To William Thiselton-Dyer1    7 July 1880




The last mail, dear Mr Dyer, brought me through Sir Charl Nicholson’s attention the copy of "the Colonies"2 of the 15 May, in which your able lecture is printed on the “bot. enterprise of the empire.” It devolves in me in first instance to show you my deep sense of appreciation in reference to the generous remarks, which you bestowed on me as a Botanist.3 It was all the more gratifying to me, to notice your friendly remarks on my share in the Australian "Flora",4 as so many are inclined to think that my cooperation in the opus was not extensive, while indeed it has absorbed a large share of my activity during very many of the best years of my life, and at a period of difficulties, such as the present young generation of Australia and all future generations will and cannot experience.5

Accept than the expression of full gratitude for the cheering manner, in which you spoke about me.

Nevertheless this pleasure which you gave me, was mingled with great sadness, because you had a splendid opportunity to remove publicly with a few passing words the stigma, which utterly undeservedly rests on my horticultural administration and yet no institution had more weight to set public opinion about me also right on this point, then Kew, because Kew knows what I did from 1857 til 1873 to raise the bot. Garden of Melbourne also as an horticultural establishment to high fame, though that was before your time. You had such a splendid opportunity to do me justice (favors I do not seek) as a former Director.

But it seems as if the last death blow was given to the attempts, which I still make with a few friends to resuscitate my Directorship, or to reestablish an other Garden for my introductions observations experiments and distribution.

See, Mr Dyer, how men of science rallied around Sir Joseph, and prevented the disintegration of Kew.6 My God! how could you express envey at my being cast out of my institution, and left with one herbarium room as the small rest of an once illustrious Department!7 The colony Victoria is not so poor as to require to go abegging to all the other Austral colonies to ask for a few hundred £ from each annually to reestablish a Department for me, nor could I serve several masters with their then endless official demands, whereas Vict. alone can give me a Garden, and a Gov Botanist here without a Garden is as helpless an anomaly, as it would be for Kew to discharge these functions without a Garden! Kindly remember besides, that six thousand £ annually are disbursed for parks & Gardens of the Gov around Melbourne, irrespective of the bot. Garden, and these £6000 with perhaps 2000 acres of Land are in the hands of a crownlands bailiff, while the Gov Botanist, who furnished in former years (since 1858) nearly all the trees for this enormous area, has nothing.

The misrepresentations of a few Melbourne journalsand of a few visitors (or perhaps even correspondents) to Kew, who wish to continue me suppressed, ought to fly like the chaff before the wind.

Not even my fragmenta can be continued, because I am too poor to keep a collector in the field!8 In the Exhibition now for Melbourne9 I shall having nothing, indeed in my grief and humiliation will try to go away during the exhibition-time as Mr Francis & Mr Casey10 would not even allow me to keep my laboratory & apparatus, and as I do not care to limit my exhibits to a few bundles of dried plants and some species of wood. My God! what a difference even to my position at the Exhibition of 1855!11 Even my library has never been fully set up again, since I was deprived of my Garden Office & House in 1873 (built by myself in 17 years) and have not even the most necessary new books of recent literature to keep to a small extent pace with my compeers. Your envey, to see me relieved of all of this, will be a most powerful weapon in the hands of my adversaries, and yet I begged so much, from year to year, from month to month, that you all at Kew should strive to help me into an honorable position again.

If you have been told unfairly [&] untruthfully, that I did not keep the Garden in order, remember I had only ⅓ or ¼ of the present votes, and was eaten up to keep the insatiable young public institutions supplied since 1858 with trees & other plants. Water for lawns I had none, but as soon as a Cousin of a political Minister12 intruded on my position, an enormous sum was forthcoming to raise water from the River Yarra. Remember kindly, that I was the first who built large Glass houses in Australia, that for years I had the largest collection of plants, even with slender means, in these colonies, under culture. Indeed I did far more for horticulture than for Botany or rather special phytology during very many years. Since I was kept by inexpressible meanness out of the garden, I have had no longer the outdoor exercise, which kept me in fair health in former years. My official position became stultified (which I felt never more keenly than at the approach of the world Exhibition), my little private fortune became wrecked, I lost all hold on Society, have grown ill and dispirited, and the hopes of building up a domesticity were destroyed. And yet, the endless correspondence of Colonists to me for information did remain the same, just as if I had still the resources of the bot. Garden at my Command. So you see, dear Mr Dyer, that there is no cause for envey in my ruin, but there is every cause of envey, that Sir Joseph Hooker remained undisturbed in his glorious career, that he remained in full command of his resources, free from invaders and distractors, such as daily I have here to encounter after I was deprived of that, which I had built up at a lifelong toil. That a leading newspaper, after allowing itself once to be misled about me, should do all in the most cruel way, to support the man, who glorifies himself daily and unscrupulously on my expense, is just what would be expected under the doctrine of infallibility, proclaimed by leading journalism here at all events

Now I like to ask you a favor. Do spend a few evenings at a spare hour, to read my Directorial reports from 1858 til 1869. Then only you can form a fair judgement! Look, I beg of you, look on the two large lithographed Garden plans, which I issued in 186513 & 186814 with my Garden Reports and then you will see whether my horticultural administration was not worth for years a single word of praise.

Regardfully your

Ferd von Mueller


I trust that in your own hopeful career, you will never experience a fraction of the misfortune which befel me undeservedly.

This is a hurried letter. I hope it contains nothing that will give you umbrage.

Do also not calculate the money value of Kew & Melbourne the same, your wages vote there is, I believe, less than half.

Even the Eucal. Atlas15 how far more valuable could I have made it had I remained amidst my cultivated trees at the Garden.

If you were here only one day personally, you would soon see that there cannot be any envey about my present position.

I will try to see, whether yet a series of the photograms can be obtained, such as were made at the time of my Directorship, including Victoria regia, which I first reared [in] Austr

Best thanks for your splendid essay on Hemileia.16

If there was a plebiscite on my affairs, I soon should be again in my creation, and soon do justice again to forests industries &c in my live.



Victoria regia


MS annotation in red pencil: 'And Septr. 16/80.' Letter not found.
Thiselton-Dyer (1880), a preprint of Thiselton-Dyer (1880b). M may have also had access to the separately published pamphlet, Thiselton-Dyer (1880c), a copy of which is in the Library of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.
‘As long as Sir Ferdinand Mueller is alive, Australia will possess one of the most learned botanists of modern times, who is devoted to the study of her flora and a master of its details. As a scientific man, it is impossible not to envy the freedom which he now possesses from all administrative labour. It is to be hoped that some joint arrangement may be arrived at amongst the several colonies to secure his unique herbarium of Australian plants as a permanent public establishment, to be provided with a proper endowment, and to be preserved for all time as a standard of reference in the Southern hemisphere for the accurate nomenclature of indigenous plants. It is to the credit of Victoria to possess him on her civil establishment, but his scientific services have been rendered to the whole continent, and I observe that his latest publication on the vegetable resources of Australia is a most useful report on the forests of West Australia.' (Thiselton-Dyer [1880b], p. v)
i.e. Bentham (1863-78).
‘The most important of [the Colonial Floras] is the Flora Australiensis, prepared at Kew by Mr. Bentham, with the co-operation of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller in Australia … From a scientific point of view … a very great achievement … The Colonial Office marked its sense of the importance of the completion of the Australian Flora by advising Her Majesty to confer upon Mr. Bentham the Companionship of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and to raise Baron von Mueller, who already possessed that distinction, to the Knight Companionship of the Order.’ (Thiselton-Dyer [1880b], p. ii)
See MacLeod (1974) for Hooker’s disputes with Acton Ayrton.
See note 3 above.
The last part of Fragmenta phytographiae australiae (B82.12.03) was published in 1882, the only part of vol. 12 to be published.
International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1880-1.
The responsible Ministers at the time M lost the directorship of the Botanic Garden.
Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1855.
William Guilfoyle, whom M consistently described as a cousin of the Minister, J. J. Casy.
An error for 1869? See B69.07.03.
i.e. M’s Eucalyptographia (B79.13.11 and subsequent parts).
Thiselton-Dyer (1880d).

Please cite as “FVM-80-07-07,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 26 October 2021,