To William Thiselton-Dyer   28 May 1881



Let me hope, dear Mr Dyer, that the large stem of Zamia (Encephalartos) Moorei from subtropical Extra-Australia1 has reached you safely.2 Poor as my Department is, since I left the garden, I have paid even the freight. If in your stove after even a couple of years the stem should not produce fresh leaves, it would still prove valuable for your Museum-Collection, or for anatomic specimens, as this is a rare species.

Kindly allow me an other remark: the wood implements seemed of so little value at Kew, though to procure them here, pack them, & send them cost lots of time & money. Why do you not use them for interchanges, or cut them up for wood specimens? Dozens of bot. Museums would be glad for such articles. Of course I feel discouraged to send any thing more of this kind.3 If I am unable to send you many dried specimens of real value for Kew, then at all events do not mention, as in last report, numerically any few, which I happen to send in letters!4 My adversaries here would only sneer at that. Of many of the additions made to the Flora of Australia in my Museum collection here, I have only unic5 or poor & fragmentary specimens, such as explorers bring home from the far interior on Camels or pack-horses. When railways over Australia shall exist in the next century, doubtless all these rarities will be procured in Quantity.

Doubtless also do I have some duplicates yet to spare, but in the oppressed state of my Department I have no leisure to make up collections for distribution, nor have I any one with me to whom I could entrust the task or who has time for it, though I pay one Assistant out of my own salary, to get at least on with daily routine work, which the colonists for their immediate wants require from me. How different was it, when I was in the bot Garden, where all was a well connected whole, and where some little spare-labor could be used to help also occasionally the Museum work on. Don't grudge me a garden! Imagine yourself in my position with a paradise lost! With half my salary in the bot garden I would be more prosperous than I am now, when even Office rent has to come out of my £800 in this expensive country. It was £120 for several years each without the rooms (not half as many as my former Directors house) being furnished or leaving me even one private room!6 The bitterest of my mental long-sufferings in this "struggle for existence" has been the opposition of Kew even on general principle to the restoration of my Directorship!7

Regardfully your

Ferd. von Mueller.


As I still send various things to Kew and as a prospect exists of you getting also in future again dried plants from me, I hope you will not altogether overlook me or exclude my Department, when yours distributes annually its surplus of dried plants8


Encephalartos Moorei

Zamia Moorei

See M to W. Thiselton-Dyer, May 1881 (in this edition as 81-05-00b).
See M to C. Chantre, 9 June 1880, and notes thereto. Presumably the comment that they were of little value had been made to M in a letter not found.
Hooker (1881) includes, under the heading of 'Herbarium', 'Mueller, Baron von: various Australian' without any indication of the number of specimens, information which accompanies some other contributors' names.
Although the text as written appears to be '£720', this is an unlikely amount for rent. M appears to have used the German form of the numeral 1, instead of his more usual English form. 'Sandal House', the three-bedroom property on Albert Park Road that M was renting, when advertised to be sold by auction on 18 June 1879 was 'let to Baron von Mueller at the net annual rental of £100' (Argus, 14 June 1879, p. 2); this is consistent with M's report in M to J. Baker, 15 August 1881 that he had been paying £120 (gross) rent. He had moved from this property to a 'small cottage' bought on mortgage by September 1879 (M to J. Hooker, 11 September 1879 (in this edition as 79-09-11a).

M was concerned that influential politicians had been told by senior officials at Kew that the Directorship of a Garden was not necessary for the role of Government Botanist. See, for example, M to W. Thistelton-Dyer, 1 January 1881. The Argus, 30 April 1881, p. 4, published a summary of a lecture given by Thiselton-Dyer to the Royal Colonial Institute (Thiselton-Dyer (1880)). The article included a quotation from p. 298 of the lecture, introduced by 'In his remarks on the colonies, Mr Dyer has some flattering things to say of Victoria, and of Baron Von Mueller. It is curious by the way, to notice how the retirement of the Baron from the management of the Melbourne Botanic-gardens is regarded at Kew':

As long as Sir Ferdinand Von Mueller is alive, Australia will possess one of the moat 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 upon her civil establishment, but his services as an explorer, no less than as a scientific botanist, have been rendered to the whole continent and I observe that the latest of his many publications on the vegetable resources of Australia is a most useful report on the forests of West Australia.

M had been sent a copy of Thiselton-Dyer (1880) by the Chief Secretary's Office before the extract was published by the Argus; see W. Odgers to M, 14 April 1881.

The postscript is on a separate folio, f. 307. There is a red pencil line in the margin from will not altogether …' to the end. The same pencil has been used to underline not altogether overlook me or and dried plants.

Please cite as “FVM-81-05-28,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 27 July 2021,