From William Thiselton-Dyer to Norman Lockyer   20 October 1886

Kew Oct. 20. 86

My dear Lockyer,

We are all puzzled by the first piece of news in your letter of Oct. 14.1

The Director of the Botanic Garden, Melbourne is not Baron von Muller but W. Guilfoyle.

Sir F. von Muller is Government Botanist. We had numerous letters from him by the mail of this week & he said nothing about retiring.

Any how there must be some blunder about his retiring from the Directorship of the Botanic Garden, a position he has not held since 1872.

Yours sincerely

W. T. Thiselton Dyer2


That is, Lockyer's 'Notes' as editor in Nature , 14 October 1886. The first entry (p. 576) was 'We regret to learn that Baron von Muller retires from the directorship of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens in June next.'

The information is consistent with the Public Service Act requirement that officers of the Victorian Government retire at age 60, unless a recommendation for retention was approved by the Executive Council. At the meeting of the Executive Council on 28 June 1886, M had been approved for retention, but only until 31 December 1886; see T. Wilson to M, 30 June 1886 (in this edition as 86-06-30b). For the remainder of his life, M was subject to this provision. But see also n. 2 below.

On 20 January 1887, an informal retraction appeared in Nature , p. 282:

Baron von Mueller, who retains the office of Government Botanist to the colony of Victoria, is about to issue a series of plates with descriptions of the acacias (wattles) of Australia. The work will be similar to the " Eucalyptographia," probably the best and most useful of his publications. For diagnostic purposes he makes use of two characters hitherto overlooked, viz. the number of divisions in the pollen-mass and the position of the seed. The retirement of Baron von Mueller from the direction of the Botanic Garden, some few years since, his enabled him to devote more atteniion to scientific botany and its applications to practical purposes.

A blank page of the letter is annotated in another hand:

Information supplied by Dr G. Watt, Commissioner in Charge of the Economic Court, India, Colonial Exhibition, to whom Müller[s] position has been offered.

This is evidently a note of the explanation of the orgin of Lockyer's comment in Nature. No other evidence of such an offer to George Watt has been found.

Please cite as “FVM-M86-10-20,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 18 September 2021,