What trouble would it be to collect and preserve flowers, and enclose in an envelope to their destination? How many ladies might devote a few leisure hours to this pursuit?
Around 1870, Ferdinand von Mueller (1825–1896), the greatest Australian botanist of the nineteenth century, began to advertise in several newspapers across Australia for 'lady' plant collectors. While only about ten per cent of Mueller's astounding 3000-strong network of collectors were women, this was extraordinary at a time when women typically had little recourse to science or contact with men outside their circle of friends.
The profiles and artwork of 14 of Mueller's coterie of women collectors are presented in Collecting Ladies. Included are Fanny Charsley, Louisa Atkinson, Annie Walker and Ellis Rowan for whom Mueller made time to assist in pursuit of their own botanical passions. He identified the plants they painted and provided letters of introduction to publishers and scientists. Louisa Anne Meredith had her own literary career but was honoured by Mueller with what she called an 'immortelle', an everlasting daisy. Fanny De Mole, Margaret Forrest, Rosa Fiveash, Gertrude Lovegrove, Harriet and Helena Scott all benefited from the milieu Mueller created. Together, these ladies produced some of the most beautiful books and botanical art in Australia in the nineteenth century, covering all the Australian colonies.
Penny Olsen is a research scientist and natural history writer. Based at the Australian National University in Canberra, she is the author of Glimpses of Paradise: The Quest for the Beautiful Parrakeet (2007), Brush with Birds: Bird Art in the National Library of Australia (2008) and Upside Down World: Early European Impressions of Australia’s Curious Animals (2010).