Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge




As the Colony of Victoria’s Government Botanist (1853–96) and Director of Melbourne’s Botanic Garden (1857–73), Dr Ferdinand Mueller saw it as his scientific duty to document the colony’s indigenous flora, and his public duty to improve the colony’s botanical resources and encourage industries based on them. He used international and local exhibitions and Melbourne’s Industrial and Technological Museum to publicise the economic potential of Victoria’s timber and other forest products, and to disseminate his ideas about them. Many exhibits were prepared from trees cultivated in the Botanic Garden. Like his Botanic Garden, Mueller’s exhibition displays were both scientific and educational.


On 3 November 1870, 184 Victorians attended a lecture in Melbourne’s new Industrial and Technological Museum.1 The lecturer was the illustrious Ferdinand von Mueller, CMG, MD, PhD, FRS (and numerous other honours and awards), Victoria’s Government Botanist and Director of Melbourne’s Botanic Garden. The title of his lecture was ‘The application of phytology to the industrial purposes of life’.

Pleased to contribute to public education, Mueller discussed something dear to his heart – the huge importance of botanical studies (phytology). He used the opportunity to publicly support and justify a botanical section in the new museum, where displays of scientifically documented samples would educate the public. Mueller ranged across the broad spectrum of botany – from taxonomy to economics – and drew on his substantial knowledge of the world’s flora and the Colony of Victoria’s geography and vegetation to show the importance of diverse studies of plants, especially useful ones. Forest trees, foreign and indigenous, loomed large in his talk. He suggested adding to Victoria’s forests ‘the Cork tree, the Red Cedar, the Camphor tree, the Walnuts and Hickories of North America’ and Indian timber trees, Sissoo, Sal and Teak; and wondered whether the ‘400 coniferous trees and 300 sorts of oaks’ could be naturalised in Victoria’s ranges. He affirmed that ‘of about 10,000 kinds of trees, which probably constitute the forests of the globe, at least 3000 would live and thrive in these mountains of ours’ (Mueller 1871a, 61).

Mueller (1871a, 63) ‘appended further notes on timber trees, eminently suitable for massive introduction’, but they were not published with the lecture. Instead, ‘The principal timber trees readily eligible for Victorian industrial culture, with indications of their native countries and some of their technologic uses’ (Mueller 1871b) was published by a society dedicated to introducing the world’s plant and animal treasures – the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, of which Mueller was a vice-president. Mueller was looking to the future. His catalogue of several hundred trees, based largely on his own unpublished work, was prompted by his desire ‘to place before his fellow colonists a succinct list of those trees, which in our geographic latitudes can be grown to advantage’ and by his realisation that ‘the wanton waste of the native forests should be checked’. He suggested that for ‘our Industrial Museum’ his catalogue ‘may help to explain the real wealth, which we possess in our unfortunately almost unguarded forests’ and hoped that it ‘might stimulate both public and private efforts, to provide by timely thoughtfulness those increased timber resources, without which the next generations of this land can be neither hale nor prosperous’ (Mueller 1871b, 29–30).

Most of the trees in Mueller’s catalogue were from outside the colony – all the 158 coniferous (softwood) trees and most of the 143 non-coniferous (hardwood) trees, including four of the eight eucalypts. Timber of the few Victorian trees had been displayed at two recent exhibitions in Melbourne – the Victorian Exhibition preparatory to London’s 1862 International Exhibition and the Intercolonial Exhibition before Paris’s 1867 Exposition Universelle. One was Red Gum, which Mueller (1871b, 49) included because its wood was ‘of extraordinary endurance underground, and for this reason so highly valued for fence-posts, piles and railway sleepers’, lasting ‘at least a dozen years’. ‘It is also extensively used by shipbuilders – for main stem, stern post, inner post, dead wood, floor timbers, futtocks, transomes, knight head, hawespieces, cant, stern, quarter and fashion timber, bottom planks, breasthooks and riders, windlass, bowrails, &c’. For ‘other details of the uses of this and other native trees’ Mueller referred readers to reports of the two exhibitions. Keen to publicise the usefulness of the colony’s trees, Mueller also noted the strength and durability of the other three Victorian eucalypts, whose multifarious uses included shingles, fence rails, railway sleepers, shafts and spokes of drays, wagon wheels and poles, and tree nails, rudder, belaying pins, keelson and planking of ships (48–50).

I use Mueller’s popular and widely republished lecture and timber-tree catalogue to introduce this chapter for four reasons. Firstly, they reveal the timber-hungry times. The huge reliance on such a diversity of timbers to fashion so many necessities is difficult to properly appreciate today. Secondly, the lecture and catalogue show the productive nexus between a museum, exhibitions and timber. Thirdly, they reveal Mueller’s attitude to forest exploitation and conservation – the need for their preservation and improvement as well as timber extraction – and his intense focus on useful plants. And finally, and most pertinently, they reveal specific links Mueller was making, in his mind and with his timber exhibits, between Victoria’s forests, Melbourne’s new Industrial and Technological Museum and international exhibitions.

This examination of exhibition records and Mueller’s correspondence and publications shows how he shaped exhibition displays of timber and other plant products in order to educate the public and publicise the economic potential of Victoria’s botanical resources, and how he used exhibitions to promote his ideas about them. It was an integral part of his work as a government scientist.


Dr Ferdinand Mueller was the Colony of Victoria’s Government Botanist from 1853 until his death in 1896 and, without additional salary, Director of Melbourne’s Botanic Garden from 1857 until his directorship was dissolved in 1873, by which time he was Baron Ferdinand von Mueller. As Government Botanist, he sought to document and improve the colony’s botanical resources. Dried, pressed specimens of plants, which he collected or received from his growing network of collectors, enriched the government herbarium. Committed to furthering scientific knowledge of the Australian (not just Victorian) flora, he used some of these specimens to name new species of Australian plants. As its director, he used the Botanic Garden to test the cultivation of useful Australian and foreign plants, exchanging seeds and plants with institutions and individuals around the world. Mueller was intensely scientific and intensely aware of his obligation to serve the public. To link the two he spoke and wrote prolifically, using lectures, reports, newspaper and journal articles, books and pamphlets to publicise the useful consequences of his science.

Surrounded by unfamiliar bush, only some of whose plants were scientifically named and fewer commercially exploited, the largely European community of Melbourne was hugely dependent on non-indigenous plant-products (both imported and from plants grown in the colony). With science and economics in mind, Mueller explored Victoria’s forests, so strange to European eyes. He added specimens to the government herbarium, using some to establish scientific (systematic) names for Victorian trees and sought information about their timber. Regretting the absence of useful indigenous softwood trees and the colony’s huge importation costs for timber and paper, Mueller had many trees, Victorian and non-Victorian, planted in the Botanic Garden, and their products investigated in a laboratory in the adjacent reserve. The rapacious consumption of forests for timber to prop up goldmines and fuel mining machinery aggravated colonial timber needs, and added force to Mueller’s early arguments for reafforestation. As waves of miners left depleted goldfields in search of work, he was acutely aware of the need for new colonial industries.

Within days of his appointment to the new position of Government Botanist in January 1853, Mueller set off on the first of three extensive expeditions to survey the colony’s flora. In the winter of 1853 he reached Alberton, then the gateway to Gippsland, and sailed across to Sealer’s Cove on the eastern side of Wilson’s Promontory, one of Victoria’s two most southerly projections into Bass Strait. Sealing was not the attraction. Sealer’s Cove was busy with sawmillers extracting timber from the local forests. Mueller listened to the timber-getters and made his own collections and observations. Despite the annoying absence of relatives of the softwood pines which grew across Bass Strait in Tasmania, he was very impressed with the timber trees of Wilson’s Promontory.


In March 1854 Mueller was one of 18 worthy gentlemen invited to join a commission to collect colonial products to send to an international exhibition in Paris in 1855 (Home et al 1998, 174), and sought to use Wilson’s Promontory timber to showcase Victoria’s indigenous botanical resources. He prepared a list, ‘Specimens of 24 kinds of Native Wood from Sealer’s Cove’, for inclusion in the catalogue for Melbourne’s preparatory exhibition, sent a copy to the government, and secured permission to return to Sealer’s Cove to collect samples (Gillbank 1998, 288). In his annual report Mueller (1854, 6–7) recorded that wood samples from Wilson’s Promontory ‘have been procured for the Paris Exhibition, and these may give some additional proof that we possess woods here for any purpose, with the exception perhaps of such as are fit for larger ships’ masts’, and wrote glowingly about the colony’s timber, especially that from Wilson’s Promontory.

Commissioner Mueller orchestrated the display of Victoria’s botanical exhibits in Melbourne’s splendid new Exhibition Building in William Street, before their transmission to the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Melbourne’s Argus newspaper of 25 October 1854 reported favourably on:

a very valuable collection of specimens made by Dr. Mueller, and arranged with the scientific precision, by which this eminent naturalist is distinguished. The specimens of indigenous woods must arrest the attention of even careless loungers in the building, notwithstanding the comparative remoteness and obscurity of the place they occupy. They are of great importance in an economic as well as a scientific point of view. It is obvious that our supplies of wood cannot continue to consist of that grown in North America or on the shores of the Baltic.

The Official Catalogue of the Melbourne Exhibition, 1854, in connexion with the Paris Exhibition, 1855, lists the Sealer’s Cove exhibits and other plant products from Mueller, including oil distilled from Red Gum leaves. After Paris, Mueller’s wood exhibits were shipped across to Sir William Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England (Gillbank 1998, 289–290).


In October and November 1861 Victorians again flocked to Melbourne’s Exhibition Building to marvel at exhibits of the colony’s produce, this time prior to their display at London’s 1862 International Exhibition. Mueller, now the Botanic Garden Director as well as Government Botanist, was again a commissioner. Mueller (1861a, 5) hoped that ‘a much felt want of timber for ship-building in Great Britain’ could be supplied by Victorian eucalypts, and believed that a ‘renewed display of our resources in timber’ in London could not but benefit the colony (see also Hoffenberg 2001, 33). In his monthly report for November, Mueller noted that ‘the series of distilled oils has been increased during the month, also the timber collection &c’ for the London exhibition.2

Mueller documented and arranged the botanical exhibits of the Victorian Exhibition and provided a botanical essay. He used his Catalogue essay, ‘The vegetation of the colony, especially in reference to its resources’, to describe the indigenous vegetation and suggest useful additions, reporting that, ‘although our forests are devoid of the larger coniferous trees’ Victoria’s timber resources were ‘almost unbounded’. ‘Eucalypti, often of colossal size and great durability … will yield in future their timber also for foreign markets, whenever the ramifications of the railway system will have brought these forests more widely into contact with the harbors’ (Mueller 1861b, 96). Mueller’s essay could be read in English in Melbourne’s Argus newspaper on 19 October 1861, and also in French and German (Home et al 1998, 585–586).

Thanks to Mueller’s efforts, the exhibition’s Class III, ‘Indigenous Vegetable Products’, included timber planks from almost three-quarters of Victoria’s approximately 120 scientifically named trees (Coates et al. 1862, 3). The Catalogue carried Mueller’s tabulated information for 85 indigenous trees, giving the systematic and vernacular names, size, geographical range and timber qualities of each. Some species, including six of the 19 eucalypts, had been named by Mueller. Timber was also exhibited as wood-books designed by Mueller, and a diversity of wooden articles including walking sticks, gunstocks, chessboards, work tables, frames, paper knives, pipes, whip handles, shingles, spokes, felloes and rims.3 Dr Mueller was awarded a First Class Certificate ‘for services rendered in collecting Specimens of the Timber Trees of Victoria’.4 Across the world, at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, George Bentham heard from Mueller that eucalypts were ‘as you will see by products & educts at the [London] Exhibition now of such vast importance to the manufactures of this country’ (Home et al 2002, 126) and William Hooker eagerly awaited ‘the unrivalled woods of Victoria for the Exhibition’.5

Possibly prompted by Mueller, the jurors of Class III of the Victorian Exhibition made an interesting suggestion: ‘The formation of an industrial museum, where specimens of all the Colonial timbers might be seen, and information obtained of their characters, qualities, and distribution’.

It would serve as a permanent exhibition, and a school of useful instruction; and might be appropriately supplemented by the addition of articles of manufacture to illustrate the applications of our Timbers to the various uses for which they are specially adapted. The Exhibition which has just closed would thus leave a lasting record of its utility, as the parent of an institution that might every year become more interesting and more valuable (Coates et al 1862, 12).

Mueller already had ‘a large collection of the native Timbers … prepared for this purpose’ which could not be satisfactorily exhibited in the recently completed, but already crowded, Botanical Museum (Coates et al 1862, 13).

The new Botanical Museum housed the expanding herbarium, and, in his annual report, Mueller (1862, 7) recorded his annoyance at the lack of room to display ‘an extensive collection of timber, of carpological [fruit] specimens, and of vegetable products useful in medicine, art, and manufactures’. He noted the importance ‘for the development of these resources’ of providing ‘facilities for inspection of the vegetable raw products of the colony under scientific arrangement’, which ‘became manifest in the [1861] Exhibition’. The many plant products exhibited included eucalyptus oils from ‘Mr. Jos. Bosisto, of Richmond, and Mr. W. Johnson, of St Kilda, who kindly undertook the distillation of these oils from the material secured through the office of the Botanic Garden’. Mueller (1862, 7) hoped that eucalyptus oils and ‘the series of timber specimens, fibres, resins, gums, barks, and other vegetable products or extracts’ exhibited would ‘be followed by many practical results and the promotion of new branches of industry’.

While his ‘small collection of colonial woods’ at Dublin’s 1865 International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures earned him an honourable mention,6 Mueller (1865, 8) recorded several gratifying results following the London Exhibition, and noted the sad ‘want of a laboratory’, essential ‘if such investigations as led to the recognition of the mercantile value of many oils, gums, resins, barks and other vegetable substances are to be continued’. Other pages of his annual report record the thousands of diverse, mainly foreign trees, newly planted in the Botanic Garden and adjacent reserve.


In 1866 Mueller was again an exhibition commissioner – for Melbourne’s Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia preparatory to the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867. This time Victorians could see exhibits from other Australasian colonies as well as Victoria in a new exhibition building behind the Public Library in Swanston Street – the Great Hall, which was built with the aim of eventually housing a museum.7 And now Mueller had a laboratory in which to prepare material for the exhibition.

The laboratory was essential for Mueller’s investigations of plant products. As the Botanic Garden Director, he considered it his duty to prepare ‘from the trees and other forest-plants, whether indigenous or foreign, under my control, a series of tars, acids, oils, potash, dye-principles, tannin, varnishes, wood-alcohol and other substances’ (Home et al 2006, 103). A young chemist, Christian Hoffmann, undertook the work. In September 1866, under Mueller’s supervision, he determined:

the percentages of tar, alcohol, acetic acid, oils, etc. of our forest timbers for the exhibition, and we are now engaged in determining the tannin contents of our barks, and to test the usefulness of the widely distributed indigenous fibre plants for the manufacture of paper.

Mueller added ‘The purpose is, of course, to unfold for the labouring part of the population the sources for income found in nature’ (Home et al 2002, 387).

With recently introduced tariffs providing some protection for Victorian industries, raw materials suitable for local processing were sought. Mindful of the economic potential of materials prepared in the laboratory, Mueller sent some to the Governor of Victoria as examples of articles which were ‘likely to give extensive employment to our population and to add to the wealth of the country’. He thought that fibres from Eucalyptus bark and indigenous fibrous plants could be used ‘for the fabrication of all the rougher kinds of papers’. And perhaps:

poor families might find locations of prosperity in the wide tracts of our salubrious but as yet unoccupied ranges by devoting their attention and their labour for the object of procuring the raw material so vastly available for manufactures, not merely such as those of paper, but also of tars, acetic acid, oils, dye-material and other substances constantly needed for arts and industry (Home et al 2002, 389–390).

Aware of the value of exhibitions to industry and science, Mueller contributed ideas as well as exhibits to Melbourne’s Intercolonial Exhibition – as he had for the 1861 Victorian Exhibition – and prepared an informative essay (Mueller 1867a) and notes on the botanical exhibits (Mueller 1867b).

Mueller’s 38-page essay for the exhibition’s English and French language catalogue was on Australian, not just Victorian, vegetation. When asked to furnish the essay, Mueller wanted to include ‘a table of all the species of the trees of Australia’ and, in February 1866, wrote to George Bentham, who was preparing Flora australiensis, requesting ‘a list of the arborescent Eucalypti, i.e., the names of the species you adopted, their vernacular names where such exist & their range over the country’ (Home et al 2002, 335–336). Three weeks later Mueller (1866) penned a brief letter to the Journal of Botany notifying readers that, as a commissioner for the Intercolonial Exhibition, he was preparing ‘an essay on the vegetation of all Australia, especially in reference to the resources of the country’, including ‘an enumeration of all the trees of Australia, as far as known,’ whose tabulation would be of interest for industry and commerce as well as phytogeography. Mueller appended his table, ‘The trees of Australia, phytologically named and arranged, with indications of their territorial distribution’, to his catalogue essay and sent a note about it to London’s weekly newspaper on rural economy, The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, where it was published on 4 May 1867, before the Paris exposition closed. Many of the approximately 950 systematic names of Australian trees, including 40 of the 98 eucalypts, were Mueller’s. But Mueller was more than a creator of new species. By arranging the tabulated species according to his own version of the classificatory system, rather than the version used by the Kew botanists, he challenged taxonomic authority (Maroske 2006, 155–156).

Mueller wanted to show exhibition visitors the huge dimensions of some Victorian eucalypts and, in August 1866, sent a rough sketch (see Figure 1) with his proposal for a monumental structure to Sir Redmond Barry, president of the exhibition commission. But money was needed. ‘A special vote will be required for it, as the wood & Gyps[um] fruit specimens will absorbe the £250 at my disposal for both Exhibitions together’ (Melbourne and Paris). Mueller hoped that ‘the structure might be made so durable as to find a place permanently in a cemetery or park’ (Home et al 2002, 374).

From the Intercolonial Exhibition’s opening on 24 October 1866, visitors could see samples of timber and a drawing of Mueller’s trophy-shaped timber design (but not the actual construction) in the Victorian Timber Court in the Great Hall. In his ‘Introductory notes to the Victorian collection of timber at the Intercolonial Exhibition’ Mueller (1867b, 219) noted that the ‘very slender means’ available had allowed only a collection smaller than that formed in 1861 – ‘barely one-half of the timber trees known to exist within the limits of the Victorian colonial area’. Timber was exhibited from 55 Victorian trees, most of which were among the 146 Victorian species listed in Mueller’s table on Australian trees, including 11 of the 27 Victorian eucalypts. The collection comprised:

nearly all the leading kinds of wood which have attracted hitherto more or less commercial attention, and displays – at least in some samples – the huge dimensions of many of our trees, broad planks of blackwood, evergreen beech, red gumtree, and a few other kinds of eucalypts, having been secured. To demonstrate still more fully the gigantic size of some of our timber trees would have involved means over which I had no command; but a drawing in the Victorian Timber Court will more readily exemplify how, by a moderate outlay, the colossal sizes of our trees could be brought before the eye of the general population. This design demonstrates, in a monumental structure, how the slabs of various sections of the stem and branches could be placed over each other for showing the proportionate dimensions (219).

Noting the recorded height of over 400 feet for a Victorian eucalyptus tree, Mueller (1867b, 220) wondered whether Victoria might possess the tallest trees in the world. Mueller (1867a, 16) used his exhibition essay to elaborate this possibility and record some ‘astounding data, supported by actual measurements’. He recorded the huge heights of four Victorian eucalypts, including the tree on whose dimensions he had based his design. It was a fallen tree which Mr D Boyle had measured ‘in the deep recesses of Dandenong, and obtained for it the length of 420 feet, with proportions of width, indicated in a design of a monumental structure placed in the Exhibition’. Mueller’s fascination with these forest giants and the possibility that they would tower over ‘the spire of the Münster of Strassburg’ as well as ‘the renowned forest-giants of California, Sequoia Wellingtonia’ (Mueller 1867a, 17) endured long after the exhibition (Bonyhady 2000, 252–270).


Figure 1. Mueller’s rough sketch of his proposed timber exhibit.
(Courtesy of Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria)8

As in 1861, timber was exhibited in various forms – as huge planks and slabs, wood-books and paper knives. Mueller was particularly pleased with his ‘library’ of wood-books (see Figure 2). They provided a ‘convenient method to demonstrate within narrow space the qualities of wood, both scientifically and technologically … the back-title giving the systematic name and native country of each special tree’ (Mueller 1867b, 221). He wished that:

for our future Industrial Museum every kind of wood, at least of Australia, might be secured in this form for the sake of easy access and comparison. Planed and polished surfaces are thus readily and elegantly shown, while the cavity of the imitation book serves for placing in it samples of such products as the particular tree may yield.

Attaching each tree’s correct systematic name was essential for accurate and unambiguous information. Also, given the ambiguity, ‘want of logical meaning’ and ‘absolute incorrectness’ of many vernacular names, Mueller sought to encourage their replacement with common names based on systematic names (220).

In his annual report, Mueller (1869a, 7–8) recorded the importance of the Intercolonial Exhibition ‘to represent more fully the technological value of many native vegetable products’ and the phytochemical laboratory in which so many of the exhibits were prepared – ‘many kinds of paper material, essential oils, dye stuffs, wood vinegar, tar, wood spirits, and tannic acid, from native plants, especially trees’. His list of laboratory-prepared exhibits and documentation and discussion of a wide range of botanical exhibits, from timber to tea, constitute most of the jurors’ report, ‘Notes on the vegetable products in the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866’ (with Mueller’s name as author), in the exhibition’s Official Record. The report, which includes contributions from other botanists, was published as a 48-page pamphlet by Mueller (1867c). His essay on Australian vegetation was also published as a pamphlet, and Mueller made sure that it was widely disseminated. As well as its inclusion in the Catalogue of the Products from Victoria, Australia, at the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867, Mueller sent it to Bentham at Kew (Maroske 2006, 156) and to the Journal of Botany (Mueller 1867d), where it was published (without table) before the Paris exposition closed. Information from the essay also appeared in the Perth Gazette and West Australian Times on 6 September 1867 and London’s Gardeners’ Chronicle on 18 January 1868. Mueller’s essay, along with his report on the exhibition’s vegetable products, was later included in his 1871 compilation, Lectures and Documents Bearing on Industrial Researches, and via the United States consul general in Melbourne, in a Californian collection of articles compiled by a landowner who was bedazzled by eucalypts – Ellwood Cooper’s 1876 Forest Culture and Eucalyptus Trees (Tyrrell 1999, 60). Now Mueller’s comments on Australian trees could be read on three continents.


Figure 2. Mueller’s library of wood-books; a Red Cedar book case containing 28 wood samples from Australian trees in the shape of bound leather books.
(Courtesy of Decorative Arts Collection, Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery)9

After exhibits were despatched to Paris from Melbourne’s Intercolonial Exhibition, which closed on 23 February 1867, ‘a crude collection of timber and other larger vegetable substances’, largely procured by Mueller, remained in the Great Hall (Mueller 1869b). Exhibitors were asked to assist in forming the nucleus of a collection for an industrial museum – just as London’s South Kensington Museum had been spawned by the Great Exhibition of 1851 – and a provisional committee was appointed in June to ‘receive and take charge of any contribution or exhibits which may be presented for the proposed Museum of Industry and Art’ (Perry 1972, 2). Perhaps not surprisingly, Mueller considered that the Director of Melbourne’s Botanic Garden ‘should exercise sole but gratuitous control and administration’ over ‘the vegetable branch of the intended industrial Museum’ in order ‘to bring his professional knowledge and resources without interference to bear on its development’ (Home et al 2002, 405). Mueller was a member of a Board of Inquiry, which, prompted by the continuing reckless destruction of Victorian forests and surging importation costs of timber, was to report on ways of securing the forests’ permanency and improvement (Moulds 1991, 17). Meanwhile their timber was exhibited in Paris, from April to October 1867, and then presented to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.10

In January 1869 the Royal Commission ‘for promoting Technological and Industrial Instruction, by lecture and otherwise, among the Working Classes of Victoria’ replaced the Exhibition Commission and its provisional committee (Fennessy 2005, 53). Mueller reminded the new commission of the advisability of forming a phytological section in the proposed industrial museum. He had long argued for ‘the formation of a phytologic collection to serve industrial objects’ and, having no room for them in the Botanical Museum, he was ‘anxious, ever since the great Intercolonial Exhibition came to a close, that a portion of the Exhibition Building, or one of the by-buildings, should be exclusively devoted to an arrangement of vegetable products applied to industrial purposes’. Having ‘had several consultations on this subject with His Honor Sir Redmond Barry, the chairman of the trustees of the Exhibition Building’, Mueller (1869b) remained ‘personally ready to aid in the formation of such phytologic industrial collections’. He had in readiness ‘several frames full of paper samples … also tars, acids, wood spirit, potash, wood coals, and a variety of other vegetable products or educts’ and argued that it ‘would be very desirable that the Government Botanist should have some control over such collections, and should advise on its full utilisation’. In February 1869 the Technological Commission recommended the establishment of a ‘Technological and Industrial Museum’, and re-energised parliamentary discussions led to the December passage of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria Act 1869, under whose broad provisions Melbourne’s Industrial and Technological Museum was established (Fennessy 2005, 55; Perry 1972, 3).


In September 1870, while Mueller’s medal-winning samples of timber and other plant products were displayed at Sydney’s Intercolonial Exhibition,11 Melbourne’s Industrial and Technological Museum, with its lecture theatre, laboratories and Great Hall, was officially opened with an inaugural lecture by Frederick McCoy, the honorary director of Victoria’s National (Natural History) Museum and professor of natural science at the University of Melbourne. In November Mueller delivered the museum’s third lecture, ‘The application of phytology to the industrial purposes of life’, in which he discussed the vast importance of botanical work in general and the museum’s botanical (phytological) section in particular:

Who would not like to see the best woods of every country stored up here in instructive samples – nearly a thousand kinds alone to choose from as far as our continent is concerned? Who would not wish to have here at hand for comparison the barks, exudations, grains, drugs, as raw material? Who would not desire to have ready access to a series of oils, whether pressed or distilled, whether from indigenous or imported plants? Who would not have it within his power to compare the starches, dyes, casts of our luscious fruits, or the paper-material, tars, acids, coals of various kinds, fibres, alkaloids, and other medicinal preparations from various plants?

asked Mueller (1871a, 59), surrounded by ‘numerous Vegetable Chemicals, and samples of Raw Material; by about one hundred different kinds of Paper, from various substances; by microscopic drawings of Starches; and by a host of living Plants of medicinal, or economic, or industrial value’ (57).

Mueller organised botanical collections in the new Industrial and Technological Museum. Scientific superintendent, Cosmo Newbery (1871, 84), reported that the Phytological Section contained ‘an extensive collection of specimens of colonial woods, fibres, barks and the various substances which may be prepared from them; most of them carefully labelled and arranged by Dr. F. Von Mueller, C.M.G.’. Mueller arranged specimens of the ‘valuable collection of Australian woods’ in ‘scientific series’, with common as well as scientific (systematic) names.12 ‘Varieties of indigenous wood, highly polished, and including some very handsome kinds’ were noted by early visitors to the museum (Rasmussen 2001, 84). The collection soon included ‘208 samples of Australian woods, classified’ and ‘92 Australian woods, unclassified’ as well as various wooden articles and exhibits of paper, fibres, foods and medicines (Newbery 1873, 12).

Mueller (1871c; 1872) presented another two museum lectures in 1871 – in June on forest culture and in November on the purposes of a botanic garden – and in between contributed to Victoria’s Royal Commission on foreign industries and forests which was considering ways of ‘promoting the culture, extension, and preservation of State Forests in Victoria, and the introduction of such foreign trees as may be suitable to the climate and useful for industrial purposes’ (Bindon et al. 1871, 5). Its 1871 report mentioned Mueller’s timber-tree catalogue and echoed ideas canvassed in his June lecture, ‘Forest culture in its relation to industrial pursuits’. Like his previous museum lecture and timber-tree catalogue (and his 1866 exhibition essay and report), his forest lecture was quickly published as a pamphlet and included in his Lectures and Documents Bearing on Industrial Researches. Substantial extracts were serialised in The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette from 30 December 1871 to 27 January 1872, with extracts appearing in another London weekly, The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions, on 13 January and 3 February 1872. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Philadelphia’s The Gardener’s Monthly and Horticultural Advertiser serialised Mueller’s timber-tree catalogue as ‘Eligible timber trees’ from January to June 1872.

Mueller’s three museum lectures and timber-tree catalogue covered the components which underpinned his exhibition contributions – phytology (with herbarium and laboratory), botanic garden and forests.


Like London’s South Kensington Museum, Melbourne’s Industrial and Technological Museum was interrupted by exhibitions. From 6 November 1872 to 8 January 1873, Victorian exhibits were displayed in the Great Hall before their departure for London’s 1873 International Exhibition in South Kensington. The museum’s contributions included exhibit no. 1322, ‘Colonial Woods’ – four racks of specimens arranged and classified by Baron von Mueller,13 who also sent an impressive diversity of samples from the phytochemical laboratory. Mueller (1874, 5) devoted many paragraphs of his annual report to these laboratory exhibits and appended an ‘index of the articles sent from my laboratory to the London Exhibition’. These were Mueller’s last exhibition contributions from the laboratory.

In mid 1873, after protracted public and political complaint, Mueller’s directorship of the Botanic Garden was abolished (Cohn and Maroske 1996), and, although the laboratory was in the reserve outside the Botanic Garden, Mueller ‘lost’ it as well. Consequently his ‘new important industrial products’ from the laboratory ‘were placed in accordance with former arrangements in the industrial Museum of Melbourne’ (Home et al 2002, 702). Furious at losing the laboratory, Mueller (1874, 6) sought to justify its colonial importance, pointing out that:

Our Industrial City-Museum contains samples of many technologic products furnished by my department, such as new and various paper material, fibres, fixed and distilled oils, native potash, soda, dyes, tars, acetic wood acid, wood alcohol, bromine, iodine and many other substances from native material, still lying latent, though extant in boundless quantity …

While continuing his taxonomic and herbarium work and preparing educational material on Victoria’s flora, Mueller continued to publicise the usefulness of indigenous and foreign plants. But, without the Botanic Garden and laboratory, he ceased to contribute to exhibition displays. Exhibitions continued to display timber and other exhibits from the Industrial and Technological Museum, and also, to add insult to injury, from his successor at the Botanic Garden, the curator, William Guilfoyle, from trees planted there under Mueller’s supervision!

Pamphlets still carried Mueller’s essays and lectures far from their exhibition origins. And Mueller continued to publicise the importance of Victoria’s forests, indigenous and species-enriched. Having expanded his 1871 timber-tree catalogue in successive lists of useful trees and other plants which he considered eligible for Victorian cultivation (Gillbank 2007, 75), Mueller (1875) prepared an essay on Victoria’s indigenous and introduced botanical resources for Melbourne’s Intercolonial Exhibition preparatory to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, and organised his accumulated information on useful plants for his 1876 book, Select Plants Readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalisation in Victoria. Meanwhile Mueller helped prepare a catalogue of the Industrial and Technological Museum’s Victorian timber collection (McMillan 1877), and, across the Pacific Ocean, a comprehensive collection of Mueller’s forest-related papers, including his 1866 exhibition essay and three museum lectures appeared in Ellwood Cooper’s 1876 Forest Culture and Eucalyptus Trees (see also Lucas et al 2006, 45; Tyrrell 1999, 60).

Many years after Bentham suggested that Mueller prepare it (Home et al 2002, 126) and its preparation was announced in a footnote in the Class III jurors’ report for Melbourne’s 1861 exhibition (Coates et al 1862, 4), the first parts of Mueller’s long-contemplated work on Australian eucalypts were published in 1879. Eucalyptographia: A Descriptive Atlas of the Eucalypts of Australia provided scientific and economic information, and was ‘based mainly on the observations of earlier years’ when Mueller had access to the ‘rich collection of about 60 species of euc.’ he had cultivated in the Botanic Garden (Home et al 2006, 175). Of the 100 species in Eucalyptographia, 42 were Mueller’s names, half of them established while he was in charge of the Botanic Garden.

As Melbourne’s International Exhibition approached, Mueller’s mounting frustration and bitterness splattered his correspondence. How could a discarded director of the Botanic Garden face visiting dignitaries at the exhibition (Home et al 2006, 174–175, 185)? He complained to Joseph Hooker, who had succeeded his father at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, that he was ‘daily hampered for forest-investigations, for which I want the rich collection of living trees, established by me in the bot Garden, including numerous species of Eucalypts’, and that he intended to ‘fly out of Melbourne during the Exhibition, to save myself against the mortifying humiliation’ (Home et al 2006, 157, 191).

However, Mueller was invited to be a commissioner and judge at the 1880–81 International Exhibition in Melbourne’s grand new Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens. And he contributed exhibits and information to subsequent exhibitions. He improved the design of wood-books, revised the museum’s Victorian timber catalogue and expanded Select Plants into his even more popular and much-revised Select Extra-Tropical Plants, including an edition for the 1883–84 Calcutta International Exhibition. The 1885 Victorian edition, which includes three-quarters of the eucalypts listed in the museum’s revised timber catalogue (1885), was prepared in time for London’s 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition (which also displayed numerous exhibits from Mueller including wood-books and Eucalyptographia) and for Victoria’s 1886–87 Royal Commission on Vegetable Products, to which Mueller reiterated many of the ideas he had earlier presented in his museum lectures and exhibition publications.


With his scientific duty to document the indigenous flora and his public duty to improve the colony’s botanical resources and encourage industries based on them, Mueller used exhibitions as an integral component of his persistent attempt to have his scientific knowledge translated into industry. While in charge of the Botanic Garden, he extracted information and material from trees growing there, as well as in forests, and used exhibitions to display and discuss trees and their products.

Exhibitions allowed Mueller an enduring as well as an immediate voice. The visiting public could see his scientifically documented exhibits of timber and other forest products, and learn about their economic possibilities. There was also a ripple effect. Ever the botanical publicist, Mueller used exhibitions to spread his ideas beyond the present public, and ensured that pamphlets carried his scientific and industrial information and ideas beyond exhibition sites, times and languages.

As a government scientist, Mueller successfully used exhibitions in the service of science and industry. He developed a fruitful reciprocity, contributing information and material to exhibitions and using exhibition publications to disseminate his ideas.


I thank Sara Maroske, Monika Wells, Carolyn Rasmussen, Rod Home, Darren Watson, John McPhee, Peter Hughes, Richard Gillespie, Des Cowley, Walter Struve, Helen Cohn, Jill Thurlow, Jacqui Ward and Lisa Williams for material and comments.


1     ‘Report of the Committee of the Industrial and Technological Museum’ in ‘Report of the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria with the reports of the sectional committees for the year 1870–1’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1871 2 (no. 13): 82.

2     Mueller to J O’Shanassy, 9 December 1861, U61/9520, unit 749, VPRS 1189 inward registered correspondence, VA 475 Chief Secretary’s Department, Public Record Office, Victoria.

3     Catalogue of the Victorian Exhibition, 1861. Melbourne: Government Printer: 225–237, 243–244 lists timber specimens and articles made of indigenous wood.

4     Catalogue of the Victorian Exhibition, 1861. Melbourne: Government Printer: 299.

5     JD Hooker to Mueller, 24 December 1862, Box 6/4, MS 000012, Royal Historical Society of Victoria. Joseph Hooker was William Hooker’s son and Assistant Director of the Kew Gardens.

6     Catalogue of Products from the Colony of Victoria, Australia, at the Dublin International Exhibition, 1865. Melbourne: Wilson & Mackinnon: 15.

7     Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia, Melbourne, 1866–67. Official Record. Melbourne: Blundell & Co: viii.

8     MS 12161 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition 1866–7; box 2781/2a; papers of Sir Redmond Barry; Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria.

9     Reference number S1978.379, Decorative Arts Collection, TMAG. Permission of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery must be obtained before any re-use of this image. Unlike the hollow design used in the 1860s, these wood-books are solid – like Mueller’s improved design in the 1880s.

10    Catalogue of the products from Victoria, Australia, at the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867. London: 13.

11    Catalogue of the Victorian exhibits to the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition of 1870. Melbourne: Government Printer: 52–59. Also Cowley 1995.

12    ‘Report of the Committee of the Industrial and Technological Museum’, 1870–1: 81.

13    The London International Exhibition of 1873: The Victorian Exhibition, opened 6th November 1872: official catalogue of exhibits. Melbourne: Mason, Firth & M’Cutcheon: 104. Different versions have slightly different exhibit information and pagination.


Bindon, SH et al. 1871. ‘Progress report of the Royal Commission on foreign industries and forests’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1871 3 (no. 60).

Coates, Dr; Osborne, JW; Ashley, Edmund. 1862. Victorian Exhibition, 1861: Report on Class III Indigenous vegetable substances. Melbourne: Government Printer.

Cooper, Ellwood. 1876. Forest culture and eucalyptus trees. San Francisco: Cubery & Company.

McMillan, Thos. 1877. Timbers of Victoria. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Specimens in the Industrial and Technological Museum (Melbourne) Illustrating the Economic Woods of Victoria. Melbourne: Mason, Firth & M‘Cutcheon.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1854. ‘Second general report of the Government Botanist on the vegetation of the Colony’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1854–5 1 (A. no. 18).

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1861a. ‘Annual report of the Government Botanist and Director of the Botanic and Zoologic Garden’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1860–1 3 (no. 19).

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1861b. ‘The vegetation of the Colony, especially in reference to its resources’. In Catalogue of the Victorian Exhibition, 1861: With Prefatory Essays, Indicating the Progress, Resources, and Physical Characteristics of the Colony. Melbourne: Government Printer.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1862. ‘Annual report of the Government Botanist and Director of the Botanic Garden’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1861–2 3 (no. 105).

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1865. ‘Annual report of the Government Botanist and Director of the Botanic Garden’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1864–5 4 (no. 72).

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1866. ‘Tree-vegetation of Australia’. The Journal of Botany, British and Foreign 4: 267.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1867a. ‘Australian vegetation, indigenous or introduced, considered especially in its bearings on the occupation of the territory, and with a view of unfolding its resources’. In Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia, Melbourne, 1866–67: Official Record, Containing Introduction, Catalogues, Reports and Awards of the Jurors, and Essays and Statistics on the Social and Economic Resources of the Australasian Colonies. Melbourne: Blundell & Co.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1867b. ‘Notes on the vegetable products in the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866’. In Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia, Melbourne, 1866–67: Official Record, Containing Introduction, Catalogues, Reports and Awards of the Jurors, and Essays and Statistics on the Social and Economic Resources of the Australasian Colonies. Melbourne: Blundell & Co.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1867c. Intercolonial Exhibition, 1866–7: Report on Vegetable Products. Melbourne: Blundell & Co.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1867d. ‘Australian vegetation, indigenous or introduced, considered especially in its bearings on the occupation of the territory and with a view of unfolding its resources’. The Journal of Botany, British and Foreign 5: 160–174, 200–209.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1869a. ‘Report of the Government Botanist and Director of the Botanic Garden’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1869 3 (no. 21).

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1869b. Technological Commission of Victoria (Papers 1869). Melbourne: Mason, Firth & Co.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1871a. ‘The application of phytology to the industrial purposes of life’. In Industrial and Technological Museum: Lectures Delivered in the Lecture Room of the Museum During the Spring Session of 1870. Melbourne: Samuel Mullen.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1871b. ‘The principal timber trees readily eligible for Victorian industrial culture, with indications of their native countries and some of their technologic uses’. In Report of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria. Melbourne: Stillwell & Knight.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1871c. ‘Forest culture in its relation to industrial pursuits’. In Industrial and Technological Museum: Lectures Delivered in the Lecture Room of the Museum During the Autumn Session of 1870. Melbourne: Samuel Mullen.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1871d. Lectures and Documents Bearing on Industrial Researches. Melbourne: Mason, Firth & M‘Cutcheon.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1872. The Objects of a Botanic Garden in Relation to Industries. A Lecture Delivered at the Industrial and Technological Museum, Melbourne. Melbourne: Mason, Firth & M‘Cutcheon.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1874. ‘Report of the Government Botanist for the year ending 30th June 1874’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1874 3 (no. 70).

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1875. ‘The natural capabilities of the Colony of Victoria, considered in reference to indigenous or introduced vegetation’. In Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 (Melbourne, 1875): Official Record, Containing Introduction, Catalogues, Official Awards. Melbourne: M‘Carron, Bird & Co.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1876. Select Plants Readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalisation in Victoria, with Indications of Their Native Countries and Some of Their Uses. Melbourne: M‘Carron, Bird & Co.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1879–84. Eucalyptographia: A Descriptive Atlas of the Eucalypts of Australia and the Adjoining Islands. Melbourne: Government Printer.

Mueller, Ferdinand. 1885. Select Extra-Tropical Plants, Readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalization, with Indications of Their Native Countries and Some of Their Uses. Melbourne: Government Printer.

Newbery, J Cosmo. 1871. ‘Superintendent’s Report’. In ‘Report of the Committee of the Industrial and Technological Museum’. In ‘Report of the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria with the reports of the sectional committees for the year 1870–1’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1871, 2 (no. 13).

Newbery, J Cosmo. 1873. ‘The Report of the Superintendent’ in ‘Report of the Sectional Committee of the Industrial and Technological Museum’ in ‘Report of the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria with the reports of the sectional committees, for the year 1872’. Victoria Parliamentary Papers: Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1873 3 (no. 16).


Bonyhady, Tim. 2000. The Colonial Earth. Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press.

Cohn, Helen; Maroske, Sara. 1996. ‘Relief from duties of minor importance: The removal of Baron von Mueller from the directorship of the Melbourne Botanic Garden’. Victorian Historical Journal 67 (1): 103–127.

Cowley, Des. 1995. ‘Over the border: Victoria at interstate exhibitions’. La Trobe Library Journal 14 (56): 13–18.

Fennessy, Kathleen M. 2005. ‘“Industrial instruction” for the “industrious classes”: Founding the Industrial and Technological Museum, Melbourne’. Historical Records of Australian Science 16 (1): 45–64.

Gillbank, Linden. 1998. ‘The wood and the trees: A Muellerian memoir of Wilson’s Promontory’. The Victorian Naturalist 115 (6): 286–291.

Gillbank, Linden. 2007. ‘Of weeds and other introduced species: Ferdinand Mueller and plant and animal acclimatisation in colonial Victoria’. The Victorian Naturalist 124 (2): 69–78.

Hoffenberg, Peter H. 2001. An Empire on Display: English, Indian and Australian Exhibitions from the Crystal Palace to the Great War. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Home, RW; Lucas, AM; Maroske, Sara; Sinkora, DM; Voigt, JH, (eds). 1998. Regardfully Yours: Selected Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller Volume I: 1840–1859. Bern: Peter Lang.

Home, RW; Lucas, AM; Maroske, Sara; Sinkora, DM; Voigt, JH, (eds). 2002. Regardfully Yours: Selected Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller Volume II: 1860–1875. Bern: Peter Lang.

Home, RW; Lucas, AM; Maroske, Sara; Sinkora, DM; Voigt, JH; Wells, Monika (eds). 2006. Regardfully Yours. Selected Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller Volume III: 1876–1896. Bern: Peter Lang.

Lucas, AM; Maroske, Sara; Brown-May, Andrew. 2006. ‘Bringing science to the public: Ferdinand von Mueller and botanical education in Victorian Victoria’. Annals of Science 63 (1): 25–57.

Maroske, Sara. 2006. ‘Ferdinand Mueller and the shape of nature: Nineteenth-century systems of plant classification’. Historical Records of Australian Science 17 (2): 147–168.

Moulds, Francis Robert. 1991. The Dynamic Forest. A History of Forestry and Forest Industries in Victoria. Melbourne: Lynedoch Publications.

Perry, Warren. 1972. The Science Museum of Victoria: A History of its First Hundred Years. Melbourne: Science Museum of Victoria.

Rasmussen, Carolyn. 2001. A Museum for the People: A History of Museum Victoria and its Predecessors 1854–2000. Melbourne: Scribe Publications.

Tyrrell, Ian. 1999. True Gardens of the Gods: Californian–Australian Environmental Reform, 1860–1930. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Cite this chapter as: Gillbank, Linden. 2008. ‘Scientific and public duties: Ferdinand Mueller’s forest contributions to exhibitions and a museum’. Seize the Day: Exhibitions, Australia and the World, edited by Darian-Smith, Kate; Gillespie, Richard; Jordan, Caroline; and Willis, Elizabeth. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 7.1–7.18.

© Copyright 2008 Linden Gillbank
All rights reserved. Apart from any uses permitted by Australia’s Copyright Act 1968, no part of this book may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission of the copyright owners. The fact that this book is published online does not mean that any part of it can be reproduced without first obtaining written permission: copyright laws do still apply. Inquiries should be directed to the publisher, Monash University ePress:


   by Kate Darian-Smith, Richard Gillespie, Caroline Jordan, Elizabeth Willis