To William Thiselton-Dyer   30 March 1887



Your letter of the 9 Febr.,2 dear Mr Dyer, arrived this day; and as I wished anyhow to write to you, I will answer it at once. Before doing so, let me remark, that the Xanthorrhoeas will likely be sent by one of the next steamers.3 The continuation of sendings of the sp. of dried plants, added to the Fl. Austr. (now over 1000 sp.) will have reached you, as one parcel went by last mail.4 I have just a Carpenter to make additional repositories in the iron annex, which interferes with selecting more specimens; but your establishment will bye & bye be fully provided, so far as the material admits, which often is scant and fragmentary.

In two days Mr Al. Davidson, who accompanied Mr Sayer on the ascent of Mt Bellenden Ker,5 proceeds to England again; he has promised, to look after the small case with well-rooted plants of Correa Lawrenciana, the red-flowering Variety. Mr Findlay potted the cuttings on the Hume-River,6 and I have had them in my little culture-ground for several months. So they are well established, and ought to reach you well. Mr Davidson can give you an account of the exploit.

Our time is precious, and should not be vasted7 in fruitless discussions, especially as I have so little left of my life; but as Kew is the principal establishment for Phytography in the world, I feel, that I ought not to leave your remarks on nomenclature unanswered. I take a far wider view of the question than probably most phytographers. To me the mere use of a name during even a century gives it no sanctity, because there will be centuries after centuries, when names will have to be used. So we must have firm laws for nomenclature. A. de Candolle himself says in his latest writings, that it would be best, to have no exceptions to priority. In this many leading phytographers concur. What ever views any one of us holds on this question is however a mere individual view, and as phytographers may never fully unite, on where changes are to commence in naming, and where to end, we should mutually respect each others views, though we do not agree.

Let us consider quite a recent instance. Mons. L. Pierre shows, that Stixis of Loureiro is Roxburgh’s Roydsia.8 Now — if this change cannot be adopted, than9 it would be anomalous if not all other Loureiro’s names, restored even in the genera of B. & H,10 be abolished again! So it is with lots of Aublets and others, which even in B. & H. genera have superseded well known generic names, fully a century in use.

In reference to Candollea, it must be remembered, that Candollea among Dilleniaceae, like Polanisia among Caparideae, has fallen to the ground; that greatly affects Candollea as a stylidaceous genus. If I make the change, others need not adopt it, but there is no cause for litterary or epistolar incivility on the subject

The remarks on my poor “Census”,11 concerning Stylidium a small genus in culture as yet12 alias Candollea, in the Gardeners Chronicle, (from the initials attached) were not Prof. Oliver’s.13

As regards Monochlamydeae, there is no doubt on my mind, that they should be inserted, each order, where its real affinity lies; otherwise we can have no natural system. I need not point out, that all of them (except Gymnosperms — not really Monochl.) are merely reduced forms of other families, just as Alchemilla stands against Rosa or Dodonaea against Aesculus, not to speak of hundreds of other examples. If we are to have no changes of any kind, then there can be no progress. —

The calm study of nomenclature is not derogatory in biomorphic science, — but the endless multiplication of species is.

It is most cheering that Sir Joseph’s Health is firm; I hope he will be able to give a new edition of the genera towards the end of the century. it is marvellous, that his eyesight is so good; but myopic eyes last usually longest.

As regards the giving up by your brother in law his Gov. position for one under a Committee, however excellent our friend Dr MacGillivray and his colleagues are, is a matter of grave consideration, especially as the income is rather less, though that may be increased.14

And now, dear Mr Dyer, let this letter bring our controversy about priority and nat. systems for ever to a close, and let me renew my assurance, that I shall always take a deep interest in the great national establishment of Kew.

Regardfully your

Ferd. von Mueller.


Your Bulletins will keep your industrial and technologic observations nicely together.15

I will try to get you the seeds of the Bluefloweringe Andersonias, also Acacia &c. When the Andersonia seeds come, they should be sown in soil, in which Calluna grows, but less sandy and not too dry. Sphagnum-soil does not exist in W.A.

Prof. M’Coy has returned, but I have had not yet leisure to see him.16 I was not even able to attend this evening our branch of the Brit. Medical Association, when Phthisis had to be discussed, but sent my opinion in writing.









Correa Lawrenciana










Date stamped Royal Gardens Kew 16 May 1887. The date on the MS is clearly ‘83’, but the Kew date stamp and internal references suggest an error on M’s part. See notes below.
Letter not found.
‘4 Xanthorrhoea australis’ were received at Kew on 16 July 1887 (RBG Kew, inwards book 1884-7, p. 423). See also M to Thiselton-Dyer, 3 May 1887 (in this edition as 87-05-03a).
‘Plants selected for Kew. Post. 25/2/87’ (RBG Kew, plant lists 28, Australia/New Zealand/Polynesia, 1829-95, f. 155). It is annotated by M: ‘Continuation of typical specimens to be followed up soon. F.v.M 24/2/87’.
Qld. Sayer and Davidson undertook this expedition in 1886-7. See M to A. Macdonald, 4 January 1887.
i.e. Murray River, NSW.
Pierre (1887), p. 652. Stixis was erected in Loureiro (1790), p. 290, Roydsia in Roxburgh (1795-1820), vol. 3, p. 86.
Bentham & Hooker (1862-83).
a small genus … yet is written in the margin of the MS, its position in the text indicated by asterisks.
The article was signed 'W.B.H.'; i.e. Hemsley (1883). Of M’s Census, Hemsley wrote that he approached it ‘with mixed feelings, for although it embodies a vast amount of work, and will be exceedingly useful for reference, there are some features in it that we are sorry to see’ — especially M’s insisting on ‘absolute priority in names’, using M’s treatment of Stylidium as an example. See M to W. Thiselton-Dyer, 10 September 1881, especially n. 37.
See M to J. Hooker, 10 March 1887 (in this edition as 87-03-10a) for further details about Brian Hooker's possible move to the Bendigo School of Mines, Vic.
Bulletin of miscellaneous information (1887), [RBG] Kew, vol. 1, p. 1: ‘It is proposed to issue from time to time, as an occasional publication, notes too detailed for the Annual Report on economic products and plants’.
McCoy was in England on leave for several months from October 1886, following the death of his wife.

Please cite as “FVM-87-03-30,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 20 September 2021,