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Baron Ferdinand von Mueller

Photo: MuellerFerdinand Jakob Heinrich von Müller was appointed Government Botanist in the Colony of Victoria in 1853. He had arrived in Australia at Port Adelaide six years earlier on 18th December 1847 on the Hermann von Beckerath, leaving Germany for health reasons. From 1857-73 he was director of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens and was a well-known personality. He travelled extensively in Australia collecting specimens of animal and plant life and classifying them for the scientific world. Several of his suggestions had practical benefits for agriculture in Australia. In 1855 he was appointed botanist of the North West Australia Expedition led by A. C. Gregory. On this journey of exploration that covered 8,000 km over 16 months Müller collected nearly 2,000 species of plants. He sent huge amounts of plants and seeds to grateful public gardens, herbaria, institutes and individuals throughout the Australian colonies and overseas. Blue Gums in California are one result of his international exchanges of plant specimens. (Portrait: Mueller in 1876. The photographer was the German-Australian J.W. Lindt. La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria)


(Photo © D. Nutting) bust of von Mueller

Left: bust of von Mueller in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. Here is the text on the plaque below the bust:

" This plaque commemorates the life work of one of the "fathers" of the Garden State. Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, K.C.M.G., 1825-1896. This distinguished botanist and explorer was the founder of the National Herbarium of Victoria. As Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens from 1857-73, he was directly involved in their laying out and planting. During this period he also supplied the highest quality plants to the regional botanic gardens throughout Victoria. His dedication to the concept of the Garden State is enshrined in the beauty of these gardens and by the many fine trees of his selections which remain standing today. Baron Ferdinand von Mueller's great contribution to our quality of life is honoured here by the following members of the German-Australian business community. Their generosity during Victoria's 150th year has enabled the re-labelling of plants and the rejuvenation of provincial botanic gardens throughout the State to be undertaken for the enjoyment of all Victorians."

He became well-known internationally, and was made a baron by the king of the German kingdom of Württemberg for his large donations of botanical specimens from Australia. The unusual mountain range near Uluru now known as Kata Tjuta was originally named the Olgas in Müller's honour by the explorer Ernest Giles (the Queen of Württemberg's name was Olga). Giles was not the only person to name something after the famous botanist and explorer - you can read a list of things and places named after Müller. He received decorations and titles from many small and great European countries. Müller was a member of the organising committee for the Burke & Wills Victorian Exploring Expedition, though he didn't want Burke to be leader. Not everything Müller did was successful; he strongly promoted the introduction of the European blackberry into Australia, which is now a noxious pest, although it is being controlled by a rust fungus and by herbicide sprays. Despite his long hours of work, Müller also took part in the activities of the Melbourne German Club.

(Photo © D. Nutting) sign
Sign at the National Herbarium, Melbourne
Image: stamp
German stamp (1996)
commemorating von Mueller
[Picture provided by Paul Griffin]

Baron von Mueller (State Library of Victoria)

Peter Lang on the writings of Ferdinand von Mueller

For students and teachers the curriculum package "Bäume, Büsche, Blumen" is also of interest (Royal Botanic Gardens Education Service, teachers of German, Directorate of School Education and Goethe Institut Melbourne, 1996).

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