With approximately 10% of our collection databased, the University of North Carolina Herbarium
(NCU) has found a single specimen collected by Ferdinand Mueller. More may be discovered as cataloguing
Sir Ferdinand Jakob
Heinrich von Mueller
by John Botterill, ca. 1867
La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria H4146
According to the Harvard Herbaria database of
botanists, the National Herbarium of Victoria in the Royal Botanic Gardens (MEL)
has his herbarium and types, with large sets of his specimens at BM (British
Museum), K (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew) , Museum
National d’Histoire Naturelle
(P) , and Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (W).
For excellent information on Ferdinand Mueller,
see: “Sir Ferdinand Jakob
Heinrich von Muller (1825-1896)”
by Deirdre Morris:
Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von
Mueller (1825-1896), botanist, was born on 30 June 1825 in Rostock, Mecklenburg-Schwerin,
only surviving son of Frederick Mueller, commissioner of customs, and his
wife Louise, née Mertens. After his parents died
Mueller was apprenticed to a pharmacist in Husum,
Schleswig-Holstein, becoming an enthusiastic and knowledgable
botanist. He attended the University of Kiel, 1845-47, where he completed his
pharmacy qualification and was awarded a Ph.D. for a thesis surveying the
flora of southern Schleswig. Concern about his sister’s health and perhaps
his own persuaded him and his two surviving sisters to seek a warmer climate.
They sailed from Bremen in the Hermann von Beckerath,
arriving in Adelaide on 15 December 1847. Working occasionally as a
pharmacist, he devoted most of his time to investigating the South Australian
flora from Mount Gambier to the Flinders Ranges and Lake Torrens. He
contributed papers to the Linnean Society, London,
the German Linnea and newspapers in Adelaide
on his findings. He tried farming in the Bugle Ranges with F. E. H. W. Krichauff but soon left because it interfered with
his botanical work.
In 1852 Mueller went to Melbourne where Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe appointed
him government botanist in 1853. With J. Dallachy
he visited Mount Buffalo and the Ovens River where he reported indications of
gold. Alone he went to Mount Buller to observe the
alpine vegetation and spent several weeks around Port Albert and Wilson's
Promontory before returning to Melbourne. He estimated that he had collected
specimens of over half the indigenous vegetation of Victoria. He discovered
species earlier claimed to be found only in Tasmania and added new genera to
the flora of Australia. He reported on the possible medicinal value of some
plants in the treatment of consumption, rheumatism and scurvy, and emphasized
the commercial value of the acacia for its wood, tannin and gum, and the
Australian manna for its saccharine content. On a second expedition he
travelled via the Grampians to the Darling and Murray junction and thence to Albury, Omeo and the Buchan
district with increasing hardship and danger in difficult and often
unexplored regions, finally reaching the mouth of the Snowy River. He sent
duplicate specimens of all species to Hooker, 'the plants being so much more
useful in Kew than in Australia'.
In 1854 Mueller was appointed a commissioner for the Melbourne
Exhibition and spent much time organizing an exposition. He was also active
in both the Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science and the
Philosophical Society of Victoria. In November he set off for the La Trobe
and Avon River districts, where he predicted that the fertility of the soil
would enable a large and prosperous population to settle. He climbed Mount
Wellington, worked up the Dargo River, went to
Mount Bogong and thence to Mount Kosciusko which he
ascended on New Year's Day 1855. On his return to Melbourne he claimed that
he had investigated 'almost completely the Alps flora of this continent'.
Mueller was appointed botanist to the North Australian
Exploring Expedition under A. C. Gregory. In
July 1855 the party left Sydney in the Monarch. They called at Moreton Bay before sailing to the mouth of the Victoria
River. After tracing the Victoria River to its source and penetrating the
Great Sandy Desert as far as Lake Gregory, they journeyed overland to Moreton Bay, travelling 5000 miles (8000 km) in sixteen
months. Mueller had observed nearly 2000 species, of which some 800 were new
to Australian botany. After his return to Melbourne, in August 1857 he was
appointed director of the Botanical Gardens while still retaining his post as
government botanist from which he had been given unpaid leave. He immediately
arranged for the construction of an herbarium,
contributed his own already extensive collection and began work on his Fragmenta Phytographiae
Australiae which was published in twelve parts
in 1858-82. As director of the gardens Mueller was responsible for exchanging
seeds and plants with botanists throughout Australia as well as European and
The need for a comprehensive systematic survey of the
botanical resources of Australia had long been recognized. Hooker and his son
Joseph were convinced
that the work could not be attempted without reference to the notes and
specimens in the collections of Banks, Brown, Cunningham and others in Europe.
As early as 1856 the Hookers had urged Mueller to return so that he could
combine his wide field experience with the resources of these collections to
produce a work on Australian flora, but Mueller insisted that the work be
undertaken and completed in Australia. He had long hoped to write a flora of
Australia and had compiled much material towards it, but with extreme
reluctance he agreed to step down in favour of George Bentham whom he was to
assist. Flora Australiensis appeared in
seven volumes between 1863 and 1878. This comprehensive survey synthesized
the isolated efforts of explorers and amateur and professional botanists
throughout the colonies. It went close to Hooker's ideal of a work that
'should last, and … be a standard for all time'. In
the preface of the first volume Bentham praised Mueller's zeal, talent and
industry, but these words did little to sooth his professional pride and the
wound never healed.
Among the first to take a scientific interest in Victorian
forests, Mueller saw the dangers of indiscriminate clearing of land and
advocated the establishment of local forest boards in an effort to provide
timber for the future. He predicted the commercial value of Victorian timber
in the manufacture of charcoal, gunpowder, tar, vinegar, spirits and potash.
Specially recognizing the value of the eucalypts he had encouraged Joseph Bosisto
in 1853 to distil eucalyptus oil on a commercial scale, and was responsible
for exporting eucalyptus seeds to California, India, Algeria, Hong Kong and
elsewhere, advocating their planting as a measure to combat malaria. Always
sensible to the practical application of his scientific work, he brought
great economic value to the settlers of Victoria, though he made no financial
profit himself for the introduction of useful vegetation from other
By 1868 Mueller was already answering criticism of his
directorship of the gardens: 'no foundations exist … neither are statues
erected … works of art we can call forth at pleasure, while time lost in
forming the plantations cannot be regained'. Late in 1871 he lectured on the
objects of a botanic garden but his efforts were in vain and in 1873 he was
replaced by W. R. Guilfoyle.
Mueller remained government botanist and suffered no pecuniary loss but felt
the injustice of his dismissal from the gardens; he is reputed never to have
entered them again.
An indefatigable worker, Mueller's correspondence regularly
reached 3000 letters a year; he published over 800 papers and major works on
Australian botany and lectured on subjects ranging from rust in cereals and
the culture of tea in Victoria to an historical treatise On the
Advancement of the Natural Sciences Trough Ministers of the Christian Church.
He published The Natural Capabilities of the Colony of Victoria in
1875 and the first of many editions of his Select Extra-tropical Plants
Readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalization in 1876. Next
year at the request of the Western Australian government he surveyed its
forests and coast as far north as Shark Bay. His report, published in London
in 1879, advocated independent timber resources for all countries and
recommended that Western Australia establish a forest administration. In that
year he also issued the first part of The Native Plants of Victoria, a
work which was never completed, and the first decades of his Eucalyptographia: A Descriptive Atlas of the
Eucalypts of Australia and the Adjoining Islands, the tenth decade of
which appeared in 1884. Part 1 of his Systematic Census of Australian
Plants was published in 1882 and next year he was awarded the Clarke medal by the Royal
Society of New South Wales. His two volumes of Key to the System of
Victorian Plants appeared in 1886-88.
Mueller's widespread interests included the exploration of New
Guinea and Antarctica. He argued that Australia should colonise
these land masses and published his Descriptive notes on Papuan Plants
in 1875-90. He served on the first Australian Antarctic Exploration Committee
and devoted much time to it in his last years. He contributed to discussions
on acclimatization and continued to introduce fauna and flora to Australia.
He also encouraged searches for the remains of Ludwig Leichhardt's party and in
1865 organized the Ladies' Leichhardt Search
Committee to raise funds.
Mueller had become president of the Philosophical Institute of
Victoria in 1859 at the time it received its royal charter and became the
Royal Society of Victoria. A fellow of the Royal Geographical, Linnean and Royal Societies in London, he was president
of the (Royal) Geographical Society, Victorian Branch (1883-96). He was also
active in the Melbourne Liedertafel and the Turn Verein,
and supported the Lutheran Church and its mission in central Australia. In
1871 he was appointed a hereditary baron by the King of Württemberg, having
been granted his `von' in 1867. He was made C.M.G. in 1869 and K.C.M.G. in
1879. He was awarded a royal medal of the Royal Society, London, in 1888 and
won many European honours.
Soon after arriving in Adelaide Mueller had been naturalized.
Though fiercely loyal to the British Crown, he was still a German and his
European scientific contacts were of immense value to Australian science. He
was largely responsible for the international recognition given to Australian
scientific endeavour. Much of his work has never
been superseded and is a measure of his lasting contribution to botany. He
had little private life, his time, energy and finance being devoted to his
work. He never married; though engaged to Euphemia
Henderson in 1863 and Rebecca Nordt in 1865.
Survived by a sister, he died on 10 October 1896 in South Yarra,
§ A. Lodewyckx, Die Deutschen in Australien (Stuttgart, 1932)
Willis, By Their Fruits (Syd, 1949)
Daley, ‘The history of Flora Australiensis’,
Victorian Naturalist, 44 (1927-28)
§ J. H.
Willis, ‘Botanical science in Victoria 100 years ago’, Royal Society of
Victoria, Proceedings 73-74 (1961)
§ M. E.
Hoare, ‘Learned societies in Australia: the foundation years in Victoria,
1850-1860’, Australian Academy of Science, Records, 1 (1967), no 2
§ L. A.
Gilbert, Botanical Investigation of New South Wales 1811-1880 (Ph.D. thesis,
University of New England, 1971).
Deirdre, 'Mueller, Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von
(1825–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of
Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mueller-sir-ferdinand-jakob-heinrich-von-4266/text6893,
accessed 15 November 2011.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian
Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974