a letter be written, not to Sir George Bowen nor to the Ministry, as it would cause only additional annoyance and trouble & perhaps professional disgrace has Kew not so much consideration for me as the leading Gov. establishment of England and the leading institution for bot science, to point out in a letter to me, which I could present to Members of the Ministry, that the place of the Gov Botanist is in the bot Garden & not out of it, and the place of a Landscape Gardener (whatever that may mean that unlogic word), is on the Parks & Reserves, that I want living plants more than dry plants, that a traveller & naturalist knows the treatment of living plants better than any gardener, and that I am placed in ruinous & false position without buildings & but very scanty votes, and thus prevented to do justice to my work & duties, and stopped in most, even though I have not a single servant to save what little I have to carry on the wreck, while enormous sums are squandered on my former place in senseless and destructive changes or on plebejan12 cultures, for which latter ample scope is on all the parks & other Gardens of the Government round Melbourne.

What a change to me since 1857 when Sir William gave me such glorious support also in the horticultural branch. I will do Sir Joseph justice that he not willingly wished to injure me, when he made the uncautious remark to Sir G. Bowen, but surely it would be impossible for any Gov Botanist, whether of England or any country, to do his work without the bot. Garden & all that pertains to it. The deep injury which that remark made at Kew (if it was made) inflicted on me, nothing will make good again & it has hindered me even to get married! Now can this not be remedied? Cannot a fair statement be made, setting forth in a letter to me, what a Governm. Botanist requires.

This is perhaps the last letter, which I may ever write to Kew, my dear Mr Dyer, for grief has brought on an almost permanent insomnia, and it is a wonder I become not already insane; for not only have I to do my daily duty as Gov. Botanist under extreme obstacles but have to spend all that I have and have to waste an enormous time in the mere "struggle for existence",13 while I have lost all hold on the country, and may any day be called on to hand over to the Nurseryman (a cousin of Mr Casey the Paris Exhib Commissioner) also my library & my Museum, if the only room built since 1857 for my dried plants can be called such!

As perhaps you will never get a letter from me again, you will as a professional man allow me to claim your brotherhood as an University man also, by pointing out an other deep & lasting injury inflicted on me, i.e., by depriving me of the authorship of the Australian flora .Bentham's work is everywhere quoted as his sole and own; I have myself done so, simply the diagnoses are written by him; but the real main work , in travels, prior publications & accumulating & examining the vast material the main work of my best years of life done by me since 1847 uninterruptedly is far greater than Benthams.

Now, why was that not left for me? Would it not have been far more just to leave me that work, when Kew was teaming14 with unexamined treasures from tropical Africa & other parts of the Globe. Or why did the venerable Bentham not concentrate his great talent on the "genera",15 which by this time would then have been ready. No doubt, you will say, I merely out of vanity wished to reserve the Austral Flora to myself; it is not so; but if you had heard the endless derogatory remarks made here to injure me concerning the "Flora Australiensis or rather Australiana" you would have sympathy with me. I lost that stronghold also, which the coauthorship of the flora would have afforded me; and altho' I have with manly straightforwardness kept all my promises as a mere "assistant", yet I deeply regretted ever since the first volume was issued, that I entered into a compact, which has had a damaging influence on my position here.

Be it enough! and excuse the bitterness of this letter, but my whole future is spoiled. Should you send any return for the seeds from West Australia, please send such direct to me not to the bot Garden. I am striving to get my own creation back again; failing that to get a new piece of ground & new buildings & votes. But, how cruel even then to ask me to commence again at the age of 53, when it will take til the end of the century, to build anew what I left in 1873.

Regardfully your

Ferd von Mueller


Is there a single friendly sentence about me except in the preface, in the 7 volumes of [B]16

I hope this appeal to the P. R. S.,17 who sits in Newtons chair, from a man of science in distress, will not be in vain.

Each page of the letter is headed Private; subsequent headings are not transcribed here.
Letter not found.
Beccari, accompanied by Enrico Alberto d'Albertis, met with M on 6 February (Dowe 2016, p. 36)
Source not identified.
William Guilfoyle.
See also M to J. Hooker, 15 July 1873.
Cremorne Gardens was a commercially-operated amusement park or 'pleasure gardens' near Battersea Bridge, London. The name was also given to amusement parks established in Melbourne and Sydney in the 1850s.
See Maroske (1992).
Luigi Maria d'Albertis was travelling from Sydney to London and visited M during the period the SS Garonne was in Melbourne— from 7 May until it 'cleared out' on 10 May ( Argus , 8 May 1878, p. 4; 11 May 1878, p. 6); he 'placed a number of botanical specimens at the joint disposal of Baron von Mueller and Mr Guilfoyle, the director of the Botanical Gardens' (Ovens and Murray advertiser(Beechworth, Vic.), 11 May, p. [4].
Sir George Bowen.
The title of ch. 3 of Darwin (1859).
Bentham & Hooker (1862-83).
See Lucas (2003).
Joseph Hooker completed his five-year term as President of the Royal Society in 1878. See M to J. Hooker, 18 May 1878.

Please cite as “FVM-78-05-12,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 27 July 2021,