Ferdinand von Mueller’s letters are now accessible online

Letters of love and love lost, of exciting expeditions and even being bestowed a Baron title by a king are among the letters that Baron Ferdinand von Mueller received during his lifetime. This week, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria made these communications accessible by launching a searchable online database of nearly 11,500 examples his surviving correspondence.

Von Mueller was Victoria’s first Government Botanist and Director of the Melbourne Botanic Garden (as it was then known) from 1857–1873. He earned a considerable international reputation for his work in describing the Australian flora and is without doubt one of Australia's best-known nineteenth century scientists.

During his career, von Mueller corresponded prodigiously with individuals all over the world and is believed to have written well over 100,000 letters to his network of correspondents.

Through his membership of myriad scientific societies around the world, he became the most important link between Australia and scientific research taking place elsewhere. Mueller was himself a notable explorer of inland Australia, often on horseback, and in later life became a leading promoter of further exploration by others.

This project, the von Mueller Correspondence Project (VMCP), has been 35 years in the making. It was initiated in 1987, with the aim of producing a comprehensive catalogue of all accessible, surviving von Mueller correspondence.

A world-wide search located over 15,000 letters and documents, sent and received by von Mueller. These documents have been transcribed, translated into English (where written in another language) and methodically cross-referenced to link them with preserved plant specimens, photographs, artwork and other mementos that in some cases still exist today.

The database is significant to scientific researchers given that Mueller exchanged letters with all the major botanists active during the second half of the 19th century, and his correspondence also documents the growth of the State Botanical Collection held at the National Herbarium of Victoria, which he established in 1853.

Today, the Collection comprises­­ 1.5 million dried plant, algae and fungi specimens, making it the largest herbarium collection in Oceania. It also includes Australia’s most comprehensive library of botanical books, journals and artwork, the foundation of which was von Mueller’s own collection.

This correspondence also provides valuable insights into the many different aspects of Australian life in the second half of the 19th century, the diversity of which increases with each letter added. The database will continue to grow as the remaining letters are processed, and as newly discovered items continue to emerge.

To access the website, visit: